Developing Godly Character

Developing Godly Character

When the seed of God’s Word is implanted in the heart, faith starts to grow. This is the indis­pensable starting point of the maturation process. Then out of faith there follow seven stages of development until the Christian character of love is fully formed. Peter lists these successive stages:

2 Peter 1:5-7 But also for this very reason, giving all dili­gence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.

In secular Greek, the word “virtue” was applied to excellence in any area of life. It should not be restricted solely to moral character although it certainly includes that.  A teacher who comes to Christ should become an excellent teacher. A nurse should become an excellent nurse. A Christian businessman or woman should excel in his or her field of business. There is no room for sloppiness or laziness in any area of the Christian life.

Luke 16:10 He who is unfaithful in the least will be unfaithful also in the greatest.

Stage two of spiritual development is knowl­edge which is practical, not merely theoreti­cal. It is knowledge that works. Jesus never presented complicated, abstract theories. His teaching was based on familiar, practical activities: sowing seed, tending sheep, caring for livestock. The most essential form of knowledge in the Christian life is the knowledge of God’s will as revealed in Scripture. It demands a regular, systematic study of the Bible.

After knowledge comes self-discipline which is a fruit of the Spirit.  This is how a Christian proves himself a genuine disciple – that is, a person under discipline – and not a mere church member. This kind of discipline must be applied in every area of our personalities – our emotions, our attitudes, our appetites, our thought lives. It must govern not only our actions, but more importantly, our reactions.

Until we have developed this kind of discipline, we cannot move on to the fourth stage, perseverance, which implies the ability to over­come the various tests and trials that will inevita­bly expose any weak, undisciplined areas of our personality. That is a major reason why some Christians never progress beyond a certain stage of spiritual development. They never ful­fill these two requirements of self-control and endurance.

Then we see the unfolding of the beauty of a truly Christian character.  Godliness, the fifth stage, is the mark of a person whose life is centered in God, a person who has become a vessel of the presence of God.  Wherever this person goes, the atmosphere is permeated by a unique and perva­sive fragrance. There may not be any preaching or other religious activity, yet people become strangely aware of God and eternal issues.

The last two stages of development are two different kinds of love. The first, brotherly kind­ness, describes the way that believers in Jesus Christ should relate to their fellow believers.

The final stage of development, agape love, represents the full, ripe fruit of Christian charac­ter. This is no longer simply how we relate to those we like. It is God’s own love for the un­thankful and the unholy. It is the love that causes us to “bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us.” (Matthew 5:44)

The fully developed fruit of the Holy Spirit marks the degree to which we are transformed into His image and likeness.

Galatians 5:22–25 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Love – the primary form of fruit is listed first. The others that follow may be understood as different ways in which the fruit of love manifests itself.

Joy is love rejoicing

Peace is love resting

Longsuffering is love forbearing

Kindness is love serving others

Goodness is love seeking the best for others

Faithfulness is love keeping its promises

Gentleness is love ministering to the hurts of others

Self-control is being under love in control

This fruit is presented in Galatians in contrast to the works of the flesh. That is, we will exhibit either life in the spirit or the old form of life in the flesh.  I think the simplest way to capture what that means is to understand Jesus’ demand on our lives.

John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

John 14:23-24 23 …“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.

Clearly, Jesus has stated that to love Him is to obey Him. Scripture states that to those who obey Him, God gives His Spirit without measure.  Jesus gave 130 direct or implied commands! All are tough. This is your cross to bear daily. His cross dealt with your sin nature; your cross deals with dying daily to self and letting Christ live through you.  Jesus’ call is come, yoke, learn, and find rest. 

John 15:3-4 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

The Pharisees added to God’s commands to manipulate men, weighing them down with demands they could not meet, loading them with guilt they could never escape.

Matthew 15:8-9 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

Obviously, He is speaking of matters of the heart, the inside man.

Matthew 23:25-28 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 “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. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Heart is what matters.  We hear Jesus say, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  We learn from Him that “the flesh profits nothing”; and without love, no action profits anything.  We hear Paul say, “Bodily exercise profits a little but godliness is highly profitable”.

It is love that we are after. In our pursuit of love, we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil; Jesus overcame the world and the devil and now lives in you to overcome your flesh!  Be strong and courageous for:

1 John 4:4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.