Introduction to the Study of Christian Character

Introduction to the Study of Christian Character

The English words personality and character are not used in the Bible.  Webster’s dictionary offers one definition for personality as “the totality of an individual’s behavioral and emotional tendencies.”  Character is defined as a “distinctive quality” and “the complex of mental and ethical traits.”

Although Jesus did not use the words personality and character in His Sermon on the Mount, the essence of His sermon defines Christian personality and character.  Christian teachers and preachers talk a lot about Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s power to save mankind from his or her sin.  This is correct in its proper context (I Cor. 15:1-5).  However, when it is taught in exclusion of the teachings of Jesus about the law of life in the new covenant, it is a false doctrine.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is about the laws of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:10-12; Rom. 8:1-4).

The context for “saved by grace” in the scriptures is more often used in contrast with “saved by works.”  Or it may relate to being saved from spiritual death because of the forgiveness of one’s own sin.  This is the gospel of Jesus Christ “of first importance,” as Paul stated in I Corinthians 15:3. The doctrine of the new birth and justification by faith is of first importance in the context of “reconciliation.” Rom. 5:11; II Cor. 5:16-21.   Our reconciliation justifies Christians in the matter of “called to be saints.”  Rom. 1:7; 5:18; I Cor. 1:2.  These reconciliation doctrines alone do not save anyone from hell as is so often suggested.  The way it can be “suggested” is by excluding sanctification as the intent of reconciliation.

The next most important thing for Christians after our new birth is to subject ourselves with faith and a repentant attitude to Jesus’ teachings of becoming saints.  We enter the “narrow gate” to life (Matt. 7:13, 14).  We start laying a foundation of life, as in eternal life (Matt. 7:24-27).  We are slaves to God’s righteousness (Matt. 5:20; Rom. 6:19-23).  We develop the personality of Jesus we studied in Part II.  Our character is strengthened as a result of developing the eight healthy attitudes.  Please note the promise Jesus attached to each attitude.  Our behavior takes on the characteristics of “salt and light.”  Our will is under the control of the kingdom of God.  Our identity is sons of God.  In this manner we are fruit producers for God by the grace and teachings of Jesus (Matt. 7:15-20).  We are saved from the degradation of the man in Adam in the world (Eph. 4:17-19).

We learn of Jesus and conform to His image (Rom. 8:29).  Jesus did the will of His Father and we do the same.  These are the people Jesus will recognize on Judgment Day (Matt. 7:21-23).  This is also the manner in which we are saved from hell fire (Mark 9:42-50).  Saved by grace from sin and death is for now.  Judgment will be about how well we internalized the personality and character of Jesus and “put them into practice.”  Matt. 7:24.

Our lessons in PART III will be about the character of a Christian.  Christian character produces ethical behavior.  People admire people with strong character.  Strong character consists of the power with which people behave.  Strength for a person’s “will to act” is generated between a person’s instinctive equipment and the object, or goal, they have chosen to satisfy a particular urge.  If one can bring to bear all of his or her capacities to attain satisfaction for the urge, they have strong character.  Integration of all the capacities of a person is the key for the development of strong character.  Jesus suggested that if we will put God’s kingdom and His righteousness first in our pursuit of satisfaction for our urges we will strengthen our character.  God’s kingdom and His righteousness will serve to integrate all of our capacities – our mind, heart, conscience and our body.

When an individual loses the power of one of his or her natural drives it weakens their character.  For instance, if the goal they choose to satisfy their need for food and shelter negates their need for friends the result will be weakened character.  Inner conflict arises.  It will subtract from their strength of character.  Strong character is not the function of external behavior.  It consists of the power with which one behaves.

In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus explained to His Jewish audience what He meant when He said, “Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  Matt. 5:18.  Matthew arranged His message in written form for the churches several years later.  The members of the church had died to the Law of Moses at the same time they died to sin in their new birth “in order that we might bear fruit for God.”  Rom. 7:4.

Jesus chose several well known edicts to show what He meant by fulfilling the requirements of the Law (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 2:14; 8:3, 4).  By doing so He taught several aspects of strong character.  Strong character is needed to produce the ethical behavior that will bear fruit for God.  Jesus started His discourse on strong character with the subject of anger, a great, if not the greatest, enemy of strong character (Matt. 5:21-26).

Next He introduced one of the greatest stimuli for destabilizing character – lust.  He chose the specific lust involving the sex drive – one of the strongest urges.  It naturally shows its force in the latter part of adolescence age (Matt. 5:27-30).  If satisfaction is sought in unlawful ways it can invalidate other programs for strong character.  By unlawful ways we mean laws that are not natural laws for describing spiritual growth.  The laws of the new covenant describe the phenomenon of the way the spirit of mankind develops to become a son of God.  The kind of law that says:

Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything.  I Cor. 6:12

Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial.

Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive.  I Cor. 10:23

Jesus followed His discourse on sexual lust with the subject of “divorce” with emphasis on adultery (Matt. 5:31, 32).  Jesus introduced divorce between the lust for sex and integrity.  Divorce is brought about when people break covenants.  The breaking of a covenant shows a lack of integrity.  Integrity is a component of character.  The word of one who speaks with integrity speaks of his or her future activity.  What they say is what they do.  Jesus made the point that a person with integrity would not need to make oaths (Matt. 5:33-37).

Finally, Jesus introduced two building blocks of strong character that many people have classified as simply too idealistic for human beings.  Since Jesus was speaking to human beings we must assume that what He said is what He meant in both cases.  In the first case He spoke of “turning the other cheek” and “going the extra mile.”  Matt. 5:38-42.  He followed this with “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Matt. 5:43-48.

Christians need spiritual laws to describe the potential of our spiritual growth.  Christians need to understand the gravity of our situation.  God means business.  He did not send Jesus down here to give people a free ride to heaven.  We need to understand the gospel is everything Jesus lived and taught during His entire ministry.  It is not only what He did one day on the cross.  We will study the character building lessons Jesus taught in detail in Part III.

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