Godly character involves having Him write his law in our hearts and minds and then setting out to be a doer of his word? Have you put the development of character at the top of your " to do " list?
A number of years ago the Douglas Aircraft Company was competing with Boeing to sell Eastern Airlines its first big order of jets. War hero, Eddie Rickenbacker, the head of Eastern Airlines, reportedly told Donald Douglas that the specifications and claims made by Douglas Company for the DC-8 were very close to Boeings' on everything except noise suppression - apparently they were more noisy. Rickenbacker then gave Douglas one last chance to out-promise Boeing on that feature.
Well, after consulting with his engineers Douglas reported that he didn't feel he could make that promise. Rickenbacker replied, "I know you can't, I was just wanting to see if you were still honest." Now what you find, he was putting his character to a test, because he knew, looking at the specifications, that there was no way that their plane was going to be more silent. What would you have done if you had been faced with this type of a situation, where, if you lied, maybe you could have won a multi-million dollar contract, and you would have been able to take care of your business. Would you have been under pressure to lie in a circumstance like this? Or just at least stretch the truth a little bit, or try to manipulate the information, the facts, in your favor.
Donald Douglas showed his character by telling "the proof", or the truth I should say, under pressure - he passed the test. Now Chuck Swindall, in the book, "Rise and Shine" makes the following observation: "Ministry is a character profession. To put it bluntly, you can sleep around and still be a good brain surgeon. You can cheat on your mate and have little trouble in practicing at law. Apparently it's no problem to stay in politics and to plagiarize, or to lie. You can be a successful sales person and cheat on your income tax, but", he says, "you cannot do those things as a Christian or as a Minister and continue to enjoy God's blessings. You must do right in order to have true integrity. If you can't come to terms with evil, or break habits that continually bring reproach to the name of Christ, please do the Lord, and us in the Ministry", he adds, "a favor and resign."
Now, he's not saying that if you have a weakness as a Christian you should drop out of the Church - that's not what he's saying. He's basically referencing the Ministry here and our example. But both the Ministry and a non-ordained person should truly have what is called true integrity in their life - true character. True integrity, or the word integrity, implies possession of firm principles - something that you believe in and you hold onto it. A quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles, or professional standards.
Now, too often Politicians and those who are in the public eye profess one thing - they say another. We've all heard of TV Evangelists who preach fiery sermons, who are against everything - they're against prostitution, drugs, gays and whatever. And then it's discovered that they're gay. It's also discovered that they're using drugs, or that they've had illicit sexual relations with a prostitute, someone of this nature. And so therefore how they live is the exact opposite of what they preach.
I want you to notice the results of a recent Barna survey. The Barna Group does monthly - actually every other week - surveys, and they put them out on religious trends that we see in this country. Let me read to you part of a summary of a survey that he's done - the survey pointed out that while most Americans think themselves as being highly spiritual, that view is not supported by other self perception, or behavioral evidence in their life - they claim one thing but their actions say something else. For instance, among the 59% of adults who describe themselves as full servants of Christ, of which only a few were in the Clergy or full-time Ministerial positions, a mere one-quarter placed faith as their highest priority in life. Similarly, says among the people who's named themselves to be deeplyspiritual, or - there were different categories they were asked to rate themselves in - only one out of every four named their faith as their highest priority. Even among the seven out of ten Americans who strongly affirmed that their religious faith is very important in their life, barely one out of five, 22%, awarded faith the highest priority in their life.
And among the two-thirds who claimed that the single most important purpose of life "is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all of your might", less than one-quarter put faith at the top of the priority list, a direct contradiction in their thinking. Barna said, "Something's amiss, because there is a (as he says) - a significant disconnect between what they say and what they do." "Spirituality" he goes on to say in this summary, "is in vogue in our society today. It is popular to claim to be part of a faithcommunity, or to have a spiritual commitment. But what do Americans mean when they claim to be spiritual? You hear people today say, well they're spiritual, but they're not religious. Now by religious, they mean they don't attend church, but they're spiritual".
