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Why Christians Should Focus on Character (part 2)

In part one of our two-part series, we looked for biblical reasons for emphasizing the importance of a person's character. We started in Genesis 1:26, where people are first mentioned in the Bible. We saw there that people are image bearers of God solely because they're human. When they act according to His likeness, doing what is good, they reveal God's image, which is beautiful. I was happy to discover a reason for how I feel when I see people doing "good things." It's because I'm witnessing the image of God in them.

For example, the other day, I was stuck in a traffic jam and witnessed a car passing the stopped vehicles by driving on the berm to my right. I didn't think much of it until traffic moved far enough that I ended up beside the car, which had stalled from overheating. While I was stopped next to it, a lady jumped out of the 18-wheeler in the passing lane with two water jugs. She ran them over to the distressed driver, talked to him a little, and then returned to the truck. It was a beautiful thing that almost made the traffic jam worthwhile. Seeing someone doing something like this is a wonderful reflection of God's image in them, and it's gloriously beautiful. Doing good works like this is one way we reveal God's image in us. When we do, we also experience our own glory. When we reveal the image of God in us, we glorify God, and He glorifies us (John 17:22, Romans 8:30, 2 Cor 3:18, 1 John 4:17).

But what about our experience when we witness people doing wicked things? What if that lady had popped out of the truck and screamed obscenities at the guy for driving on the berm, telling him his troubles served him right for trying to get past the traffic? What if she had kicked his car to make her final point, and if she still hadn't gotten it out of her system, kicked him? How would those actions relate to the image of God in her? I think we can agree they don't relate. Those actions are foreign to the image of God. They reflect, instead, what's happened to the image of God in us. It's been corrupted due to sin.

Corruption is what happens when your phone app starts acting up. When first installed, it worked fine. But over time, little bits of the code get scrambled, and suddenly, it quits working as it should. You can see remnants of the good original code when you try to use it, but some nasty code got in there and messed with the bits and bytes, corrupting the purity of the original program.

Something similar happened to the first humans. God originally programmed Adam and Eve with the purity of His image. But sin entered into them and corrupted the image, introducing in them (and us) an innate longing to return to the purity of God's image with the temptation to follow sinful motivations due to the corruption of that image.

When people demonstrate good character, they're reflecting the image of God. That's a beautiful thing to see and experience. When people demonstrate bad character, they're reflecting the sin that has corrupted the image of God. That's an ugly thing to see and experience. Good character glorifies God's image in us. Bad character glorifies the sin in us. Glorifying God is a good enough reason for encouraging people to demonstrate good character, but I thought there should be more. For that, I dove into the New Testament.[1]

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the perfect, uncorrupted image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 3:10). The Bible also speaks of people transitioning from the corrupted image received through Adam to the perfect, uncorrupted image of God received through Jesus. (1 Corinthians 15:49). This transition is a process, spoken about in 2 Corinthians 3:15-18. I rarely cite the Amplified Bible, but I think doing so here will result in less commentary later:

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil [of blindness] lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns [in repentance and faith] to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]. And we all, with unveiled face, continually [reflecting] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit.

When a person decides to be obedient to God forever and places their faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord – who is Spirit – begins the process of debugging the corrupted image of God in them and bringing forth the pure image. They're being transformed, progressively reflecting with greater clarity the image of Christ, which is the perfect, uncorrupted image of God. All of this is accomplished by the Spirit of the Lord, who initiates, continues, and completes the transformative work.

What's the relationship, then, between a person's character and the Spirit's transforming work? Character is a measure of how the process is proceeding. While the Spirit works in us, we participate with Him by our working on us. The Apostle Paul talks about our participation in the Spirit's work by using the terms "old self" and "new self" in Colossians 3:5-10, telling those who are undergoing the transformation what to do:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Those who are "putting on the new self" are being renewed through a deeper knowledge of Christ, reflecting His image more and more as they kill off the "bad character" practices of the old self. They are set free to reflect the perfect image of God by …

Put[ting] on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Through our repentance and faith, the Spirit transforms our old self that once practiced bad character into a new self that can practice good character after the image of our Creator. That's good news!

Summary: People are to represent God on earth. Like the image of something represents the real thing, humans created in God's image are meant to represent God. When they act according to His likeness, doing what is good, they reveal God's image, which is gloriously beautiful.

But sin corrupted the image of God in humanity, giving rise to an ugly alternative for how people might act. That led us to a conclusion. When people demonstrate good character, they're reflecting the image of God in them. When demonstrating bad character, they reflect the sin that corrupted God's image in them. This is one reason to emphasize good character (or discourage bad character due to sin). It glorifies God in people.

The corruption of the image of God is overcome by the work of the Holy Spirit. Through our repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit causes us to be reborn (or recreated) and begin the special work of conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect image of God. We participate in that work by submitting to it, the progression of which is revealed in our character (Romans 8:29).

Five reasons Christians should emphasize good character:

  1. Good character glorifies God. The purpose of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This goes way beyond deflecting praise or raising hands in worship. Everyone can glorify God by reflecting His image, which is done best by demonstrating good character.

  2. Good character elicits joy. People experience joy when demonstrating good character because it connects them with their Creator and purpose through God's image in them.

  3. Good character reflects the beauty of God's image, awakening the same in others. When we witness good character in others, it awakens our awareness of the beauty of humanity, which is God's image in us. The image of God in people can trigger someone's repentance toward God.

  4. Good character opens opportunities for sharing the Gospel. People can resist demonstrating good character but can't resist reacting to the call toward it since it calls to God's image in them. Rejection of the call elevates sin and suppresses God's image. Acceptance of the call elevates God's image and suppresses sin. Elevating sin reveals all that is wrong with people and the world. Elevating God's image reveals what is right with people and the world and is at the heart of the Good News.

  5. Good character promotes goodwill in communities and elevates society. Without promoting the biblical standard of good character, people freely regress into self-centeredness that destroys rather than builds up the communities that support societal well-being. We should be about the business of promoting good character. If not for what it does for people, we should be doing it because of what it does for the world and, most of all, because it brings glory to God. Isn't that what Christians are supposed to do?

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