Bread – Character

March 30, 2015


Readings for Monday, March 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 12:1-16; Phil. 3:21-14; John 12:9-19; Psalms 51, 69

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It has been said that “character” is who we are when no one is looking. If a person is of good character, then they will tend to be good even when being good does not matter. If a person is of bad character, they will tend to be bad even when being bad does not matter. A person whose has a character of honesty will be honest even when being dishonest would result in more benefits to them. A person who has a character of dishonesty will be dishonest even though they would be better off in the circumstances being honest.

Our behavior follows our character. However, it is well known psychologically that repeated good behaviors will develop and reinforce good character. Good character is not caused by good behavior, but it is certainly helped substantially. Similarly, good character is no absolute guaranty of good behavior, but the probability of good behavior rises dramatically when good character is behind the scenes.

Does our character reflect Christ or someone or something else?

For most people, the answer is “yes.” “Yes” to both. As a man saved by grace, born again by Christ’s finished work on the cross, I have the character of Christ, sometimes. Other times, my old character pokes through into action or thought which does not bring glory to Christ and which bears no good fruit.

This problem with the old and the new occupying the same space, fighting to be fed, for attention, and to be released into action, is common to Christians. It was a problem, a problem of character, which Paul deals with in our reading today from Philippians – “ Not that I have obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ…Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Phil. 3:12-16

Paul was highly trained in the ways of the world and sought to destroy the Church. He was confronted by Christ on his way to Damascus and was saved by grace. He then became missionary to the Gentiles and, in addition to proselytizing a large part of the known “civilized” world, he wrote many of the books in the New Testament.

He was truly and clearly a Christian, a giant of the faith, and a man of mixed character.

But one part of his character was not mixed – the part which desired to walk with God. His mixed character might cause him to stumble with the truth, but his desire to walk with God always caused him to re-orient toward and to strive for the truth. His mixed character might cause him to disobey, but his desire to walk with God caused him to try to obey, and to repent and try again when he disobeyed. His mixed character may have resulted in broken relationships, but his desire to walk with God caused him to look to restoration. His mixed character may have caused some of his fruit to be less than edible, but his desire to walk with God caused his good fruit to exceed his bad.

The question which Paul really presents is how we should think of our character in Christ. I think he would say that, if we are in Christ, our question ought to be whether our character today is better than it was yesterday. Are we growing in honesty, desire for truth, love of the Father and our neighbor, devotion to family, understanding of Scripture? Are we heading in the right direction?

There may be many things we see in a mirror of ourselves which we do not like. But Paul says this to that – move on, forgetting what lies behind (having been forgiven by Jesus’ death) and pressing on to what lies ahead (in the power of the Holy Spirit). By pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” we are feeding our Christ-character and denying our self-character.

As Christians, our character has changed, it is changing, and it will change — all to the better.

But we must persevere.

But how? In one of God’s miracles, in His economy of life, a remarkable thing happens when we take on the character of submission to Christ; Christ gives us a new character of freedom. When we recognize our human character of weakness and inability, Christ gives us the character of strength and ability.

We do not have the character of perseverance because we have it, we reflect the character of perseverance which is Christ’s in us. It is He who perseveres, and we who are in Him tag along for the ride.

Our character today may not be what we want it to be and it may not be what it ought to be, but if we are in Christ, straining toward the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ, then it is better today than it was yesterday. Not unto salvation because that gift was given to us in spite of our character, but unto becoming closer to Him and, in the process, closer to ourselves and each other.

What is our character as Christians? Good or bad? No, just better today … and better tomorrow … never perfect this side of forever, but better.

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© 2015 GBF

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