Building Righteous Character
God created us, but why? So that we might, at some point in our lives, accept Jesus and then upon death go to heaven to continue living a life of doing nothing? Don’t be deceived! There is a purpose being worked out here on Earth.
“Mark well this super-vital truism,” Herbert Armstrong once wrote, “that perfect, holy and righteous character is the supreme feat of accomplishment possible for Almighty God the Creator—it is also the means to His ultimate supreme purpose! His final objective” (The Incredible Human Potential).
Think of the vast expanse of the limitless universe God has created. Then consider perfect and righteous character. It’s a far greater creation than the material universe! “I repeat,” Mr. Armstrong continued, “perfect character must be developed. It requires the free choice and decision of the separate entity in whom it is to be created. But, further, even then it must be instilled by and from the Holy God who, only, has such righteous character to endow” (ibid). God’s greatest creative accomplishment of all is righteous character.
Mr. Armstrong then defines this kind of character. He wrote, “Perfect, holy and righteous character is the ability in such separate entity to come to discern the true and right way from the false, to make voluntarily a full and unconditional surrender to God and His perfect way—to yield to be conquered by God—to determine even against temptation or self-desire, to live and to do the right. And even then such holy character is the gift of God. It comes by yielding to God to instill His law(God’s right way of life) within the entity who so decides and wills” (ibid).
But most in society today are more concerned about what they want to do instead of doing what they ought to do. So it should come as no surprise that most Americans believe right character has nothing to do with the success or greatness of an individual. Most will even vote for a shady politician, as long as he understands “the real issues.” Our collective lack of character is leading Western nations toward disaster.
What about you individually? Are you a person of fine, upstanding character? Developing holy and righteous character is the key to becoming truly educated.
Where Are the People of Character Today?
Isaiah wrote his prophecies in a book because they are for the end time (Isaiah 30:8; 41:22). In Isaiah 3:1, the prophet speaks of a time when end-time Israel (actually America and the British nations) will lose its abundant supply of food and water. Why? God says He will take away “the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator” (verses 2-3). God prophesies of a time when proper leadership and character will be virtually nonexistent. That’s why the blessings will evaporate!
In a society where 70 percent of the people are overweight, where are the strong, mighty men today? How about the great generals of war? Do we have just judges in this land? And what about the prophets or teachers from God? Old, wise men are scorned in today’s society because of their age. Honorable men have been replaced by the “me first” generation. Our great counselors today are often misguided psychologists. And the eloquent speech writers and orators of yesteryear, like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, have been replaced by a group of specialized advisors who compile information, based upon public opinion polls and present it to a charismatic figurehead who reads it off a teleprompter.
In short, men and women of fine character are a thing of the past. As you continue reading Isaiah 3, you will see the kind of individuals who do “lead” Israel today. “Children are their oppressors,” it says, “and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (verse 12).
Anciently, the effectiveness of the people of Israel was always determined by the effectiveness and godly character of their leaders. To say that the character of a leader does not matter when considering his effectiveness is sheer nonsense! Leaders are to leadby example. But today we have arrived at the point where we do not want leaders of upstanding character because we ourselves, as a people, lack that very quality!
Learning to Rule the Self
The archaic definition for “character” in Webster’s is to “engrave, inscribe, represent, portray; to characterize.” Consider the example of Christ. In Hebrews 1:3, it says, “He [Christ], reflecting God’s bright glory and stamped with God’s own character” (Moffatt). Holy righteous character is simply the mark, impress or stamp which perfectly reflects the object or being who stamped it! No matter where He was, who He was with, or what He was doing, Jesus Christ always wore the “express image” of His Father. He was a perfect reflection of His Father. In fact, He said, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). What an honorable Father-Son relationship!
Yet traditional Christianity will have no part of a relationship like that. “We can’t be like God. That’s impossible,” they claim. “Just come as you are and accept Jesus.” But notice why Christ came: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). God is our Father! He created us to be like Him (Matthew 5:48). How much do we reflect His character?
The Bible reveals what our character is humanly, apart from God. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” And Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart [or mind ] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
If that is what we are, humanly, and we are to become like Christ, that reveals a lot about what godly character really is. It is understanding who and what we are and then having the strength, determination, will and self-control to overcome that!
As you study into the life of Christ, you will see that He did not go out to teach others how to overcome until He first overcame Himself. Leading up to His temptation with the devil, Christ fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights. What command He had of His own spirit! After He overcame Satan, He began to take His gospel message out to the masses (Mark 1:13-15). Likewise, God will not use those who are being prepared now to lead in the World Tomorrow, until they too overcome Satan (Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21).
Notice Proverbs 25:28: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” If Christ had not ruled His own spirit, He would have been utterly defenseless against Satan. Likewise, if we do not rule our own spirit, we will be without a line of defense, without a protective wall, just waiting for the enemy to come and overrun us.
