Christ-like character is the ultimate goal of all discipleship. To settle for anything less is to miss the point of our lives. As Rev. Melvin Maxwell, former president of Ohio Christian University, used to tell the students there: “If you aren’t here to become like Jesus and bring other people to life in Him, the most loving thing God can do is take you to heaven as soon as you get saved, before you have a chance to mess up!”We are to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NIV).
We’ve been thinking, the last couple of weeks during Lent, about the characteristics of Christ we need to develop in our own lives. Actually, it’s more than simple characteristics here and there. We are to take on His entire character. Developing the character of Christ is life’s most important task because it is the only thing we’ll take with us into eternity. This means that the way we live personally is all about our growing into Him.
This means that the objective of all our teaching must be to change lives, not merely provide information. Paul told Timothy that the purpose of his teaching was to develop character in those he taught: “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith” (1 Timothy 1:5 NLT). Paul told Titus to do the same thing: “Now you must tell them the sort of character which should spring from sound teaching” (Titus 2:1 Phillips).
How do we do this for ourselves and others? Well, character is never built in a classroom. Character is built in the circumstances of life. Bible study is great to identify character qualities and learn how character is developed.Small groups are where iron sharpens iron, and we help each other hone the characteristics God is growing in us. But character is begun in the circumstances of life. When we understand and believe that God uses circumstances to develop character, we are able to respond correctly when God places us in character-building opportunities.
God builds character in our lives by allowing us to experience situations where we are tempted to do the exact opposite of that character quality. Every step of becoming like Jesus, from the moment we first accept Him as Savior, involves a choice. Every time we make the right choice, our character becomes more like Christ.
We have only looked at a few of the traits that defined Christ, traits we must emulate and build into our own lives. But if you what to know what Christ-like character looks like, a good place to start is the list of nine character qualities Paul enumerates in Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The fruit of the Spirit is a perfect picture of Christ. He was the perfect expression of all nine qualities. If you’re going to develop Christ-like character, you, too, must have these qualities in your life. Whenever we choose to respond to a situation in God’s way instead of following our natural inclination, we develop character.
Count on it - between now and Easter, you and I are going to have multiple opportunities to react and respond and initiate. Most of the time, our first inclination will be to serve ourselves, to do what benefits us the most and exert our rights. Focus on Jesus. Choose to respond in a way you can see Him handling it, and watch your character grow.