Character: Why it matters!
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Defining character is difficult. The dictionary states that character is that combination of intangible qualities that distinguish us as individuals. Moral and ethical strength are often mentioned as specific attributes. While scripture never uses the word “character,” the concept is identified as being crucial to our spiritual well-being. The scriptural word which comes closest to its meaning is integrity. It might be easier to say that character defines who we are – not what people think us to be – but who we really are. Abraham Lincoln said that “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Someone else said that a person’s character is revealed by what he does when no one else is looking. Many believe that character is inborn – that whatever character we have was instilled in us by God at birth. If that were true, every individual would have great character. The scripture, as well as our society, teaches exactly the opposite. We were all born with sinful natures, and the capacity to do “good” must be developed as we grow. Becoming a Christian is simply the first step.
Being a Christian, however, does not guarantee good character. Some believers (Corinthian believers in scripture are an example) still have characters that are corrupt. Paul explained to the believers in Corinth the importance of not only claiming to know Christ, but living so that their faith would be obvious to those around them. Character is what makes that happen.
Character is developed as our thinking is modified to match God’s purpose, plan, and practice for our lives. Four truths become obvious as we examine that process from a scriptural perspective:
- Character is determined by what we believe. Beliefs are important. If we believe that jumping off a 400 foot cliff will cause death – our character will be strong enough to keep us from making that mistake. Likewise, if we believe that ignoring God’s plan for our lives will bring heartache and disappointment, we will be more careful to obey Him.
- Character is defined by what we value. The important things in our lives are obvious because we make them a priority.
- Character is driven by what we love. We are always eager to avoid sacrifice whenever possible. However, when we know that something we love is in danger, we don’t hesitate. We are instead driven to do whatever is necessary to protect that which we love.
- Character is demonstrated by what we do. People can only see what is visible. Since God alone can see the heart, man must look on the outward appearance. It is the only means he has to observe our character.
Character is the essence of who we are, the result of God’s work of sanctification in the willing heart of a believer, and it’s important. It matters to us personally; our self-respect depends on it. It matters to our society; when character declines in the general population, people become more corrupt and communities become less safe. Most importantly, however, it matters to our relationship with our heavenly Father. His unconditional love for us is established by His character rather than ours, but it is our character that determines the intimacy of our fellowship with Him. We were created specifically for that fellowship. It identifies our purpose in life and is the source of our fulfillment as individuals.
Without Godly character that fellowship is unavailable and our life becomes a series of selfish, useless pursuits. Solomon walked that road and came up empty. Giving his report in Ecclesiastes 2:11 he said: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
Godly character is developed as we yield our hearts and lives to the Lord. It gives significance to our existence, provides a testimony of faith for those who are watching and brings glory to our God. And it matters – A lot!