Our Character remains undeveloped for year and years after becoming Christians.
We are now at the final incentive for discipleship, and as before, some of our thoughts and points from previous editions may overlap in the discussion. But we have chosen to give character special attention, even though it’s discussed passively in previous editions. Character is who we are in the dark, when no one sees us. Character is how we respond to power, popularity, prosperity, poverty, pressure, pain, or persecution. Most of us can hide our true character in normal day to day living, but when placed in situations where our motives, our emotions and desires, or our reactions are brought to the surface, we truly learn how Christlike we are.
When it comes to character, we’ve heard over and over, just be in love with Jesus and your character will be transformed into His! The more you will love Jesus, the more His character will shine through your life. While I wholly agree with this statement, it needs to be noted then that we need to be taught HOW to love Jesus with all our hearts. I have been a Christian for 25 years, loved Jesus with all my heart for well over half of those years, and still I’m reminded again and again how unlike Jesus my character still is.
It seems to be the common saying today…, be like Jesus! It is easy enough to say with our mouths, even believe it in our hearts, but here is a good test. Think of someone who really dislikes you, and vice versa; what do they see in you? What is their perception of you? Can they say you are truly a child of God? And how do you perceive them? Do you wish them well? Do you rejoice when they succeed? Are you sad when they fail? Would you be willing to help them in a pinch, or make a sacrifice on their behalf? A positive yes here is easy if the someone is someone we love and cherish. What about someone we don't? Now I know we’ll never see eye to eye with all men; for various reasons, but the character of Jesus was highlighted by His response to the above questions. His enemies found no flaws in His character, and admitted He was a teacher sent from God who had no respect of persons, taught the way of God perfectly, and loved all men. He called the traitor Judas a 'friend', healed the ear of a soldier who arrested Him, and washed His disciples' feet. Although we will never fully be like Jesus, His character is the benchmark, the standard He beckons us to attain, otherwise He wouldn’t have said, be ye perfect, even as Your Father in Heaven is perfect. Mat. 5:48
In His Sermon on the Mount, Mat 5-7, most of His teachings revolve around our character (check it out). He is concerned that our character complements the label we take upon ourselves when we chose to follow Him. Therefore, He addresses at least nine character traits in this sermon to highlight His concern for our inner man. He addresses anger, forgiveness, lust, pride, honesty, anxiety, fear, hypocrisy, and honor-seeking. We can take those nine qualities and place them into three distinct categories; they are our reactions, our motives, and our desires. Its in these 3 areas where our true character shines through.
Of course, we fully understand there is the element of growth and training and time that goes into the equation here as we develop Christlike character; but one thing I’m convinced of is the mountain of opportunity and circumstance God has lined up to facilitate and foster growth into His character. Our problem arises from the fact that we don’t see most of life and life’s issues and challenges as God’s training ground and school of discipleship. We tend to view them more as obstacles and hindrances to our walk. We need to be exposed to the idea, we need to be taught HOW they work into His marvelous plan, and the role faith plays in our Character development. We also need to be taught that God provides opportunities almost every day to get trained in Christian character. In our marriages, with our children, on our jobsites, our use of money, time, people we work with, our employers and employees. Difficult authority figures, other Christians with whom we may not agree, health problems, business failures, accidents, financial fallouts, family feuds, and other relationship challenges all work together in the equation to develop Christlike character in us, and if we’re not taught or trained to see everything in that light, we completely miss what God is doing in our lives.
How we react to criticism, ridicule, pain, loss, betrayal, insults, or someone infringing on our rights is our window into our character. Why we do or don’t do a certain thing, why we say something or go somewhere is our window into the motives of our heart, and how we deal with our desires, (lust, emotions, anger, love of money, reputation, power, or popularity) all tell the story of who we are. I know most of us can grit our teeth and most of the time put on the necessary show so as not to humiliate ourselves publicly when challenged or hurt, or taken advantage of. But what goes on in our hearts? I have spent a considerable amount of time the past few years reflecting on the issues that irritate me most and to my surprise they were not mine own character, or lack thereof. They were mostly concerning the lack of other people’s character! How convenient! Isn’t it easy to give ourselves a pass while being critical of others? Don’t we justify, even marginalize our own actions, motives, and thoughts, but in the very next breath seek to be the judges of other peoples’ character? Until we are exposed to this reality by the Holy Spirit's conviction, most Christians waste their lives away having developed very little in these crucial areas.
It’s a classic enemy tactic to take our eyes off ourselves or Jesus and away from the real issues facing us…, our undeveloped and often unchristlike character! In our committed brotherhood, where members are interconnected and interdependent, the potential friction points are more numerous than on a Massey Ferguson Combine! God designed for us to be in these types of fellowships…, specifically for this reason! To smooth out our roughness, break through bondages and high thoughts, be humbled and brought face to face with our own hearts, our unmortified ego, our religious self-righteousness, our pride, our anger, our self-pity, our worries and fears, our besetting sins that so easily cling to us, our critical spirits, and our fabricated holiness! All of this must be brought to the surface and dealt with and every one of these unchristlike character traits must be replaced with Christlike ones, so that we don’t live our lives as actors on a movie screen, being holy on the outside, but harboring all those unholy traits within. That is precisely why intentional discipleship should be the focus of every church body, and every church committed to the call of Jesus should be end product oriented. What the church produces tells a whole lot about it, and it’s time we realize how vital discipleship really is.
The final, and probably most offensive thing about discipleship that we need to understand, is how connected and dependent discipleship and fellowship are upon each other. To attempt discipleship without being committed to other Christians in church fellowship is like living in a common-law relationship…, each lives their own lives with no real commitment, other than one of convenience. On the other hand, to have church fellowship without discipleship is like a marriage only for the intimacy; not the responsibility, the commitment, the inconvenience and the burden of family, children, and sacrifice. Forgive me for this blunt allegory, but if we honestly analyse it, the conclusion is evident.
So again my prayer is that these incentives produce a holy discontent in us with things as they are, and press forward towards the mark of the prize of the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus. Peter says, “Through these many and precious promises, we are partakers of the divine nature!” 2Pet. 1:4 That’s amazing! And who of us wouldn’t want to be partakers of that…, to the praise of His Glory.
This edition wraps up our incentives for discipleship; stay with us for future issues where we begin to lay down the foundation, framework and sequence for Biblical discipleship that, if followed, will ensure the Christian of a life of victory, true freedom, peace, joy and rest in God that perpetually eludes so many.
Blessings in Jesus,
bro Reuben A Walter