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The Academy Award winning motion picture musical, My Fair Lady, with actors Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, has entertained millions of people over the decades. The imaginary story involves phonetics professor Henry Higgins’ wager to his friend, Colonel Pickering, that he could transform Eliza Doolittle, an untidy, unsophisticated flower vendor, into a lovely woman of character and elegance. How would he accomplish this? By simply training her in proper speech, dress and basic social etiquette.

Imagine if it was that easy to dramatically renovate one’s inner nature! Genuine character development cannot occur by merely altering a person’s outward actions and appearance. Rather, lasting change must begin on the inside and then be reflected on the outside. While it is certainly admirable to give proper attention to one’s clothing, grooming and manners, doing so doesn’t necessarily reflect what an individual is really like inside his or her mind and heart (2 Corinthians 10:7 2 Corinthians 10:7Do you look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's.
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). So, the question is: do we put as much emphasis on building our inner person as we do in ensuring we look physically presentable each day?

What is character and how can it be acquired?

Character could be defined as the inner strength of purpose to conduct oneself by specific moral standards despite temptation or pressure to abandon those standards. Beyond this description, let’s pose a more basic query. From where does character originate and what is its foundation? For this we must go to our Creator for His revealed knowledge, which is made plain in the Holy Bible. This is where we discover vital teachings about character revealed through God’s laws of righteous living and expressed in qualities such as humility, kindness, honesty, modesty, loyalty, generosity, hospitality and moral purity (Deuteronomy 5:1-33 Deuteronomy 5:1-33 [1] And Moses called all Israel, and said to them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that you may learn them, and keep, and do them. [2] The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. [3] The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. [4] The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the middle of the fire, [5] (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to show you the word of the LORD: for you were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying, [6] I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. [7] You shall have none other gods before me. [8] You shall not make you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: [9] You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, [10] And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. [11] You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain. [12] Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you. [13] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: [14] But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. [15] And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. [16] Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you. [17] You shall not kill. [18] Neither shall you commit adultery. [19] Neither shall you steal. [20] Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor. [21] Neither shall you desire your neighbor's wife, neither shall you covet your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is your neighbor's. [22] These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly in the mount out of the middle of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them to me. [23] And it came to pass, when you heard the voice out of the middle of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that you came near to me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; [24] And you said, Behold, the LORD our God has showed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the middle of the fire: we have seen this day that God does talk with man, and he lives. [25] Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. [26] For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the middle of the fire, as we have, and lived? [27] Go you near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak you to us all that the LORD our God shall speak to you; and we will hear it, and do it. [28] And the LORD heard the voice of your words, when you spoke to me; and the LORD said to me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you: they have well said all that they have spoken. [29] O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! [30] Go say to them, Get you into your tents again. [31] But as for you, stand you here by me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it. [32] You shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God has commanded you: you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. [33] You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.
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; Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, [23] Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
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).

Whether people realize it or not, God’s laws function in our lives and relationships similar to how the natural, physical laws of the universe, such as gravity, operate. If we break the laws He has set in motion, the result is distress, suffering and heartache. But if we diligently respect and comply with His laws we benefit enormously (Psalms 119:2 Psalms 119:2Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
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; John 14:21 John 14:21He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
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).

But some might ask: If character is so crucial, why doesn’t God just create it in human beings? Believe it or not, virtuous character is something even God Himself cannot produce by decree! But why? Because character demands that each of us make individual choices about how we will live (Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
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). If we didn’t have the ability to choose, we would be like preprogrammed robots or as animals with instinctive responses. God wants us to willingly choose to follow Him just as a humble child readily trusts and obeys his or her parents (Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:3And said, Truly I say to you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
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).

But, building and maintaining godly character takes concerted effort. It requires that we remain faithful and strong in doing what’s right when facing pressures to capitulate to erroneous ways. Righteous character simply can’t be put on like clothing or as make-up on one’s face. Rather, it must spring from inside a person’s heart and mind. To acquire righteous character, we must repent of going in our own direction in life and seek God’s help to faithfully follow the pathway He has laid out (Deuteronomy 28:9 Deuteronomy 28:9The LORD shall establish you an holy people to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and walk in his ways.
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).

In contrast to what human beings often consider important, it is not a person’s outward appearance that interests God as much as what is in his or her inner being. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
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, emphasis added throughout).

Character development is a lifelong mission

So, what is in your heart? Is integrity, honor and uprightness shining brightly from deep inside of you (2 Peter 1:5-8 2 Peter 1:5-8 [5] And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; [6] And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; [7] And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. [8] For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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)? In evaluating our motivations, actions and attitudes, we should consider what Jesus told the self-important religious leaders of His day. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27 Matthew 23:27Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
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).