To become an effective leader or ruler, whether in a marriage, family, job, society, or God’s Family, one must first learn how to effectively rule himself! To be able to someday teach others, we must first become educated ourselves! Contrary to what most American and British people believe, the personal lives of leaders do affect the followers. The reason? Because proper leadership is administered by example, which means that character is everything!
But in this society, obsessed with seeking pleasure and satisfying self, righteous character has been swept under the rug. We live in a characterless society and therefore find ourselves in the situation described by Isaiah in chapter 3 of his book.
Let’s briefly examine eight keys to developing godly character. As you consider these points, think about how society would be much different if people diligently adhered to, and followed them. Then ask yourself, How diligently do I follow these practical principles?
1) Godly Character Has Absolutely Nothing to Do With Outward Appearance.
Studies show that those who are “better looking” have a better chance of getting hired in the job market than those of a more average appearance. How typical of a materialistic society. How decidedly unbiblical!
When Samuel was instructed by God to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king over Israel, he learned a valuable lesson about “outward appearance.” When Samuel saw Eliab, the oldest and most “capable” of Jesse’s sons, he thought surely God wanted him to be anointed (1 Samuel 16:6). “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (verse 7). Man looks at the appearance while God looks at the character of the individual.
Samuel continued to examine all of the sons of Jesse, and continually God kept turning them down until there were no sons left to choose from—none, except for the youngest, David, who was out in the field tending to the sheep while all of his brothers were putting their best foot forward before Samuel. Jesse sent for David to come in from the fields. God told Samuel, “this is he” (verse 12). This youngest, “least capable” son became Israel’s greatest king. God called David “a man after mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). In the World Tomorrow, David will reign over all of the tribes of Israel (Jeremiah 30:9).
Consider Abraham Lincoln. He became president of the United States during this country’s greatest crisis ever. By the time he took office in 1861, seven states had already seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Just 10 days before Lincoln took his oath of office, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the president of the South. In fact, it looked so bleak that Lincoln’s predecessor declared himself to be “the last president of the United States.”
Here is what Donald Phillips wrote in a book titled, Lincoln on Leadership: “Such was the situation for a man who’d never before held an executive leadership position … who had no military experience to speak of, had never been in battle, and indeed had been only an elected captain in the Illinois militia briefly during the Black Hawk War. Abraham Lincoln appeared unable to lead the nation out of its dark dilemma. Few people at the time could have known, however, that he possessed all the leadership qualities and abilities necessary to save the Union. And virtually no one would have been able to predict the unparalleled strength of his leadership—that he would seize upon the very circumstances at hand, created by the crises of confusion, urgency and desperation, to exercise the full power of his office, and to create new limits of authority and leadership for the presidency.
“Why would today’s leaders be interested in Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style and philosophy? Because, by modern standards, Lincoln’s accomplishment would be regarded as no less than a miracle. There can be no doubt that Lincoln is the greatest leader this country, and perhaps this world, has yet known.”
Prior to his presidency, Lincoln was a fine upstanding citizen in the community. He read and studied the Bible regularly. Many are familiar with his acquired nickname: “Honest Abe.” And while in office, he declared a national fast to preserve the Union. Is it any wonder that a man of this character became such a fine leader?
Perhaps the greatest weakness of mankind, especially in this 20th century, is our proclivity to look upon, and base decisions on, the outward appearance. The Pharisees were known for this in Christ’s day. Jesus likened them to “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). Christ admonished them to get clean on the inside first, before worrying about the outward appearance.
A great many individuals in society today appear to be highly “educated” on the outside, yet on the inside are miserable failures.
Regardless of our appearance, God knows what we look like on the inside. He knows what we think about in secret. He knows if we are sincere in our religion—if we actually apply what we learn or not. He knows if we really have and are practicing God’s way of love—of outflowing concern for the good and welfare of others. He knows if we are honest. God knows. Character, someone once said, is what you do in the dark.
2) Godly Character Emphasizes the Little Things.
If you wait for the big events to really prove yourself as an employee or as a husband or wife, you never will! Those who prove themselves worthy in the smallest of matters will naturally prepare for bigger ones.
A Bible parable illustrates this in Matthew 25. Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to “a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods” (verse 14). Christ gave unto each servant according to their individual talent or ability. When Christ returned, each servant was rewarded according to what he did with what he had.
To one of the servants, Jesus said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (verse 21).
The fundamental Bible principle is this: Character is more important than the specific talent. If it’s the difference between building character or gaining a promotion through dishonesty, take character every time! Again, what good is your education or job if you haven’t learned to be an honest, responsible citizen in the community and family?
On the other hand, if you are with a reputable company, perhaps you have been overlooked for a promotion because of your lack of character. If so, consider the parable above. Have you been faithful in the little things? Ask an honest friend, a co-worker, boss or spouse how faithful you have been in the little things.
