Our character is the composition of internalized values that determines our words, actions, and attitudes. These attributes, or qualities, are built into our life and dictate our responses, regardless of circumstances. Most conflicts and successes in life and relationships are rooted in character issues. But too often we measure character by what people do, rather than by who they are.
The Greek word charakter, from which our English word character comes, means “engraving, the figure stamped, an exact copy or representation,” and is translated in Hebrews 1:3 as “the express image.” Jesus is referred to as the “express image” of God. He fully represented God’s nature, likeness, and character through His life. For this reason, Jesus could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 4:9). Jesus encouraged His disciples to learn from Him and to follow His example.
One of God’s primary goals for us as believers is to conform us to the image of His Son. Christlikeness is our destiny, and we can take comfort in His purposes, even when we experience difficulties along the way, because we are told in Romans 8:28-29: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” All that God brings into our lives works for our good and as others see us becoming more like Christ, God will be glorified (see Matthew 5:16).
According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary character can be defined: “By way of eminence, distinguished or good qualities; those which are esteemed and respected; and those which are ascribed to a person in common estimation.” Jesus Christ embodies all that is good. He is the perfect reflection of all Godly character qualities. But how could we ever become like Christ? Did Jesus really mean what He said when He told His followers to “be ye therefore perfect [complete integrity and virtue], even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)? This seems impossible!
What seems impossible to man is possible with God and only with God. Consistent, enduring Godly character comes from a changed heart, and a changed heart starts with becoming a new creation in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). Only the Holy Spirit can develop true Christlikeness in us! The Holy Spirit enters a person’s life at salvation. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ once you (1) acknowledge that you are a sinner whose sin has separated you from God, (2) believe that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is the sacrifice for that sin, and (3) confess your sins in repentance, turning from sin to God. Only God can empower us to live according to His ways. By God’s grace alone do we grow in character to become more like Him. It is a lifelong process. A life yielded to Christ will shine forth His character, as Paul states in II Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Young children need to be taught how to act properly and to obey, but lasting fruit comes only as they are growing in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If children are directed to the Lord in their early training, they are more likely to hear from His Word for themselves and want to make right choices on their own as they grow older. As they mature in Christ, right actions and attitudes will become an overflow of their love for God and others rather than a dutiful response.
Likewise for adults, “right training” can produce right outward responses (external conformity), but the essence of Godly character—the fruit of the Holy Spirit—is only produced through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. (See Galatians 5:22–25.) God wants our hearts. He wants to have a loving relationship in which He can meet our needs, give us direction and comfort, and continue to mold and shape us.
As believers, we have access to all that Christ is. According to II Corinthians 5:21, Christ became sin for us on the cross “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” We will see our character changing as evidence of His life in us. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth 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” (Galatians 2:20). Every Godly character quality is a practical expression of perfect love. The grace and power of God are essential to develop and demonstrate genuine love.
Why do you desire to develop good character? Is your goal to gain applause or the favor of others? Is your desire for self-improvement, to impress others, or even to earn your salvation? Salvation is only through faith in Christ and His payment for our sin, not in any work or performance-based efforts of our own. We are to live for Christ alone, not for our own praise, acceptance, or approval. (See Psalm 115:1, Matthew 5:16, and Romans 8:29.)
We are created in God’s image, designed to reflect His character, so He is seen, enjoyed, and honored through us and in us. It is our sacred purpose and highest privilege to grow in Christlike character and bring glory to our Creator. May God be glorified as you allow Him to transform you into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ!