When I think of character, I think of integrity, discipline, dependability, conventional good manners…the traits that hallmark a person I would consider civilized, Christian or not, and with whom I would be able not only to trade services or sit next to on a plane if necessary, but work with cooperatively on a daily basis, employ, engage as a medical provider, &c. These are not the same standards as Gardiner Spring sets forth in The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character, because I do not expect to encounter Spring’s list of traits in everyone I meet. Yet character and Christian character do overlap at several points: visible morality, conviction for sin, love to God, self-denial, brotherly love, and practical obedience. Practical obedience particularly interests me, because I believe common grace impels it in unregenerate people of character–practical character, not Christian character. These are the people among whom Christians can live without excessive angst. They are restrained by the law without loving the law.
One reason I think so highly of Cathy Steere’s book, Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend with Autism, is that it is not only about autism, but primarily about character. The Steeres insisted that their autistic son develop character–Christian character–and that his autism did not excuse him from this duty.
So I am leading up to the thought that, just as Biblical law is a model for the law of all civilized societies, so Christian character is a model for character in all civilized people. Quoting my own review at Amazon of Mrs. Steere’s book, “If parents raised their children along Biblical lines, requring obedience, civility, and respect without excuse, we would not have anti-social personalities ruling our streets, cities, and disaster sites.” I believe that a government lacking character is a judgment of God. My pastor has said as much and I agree with him. I cannot help but see a parallel between God’s withdrawal of his grace at the time the Hebrew women were boiling their children to eat during famine, and the current trend of women aborting their children because of the discommodities to their self-centeredness. I am not waiting for judgment to befall us because of mass abortions; I see mass abortions as the judgment for our self-centeredness. Self-denial is a trait of Christian character. For an individual or a nation to prosper, self-denial must be a trait of character, as must love to God, which encompasses the entire law of God. Without love of the law, anyone who professes love to God is an ignorant hypocrite. Love for a parent implies respect for the parent’s rules, and a fortiori this applies to love for God.
So much of the time I feel transfixed in my ill-natured corruption eruptions. My remaining sin goes deep; sin reigned in my heart a long time. Character implies something about the discipline to override one’s nature, and when that discipline fails, to walk a pallet of nails until amends are made. The Spirit’s conviction is swift and sure, and once the heart of the sinner is impaled, the Spirit’s consolation is as faithfully forthcoming.
Our generation is obsessed with “character-building.” Character-building is packaged in endless commercial variations. People pay coaches, do unsuitable work, subscribe to newsletters, attend seminars, all because they know they lack character but have no idea of its true origin. One cannot purchase character any more than Simon could purchase the power of the Holy Spirit.
True character is like unto Christian character as our legal system is like unto God’s law–the whole law as incorporated by our Lord in the New Testament. A person without character is a lawless person. A lawless person lacks character. A person of character loves, obeys, and relies upon the law. The law is of God. A person of character loves, obeys, and relies upon God. A person of character is a person of Christian character. I think we’ve elected enough politicians who were hawking their good character to distinguish character from the gall of bitterness.