"The recent Grammy Awards were perhaps indicative of this break-down between self perception and reality. The members of the group that won the award for the best song, "Thank God for the Victory"- so they gave God the credit and immediately followed with profanity that had to be bleeped out of the program. It seems as if God is in, butliving for God is not. So, it's nice to talk about God, but living for him is not what they're doing. Many Americans are living a dual life, one filled with good feelings about God and faith, collaborated by some simple religious practices, and another which they believe that they are in control of their own destiny and they operate apart from Him."
Then he has a section which he calls, "Soft Christianity": "To some observers, the recent barrage of faith affirming statistics seems to clash with the measure of limited commitment to faith." He says, "These figures emphasize how soft people's commitment is. Americans are willing to spend some energy in religious activities, such as attending church, reading the Bible, and they're willing to throw some money in the offering basket. And because of such activities, they convince themselves that they are people of genuine faith, because they do a few good things. But when it comes time to truly establish their priorities, and making a tangible commitment to knowing and loving God, and to allow Him to change their character and their life style, most people stop short. We want to be spiritual, we want to have God's favor, but we're not sure we want Him taking control of our lives, and messing with the image and outcome we worked so hard to produce. So most people 'talk the talk' but they don't 'walk the walk'".
Brethren, can Christians claim to be truly faith motivated and spiritual and yet allow their beliefs not to be affected by - or their beliefs to affect their life style, or their character? How important is character to God, anyway? Do the two actually correlate - how you live and what your character is? What is character? This is a topic I think we need to focus on. Years ago we used to hear about character, character development, all the time. Mr. Armstrong spoke about it constantly, and I think somewhere, about '86, it went out of vogue and you didn't hear too much about character development.
How do you go about developing character? What kind of character do you and I need to be in God's kingdom? Sometimes people are characters, but we're talking about having character. We all know people who have strong character - they live by definite standards and values. There are a lot of people, (you look around you), especially in the religious community, and what they know or understand, in many cases you find they try to live by that. Many who call themselves Christian, or spiritual, have definite values and beliefs. But is that the character that God is looking for? What kind of character is God looking for in His people, in His Church? You might remember an old saying, it goes something like this: "If you don't know what you're looking for, you won't know when you find it." So, if you and I are going to look for the right type of character, you have to define it first in order to know if you've found it.
Let's go over to Hebrews, Chapter 1 and Verse 3 (Hebrews 1, Verse 3). Well, we can back up here, Verse 2.
Hebrews 1:2 Hebrews 1:2Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
American King James Version×It says, He has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom heappointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds;
Verse 3: Whom being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he himself had purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Now the expression in the Greek, express image, comes from a Greek word that talks about instruments that were used for engraving or carving, or something that was a stamp, that would stamp an impression, and so therefore it meant the exact expression, or image - marked likeness. It would be like a coin being reproduced. You and I could take a look at a quarter, half dollar, whatever, and you look at them and until recently they used to look alike. They say those that came out of the same mold are going to look like one another, and that's exactly what this word means. Express image in the Greek is a translation of the Greek word character - now this is the only place where this is used in the New Testament. The word was used in classical Greek of an engraver, one who mints coins, an engraving tool, and it means, among other things, the character of a person. Here you find that Jesus Christ is an exact reproduction of the Father. That Jesus Christ, if you see Christ, you see the Father. So you find that Jesus Christ is an exact replica - the Son bears the exact impression of the divine nature and the divine character that the Father possesses.
I want you to notice what William Barclay says about this section in the Book of Hebrews: Quote, he says that, "He was the character of God's very essence, of His very nature, and Greek character means two things: First, a seal, and second, the impression that the seal leaves in the wax. The impression has the exact form of the seal, so when the writer in Hebrews says that Jesus was the character of the Being of God, he meant that He was the exact image of God. Just as when you look at the impression, you see exactly what the seal which made it is like, when you look at Jesus you see exactly what God is like."
