Character. It’s not a term I hear much these days. When is the last time you heard someone described as a man or woman of good character? The dictionary defines character as
the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing; moral or ethical quality; qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity; reputation
I like this definition. Character is the testing or proving of you. In other words, when we go through the fires of life, character is what comes out on the other side.
God is keenly interested in developing our character. And as we examine this process, we see that He uses our experiences as the context for this growth. We have experiences every day, but for our purposes here we’re talking about those that affect deeper issues — those that reveal wrong attitudes, fears, destructive behavior, etc. Any learning that takes place apart from experience doesn’t go beyond the academic. Experiences do not guarantee change, but I believe that they are at the center of the change process.
My world view determines my response
The Bible tells us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Change occurs from the inside out. I don’t want to misrepresent that fact. But our response to a particular event or experience is where God seems to do much of His work in us. And our response is determined by our world view — the filter through which we interpret the things around us.
If we hold a world view that is not centered on the person of Jesus, then we will not value the things Jesus values. As a result, our behavior will not jibe with Scripture. But if Jesus is the center of our world view, then we will value the things He values and our behavior will reflect that.
It bears repeating. Experience alone does not guarantee change. Rather it is our response to an experience that is key. But our response is determined by our world view.
God builds character from the inside out. But He uses the external context of experiences and our responses to do His character building. So, what kind of response to our experience is necessary for change? Let’s examine the process.
When we’re sorting through something that’s happening — a perceived good event, a problem, a trial or a decision — we have a special need for Scripture to make sense of it. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Truths of Scripture are reinforced through Christian counsel, sermons, small groups and personal alone time with God.
Once we filter the experience through Scripture, the ballgame changes. Our behavior has just been confronted by truth and war breaks out. We now know what is right. How will we respond?
In his book, “Living Proof,” Jim Petersen describes this process. Here’s a summary of how he explains it.
If our world view is Christ-centered, we have three choices: say no, say yes in the flesh, say yes in humility. If we say no, that is willful disobedience and does not bode well for us in the process of character building. It may also bring the chastisement of God upon us. Saying no to God is not wise, but we often take that route a few times before his discipline “encourages” a different response.
If we say yes in the flesh, we will try to accomplish the right thing in our own strength. That leads to frustration. We may look good for a while. We may even have some semblance of success. But the sort of change required involves deep-rooted attitudes, motives and perceptions. The fact is that even though we may know the truth, we simply cannot do it on our own. Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7? The very thing he didn’t want to do he found himself doing and the thing he really wanted to do (respond rightly to the truth), he found that he could not do.
The third choice is humility. It’s the one response we are capable of making even when we’re at our worst. In fact, there can be no deliverance without it. It’s hard to say “I was wrong,” or “I can’t do this on my own,” but it can lead to freedom. And if I might say it this way, it allows the Holy Spirit to work in us. I don’t understand this mystery. I admit it. The Holy Spirit can do what he wills. He can certainly change me in spite of me. That’s how He saves — in spite of us, not because of us.
But I also know that something happens when we humble ourselves. James 4:6 says that God “is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” When we humble ourselves the Holy Spirit responds and empowers us to be and to do what we could never do without Him.
When we have an experience, filter it through the truth of Scripture and respond in humility, the Holy Spirit does something wonderful; something only He can do. He gives us self-control.
This might not be what you think. It’s not gritting your teeth and having the strength of will to control your actions. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. Fruit doesn’t strain. It abides. It just grows off the vine that feeds it. Self-control is strength. It’s having power over; holding oneself in. But it comes from the Holy Spirit.
Self-control results in obedience. Obedience to the truth. Obedience to God. That results in growth, character…change from the inside out. That’s such an incredible mystery to me.
If we view our experience as a chance to improve or grow in our character, we realize that even though God changes us from the inside, He uses the context of our experience to allow us the freedom to help or hinder the process. As Christians we are confronted with the truth of Scripture and must then decide how we will respond. If we humble ourselves, God’s Spirit will empower us to live lives of obedience and self-control.