“The Essence of Christian Character"
The ninefold list of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-21 is the most well-known list of character traits. Other lists are found in passages such as Col 3:12-16, Eph 4:2-3, 32, James 3:17, and 2 Pet 1:5-7. All these lists are important to our understanding of what constitutes a godly character. Love is the greatest manifestation of the character of God, who is love. And the simplest and most profound description of a godly character likewise is love.
A godly character is the result of the new birth, another term for justification by faith. God’s work in bringing about justification faith, lays our glory in the dust and then builds a character within us in the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29). A Christlike character is the righteousness of Christ interwoven with the believer’s life and character. As he abides in Christ, the believer walks as Jesus walked. The more he walks with Christ the more fully he will reflect the character of Christ. This will be observed, even commented on, by others. And yet the one in whom God is working this change and growth of character may not be aware of what others observe.
As one resembles Christ’s character more closely, his opinion of himself becomes more humble. Examples of this can be seen in the experiences of Moses, Paul and John the Baptist. Moses was unaware that his faced shined with the reflected brightness of the glory of God. The brightness was painful and even terrifying to those who had not communed with God as Moses had communed with Him. Moses meek, mild and humble, knew not that he shined with the reflected glory of God. (Ex 34:29-35).
Paul had been highly honored by God, but his humble attitude of himself is revealed in the following words: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil 3:12). He spoke of himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
The Baptist’s testimony was similar to that of Paul’s. Jesus said John was the greatest of prophets while his opinion of himself was that he was unworthy to untie his Master’s sandals (John 1:27). He said that Jesus “must increase” while he “must decrease” (John 3:30).
Those men felt their great need of the atoning blood of Christ and the sanctifying grace of his Spirit. Thus it will be with all who have experienced the work of the Spirit within mind and heart. The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Christ – His righteousness – reproduced in those only who are “born again.”
Those in whom the fruit of the Spirit grows will be firm in principle and fearless in duty. They will possess a godly zealousness for the cause of God. And yet they will be humble. The gentleness of Jesus will be seen in tenderness with patience toward all. They will be ready and eager to forgive those who despitefully attack them. This is the fruit of having been with Jesus and having been taught by Him.
The fruit of the Spirit is also observed in the attitude of those who serve God and are reproved by Him if they sin in judgment, word or action. Repentance toward God and faith in Jesus follow God’s reproof.
God, at times, permits us to pass through trials that make manifest our individual weaknesses and defects of character. Thus opportunity is given for exchanging our weakness for Christ’s strength. Mistakes will prove a great blessing to those who will humbly accept reproof followed by sincere repentance. Such was the experiences of Jones and Waggoner, early on, when reproved by the Holy Spirit of prophecy. In a letter from Ellen White to Elders Waggoner and Jones in February, 1887, she cautioned them about making doctrinal differences prominent within the classroom and in articles in “The Signs of the Times.” The differences involved the “added law” of Gal 3:19. (See Letter 37, Feb 18, 1887, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 21-31).
The attitude of both Jones and Waggoner is revealed in their gracious acceptance of reproof from God. They manifested heartfelt repentance and faith. Jones wrote:
Your letter to myself and Bro. E. J. Waggoner, reached me three days ago. I have read it carefully three or four times, and have now sent it to him. For my part I thank the Lord for his goodness in showing me where I have done wrong, and shall try earnestly to profit by the testimony. I am sorry indeed that I have had any part in anything that would tend to create division or do harm in any way to the cause of God. And I shall be particularly guarded in the future. (A. T. Jones’ letter written March 13, 1887 to Ellen White, Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis, 66).
In a similar tone Waggoner likewise wrote:
I have read the testimony several times very carefully, and the more I read it, the more convinced I am that it is timely and was needed. I have been able to see some things in my heart of which I was unconscious. I thought that I was actuated by nothing but pure motives and love for the truth, in what I have said and written, but I can see plainly that there has been very much love of self mixed in. I can see how I have really hindered the advancement of the truth, when I thought I was helping it…. As I have humbled myself before God, he has heard my prayer, and has given me a measure of peace greater than I have known before. Again I thank God for the testimony of his Spirit. The strongest proof to me of their genuineness is that they have revealed to me my heart to an extent that it could not possibly be known by any one beside God….
[M]y error has been in being too hasty in putting forth views which could arouse controversy. I think I have learned a lesson that I shall not forget. I hope and pray that I may not….
I am determined, by the help of the Lord, that my writings shall be characterized by more of the love of God. I do pray that this reproof from the Lord may indeed continue to work in me the peaceable fruits of righteousness. I can say of a truth, that I do not cherish the slightest feeling of anything like ill feeling toward any of my brethren. (E. J. Waggoner, letter written April 1, 1887 to Ellen White, Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis, 71).
To conclude: in this lesson we learned that a godly, or Christlike, character is the love and righteousness of Christ interwoven with our life and character and manifested in humbleness of attitude, especially when reproved.
Sabbath School Today