By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever heard someone describe another person as a “character?” It might have been said with a bit of humor, even admiration, on the other hand it could have meant that he was a crank or a codger or “a real piece of work,” terms that are not so complimentary. However, as we examine what it means to be a person of character today, we have a singular question in mind: are we seeking to attain the moral excellence and firmness of faith that Christ demands we aspire to as His followers?
In his second letter Peter informs us that “His [God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (II Peter 1:3-7). It doesn’t matter if we are of low or high character according to worldly standards when we become a Christian, what matters is that we cultivate and grow in the Christian virtues or attributes brought before us in the holy scriptures as an example to us (among them: I Corinthians 13:1-13; I Peter 3:8-12; I John 5: 2-3; Ephesians 4:1-2; Galatians 5:22).
Among the various lists or statements of character in the Bible we find that the Christian is a person of love. Specifically, one who exhibits agape, that is a love for their fellow man that is selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional in nature. Jesus once said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We are told elsewhere that one who does not love does not know God (I John 4:7-9, 20-21). When we love one another, we are a comfort in troubled times, and a source of strengthening and refreshment when one is weary (Philemon 1:7). The world may hate us for the sake of Christ (I John 3:13), but we bolster our faith and determination through our love, and in turn share that love and faith with the world.
We often speak of our faith as Christians, but without love even our faith will come to nothing (I Corinthians 13:2, 13). In fact, it is because of our love for others that we share our faith. It is through these two attributes that we become effective students and teachers and evangelists (Philemon 1:4-6). In speaking of faith, we are not talking about simple belief. Believing is absolutely essential to salvation, but not all who believe are saved (James 2:19; John 12:42). When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt He did so with great sign and wonders. He led them with a pillar of cloud by day and by a pillar of fire by night, yet they did not “believe” in Him. They knew He existed, but they did not trust His word, they didn’t have faith (Numbers 14:11). As Paul wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-2).
When we have faith in God we trust in His word. We are convinced that what He promises will come to pass and we take His word as surety for our hope, believing that it is impossible for God to lie or fail. It is the immutable and perfect nature of God to which we anchor our souls in the storms of life and in safe harbor, knowing that He will not fail us (Hebrews 6:17-20; II Timothy 1:12). We also know that His promises are not reserved for a select few but extend to all people— to all who will come to Him (Acts 15:9). On the day of judgment every person who has given himself to Christ in obedience will stand justified by that faith (Romans 5:1), gaining the eternal home and peace that their Heavenly Father has reserved for them.
Another of the prime characteristics of the man or woman of God is forgiveness. Peter once asked Jesus, “‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ answer was a sufficiently high number to get the point across— forgiveness is without limitation. On another occasion the Lord also said, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note that our forgiveness may be without limit, but it is not without qualification— we are to continually forgive others, even as the Lord forgives us when we confess and repent of our sins (I John 1:9; Colossians 3:13). Jesus also issued a stern warning to those who refuse to forgive: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). In the end, why would we not gladly forgive others, knowing it is the will of our Lord and Savior, and understanding within our own hearts how much has been forgiven us. Frankly, I don’t want to see how long the ledger against me would be if it weren’t for the blood of Christ.
Finally, the person of Christian character will certainly be a prayerful person. According to the Lord we should always pray, knowing that the Father hears our earnest cries (Luke 18:1-8). Prayer is our avenue of communication with the Lord. It is also a sign of our faith, trust, and hope. If I don’t believe that God hears or answers prayers, why bother? But, if I do believe will I not avail myself of that helpline, that opportunity to say thanks, that means of lifting others up?
It is important to understand, however, that prayer is not a means to justify ourselves. Luke recorded: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14). Any prayer, no matter how boldly we approach the throne (Hebrews 4:16), should be a humbling experience. We may be bursting with joy and thanks, but there should still be a certain levity in standing before God, and a certain knowledge that we have nothing to brag about, but a lot to be thankful for.
If we are righteous God hears our prayers (I Peter 3:12). If we have faith, He answers our prayers when they are according to His will (I John 5:14). So, what should we pray for? Paul told Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (I Timothy 2:1-3). We may pray for the sick, and for our sins, and even the weather (James 5:15-17). The fact is we can talk to the LORD God about any worthwhile subject. The important thing is to honor the time we spend in prayer with respect for the one to Whom we are praying. It is not a trivial thing to talk to God. Moreover, along with worship and Bible study, it is the most important time of the day and we should treat it as such.
In this brief study we have focused on four attributes of Christian character: Love, faith, forgiveness, and prayer. These are by no means all there are. However, if we focus on these four as we study God’s word and pray for wisdom and seek to emulate Christ, we will not fail to add the other virtues to our lives.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.