We understand and believe it is God's purpose to build holy, righteous character in human beings. But just what is character? Why is it such a primary objective in our Christian lives? Do you really know HOW to produce GODLY character?
CHARACTER could be simply defined like this: "Character is that moral or spiritual force within us which impels one to unyielding integrity." We concede that a person has character when in the absence of external constraint or coercion, he or she inherently chooses the path of right, honesty, fairness, goodness and equity. Character is not expressed by forced conformity to a prescribed standard of conduct. But character is expressed and strengthened when that conduct springs from free choice of the individual.
Not Born With Character
We are not born with that kind of Character. We don't inherit character as we might inherit a strong body, or black hair, or blue eyes, or the height of our frame. We can't be given character. Character is a spiritual and moral force that DEVELOPS within a person. But character is difficult to measure. Two people may have character, but they will probably differ in the strength of that character — the strength of which can only be expressed by the degree or amount of temptation, pressure or trial necessary to overpower that level of inner moral or spiritual force. A has character. B has character. Subject the two of them to the same tests, trials, pressures and temptations. One may yield, the other may not. The one who doesn't yield has DEEPER character than the one who does. When we are under extreme pressure, temptation and stress — and still choose the RIGHT course of action — then our character is deep. But when we compromise under moderate conditions of stress and pressure, then our character is shallow.
Just before His crucifixion, Jesus said to His disciples, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Matt. 26:31). But Peter — impetuous as he was — felt that he had the moral force within him to stay steadfast no matter what would occur. "Though all men shall be offended because of thee" answered Peter, "yet will I never be offended" (verse 33). However, Jesus well knew Peter's weakness and replied, "Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice" (verse 34). But again Peter responded: "Though I should DIE with thee, yet will I not deny thee" (verse 35). Later on, Peter did deny Christ. The moral, spiritual force within Peter was not strong enough to cause him to stay steadfast and loyal to Christ. That same evening, another of the maids saw Peter and said, "This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth." And he denied Him again! He lied! He broke several of the very commandments of God that Jesus Christ had taught. After awhile still others came to him and said, "Surely you also are one of them; for your speech betrays you." Then Peter began to curse and swear, saying, "I DON'T KNOW THE MAN"! (verses 71-75.) Again, Peter's character failed the test. Then the cock crowed! Peter remembered Jesus had told him he would do this very thing, and he wept bitterly. This trauma in Peter's life so moved him that he repented deeply, and the remembrance of the experience helped him to become a powerful leader in God's Church".
Daniel's Three Friends
Let's review another example, this time in the third chapter of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar made a huge image of gold and commanded everyone to fall down and worship it when the orchestra played. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. They knew God's command said NOT to bow down and worship idols. And so they were facing a test of their character! Notice verse 14: "Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?" "Now listen, I'll be fair with you," Nebuchadnezzar may have whispered. "Forget the past — what you have said. You just be ready at the time you hear the sound of the music. If you will fall down next time, and henceforth, and worship the image I have made, O.K." "But if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour [before an hour is gone] into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Verse 15.) It was a very clear-cut choice. There could be no compromise, no way out. "Either you WILL bow down — or you DIE" "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not [if He doesn't choose to spare our lives], be it known unto thee, O king, that we will NOT serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (verses 16-18). They wrote their own death warrant! "Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury...." You can well imagine — the great king had dignified the episode by calling a special meeting, bringing these men personally before him and saying, "I am going to play the music again, and this time YOU ARE GOING TO BOW DOWN, or you are going to Die" And these three men of God stood right up to him and said they would NEVER worship the golden image! "... and the form of his visage was changed..." (verse 19). You know the rest of the story. But what is the lesson? A choice had to be made. And that spiritual and moral force that was within Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego impelled and empowered them to choose the right, no matter what the cost! What about your OWN character? How much character do you really have? And most important of all — is it growing or is it declining? Arc you consistently making the right choices and following through? Each of us in God's Church has our own level of character. None of us has been tested in the way Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were — but our character is being tested! For there has never been a time in all the history of this era of God's Church since I have been in it that the tests and trials have been as deep and as profound and poignant and real as they are this year!
