But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
This post aims to assess what character truly is and how we can develop our own, in spite of all the views and perspectives this world perceives it to be.
The Battle Within
Everyone at some point has heard about the war between the flesh and the Spirit. In order to go deeper into everything developing our character entails, a reminder of the subject is necessary, particularly from the context of how it was originally taught.
There are countless nuggets to be gleaned from concerning the effect of the law of sin and death and the value of walking in the Spirit. Here is the simplified breakdown of the matter in Romans 8:1-16:
Overview of the Flesh vs The Spirit
A) vs 1-2
There is a transition that takes place from our former selves (the sinful nature or the flesh) to our renewed selves (life in the Spirit) which is brought about by our union with Christ. This brings the kind of freedom similar to a slave being set free.
B) vs 3-4
At this stage, there is a need to understand the recognition of exactly what we have been freed from. The word flesh or sinful man or sinful nature has two contexts: firstly that the human body is capable of sin, and secondly the unregenerate, rebellious sinful nature and human value systems that oppose God and His value systems.
Through Jesus’ death on the cross, the punishment the law required for our failure to uphold it was met and thus our union with Jesus (our death with Him) meant that we are free to walk or conform our behaviour and conduct to that of the Spirit (since it required one as pure and holy as Jesus to satisfy the punishment from the law of sin and death)
C) vs 5-8
Free will has and always will be the right every person has, regardless of belief systems, background and other influences that affect our overall individuality. In these verses, the simple encouragement is to choose life or walk in (live and conduct yourself according to) the Spirit. The primary and pivotal factor emphasised is the mind. If you think about, meditate on and philosophise worldly things then your moral and ethical values will follow, but if you keep your mind fixed (Rom 12:2; Col 3:2; Phil 4:8) on the Spirit, you will walk in kind.
Sadly the information available to us has had subtle, and sometimes direct involvement in our general understating of character. Television, the internet, radio news, and print media come with a strong bias that contradicts the values of Christ. Something to bear in mind.
D) vs 7-8
The flesh (both the sinful nature and unregenerate man) is hostile toward God, ultimately its purpose is set on never submitting to God’s principles, and as such, cannot please God.
E) vs 9
The underlying premise in this verse is control. It simply points out the evidence of the choice you made as to what governs your moral and ethical make-up. Fortunately, the seriousness of this is decided by the union with Christ. You can only belong to Him when you have the Spirit in you.
F) vs 10-11
This verse is key, your body is dead, which is your morality because of the failure of the first Adam, but our spirit is alive because of righteousness, the last Adam is a life-giving spirit. In essence, the spirit of life should move us to conduct ourselves in a righteous manner.
G) vs 12
In this verse we are free from the power of sin and death, which means while we may have sins of commission and omission, we have the power to overcome them and resume walking in the Spirit. This is a bold statement that reminds us that sin is not obligatory or done on autopilot (controlled by sinful nature), but in spite of the form it appears we have the power to overcome it.
H) vs 13
This verse can easily sum up the purpose of this post. Ultimately the depth of our character is determined by our ability to put to death (mortify) the misdeeds of the body. The interpretation of this is summed up in two ways:
- Fight the tendency to sin by self-denial or physical discipline
- Focus on the life of the Spirit
Naturally the latter would be encouraged, but in a lot of ways, cannot be accomplished without the former, thus both are to be practised as the believer matures in the spirit.
I) vs 14
The two analogies used when it comes to operating in the Spirit are walk and be lead. Both of these terms imply total abandonment to Christ. Following, submitting and obeying the Lord also implies an absence of resistance to Him. This is achieved by using the Law of Firsts:
Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you
The beauty of being led by the Spirit changes the nature of our relationship with God. Our Supreme Being and Sovereign Lord can also be approached as a father (He is a great and mighty God, truly to be feared in reverential worship, which must always be remembered). This is not the Greek word for “father” but the Aramaic one, which is “Abba,” used in an intimate family setting as in “Daddy.”
Most people don’t realise that the testimony of the Spirit references a court setting. The Spirit testifies or bears witness the same way a witness recounts the events in court. The Spirit witnesses or testifies with our spirit that in every conceivable way, we are children of God.
Examining our Salvation
Before getting to this stage where we are led by the Spirit, we are persuaded to take joy in our suffering as believers because this is to produce character:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
It also appears that James gives us the same trail of thought:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
This fundamentally means that humility is the goal to true character development. God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud (James 4:6), so our character is best formed out of an attitude of humility.
Bearing the Right Fruits
Building character is not and will never be an easy process. Much like unlearning and relearning scholastic and existential principles, as well as, starting new habits, growing our character most of the time requires the discomfort of letting go.
In John 15:1-8 the theme of remaining in Christ is established (though in our case it is continued), and this is taken from the viewpoint of pruning branches that bear fruit so that they can bear more fruit. Again the suffering for character growth comes into play.
Walking in the Fruits of the Spirit
One of the main reasons why abiding in Christ is paramount (and in every way a prerequisite) to walking in the Spirit is because the fruits of the Spirit cannot be attained through man’s efforts. The war between the flesh and the Spirit resurfaces in this chapter since the region of Galatia had serious doctrinal challenges that Paul had to address. Realigning the Gospel back to its original state is the reason for this contrast since someone was teaching and spreading a twisted and misdirected version of the Gospel, which is why Paul had to be explicit in outlining the differences between the two.
Spiritual fruit are not “works” that are done for God, however good they may be, rather they are behaviours that reflect the nature and character of the living Christ within a believer.
To bring it all together, the mind that stays in Christ so he receives perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3), is renewed every day so the person is transformed in their thinking (Rom 12:2), meditates both on His Word and all that is of virtue and praiseworthy (Psalm 1:2-3; Phil 4:8), keeps it set on things above (Col 3:2), has denied and crucified the flesh (sinful nature) through physical and mental discipline with the desire to walk in and be led by the Spirit, undoubtedly attainable exclusively by complete abandonment to Christ, has a much easier time developing character.
Therefore whether there are multiple views of ethics and morals, subjectivity and objectivity obscuring and manipulating character, confusion through pop psychology which is intertwining Scripture with New Age and Human Potential teachings, all it means is that the optimist (glass half full), pessimist (glass half empty), realist (glass of water), physicist (glass containing gas and liquid), surrealist (glass half full viewed from a different angle), relativist (glass both half empty and half full), utopist (glass half full from the top), scepticist (glass does not contain water), minimalist (twice as much glass as necessary) or engineer (glass was sized at twice the required capacity for safety), they all need to weigh their beliefs against the scale of Christlikeness, Who while on earth perfectly exemplified the only One Who is good, and that is God (Matthew 19:17).