In this “get it now” generation, few graduates are willing to start from the bottom and work their way up. They want the big position now. Yet godly character enables one to grow and develop, even in the smallest things. There is a reason why character development is likened to investing money in the parable of the talents. If you take the opportunity to build character in the little things, when the big things come up, like a growing bank account, you’ll have something to draw on!
3) Character Is Having More Concern About How One Does the Job Than About the Job Itself.
This connects directly with the last point. If you only have small responsibilities, put forth your very best effort. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). We only have so much time in this abbreviated, physical existence. Make the most of it! You cannot take any of your work with you to the grave.
Notice Philippians 1:9-10: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.” The marginal reference for “approve” in that verse is try.Paul desired that we might keep developing godly character so that we might try those things which are excellent. Strive for excellence in all things. Good simply is not good enough. Become an expert in your field.
In his Autobiography, Herbert Armstrong wrote about the “$2 per week lesson.” He was making $8 a week working for The Capital and doing so well that their competitor, The Register, offered him $10 per week. Here was his uncle’s advice concerning that offer: “Well, now listen, Herbert, a little encouragement once in a while is very helpful. It shows you are making good. You can get some inspiration out of it to provide incentive to keep driving yourself on. But I’ve noticed that there has been a tendency in some branches of our family to keep shifting around all the time from one thing to another—never staying with one thing long enough to make a success of it. There’s a good deal to the old adage, after all, that a rolling stone gathers no moss. One of the great success lessons you need to learn is persistence—to stay with a thing.”
Make character development your main concern in your educational and occupational pursuits and God will provide you with the best!
4) Godly Character Is Doing What Is Right, at the Right Time.
Character, as we have already observed, is doing what ought to be done, not what you want to do. The fundamental problem with man can be summed up in one proverb: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Paul tried to explain this principle to the Corinthians in the first century. Many assumed that if you had any carnal desire, it was okay to satisfy it. Notice: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient [or profitable ]: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). There is a lawful use for things. But there is also an unlawful use. Though “all things,” in that sense, are under our power, we should not be brought under their power because of lust. Paul goes on to show how the body should not be used for things like fornication (verse 13) just because we might have the desire! There is a proper use for and a right time for sex—within marriage.
This one principle of doing what is right, at the right time, can be applied to virtually every situation of life. Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reveals how this principle is based on God’s great law of love. Notice: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). Outflowing concern and love for others must be our standard for all things.
God’s instruction is to live your life, not for yourself, but for Him and for others. Godly character does not promote a ritualistic, self-righteous religion. Yet, neither does a man of true character see how far he can go without actually “breaking” the law. Godly character is concerned about the attitude. It’s concerned about doing what’s right; about doing what you ought to do; about doing what needs to be done; not doing what you feel like doing!
5) Individuals of Character Often Walk Alone—They Never Follow the Crowd.
Adolf Hitler clearly outlined his ultimate objectives long before World War ii started. Yet it was not popular for world leaders to voice any serious concern or criticism over Hitler’s racist remarks. Winston Churchill stood alone as one who was willing to sound the alarm, even if it meant being ridiculed and laughed to scorn—which he was, for almost 10 years! Is there any other leader in this century who even comes close to Winston Churchill’s courage and commitment to doing what’s right?
Notice Proverbs 16:8: “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right.” If you lose popularity for doing what is right, then you gain popularity with God!
The Apostle Paul was not out to please men either. “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Society is full of people pleasers. Paul did not seek to please men. Notice why: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (verses 11-12). Servants of men cannot serve Christ! Would Jesus Christ have lost His life if He had set out to please men during His ministry? Of course not. Godly character is just that—God’s character, not man’s.
6) Godly Character Pleases Other Men of Godly Character.
Just because individuals of character are not people pleasers does not mean they seek to offend everyone they encounter. Offending everyone because of your “strict” beliefs is not godly character. It’s a fundamental lack of character! Abiding by God’s law of love does not repel most people. It should attract them.
Ask yourself, do I have many close friends and associates? Do people find it easy to communicate with you? Are you easy to talk to—approachable? Do you find that people open up to you because of how comfortable you make them feel? Do people gravitate toward you because they want to be around you or because they want to get to know you? Perhaps a close friend or associate could answer those questions more honestly than you. If so, seek their advice.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” How easy it is to sit back and complain about not having friends, instead of getting out and showing yourself friendly. If you are not cultivating friendships and continually making new friends, it’s time for self-examination.
While the authorities of Christ’s day hated Him and eventually killed Him for what He taught, the disciples and many who listened to Him liked Jesus and loved being around Him. In fact, one of the main reasons the leaders killed Christ was because of how much appeal He had with the overwhelming majority (John 11:48).
