Chracter Traits of the Spiritual Life (Introduction)

 

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life

Introduction

Our life in Christ consists of genuine faith and worthy behavior.  We have faith when we believe in God through Christ Jesus and rely on His redemptive death and resurrection for our sins.  We have worthy behavior when we allow God’s Spirit to work freely in our life and produce His gracious fruit by His power.

In this book we are concerned about the qualities that God wants to work in us.  We may call these the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) or the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:11).  These qualities or virtues are possible because God is working in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  They arise from the motivation of genuine love for God and for others and are patterned after God’s own perfect characteristics seen in the person and life of Christ.

We must not think of these virtues as merely optional to our life.  Rather, they are integral to our Christian experience.  They reveal that we are being increasingly molded into the likeness of Christ and transformed by His own Spirit to reflect His image.  Thus, we see described on the pages of Scripture these perfect characteristics of God and also the qualities that God says we are to produce and display.

We pray that you will find the arrangement helpful. The qualities are in alphabetical order and easy to locate. While other qualities could have been examined, we believe that these are some of the most import. May God bless you in your quest and your life!

–Richard Hollerman

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life

What do people think of when they remember you?  What character do you reveal when you are in the presence of other people?  These judgments may be accurate or mistaken, depending on many factors and circumstances.  But the more basic question is what does God know about you?  How does He evaluate your character?  Someone has said that a person’s integrity is what he is when no one else is present.  This is the same for one’s character.

The Importance of Character

Character traits in society

Although people without Christ Jesus are described as being “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10; cf. John 8:44) and are “by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3), we know that some of our friends and acquaintances manifest certain character traits.  This comes through a remnant of God’s image within people and some Bible students call this a manifestation of “common grace.”  Through His grace, God does work a degree of positive qualities even in the unsaved, although these characteristics are not perfect and are not the manifestation of the Spirit of God within.  Even now, while most people are in sin, it is possible for them to have certain qualities for they have been made “in the likeness of God” (James 3:9).  Your own family members, neighbors, and friends may display certain worthy traits even though they may not be deeply ingrained in their character.

Sadly, we see a deterioration of character in our culture.  What was once frowned upon is now freely done. What was considered immoral is now commonly accepted: 

People today literally entertain themselves with iniquity, heedlessly applauding those who sin most flagrantly.  Society today makes celebrities of people who in our grandparents’ generation would have been deemed the most contemptible rogues.  Almost everything that used to be considered shameful is now celebrated.  We therefore live in a culture where personal character and individual virtue are rapidly evaporating at almost every level.  Virtue and infamy have traded places.

According to the Bible, God designed us to be men and women of exemplary character.  He repeatedly commands us to pursue what is virtuous and shun what is evil.   From cover to cover in Scripture, iniquity is condemned and virtue is exalted.  Clearly, we are supposed to be men and women of excellent character.[1]

I remember reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography some years ago.  In about 1730, when he was in his 20s, Franklin wrote down 13 virtues to guide his life.  All of his life, he carried a notebook with these virtues listed.  Each day, he would evaluate his life by the test of these qualities and sometimes he would spend a whole week concentrating on a single virtue.  The virtues were temperance, order, resolution, frugality, moderation, industry, cleanliness, tranquility, silence, sincerity, justice, chastity, and humility.[2]  Franklin would often refer to these traits in his popular Poor Richard’s Almanack.  Sadly, those who know of Franklin’s life will remember that he failed to practice many of these virtues.

What is character?

Character may be defined as “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of a person or thing.”  It has to do with one’s “moral or ethical quality,” and pertains to “qualities of honesty, fortitude, etc; integrity.”  Character refers to “the moral qualities and ethical standards that make up the inner nature of a person.”[3]

Our character reveals something of our heart.  For instance, Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34).  Further, our clothes and outward appearance reveals “the hidden person of the heart,” with “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).  People may observe our outward words, actions, appearance, and demeanor and conclude something of our inner character.  Our inner character is manifested in the outer person and his actions.  In fact, our character is revealed in many ways, including what we do and what we don’t do, what we say and what we don’t say, along with countless other manifestations.

Changed inwardly through the Holy Spirit

God wants His children to be transformed inwardly and display this outwardly.  When one is spiritually born of the Holy Spirit, his spirit is made new.  Paul writes of this transformation: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).[4]  When we come to Christ for His forgiveness and His gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39), we “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” and we are “renewed in the spirit of [our] mind,” so that we “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).  The “old self” is that which is characterized by anger, lust, greed, deceit, unfaithfulness, foolishness, and many other negative traits.[5]  The “new self” is characterized by the many virtues or qualities that are detailed throughout the pages of Scripture.  Paul further explains, “You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10). 

In the passage from Ephesians above, notice that we have been created “in the likeness of God” and this is in “righteousness and holiness of the truth.”  In the Colossian passage, we see that we are being renewed according to the “image” or likeness of God who has created us.  This is why we are called to be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).  If we are the children of God the Father (1 John 3:1-2), we are expected to be like Him. We are to follow His example.  Thus, Peter urges us, “As obedient children [of God], do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16). 