Couldn’t this statement also apply to our modern culture, with its emphasis on outward appearance rather than on inward purity and uprightness? Indeed, how does God view society today? What He sees is a cavernous character deficit. He observes profound internal moral corruption covered by a thin veneer of physical and intellectual attractiveness (Galatians 6:8 Galatians 6:8For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
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Unlike in the fictional story, My Fair Lady, good speech, nice clothing and personal grooming do not make the person. Rather it is the core and depth of one’s inner being about which God is most concerned. For example, speaking to women about virtuous character the apostle Peter wrote, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel. Rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4 1 Peter 3:3-4 [3] Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; [4] But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
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). The underlying principle of true character described here applies equally to men.

Character development is a lifelong mission of choosing to do what is right while rejecting what is wrong. But how is it possible to always pursue the way of godly integrity? The fact is, God is eager to help us in this critical effort through the strength of His Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16 Ephesians 3:16That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
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, New International Version).

Standing up for godly values

The Bible provides illustrations of men and women who boldly stood up for godly principles and values in the face of intense pressure to capitulate to corrupt and sinful ways. The most obvious and compelling model is that of our Savior Jesus Christ who never wavered in repudiating falsehood (Matthew 4:1-10 Matthew 4:1-10 [1] Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. [2] And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. [3] And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. [4] But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. [5] Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple, [6] And said to him, If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone. [7] Jesus said to him, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God. [8] Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; [9] And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me. [10] Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
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). We can also point to the example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused the king of Babylon’s command to bow before a great image of gold he had constructed (Daniel 3:16-18 Daniel 3:16-18 [16] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. [17] 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 your hand, O king. [18] But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.
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). Although these young men were thrown into the fiery furnace as punishment by the king, God chose to miraculously save their lives. He did it in this case and in other biblical instances as a testimony, not only of His great power, but as inspiration to those who love Him and perform righteously (James 5:10-11 James 5:10-11 [10] Take, my brothers, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. [11] Behold, we count them happy which endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
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). Considering these and other scriptural examples of godly character (Hebrews 11:1-39 Hebrews 11:1-39 [1] Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. [2] For by it the elders obtained a good report. [3] Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. [4] By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks. [5] By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. [6] But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. [7] By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. [8] By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went. [9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: [10] For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. [11] Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. [12] Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. [13] These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. [14] For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. [15] And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from where they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. [16] But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: why God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city. [17] By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, [18] Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall your seed be called: [19] Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from where also he received him in a figure. [20] By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. [21] By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff. [22] By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. [23] By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment. [24] By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; [25] Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; [26] Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect to the recompense of the reward. [27] By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. [28] Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. [29] By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. [30] By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. [31] By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. [32] And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: [33] Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. [34] Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. [35] Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: [36] And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: [37] They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; [38] (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. [39] And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
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), are you prepared to obey God’s laws even as society descends further into corruption, immorality and lawlessness? Make no mistake, a time is coming when standing up for virtue and morality will become increasingly difficult (2 Timothy 3:1-4 2 Timothy 3:1-4 [1] This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. [2] For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, [3] Without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, [4] Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
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).

Therefore, those who are determined to do what is right must ready themselves to face extreme societal pressure to relinquish true values and convictions (Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
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). Although facing these troubles will be stressful and even perilous, we can be fully confident that God will provide the strength we will need to persevere (1 Peter 1:6-9 1 Peter 1:6-9 [6] Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations: [7] That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: [8] Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: [9] Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
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). The apostle Paul offered these words of encouragement, “Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 2 Corinthians 4:16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
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, Holman New Testament). For those who are willing to resist any coercion to compromise their moral integrity, Jesus Christ extends the magnificent reward of eternal life and awesome responsibility in His coming Kingdom (Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
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; Revelation 22:12 Revelation 22:12And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
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).

Righteous character is absolutely critical

Beyond the physical and material issues of life, we need to understand that righteous character is vitally important to God. When our clothing and possessions have long been forgotten and completely disintegrated, genuine character will be our wonderful legacy which will last for all eternity.

Finally, in My Fair Lady, in preparation for her lessons, the unwashed, flower vendor Eliza Doolittle, was led by Professor Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, into an elegant bedroom. As a maid ran water in a bathtub in the adjoining bathroom, Mrs. Pearce said to Eliza, “You know, you can’t be a nice girl inside if you’re dirty outside.” For our purpose, this phrase could be slightly modified to state, “You know, you can’t be a nice person outside if you’re dirty inside.”

Seeing how God has plainly revealed in Scripture that righteous character is absolutely important, is your emphasis focused clearly on building your inner person?

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