So brethren, when we come back, "if you don't know what you're looking for, you won't know when you find it", what kind of character are we talking about that you and I should have? And the answer is, God's character - Godly character! Holy, righteous, perfect character! This is what God is trying to create within us. I want you to notice some other translations of this verse, very quickly. We find that, "He is the radiance of the glory of God in the exact imprint of His nature." Another one, "He reflects the brightness of God's glory and is the exact likeness of God's own being." Another one, "He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature." The Son reflects the glory of god and shows exactly what God is like.
Now I think that helps to capture the meaning of it: The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God. So Jesus Christ expresses that character. When Jesus Christ came to this earth, He said that he came to the earth to reveal the Father. To reveal to humanity what God was like and especially what God would be like if He lived among men. Remember Christ said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." So, Jesus Christ, even as He walked on this earth, was a reflection of the very character of God, the nature of God.
Brethren, do we show by our actions what God is like? Can people say that if they see us, they have seen the Father? Can they say if they've seen us, they have seen Jesus Christ? As I mentioned, Mr. Armstrong used to write extensively on this particular topic, and I'd like to quote from one of the books that he wrote, "The Missing Dimension in Sex", where he gives a definition of Godly character. And we want to take a look at this today, and realize, and I'm going to show you that his definition is clearly explained in the Bible, and upheld in the Scriptures. Quoting from what he wrote: "It is that controlled ability and a separate independent entity, that you and me, (were separate, we're independent), to come to right knowledge of the truth from the false - the right from the wrong, and by free choice to choose the right and the true. Further, to use the self-discipline to will and to actually do the right. So, it's not just knowing the right, but by free choice choosing to do what is right. And how do we define what is right?", he said, "Well, by the spiritual law of God." How do we know what is right? Well, it's God's law.
Okay, let's take a look at what I just read here and let's look at some of the components of what right character is made out of. First of all is: Right knowledge. Much of what you call Christianity today is based upon false knowledge and tradition. We realize that much that passes under the guise, under the name of Christianity, is not really truly based upon the Bible and all of its facets, but that people follow their own traditions. They come up with customs that are contrary to the Bible. They come up with practices that you find nowhere in the Bible. They keep days that God says that you should not, and so there's a lot of false knowledge and false information. And then all you have to do is look around the world at all of the false religions - there are dozens and dozens of religions that are not based upon the Bible, but they have their own Holy books - they have their own writings. And they claim that these are the ways to live, and in many cases they are the antithesis, the opposite of what the Scriptures reveal.
Now when God called you out of the world, and He opened your mind, He began to reveal to you how to live. He began to reveal to you what we normally called "the truth". I can remember years ago when I went to Ambassador College, talking to some of the students, and we used to always say, "Well, when did you learn the truth?" And by that, we meant, "When did you learn God's way? When was your mind opened? When did God call you, and how did you begin to learn the truth of the Scriptures?" It is God who tells us what is right, what is wrong - God's word is truth: John 17:17 John 17:17Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
American King James Version×, so it is the word of God. This is where our values are based. Now today, you find many politicians talk about family values, and yet they will define a family as any two beings living together, whether they're two males, two women, man and a woman - you know, whatever it might be. You find that everybody comes up with his own ideas, and yet holy, righteous, Godly character must be based upon what God says is right and wrong, not what we assume, not what we come up with, but what God says.
Secondarily, another component of right character is that: You and I have to make a choice. You know what is right, now what do you do with that? In Deuteronomy 15 - actually it's not Deuteronomy 15, it's Deuteronomy 30, I believe - and Verse 15 (forgot to put the Chapter down - I had the Verse, but not the Chapter)
Deuteronomy 30:15 Deuteronomy 30:15See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil;
American King James Version×See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil; So, here we have a contrast, life and death, good and evil.
Verse 16: In that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, his judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you go to possess .
Verse 19: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.