The Character of God
Character is that one element in God's Plan and in God's Kingdom which even God cannot create at WILL by divine fiat. God can't just say, "Let there be character," and suddenly there is character! It just doesn't come into being that way. Character cannot be made instantaneously because it is a quality of choice — something that we have to develop gradually out of choosing the right and then DOING IT. If God had created us so that we would ALWAYS do right, under every circumstance, automatically — because there was no other possibility for us — we could have no character. We would be programmed individuals — like mechanical robots. God could create that kind of being by the millions, but we would never be sons of God! For unless there is a choice to go one way or the other — there is no character involved. If the Father, or the Son, had no choice, they would have no character either. But God is a God of choice! And God has character so deep, so profound, so perfect, that His eternal performance is absolute! The backup of all His laws is not "automatic" in the sense that He cannot under any circumstances cause things to happen otherwise. If that were true, God would not be God. But God, through His righteous character, will always do right because He does have perfect character. God has such righteous character that the choice is never a problem, God CHOOSES that He will never lie, for example — that is why God will never lie. God's Law will ALWAYS go straight down the line, and you can depend on it — because of God's character! It is important to realize that, brethren. That kind of character is what we are to be developing as the begotten sons of God — the kind of ABSOLUTE right performance that comes from the strong, spiritual and moral force from within, which will always produce right, good, holy, proper conduct. Such conduct is not automatic! But it can be developed through continued making of RIGHT CHOICES, even under duress or stress of temptation.
Result of Wrong Choice
But let's notice an outstanding example of a wrong choice. Commencing in Ezekiel 28:12, we read: "Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering... the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast CREATED. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast PERFECT in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee." This "anointed cherub" was Lucifer, an angelic being of the very highest order — who had the ability of choice. Now notice Isaiah 14:12-15: "How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart [because you had the ability to think, the ability to weigh, the ability to rationalize and to compare and to CHOOSE], / will [I CHOOSE TO] ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne ABOVE the stars of God [all the other angels of God]: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north [that's where God's throne is]: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like THE MOST HIGH. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. " Under the stress of temptation and lust, Lucifer CHOSE to do evil. A high angelic being made the wrong choice — he chose to rebel. That's how he became the devil!
Why Character Is So Important
Satan is going to wander in the blackness of darkness forever, foaming out his own shame (see Jude 13) because he compromised his character. He disqualified himself from his position as one of the covering cherubim over the very throne of the Creator of the universe! He was thrown out of heaven and soon will be driven out of his office on earth because he did not CHOOSE to exercise self-restraint, to utilize character to obey God's Law always. Is character important? It was in Satan's case! And what about yours? Do you think it is important to be in the Kingdom of God? God is reproducing Himself. But He can't make Sons of God without character. To become Sons of God, we must develop character that is like God's. Character like His Son's who now sits at His right hand. Without character like that, His Kingdom simply cannot be expanded. Every single one of us has been called to be a king., a priest and a ruler in the World Tomorrow. Each of us makes choices in our homes, in our cars, on our jobs, or wherever we are every day. If we compromise with what we know is right, do you think it is important to the Creator God? Every person who becomes a born Son in God's Family is going to he given tremendous POWER! And that power must be backed up by the right kind of CHARACTER — the kind of deep moral and spiritual force within that will impel those persons to chose and do the right, honest and pure thing always*. We must begin developing that kind of character now, or we will simply NOT BE GIVEN eternal life. That's why character is so important!