Luke 24:32 says, “Did not our hearts glow within us when He was talking to us on the road, opening up the scriptures for us?” At this point in the story, Jesus had already been killed. The hearts of His disciples burned for Him, longing again for the days when He was in their presence. Jesus Christ liked His fellow human beings. He had a genuine, outgoing concern and interest for others. He gave kindness and encouragement; and when He was gone, the hearts of His friends burned. How will those close to you respond when your life is over?
7) Godly Character Is Honest and Dependable and Can Always Be Relied Upon.
Someone once narrowed the principle down to this: Do what you are obligated to do, at the time it needs to be done, whether you want to do it or not. How dependable are you on the job, in the family and in the local church or community?
Are you an individual of your word? Perhaps the one commandment most would insist they keep best is the one about lying. Yet it’s probably the one we break most.
Notice Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Have you ever told an outright lie? Some might be able to say no. But have you ever been dishonest? Have you ever obscured the truth? Have you ever covered your tracks so that you might not get caught? Have you ever told one person one thing and changed the story slightly with another person? Have you ever given a false reason for your actions? Have you ever blamed others for your weaknesses or mistakes? Have you ever done something you knew was illegal, yet there was no way you would get caught, so you did it anyway? Or, have you ever done something which was technically legal, yet somewhat dishonest? Have you ever idled away your paid time on the job? Have you ever listened to the instructions of a superior, nodding in agreement, and then done it your own way after he left? Or, have you ever just ignored the instructions of those over you?
Now, again ask yourself, am I completely honest and dependable? Can people always rely on me? More importantly, can God?
8) Godly Character Remains Constant—It Never Quits.
Consider what the Apostle Paul endured: “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Yet Paul kept right on going. He never gave up! Why? Romans 8:18 says, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” He was a man of vision. He knew that while circumstances change, whether good or bad, godly character must remain constant, never wavering.
True character will not panic under pressure. When the Western world was ready to surrender during World War ii, men like Winston Churchill simply would not allow that to happen.
The following story has circulated throughout the business world. It’s titled, “Who was this courageous man?” It reads, “He drifted through his 20s. When he turned 31, he thought: ‘I’ve got to get myself going and do something!’ He formed a partnership and went into business, but in 18 months he was bankrupt. Then he decided, since he was broke anyway, he would go into politics. In his first local election he lost badly. Two years later, aged 34, he went back into business. Bankruptcy again. A year later he thought things were improving when he fell in love with a beautiful woman. She died. At 36 he suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined to bed for six months. He recovered and went back into politics, running for another local government post. He lost again. He started another business, with a little more success this time. So, at 43, he decided to run for Congress. He lost. At 46 he ran for Congress again, and he lost again. At 48 he ran for the Senate, and lost that as well. When he was 55, he tried for his party’s nomination for vice president. He was badly defeated. At age 58, he ran for the Senate again, and again he lost. Finally, at 60 years of age, Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first office—president of the United States. Lincoln told his friends late in life that he had had a lifelong battle with fear and depression, but he wouldn’t quit. Lincoln was a fighter, a man of courage … a winner.”
Through all of life’s ups and downs, one thing should remain constant: our character. Never quit. Do not grow weary in well doing (2 Thessalonians 3:13). Keep moving forward and see your character grow and strengthen.
Godly Character Is Education
The fundamental problem with modern education today is that it is based on the wrong foundation. True education, then, must be built on the right foundation—the Holy Bible. But that is only the foundation. God always intended man to produce additional knowledge, based on the right foundation. That’s why, of all God’s material creation, only man was created with mind power, enabling him to think, reason and create. Yet the society we live in actually discourages us against properly using our minds to think like God. Thinking like God is something one must learn to do.
Beyond learning to properly direct the mind, an educated individual must put these practical principles into action. And doing so builds character in that individual, which is true education! Education is not something you go out and get at an institution for four years. Education is a way of life. It’s not just learning how to make a living. That’s only a small part of it. It’s learning how to liveproperly.
Early on in life, children are taught that education is something you seek to prepare for life. Once you receive your certificate, you are ready for life. Not so. Many of the most “educated” in our society have failed miserably in the basic building block of society—marriage and family. Education is a way of life which never ends. Education is a lifelong project.
A right “school” education begins in the home, where young children should be taught the real purpose of life, as well as the right principles for developing righteous and good character. This would then serve as the right foundation for the additional knowledge one needs to be skilled in—reading comprehension, clear, understandable writing and vocal communication, mathematics, and any other specialized training one might seek for a career. But of all that’s necessary to become truly educated, character development is most important. There is no shortage of material knowledge in the world today. There is, however, a great shortage of good character. True education is nothing, if not learning the principles of right character and then simply applying them.
Make character development your first and most important goal in life. Realize that this educational process never ends! It’s lifelong.