Okay, what is the way to life? Well, it is going God's way - His law. Do we obey God, or do we follow our own lusts - this world, its culture. You find today, the world - so much of the culture is not based upon God's spiritual law, but is based upon humanism - it's based upon secular progressiveness. You and I have to have standards. We're told today in many cases (and you find that this is what is being taught in the educational institutions of higher learning today) that there are no absolutes; there are no standards, there are no true values. I may have mentioned this to you once before, I remember taking a course once on logic and in the course the instructor asked, "What is love?" And different ones got up and started giving different answers, and I said, "Well, love is outgoing concern, that's equal to or greater than the love you have for yourself." "Well, that's your opinion." And then a little eighteen year old girl over there said, "Love, well that's my boyfriend." And, you know, that was her definition of love.
Well, again, it didn't matter what your definition was - her definition was just as correct as my definition was, according to them. So you find that there are no standards and no absolutes. But you and I, once we find that there are absolutes, that there are standards, that there are truly spiritual values, we have to choose: Are we going to follow that way, or are we going to continue in the wrong way? And then, another component to this is: That we must be doers - not just knowing it, we've got to be doers. It's not enough to think good thoughts - you know, good thoughts are great, but that's not enough. We must actually do something. We must actually obey, and we've got to do it consistently. See, that's something we know that is not just a matter of doing it once - well, there I did it! Is coming to Church once all you've got to do? - well, I went to Church, I fulfilled my obligation. Or you know, I didn't lie this time, but because I didn't lie once, I can lie now! No, you've got to continue to do it and do it consistently.
Remember the old saying about sowing and reaping - what you sow you reap? If you want to have strong character, notice how this goes: "Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reach a destiny." So if you and I know and think and are convinced in our minds that something is right, then that is going to lead us to act, to obedience. And you keep obeying over and over again, and guess what? After awhile it's like putting a groove in a record - you keep going over and over and after while it's scratched in there, it's etched in there. It becomes part of you, and a habit then leads us to having character. And you've got enough of those right habits, first thing you know you've got good strong character, and then that will lead you to reaping a destiny. And our destiny is to be sons and daughters of God in the Kingdom of God - that's our purpose.
Now Romans 7 and 8 explains why we don't always do what we know we should do. Let's go back to Romans 7 (we're all familiar with these Scriptures) - but it's good to rehearse the struggle that we all go through. (Romans Chapter 7 and Verse 12 to begin with):
Romans 7:12 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
American King James Version×Thereforewe find thatthe law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good. Then in Verse 14:
Verse 14: For we know that the law is spiritual: (see the problem is, though): I am carnal - you are carnal - now I'm not saying you are carnal in the sense
"carnal minded", necessarily, but we're fleshly, we're human, is what it's talking about: we're sold under sin.
Verse 15 : For what I am doing I do not understand, for what I will to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that I do.
Verse 16: If then I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.
Verse 17 : Now it's no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Verse 18: I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells.
And then as Romans 8:7 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×says: The fleshly mind is enmity against God: it is not subject to His law, and neither indeed can be.
Our problem is this: We're fleshly - we have certain drives, we have certain desires, we have the five senses, and we live in a world where the influences around us in society are almost totally from Satan the Devil. This is his world; this is his way out here in this world. And the influences that come at us, that we're constantly being bombarded with, are from Satan the Devil. And then we have our own nature, and we have the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life. So Satan is out there, the world's out there, the Devil is out there, and you and I have to go contrary to that. It's like trying to paddle a canoe upstream, and when you're doing that it's very difficult.
Exercising is a very good analogy of what we're talking about when it comes to developing character. When you exercise, (especially lifting weights), you've got weights. And you've got to come to the place where the weights (and let's compare the weights to the wrong way) - that you have to develop the strength to overcome that weight, so that you lift it above your head, and therefore, you're able to handle it. So God allows us to be faced with trials, and tests, and difficulties, but we have to overcome.