Christ Has Led the Way
In Hebrews, the second chapter, God gives us a very clear look at where we are going and how we are to get there. Notice beginning in verse 6: "But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him [man] over the works of thy hands [and what works they are! The dominion of the heavens and the earth — endless in scope and size, beauty and majesty!}: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not [to be] put under him. "But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned, with Glory and Honor that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto [that same kind of] glory, to make the CAPTAIN ["pioneer" — as Moffatt renders it — the one who showed the way] of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:6-10). And in Hebrews 4:14-15, we read: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not. an. high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN." Jesus Christ led the way. He is the first one to qualify to be a Son of God. He is the first to reproduce Godly character. How did He do it? By making right choices — continually! BY NEVER COMPROMISING WITH SIN IN THE SLIGHTEST! In Hebrews 5:7, we find this remarkable statement about Jesus: "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience [What is obedience? Obedience is choosing the right path, choosing the good, the correct path — in other words, to paraphrase it — He learned character by the things which he suffered. And being made perfect [by always choosing and doing right], he became the author [of the expansion of the Family of God] unto all them that obey him" — who develop character like He did. Jesus Christ of Nazareth had to exercise character throughout His mortal life. He didn't automatically become a born-again Son of God. He didn't automatically choose and do right. He could have sinned. He could have failed and He knew it! But He stayed steadfast, and He learned character and obedience because He was put to the test!
Jesus was tempted and tried in the same manner we are — only much more so. In Matthew 4, we read how the devil "tempted" Him in one particular instance (out of many throughout His human life). Satan told Jesus to turn stones into bread, appealing to His hunger. He may have said words to the effect, "You are HUNGRY, you've got the power, you are the great Son of man, so make yourself some loaves out of these stones here." But hungry, weak, buffeted as He was Jesus faithfully replied, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every WORD that proceedeth. out. of. The. Mouth. oŁ God." (verse 4). That is the kind of faithful character you and I need in every trial and vicissitude of our lives! Then the devil took Jesus up on a high place of the Temple, and said, "IF thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Matt. 4:6). Now he tried to appeal to vanity — "IF thou be...."! And Jesus said to him, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (verse 7). To be sure, Jesus was tempted to shut that sassy mouth, and to throw Himself off and prove that He was the Son of God, but He didn't — that would have been sin! Finally the devil took Him to a high mountain and showed Him the glory and majesty of all the kingdoms of the world, and said, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (verse 9). He could have added, "You won't have to go through any crucifixion — you won't have to go through any trials — you won't have to fight temptation. You won't have to do all this preaching and get yourself kicked in the face for it." All those tempting thoughts he could have used or conjured up in Christ's mind. But Jesus said to him, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (verse 10). What beautiful character our Pioneer — the Author of our salvation — expressed! Since God is going to reproduce Himself, build His Kingdom and expand His dominion through us, that's the kind of character WE'RE going to have to develop. That's the kind of character that you're going to have to WANT with all your being! Perhaps in this life you won't be able to reach the same level or standard of inexorable lack of compromise with God's Law that Jesus did. But you must fervently, energetically, do the BEST YOU ARE ABLE, and to your UTTERMOST capabilities and talents strive to exercise that kind of character! I hope we really grasp the lesson of Jesus' experience, brethren. Unless there are trials, unless there are tests, unless there are choices, there is no character building. Every test and every trial you run into in your life — little things that happen between you and your wife at home, between you and your children, between you and your employer — little things of every day, every hour, every moment — are tests to see whether your character will be built sufficiently for you to be made a Son of God!
