DEVELOPING OUR CHARACTER
As we consider the various problem areas and challenges facing us in the last days and realise how formidable the foe is, what can we do to ensure that we stand in the last days? In Part III, we shall now consider certain broad areas of emphasis that may be helpful for us to take note of, as we earnestly desire not to fail the Lord during such a time.
We noted that the influence of the world, the lust of the flesh, the love of money and corruption would feature more and more in the last days. In the face of all these, what is it that we can do to ensure that we not only are able to fend off such influences, but also end up more than conquerors with the right and proper longings in our hearts?
The one area we need to pay heed to and to develop is our CHARACTER. We need to nurture our character to be like that of the Lord Jesus. As we do this, we would find that God’s values become more and more our own, and we begin to love what the Lord loves and seek to uphold what is upon the heart of God. No longer do we give room to dishonesty to become rich and famous, in fact, no longer do we even desire to be rich and famous. What we begin to long for is to be what the Lord desires us to be. We do not have to struggle to hang on to what we recognise to be sound biblical principles and moral values. Instead, these very principles and moral values become integrated and incorporated into our very beings. In other words, we no longer need to strive so very hard to be godly; godliness becomes part and parcel of our lives. Desiring and defending godly principles and truths become a spontaneous outflow of our lives, and living pure and holy lives become as natural and as unsurprising as breathing in and breathing out air in the physical realm. This seems rather hard to imagine and yet it is feasible for a child of God to attain. God has given ample resources for His children to grow into godliness such that His children would be conformed to the image of His only begotten Son. With such a character, the influence of the world and the lust of the flesh will not be able to affect the lives of God’s people to any significant degree. They become, as it were, “immune” to the contamination and “infection” of the world system. The world and its values then become an abomination, something detestable and undesirable. God’s people, in such a state and with such a character, can see right through the system of the world. They perceive its ugliness, its deception and its lies and they are then able to keep themselves unblemished.
Nurturing a godly character is a process, a building process in fact, and it takes time and diligence. We see the apostle Peter referring to this in 2 Peter 1:4-11. Notice in particular some of the practical steps needed. “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, …knowledge;…” (2 Peter 1:5). What is clear is that a great deal of diligence is required on the part of the believer. It is not a process that takes place automatically. It requires much hard work and it is something deliberate. The believer, in his faith, applying all diligence is to supply all these various virtues, leading to godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Our faith is to be characterised by moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, all demonstrating various aspects of the divine nature. We are to be partakers of the divine nature, manifesting traits and aspects of God’s own attributes and nature. This is our high calling and we are to work hard to achieve this.
It is helpful here to distinguish between “character” and “gifts.” “Character” is part and parcel of the being of the believer and it is realised through transformation of life as the believer co-operates with the Holy Spirit of God. “Gifts” may be bestowed by the Holy Spirit in the life of believers for specific functions and roles. They may also be removed, should the Lord see it fit to do so.
Although the Corinthian Christians were not lacking in gifts, yet they were looked upon as fleshly and unspiritual by the apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 1:5-7 and 3:1-3). A believer who has many gifts is therefore not necessarily one who is spiritual. In fact, a believer who is lacking in godly character but yet has many gifts is often affected by spiritual pride and a lack of discernment. Such a person tends to contribute to dissension and disorder amongst the brethren, instead of edification.
In 2 Peter 1:8, Peter made mention of these virtues as increasing. It is not something stagnant; it is dynamic and growing. There are various depths that we can grow into and experience by God’s grace. And if this is so in our lives, then we can ensure that we will not end up useless and unfruitful in our Christian lives. If these qualities and virtues are to increase and to grow, it will imply that the process of character building is to be a continual process; we are to add on to our faith an increasing measure of godliness and all other virtues continually.
In 2 Peter 1:10, Peter wrote, “As long as you practice these things, you will never stumble…”. Here we see another aspect of the practical steps needed. The wholesome outworking of our faith involves practising all these virtues in our lives daily and in increasing measure. However, it is God who gives the resources and it is He who promises and enables us through the Lord Jesus Christ. All that we need for this outworking are found in God’s provision and promises given to us in His Son! (see 2 Peter 1:3-4). So God’s calling for us is not something unattainable; it is feasible and He has ensured that we have all the resources and promises necessary to reach our goal.
Having said that, it does not mean that the process is going to be easy and painless. In fact, it is a long and painful process involving God’s dealings with the direction, desires and state of the heart and the inner being. For God’s children to be like the Lord in character and nature, it would mean that all characteristics that are apart from God and contrary to God’s ways ought to be removed. The removal of these would involve the willingness to allow God to mould us, to correct us and to deal with ugly and fleshly traits in our lives. And certainly, this can be something very difficult and painful to bear. However, if we make progress in this, it would mean less and less of “I”, “me” and “myself”, and more and more of “God”, “His ways”, “His desires” and “His Life”. Increasingly, we would become more and more partakers of the divine nature. What is manifested then would be a life of purity, holiness and godliness.
In practical terms, what would this involve? Firstly, there should be a willingness to apply and to work out what the Lord reveals to us, whether it be through the Scriptures, through brothers and sisters in the Lord, or through other means which God may be pleased to employ to speak to us. There must be the honesty and openness to accept the truths about ourselves and about deficiencies in our lives. It is only when we act upon what God desires that we make progress in the process of character moulding and transformation.
Related to this, there must be a preparedness to welcome opportunities to learn various aspects of Christian virtues such as self-control, love and perseverance in the midst of provocative situations. Such situations and pressures should not evoke responses of complaints and grumbling; instead, they should be looked upon as God’s opportunities for us to learn to be more like the Lord, provided of course we are clear that the situations are what the Lord has allowed for our lives and development. Together with this, there ought also to be the humility to receive rebuke and correction, as well as the perseverance to carry on, learning long-suffering in this process. When we do fail, we need to repent, to pick ourselves up and to press on and continue in the Lord. We will then see our character slowly but surely being transformed.