The Spiritual Law of God is another component. We have to choose - we see there are obstacles in our way that keep us from always doing what we want to do, but notice another component of this definition was that the standards that we have to go by are the spiritual law of God. Another brief write-up that Mr. Armstrong had on character says "God's character travels in the direction of His law - the way of love. It is an outgoing concern for others. God has that character; He has an outgoing concern for you and me - He gave His only begotten Son to reconcile us to Him, and to make eternal life possible." So brethren, when we talk about the standard that we have to go by, it is God's spiritual law, and that spiritual law runs in the direction of the ten commandments, the way of love. God's law can be summarized by the word, love: Love towards man; love towards God. So, you and I have to keep God's law. You can't have Godly righteousness, holy, perfect righteousness, unless you are living by God's standards, His way of life. And that is something that is developed day by day, not something that just occurs immediately. I think sometimes we think, "Well, one day I will overcome." - We will overcome, you know, the old song. Well, sometimes people think that there's going to be a brilliant flash, or something will happen, and boom, all at once they will have that character. Doesn't happen that way.
Notice a quote from a man by the name of Alexander McLaurin. He says, "Ahh, if our likeness to God does not show itself in trifles, (you know, small things), what is there left for us to show it in, for our lives are made up of trifles. The great things come three or four of them in seventy years, for there are great tests that you are faced with, and you're confronted with them, and maybe you pass those tests. But you and I have to live day in and day out. The little ones are every time the clock ticks. So it is how we live our life daily: How we work, how we take care of our families, how we relate to other people, what our relationship is to God - how we conduct ourselves day in and day out begins to determine our character."
Another quote, "Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next." (I hate to tell Allen this, but he's not going to take that basketball with him into the kingdom! Or maybe he will have it under his arm, I don't know!) But we don't take physical things that we make and earn into the kingdom with us. When you die what goes into the kingdom is the character that you have developed. The circumstances amidst which you live determine your reputation. Your reputation is what other people think about you; your character is what you are. Your character is what God thinks about you. Your character is what the angels report back to God and tell Him that you're up to, whether you're doing. The truth you believe determines your character. Holy, righteous character, is something that is developed only through experience - doesn't happen quickly. It comes through experience. Experience requires time and circumstances, and so you find that God creates time and He gives us a life to live. And during that period of time we are demonstrating and showing to God if we're willing to go His way.
Romans 5 - just back up here a couple of chapters in the book of Romans - Romans 5, Verses 3 and 4.
Verse 3: And not only that, but we also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance (or produces endurance),
Verse 4: And perseverance, character,
Now the King James Version says: experience, for the word character. The New King James Version says: perseverance then produces character, and character produces hope.
Verse 5: Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us.
Now the word here, in the Greek is dokimion and it means "proving trials", or trials that prove you, and therefore becomingapproved. "Tried character" is another definition of it, or as Vince says: "The word means either the process of trial that you go through, proving, or as a result of the trial, approved-ness." Have you ever noticed that when you are tempted, you're going through a trial, you have a problem or test you're faced with, and if you remain faithful, you do what God says, you remain faithful to Him, when it's all over, you have approved character. You have proven yourself, and God sees. God puts us to the test. The word also means "tried integrity" - a state of mind which has withstood the test. So brethren, we must withstand the test.
William Barclay has this to say about it: "Paul goes on to talk about how that fortitude produces character. The word he uses for character is doikeme. Doikeme is used of metal which has been passed through the fire. Now I want you to notice - it's gone through the smelting process so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage, as we use the word sterling. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, purer, better and nearer God." And I think that's a very good summary of exactly what happens to us.
Brethren, by being put in the furnace of fire, being tested, going through trials, you and I perfect our character. The dross is burned away - the impurities are eliminated. The living Bible translates this, "patience develops strength of character in us, and helps us trust God more each time we use it." So the more that character is developed, then the more trust we can have in God. Another translation says, "endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope."