How to Develop Character
But exactly how can we develop that kind of character? Let's make it really clear and bring it right down to the "grass roots," as far as our lives are concerned. First, let's realize that God has given His Holy Spirit to us. God's Spirit makes us different from ordinary men or women. The Holy Spirit enables us to look through our eyes with Godly vision — spiritual vision. We are now able to compare spiritual things with spiritual. For the first time, our minds are open to really know what is right and what is wrong! A Spirit-begotten Christian begins his spiritual life from his baptism — and goes on to develop greater and greater depths of spiritual understanding. As he grows, he comprehends more deeply and finitely what is right and what is wrong shout his own life, and also what he personally must do about it. From the moment we receive God's Spirit, we are then responsible for whatever knowledge of right and wrong that it opens to our minds to see. From that point on, building righteous character begins. As we grow we will face trials and tests. God tempts no man (James 1:13), but He often allows us to be tempted and uses those temptations to try us — to see just how much character we have built. Each time we give in to temptation we tear down some character. But each time we face trouble or temptation head-on and conquer it, we become a little stronger. Our character has grown a little greater. We don't ever have to fail these tests — IF we remain close to God in prayer and Bible study, continually drawing upon and activating His Holy Spirit in us. You can always be the winner! You simply choose the right and exert all your own power, and God will supernaturally strengthen you through the mighty POWER of His Holy Spirit so you can resist any temptation and endure any trial that comes your way!
From the moment of your baptism, you set upon a road along which you repeatedly have to make decisions — CHOICES — as to whether you will obey God or disobey. To compromise or not to compromise. The key to character building is: NEVER COMPROMISE with God's standards, with His Law and with His will! You have the power at hand to obey. So ALWAYS DO what God shows you is right. Let me repeat again — NEVER COMPROMISE! Every compromise with God's Law leads to DEATH! Every compromise with the principles of God's Law causes destruction — character assassination! No matter how small the compromise with God's standards, His Law and His will, nothing is more deadly to you! In James 1:17 we read, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The Phillips translation of the latter part of that verse is "with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency." In other words, with God there is absolutely no compromise. God is UNCOMPROMISINGLY consistent and never departs from His laws. Therefore, if you want to be in the Family of God, never compromise, because compromise is a curse, an eroding, a weakening, a tearing down of character. Even the slightest little compromise is a weakening agent.
Areas Where Compromise Begins
In Luke 18:1, Jesus spoke of prayer: "And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint [or to give up prayer]." Prayer is the pulse of spiritual life! It is the heartbeat of our spiritual growth and progress. How much do YOU compromise with prayer? Believe me, brethren, we are vulnerable! Do you have heart-rending prayer with God every day — never fainting — never giving up? How many of us are assassinating our character by not praying at all? We can assassinate our character even when we do get down on our knees before our God and pray, if we don't pray properly and put our whole heart into our prayers. The quality of our prayer and what we pray about are vital. Lack of prayer — once allowed to commence — can spread on into the weeks and the months, until prayer is simply no longer a FORCE in a person's life. As a result, his character goes right down the drain. Take another example of compromise. Jesus said, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). We've heard those words many times. And yet we all too often don't perform the loving service for our brethren that we have the power to do. Instead, we sometimes say harsh things to them and about them, usually behind their backs — half truths, three-quarter truths, even whole truths about things better left unsaid. Instead of covering a multitude of sins, we expose them to the sun and the air! Brethren, gossip is like a wound going down into the innermost parts of the belly. To stop it, all we have to do is SHUT our mouths and SHUT our ears! All we have to do is turn and walk the other way. All you have to do is say, "I don't want to talk about that anymore."
Follow Christ's Example
Jesus Christ qualified to become a son of God because He didn't compromise with love. In the midst of a jostling crowd, if a woman touched the hem of His garment, He healed her! Jesus wept over the imminent doom of Jerusalem, fed multitudes, comforted the sick, healed the blind, set the lepers free — all acts of love, and examples of righteous character. No compromise! There wasn't a time when Jesus Christ turned His back on any man — or ever will! Brethren, choose to follow the example of our Pioneer. Don't compromise with practical opportunities to show love and compassion — whether on your job, at services, at the Feast of Tabernacles, or whatever. Don't fail to love one another! Take these times of trial, and testing, and use them to BUILD that set-jawed, unyielding, uncompromising inner integrity OF GOD — the kind of character that out Savior developed. God gave you the POWER of His Spirit so you CAN do it — if you CHOOSE to do so and refuse to compromise!