Several years ago, in the black of a cold October night, I was awakened by the sound of a rather large bear literally roaring outside of my backpacking tent. The bear was very close, and his powerful recital alone may have been sufficient to catalyze cardiac arrest in some persons. I had dealt with my fair share of bears prior to this encounter–but never before had I heard one vocalize with such thundering displeasure. As I sat up and secured a “death grip” on my .454 revolver in anticipation of a possible attack, the thoughts that followed were encouraging to me.
I actually began to grin and laugh inwardly regarding the seemingly bizarre, dire, and “hopeless” circumstances at hand–and I chose to relegate the entire matter to God’s sovereignty. I was either about to have the wrestling match of a lifetime, or not–and there was nothing at all that I could do about it.
The bear continued his menacing performance on the other side of the thin nylon “barrier” for quite some time before eventually becoming silent. Somewhere in the middle of it all I forcefully yelled back at him, “Go away” and, “You’re making a big mistake pal.” All the while, I tried to envision him standing fully upright in disapproval of my presence. Right or wrong, after only a very few moments of silence, I simply pulled the revolver into my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. That’s just what I decided to do. I had been working strenuously in wind-blown freezing rain for three days straight, and I was cold and exhausted. Crawling outside of my tent and shining a flashlight at that bear’s tonsils sure didn’t seem like a very good idea, and the nearest human being was many river miles away. My assessment was pure and simple: That bear had me beat if he wanted me.
While some may question the appropriateness of my response (or lack thereof), I found it very reassuring and reasonable. Right then and there, without any forewarning, I was able to evince the authenticity of my faith and trust in a sovereign God–and also a genuine confidence in my eternal security. I later reminded myself of a number of other seemingly “end of story” events from earlier on in my life in which I had absolutely no control–and in which I had not been nearly as matter-of-fact regarding either the temporal or eternal possibilities. This time, however, I had “passed the test”–and it was a great and welcome moment of confirmation for me.
It has been said that “reputation” is what other people think of you, while “character” is what you are in the dark–where no one else sees you but yourself. I agree.
No one is born with good character–and neither does God bestow it upon those whom He chooses to save at the time of their salvation. Each of us must build our own character upon the foundation of God’s Word through the power and promptings of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1, Philippians 2:12). Simply put, we must develop and maintain godly habits. As with all matters of spiritual growth, the Bible does not leave us guessing as to how this is to be accomplished.
To begin, we need to understand what it means to have “good character” according to God’s prescribed standards. As such, let’s consider how the elements look on the “inside” before we discuss the outward manifestations or evidences of such personal habits. Throughout its pages, Scripture continually points to, and commands, five collective patterns of inward behavior that please God:
- Continual Worship (Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 67; Psalm 113:3; John 4:23-24; Hebrews 13:15)
- Continual Prayer (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Peter 4:7)
- Thanksgiving In All Things (Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6,11; 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
- Humble, Selfless Attitude (Matthew 5:3-12; Philippians 2:3, 3:3; James 4:9; 1 Peter 5:6)
- Unwavering Trust In God (Psalm 37:3-5; Proverbs 3:26; Isaiah 26:4, 30:15; Hebrews 10:22-23)
If these elements aren’t evident on the inside, their absence will always be demonstrated on the outside. It may not be immediately apparent, but time and truth do go hand in hand… As a photographer, if I fail to get all of the elements of a desired image correctly through my camera lens and properly recorded on the camera’s memory card, it will always be evident in the resultant photo. It is very much the same when it comes to building character.
Only as we form and cultivate the inward behaviors listed above, and then diligently apply them to our lives’ circumstances, will we be able to demonstrate outward obedience and constancy with respect to the standards for Christian living that are found in the Bible. The result of this process is called “sanctification,” and the overall “look” or goal of sanctification is framed remarkably well by the following instructive passages from Scripture:
Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father (Colossians 1:10-12).
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth…Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed…put them all aside…Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…forgiving each other… Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…Do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than men…Let your speech always be with grace (Colossians 3:2,5,8,12; 4:6).
Lead a quiet and tranquil life in all godliness and dignity…Pursue righteousness…fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1Timothy 2:2; 6:11-12).
In summary then, good character reveals itself by demonstrating a heart, mind, and body that are consistently under control and submitted to God’s prescriptions and purposes. Scripture paints a most desirable portrait of the promises that God intends for those who live as such, and who thereby honor Him with their behavior both inside and out:
The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage…The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor, and life…He who is generous will be blessed…He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend…Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings (Proverbs 21:5; 22:4,9,11,29). The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).
Now then, who are you “in the dark?”–and how do things look on your “inside?” There is only One Whose opinion truly matters. Is your character pleasing to Him (2 Corinthians 5:9)?”