Now in I Corinthians 3, we have a chapter here in the Bible that ties in exactly what we're talking about here. In I Corinthians, Chapter 3 and Verse 11 (we'll read through verse 15), we find Paul states that:
I Corinthians 3:11 No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ . (So, that's the foundation on which everything is built).
Verse 12: Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, or straw,
Verse 13: everyone's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; (all of us go through the furnace of fire, or trials, or testing) and the fire will test everyone's work, (What are we made of? What is our character? How strong are we? How close are we to God?) of what sort it is.
Verse 14: Now if anyone's work which he has built on endures, he will receive a reward.
Verse 15: and if anyone's work is burned, he will a suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as by fire.
What happens when you put wood, hay, and straw in the fire? They're burnt up, are they not? What happens to gold, silver, precious stones when they're put in? They're purified; they're perfected. The dross is eliminated; the impurities flow out, and so consequently they become stronger, purer. You and I are wanting to develop character that is like gold - gold tried in the fire. Sad to say, many have not withstood the test, and over the past few years have fallen by the wayside. That when the trials came, the tests came, they did not hold on. God will put us to the test to see what type of character we have. That type of character is not built (again) overnight.
Notice - I think an astute quote about character that goes along with this - "Character may be manifest in great moments" - as I mentioned earlier, there may be three or four times in our lives when great moments come along, and we have to stand up - "but it is made in the small ones." So it may be manifested in the great, but it's made in the small ones. "In great matters (another quote), men show themselves as they wish to be seen - in small matters, as they are. It is how we conduct ourselves on a day-by-day basis, how we treat one another and relate to God that shows exactly who we are."
In Hebrews 5 , you find that Jesus Christ, when He was here on the earth, had to go through the same type of thing that you and I are going through.
Hebrews 5:7 Hebrews 5:7Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
American King James Version×who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His Godly fear,
Verse 8: and though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the thing by which He suffered.
So, you and I learn obedience by the things that we go through. He matured spiritually as God in the flesh; He had to resist temptation. And as the Book of Hebrews says, "He was tempted in all points, as we are, and yet without sin." Our problem is, we give in, and we do sin. So, how do we develop that spiritual character? Let me give you another quote from the book, "Missing Dimension in Sex", on character: "So now, once spiritual begotten, (or spiritually begotten), we are merely a spiritual embryo. Now we must feed and nourish on spiritual food. How does an embryo grow within its mother's womb? It's nourished, is it not, through the placenta, through the blood, and nourishment coming to it through the placenta. How is a baby, once it's born, nourished? It's nourished by its mother. It's fed, and it eats - it begins to grow." But here he says that spiritually we have to be fed with spiritual food. Every word of God is spiritual food. This is our nourishment. This we drink in from the Bible, but we drink in the spiritual knowledge and character also through personal, intimate, continuous contact with God through prayer, and through Christian fellowship with God's children in His Church. Now, the physical embryo and fetus is fed physically through the mother - God's Church is called Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all.
Brethren, holy, righteous, Godly character cannot be developed without the spirit of God dwelling in us. It is not something that we manufacture just on our own. It takes God placing within us the spiritual missing dimension that we don't have, which is His spirit, which imparts to us and gives us certain gifts, certain abilities.
Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×: says "I am crucified with Christ; yet nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me;
Jesus Christ in living over within us. When God looks down at us, you know what He wants to see? He wants to see His Son in us; He wants to see that character in us. Going on with the quote:
"Character is, the possession and practice of love, patience, mercy, faith, kindness, gentleness, meekness, temperance, self-restraint and self-direction. Character involves knowledge, wisdom, purpose, ability - all properly controlled and developed through independent choice."
So brethren, Galatians 5:22 Galatians 5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
American King James Version×talks about the fruits of the spirit. When God gives us His spirit, that spirit imparts His fruit, His nature to us, but that nature has to grow, it has to mature. We start out like a small embryo, or a little baby. We've got to grow, to become an adult, to become a mature human being. That's what the Bible talks about, going on to perfection. The word perfection in the Greek simply means, to mature. We don't stay babes, we grow up, we mature. We become like God, in nature and mind, outlook.