We grow into God’s own likeness

As God’s children, we are to live or walk according to His perfect character.  Jesus says, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Our goal and our earnest desire is to be like God our Father—the one who has called us to be like Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  But what does it mean to be like God?  He has given us His Holy Spirit to produce these inner character traits that are expressed in our life.  The Holy Spirit enables us to put to death “the deeds of the body” and live according to His character. 

Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:6-8). 

The Holy Spirit produces in us those qualities that express His presence and power in our life (Galatians 5:22-24).

Scripture also says that we are to be like Christ and allow His image to be seen in our heart and life.  We are to be pure as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).  We are to be loving as He is loving (Ephesians 5:2).  Paul explains this transformation: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Through the Spirit of God, we are becoming more and more like our loving Lord, and manifesting His character.  We have “become partakers of the divine nature” and this involves a transformation of our spiritual qualities (2 Peter 1:4).  Our transformation will be complete with Christ returns, for we have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, so that he would be the firstborn of many brethren” (Romans 8:29).  But even now we can manifest the image of God and of Christ by our renewed spirit producing spiritual traits of the regenerated heart!

Natural traits and supernatural qualities

Many are troubled by the fact that some people who are not true Christians seem to manifest certain qualities, such as kindness, generosity, loyalty, and purity.  Sometimes a person may conclude that the presence of these qualities proves that the person is truly saved and is a child of God even though he or she may not have come to Christ as revealed in Scripture.

Before the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, it is true that various ones walked according to God’s ways.  Zacharias and Elizabeth, John the baptizer’s parents, are described as “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6).  We know that Paul (Saul) also was “blameless” according to “the righteousness which is in the Law” (Philippians 3:6).  Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2; cf. vv. 4, 31).  Even the pagans on Malta “showed . . . extraordinary kindness” to Paul and his companions (Acts 28:2).

This shows that devout Jews and kind-hearted pagans were able to manifest qualities that we may think are Spirit-produced.  Some of these were right with God (such as Zacharias and Elizabeth) while others were not saved at all (such as Paul, Cornelius, and the pagans).  But it must be possible, through God’s grace, to manifest positive qualities even without the Spirit of God.  If you are like me, you may look back to your own pre-salvation days and remember that you tried to be helpful and kind and patient with people.  We must acknowledge this natural ability that God places in us.  However, we must not necessarily conclude that a given person is saved when we see an admirable trait in his life if the person has not been born of water and the Spirit as Jesus states (John 1:13; 3:3, 5, 7).  Clearly unsaved people may manifest a degree of qualities that are not the product of the Spirit of God in the heart.

On the other hand, in this booklet we want to examine those qualities that are the outworking of God in our lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit who is given to us when we repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38-39).  The Spirit is only given to those who believe in Christ Jesus (John 7:38; Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 1:13-14) and obey the Lord (Acts 5:32).  Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to produce His fruit in our life—and these are the characteristics that we want to examine.  Paul commands us to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11).  Thus, true fruit comes from God the Giver, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We will be examining many characteristics of the spiritual man and women who are united to God through Jesus Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Scattered through the New Testament, we find lists of virtues listed and these we will employ in our discussion of the various worthy qualities, along with many other references to these virtues in other places and contexts.  (Some of the leading lists would be Matthew 5:3-12; Romans 5:3-5; 12:9-21; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 4:2-3; 5:9; Philippians 2:1-5; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 5:6-8; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22, 24, 25; Titus 2:1-8, 12; James 3:17; 1 Peter 3:8-9; 4:8-11; 2 Peter 1:5-11; 3:11, 14.)  Sometimes it isn’t possible to clearly distinguish between certain of the virtues mentioned in Scripture.  The following explanation is helpful:

Like their English counterparts, all the New Testament words describing kindness, meekness, gentleness, goodness, love, and similar qualities include a lot of overlapping ideas.  Paul’s purpose is not to establish distinct categories for us to think about separately.  He is deliberate employing a variety of similar terms and close synonyms to help us get the big picture more clearly. Remember, he is showing several facets of the fruit of the Holy Spirit—which is a single fruit with manifold expressions.  And he’s simply giving us the flavor of it with all these related concepts. . . .

The Characteristics of the Holy Spirit’s fruit are interdependent qualities—and at points almost indistinguishable from one another.  That is deliberate.  Godly character is not the sum of many disparate attributes.  It is the single quality of Christlikeness.  Try to isolate these moral qualities from one another and you destroy them all.[6]

Thus, as we examine the various spiritual fruit or qualities of Scripture, we should expect to find much overlapping.  And we should be able to see the character of God and the character of Christ Jesus manifested clearly.  Let us seek to be like Christ, our exalted Lord and beloved Savior!

Richard Hollerman

 



[1] John MacArthur, The Quest for Character (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), pp. 11-12.

[2] School-for-champions.com/character/franklin_virtues.htm.

[3] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[4] See our tract, Have You Been Transformed?

[5] Many passages catalog lists of fleshly deeds and negative traits; e.g., Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-7; Colossians 3:5-9; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 3:1-3; James 3:14-16; Revelation 21:8.

[6] MacArthur, The Quest for Character, pp. 93-94.



 

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