The Holy Spirit indwells within us to shapes our character into the image of Jesus Christ.
Scripture describes this work of the Holy Spirit with several powerful images.
The Old Person Being Put To Death the New Person Being Raised Up
Sanctification is the process of the old self being put to death and a new self being raised up,Romans 6:1-11 (NIV)
We have been bought with a price; we no longer belong to ourselves. This fact redirects our life to live for the glory of God.
Bearing the Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Paul also speaks of this work of the Holy Spirit in terms of enabling us to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is an expression of our own character transformation brought by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our relationship with Christ.
This is also a description of the variety of ways that we live out Christ’s love in the context of community.
One of our Dunamis teachers, Rev. Dr. James Kearny, recently wrote a post about this transformative work of the Holy Spirit on his character. With his permission, we share it here.
I read, for the first time, the next book on my shelf, “After You Believe or Why Christian Character Matters” by Nicholas Thomas Wright.
I bought it secondhand years ago. It must have come from a seller in England, because halfway through I found a train ticket from York to London, “super off peak.”
Bishop NT Wright, a man famous for being able to write faster than he can speak, and he speaks at a right brisk clip, answers the question of the newly saved Christian.
“Now what?” Bishop Wright, like the apostle Paul whom he often writes about, tells us to look up, focus on the goal of our faith, and use the present responsibilities and callings to understand and shape our character.
As the ancients put it, “the pursuit of virtue.”
Establish a Godly Character
Our character does not come from going with your feelings, like the Romantics or Obi Wan Kenobi, or being authentic, like the Existentialists, or even like the Disney Channel, to follow your heart.
Character does not come from following the rules, though that comes closer. Our true character does not even emerge from enduring suffering, like the Stoics or my Granddaddy would say.
Our true character, our true self, comes from following Jesus.
Journey Beyond Self
This journey will involve feelings, heart, rules and yes, suffering, but it begins with saying no even to our best impulses.
To follow Jesus means every day, laying down your life, your plans, your gripes and grudges, your privileges, and oppressions, picking up the cross Jesus hands you and following him.
If achieving your true character is like crossing a dangerous river, you do not cross through heroic effort, or building a bridge of works, or a raft of good intentions.
You join Jesus and dive to bottom, dying with him, and then clinging to him, rise in new life and follow him to the far shore.
While this work begins with what Jesus did, it then requires our active participation.
There is no fast track to character.
It comes from a million daily small decisions which shape your heart, your mind, your body into the new self.
Stay On Track
I remember a few months into my following Jesus.
He led me into carpentry–trust me, it is not a holy as some assume it to be.
I likened it to taking everything I was bad at, rolling it into a job description and having me do it 40 hours a week.
After 6 months I said, “Okay, I get it. Can we move on now?”
To which he replied, “You understand it, a bit with your mind. But not with your heart, and certainly not with your body.” (And not with my check book–that is another story).
That had been late 1979. Jesus only released me from carpentry August of 1994, at which point, when I reached seminary, I had more in common with the maintenance staff than the students.
The point of character is that, once achieved, (or at least after years of hard, slow training), you begin to act right, not because you know the rules, rather out of habit.
This point of view however emphasizes our efforts. That is dangerously incomplete.
Truth be told, we cannot transform our character through our efforts.
Our obedience to Jesus’s leading opens ourselves to the life transforming work of God the Holy Spirit.
Our daily practice of listening for God’s leading and our following that lead opens our character to the life of God which changes us.
Remember Jesus’s parable of him being the vine and we are the branches.
This life is the Holy Spirit.
This work is sanctification, becoming holy, becoming more like Jesus.
The heart is motivated by love, not tolerance.
Kingdom behavior that once felt strange, now feels natural.
For as recovering sinners, Kingdom behavior is always an ill fit at first. But as we put off the old nature, corrupted by sin and selfish desires, and put on the new self, renewed in the image of Christ, it begins to feel more and more of a fit, more authentic, more genuine.
Because the one who made us, knows us best, and leads us in paths that will abound more and more with faith, hope, and love, as well as goodness, kindness, patience, and self-control.
Again, our obedience opens our hearts for the Holy Spirit to grow this fruit in our lives.
Our Response To God’s Love
I am reminded of an old French tale of a wicked man who fell in love. His long years of evil deeds had deeply marred and twisted his face.
So, to win his love, he had the greatest mask maker in the land make a beautiful face to cover his hideous visage. The art worked and the man won the young woman’s heart.
For years, the man strove to match his deeds with his new face and his new life.
Then one day, an old rival discovered the trick. In front of the woman, the rival revealed the evil man’s secret and challenged him to remove the mask. What could he do?
The day he had feared had finally come.
Sadly, the man reached up and removed the mask. But to the rival’s astonishment, as well as the man’s, the face beneath the mask matched the beautiful artifice.
His years of loving had indeed changed his face, as well as his character.
“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
Character is simply living in the present, in ways more and more in tune with a glorious future, when God will set all things right.
So, grapple with the struggles and challenges of today.
Ask Jesus what to do, how to respond, how to love.
Let him apply the lessons of each day to open you to the Holy Spirit. He will transform you more and more into your true self, so you will more and more respond in faith, in hope and in love to each new day.