Now, this explains why prayer and Bible Study are so important, brethren. Sometimes we lose sight of why God tells us to study. We lose sight of why Bible study and prayer are so important, because they are absolute essentials in developing the character of God; Without it, we do not. We have to eat the spiritual food to grow, and then we have to have that close relationship with God to continue to grow through prayer and Bible study.
Turn over here to Hebrews 5 - (Hebrews Chapter 5 and Verse 12). Paul writing to the Hebrews here says:
Hebrews 5:12 Hebrews 5:12For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
American King James Version×Though by his time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
Verse 13: For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, and he is a babe.
We're not to remain babies. What if you had a baby and that baby never grew - stayed a little baby, a little cute baby, nursing for the rest of its life, never grows up - that's not what you want. You want a baby to grow, to mature, and finally you want them out of the house! You know, "get out there, on your own!" Andhopefully they've been prepared.
One of the greatest things that a mother can do, and is so overlooked in our society today, is to emphasize character training in their children - to help their children to grow up with the proper and the right type of values and training. Verses 14 goes on and says:
Verse 14: Solid food belongs to those who are of a full age , (or who are mature), that is, those who by reason of use have had their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
So brethren, you and I, by use of God's word, by living by it, by applying it, begin to discern what is good, what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, and we begin to go in that way. So we must become mature to discern between the right and the wrong. Now another thing, again, that goes along with this, is: Christian fellowship. Our mother helps to feed us, and you and I brethren are all here to help one another. When we come to services we're not an island to ourselves. We come here and we fellowship with one another; we encourage one another. We strengthen one another, we help one another, and we do so throughout the week through our prayers, our concerns with each other.
Notice it in I Timothy 3:15 ( I Timothy, Chapter 3 and Verse 15). I'll quote the first part of this verse first of all from the King James Version - well, let me read the New King James first - it says:
I Timothy 3:15 But if I delay, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth. So, this is where you're going to find the truth and the pillar, you know and the ground of it -
Now the Kings James Version says:
I write so that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the church of God - (instead of conduct yourself - behave yourself). Now behave (or behavior is a good word) reminds us of our childhood, doesn't it? When your parents said something like this: "You better behave yourself - if you don't behave, I" - and you know, that after that "I, will" …you know, just fill in the blanks, and you know what your parents were going to do if you didn't behave! What did your parents mean when they'd say: "I wanted you to behave?" Well, there was a certain standard of conduct, was there not, that they expected you to live by, or to do.
William Barclay had some very helpful insight into the meaning of this Greek word, behavior. Let me quote what he has to say: "The word for 'to behave' describes what we might call a man's walk, or conversation;" (in other words, his behavior, how he lives) "It describes the whole life and character, but it specifically describes him in his relationship with other people. The word in itself lays down that a church member's personal character must be excellent, that his personal relationship with other people should be true fellowship. A church congregation is a "body of people who are friends" - notice: "who are friends." Who are friends, friends with God, and friends with each other. So it has to do with a man's walk. Remember I John 2:6 John 2:6And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
American King James Version×?
I John 2:6 John 2:6And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
American King James Version×says: "We are to walk as He walked."
You and I are to live as Christ lived; we are to behave as He behaved; we're to conduct ourselves as He conducted Himself. How does God work with us? How is it that God develops His character in us and works with us? Well, if I could sort of summarize it, He does expand us; He stretches us at times by putting situations in front of us. He gives us challenges to resolve that normally on our own, we have no idea how to approach them without His guidance to help. We have to draw close to Him and ask Him for help. If you ever come to a point where you're faced with a challenge, a problem - you don't know how to overcome it - you go to God, you pray and you ask for help - you ask for deliverance, you ask for guidance; you pray, you read the word of God, you search, you try to come up with the solution, and one day you read a Scripture, or God puts something into your mind, and you know, "well, this is the way - this is the course of action, this is what I should do."
We are also learning to imitate our Father. What do children do of their parents? They imitatetheir parents. Like the old saying about a child: "He is the spitting image of his dad ". That means he spits like his dad spits! And so, therefore, he is the "spitting image". You and I learn to imitate our Father, as well as our older brother, Jesus Christ. And how do we learn to do that? Welearn by doing, not just by thinking. You think the thought first and that leads to action, butthen you have to do. God is teaching us how to learn, how to develop Godly character, how to think and function and respond and react in a way that He does. How does God react? How does God think about this topic? What's His outlook? How would He do this? That's what we have to do. We're learning to live just like Jesus Christ, and if He were here on the earth, in the exact same situation, facing our exact question and challenge, how would He face it? What would He do? How would He live? That's what you and I are learning day by day, because if He's living His life over within us, then we're going to do (or should do) what He would do.
It's a choice that we make repeatedly throughout the day. You know, brethren, you and I make choices all the time. God has all the power and the skill for us to learn to develop His character, but it takes our cooperation, does it not? It takes our blending with God: His power, His work, it takes mutual cooperation. God has His part in character development: He supplies His spirit, He supplies the power, He supplies the strength, He supplies His word, He supplies - and you know - works with our minds. But it's a mutual working together, because we have to choose, and we have to do, with His help. So it's a mutual working together.
Notice this quote about our character: "The measure of a man's real character 'is what would he do if he knew he would never be found out?'" What would you do, if you're all alone - nobody's going to know what you're doing - you're not found out, would you still obey? Character, as Moody said, is "what you are in the dark". And again, same thing, when nobody can see you. John Wooden, the famous UCLA Basketball Coach, once said: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." Your reputation us what they'll write on the tombstone - your character is what will carry over in the resurrection, and determine whether you and I will be in God's Kingdom.
So brethren, ultimately, what is the perfect character that God is looking for in us? Mr. Armstrong once wrote: "Perfect character, such as God is creating in us, is a person who is finally made immortal." (Isn't that what we're striving for, to be made immortal?) "Who is a separate entity from God. God is creating us so that we will be separate beings in His family, who through independent free choice has come to know, to choose, to do what is right, and that means to believe and know that what God instructs us, is what is right."
Brethren, no one will be given eternal life until he, or she, has developed Godly character. God will not have another Lucifer on His hands. It's not just a matter of developing character - you look around the world today, and you'll find that there are people who have certain values, and they believe in it. Look at the Muslims who are willing to die for their religion and blow other people up. Look at people who believe false ideas, concepts, and you know, maybe they have a cause and they're behind it, but they don't have holy, righteous, Godly, character. That is what God is looking for, and that comes through the power of His spirit. So God's not going to give eternal life to someone who doesn't develop that. God must know that we choose to go His way forever; that we, no matter where He puts us, in the dark, nobody else is around - we're millions of light years away - God must know that we will still live by His way of life; that it is a part of us.
Now remember the definition about character that Christ had, that it's like a stamped impression? What does the Bible say about us and the character we're supposed to have? What is God doing? He's writing His law in our hearts and our minds. He is inscribing it there, so that we become like Him - that it's impressed there - it's engraved there, and we become as God is. Now, if we choose to go God's way, then He will give us a spirit body, and that spirit body will not be subject to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, Satan the devil; this world. We won't have to worry about those things. So, we must have the character to go with it. Our job now is to develop spiritual character. And we develop that in our minds, in our hearts, and in our attitudes and in our approach, to hate sin, to hate the evil, to love God, to love His law, His way of life. God gives us the power and the strength that we need to do it. We'll not be sinless in this life, but we must be maturing, growing, overcoming, going on to perfection.
God has made it possible for us to be in His family, by living in us, and giving us the power to overcome. So brethren, let's make sure that we put character development at the very top of our list.