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Category: Sanctification

On Christian Character

“I think you may judge of a man’s character by the persons whose affection he seeks. If you find a man seeking only the affection of those who are great, depend upon it he is ambitious and self-seeking; but when you observe that a man seeks the affection of those who can do nothing for him, but for whom he must do everything, you know that he is not seeking himself, but that pure benevolence sways his heart.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1876

Understanding the character of those around you profoundly shapes your view of the world. This is intimately connected to understanding your own character as well. One cannot look at someone else’s failings or accomplishments without seeing themselves in regard to that. I truly believe this. When I encounter a man of low character, I usually do not think myself higher than him. I often find myself first asking, “Where is that weakness in me, and what should I do about it?” I don’t always follow through with actionable items, but sometimes I do. I think Character is one of the easiest things to fake, and hardest things to prove.

In the Western Evangelical church we often assume church membership equates to character, but sadly it does not. The church is nothing if not filled with broken sinful people. In some senses, that’s ok. Christ did not come to call the righteous, but instead the sinners (Mark 2:17). In other senses though, it can lead to a lot of pitfalls for those who are not wary.

In my experience, working with people seems to be one of the easiest ways to learn about their character. I have often found myself finishing an interesting spiritual conversation with a religious coworker only to turn around and be treated badly by them. It leaves me a little boggled, and confused. Though I do know, that once this happens I now have a quick and firm response for the next time they wish to give me moral or spiritual advice:

“I do not wish to discuss moral or spiritual matters with you, as you have shown through your character that any advice on the above from you will either be false or toxic.”
While this does well to protect me from fools, it is only the first step. From there I must then ask myself about my character, and where my shortcomings are, in hopes that I may avoid hearing this same thing from another. Worse yet, that I may avoid failing my God.


RETRO POST: Torn Between the Two

November 2006

Everyone says it. I hear it all around me. I am inundated with the same self-help message time and again. Psychology informs me that I cannot be fulfilled anywhere if I am not fulfilled inside. It is often preached from the pulpit and from the street curb. God helps those who help themselves. Be a good steward of the body, mind and heart that God gave you. Protect yourself so you can protect others. These are statements I am given. I am surrounded by books written by famous authors and even theologians that plead with me to focus on myself so I can one day become a whole being, who can then nobly be strong for others. Such are the rationalizations for self-focus.

Enter stage left: a young couple, new joined, and forging ahead in matrimony. He brings with him a deadened past and a starved heart, while she struggles with ugly ghosts of a broken history. They love each other and they love God, and all they want is health for their fragile marriage. They see a counselor, they read books, they focus on themselves and sorting out their own pasts, convinced that they need to reach some level of mental health for their marriage to be acceptable. And yet the more they focus on themselves and the more they struggle the further they get from each other…and worse, from God. Now he is gone, and she is left destitute lying on the ground.

How does that even happen, when all their desires and strivings were only to make it better? Shouldn’t it have worked? Shouldn’t this have done the trick…?

I am torn between two. Do I focus on self-healing…or do I focus on God. Are they mutually exclusive, or can I do one, as well as the other? Sunday school told me to only focus on God, and life told me to focus on myself. Logic tells me to find a happy medium. Scripture is clear that a tree by the water will flourish, and otherwise will dry up and wither. The story of the Israelites is rife with examples of their failings when they allowed themselves to focus on something other than Jehovah. Peter started to sink the moment he took is eyes of the Messiah. So, with that in mind, how connected is spirituality to mental health? Can one be close to God and pursuing His unwavering heart, while being a mental basket-case…Can I be borderline disorder, and yet live each day by faith? Can God still use and touch me even though my tortured past haunts me every dark night?

The clock is slowly ticking its way closer to midnight, and my souls quavers at the darkness that is sure to come…the darkness that is not always washed away by the sun. I yearn for closeness to Him, and I know that He can bring miraculous healing, but that is not the norm, is it? Perhaps that is sometimes why He permits mental anguish. Perhaps that is why depression is so prevalent. Perhaps He wants to teach us something. Perhaps, it is because as soon as I feel strong I run out on my own. Perhaps that is why He allows this cripple to stay this way. Perhaps, some of us might need that. Perhaps

But pondering that only brings frustration. Regardless, I cannot be far from God. I know that. He is my Sustainer, my Water, my Bread. He is the Sun that can wash away that darkness…He can do that, and until He does, I know I need to stay close to Him.

So how much do I focus on God, and how much do I allow myself my selfish pleasures of self-examination and focus? I know now that I cannot ignore the former, and I also know the danger of too much of the latter. Unfortunately, as the clock ticks, and the gloom settles, I find myself sitting here in front of this keyboard, still undecided. I don’t have that answer, yet.

Is this the Day?

This is the day

Really? With my 5 hours of sleep, screaming children, and sensory overload? This is what God has given to me? I want to just scream or pull my ears off. I cannot seem to even finish a thought, and yet He wants this for me? Really?

This is the day

Really? This is what God has for me as I stand over this hole in the ground, speaking final words for a lost one? Wondering why they might have been taken from me just now? Really?

That the Lord has made

Really? As a woman is sentenced to death for her faith, and beaten first. This is what God has given her, today? Really?

That the Lord has made

Really? As I cannot seem to accomplish anything but anger and stress today? This is what God made? Really?

I will rejoice

I have asked one thing from the LORD; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the LORD and seeking Him in His temple. For He will consceal me in His Shelter in the day of adversity; He will hide me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock.

I will rejoice

For I know the plans I have for you, this is the LORD’s declaration, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

And be glad in it

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

And be glad in it.

Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.

Oh God, grant me the wisdom to rejoice in my suffering, for I am terrible at it, and I need Your help.

Anecdotal Proofs of Lack of Growth

One of the more common causes of doubt in one’s life can come in the form of a seemingly unchanged life, or as I like to call it, anecdotal proofs of a lack of growth. We look at our own sin, perhaps because we struggle with an addiction or perhaps we are introspective and get too critical of ourselves. Either way we look to ourselves or even to those close to us, if we think ourselves too holy, and we think, “Well, if I was a Christian, wouldn’t I be better than…this? Wouldn’t I be more Christ-like?” We see our own actions or lack thereof and we set that up as experience and proof that we must be unregenerate or at best a terrible Christian headed for unbelief.

To this I have two quick responses and encouragements. By its nature, our experience or view of our experience can be anecdotal, at best. It could never be proof on its own. The study population is too small, and the testing is too narrow. In other words, you cannot trust your own experiences as authoritative proof. Question your questioning, and doubt your doubts. If you do this fervently, you will find that the doubts hold less sway in your life. You are free to question and ask for proof, and sometimes you might get it.

A Second point to make is really just a reminder that we should tell ourselves often. It is a mantra we need to repeat to ourselves. If I worry about my salvation and sanctification, this is likely and evidence of my salvation. It might be too strong to try to call it a proof, but certainly an evidence. If I were unregenerate would I care about being more Christ-like? Would I care if my life showed genuine spiritual change? I would likely not. To be a Christian is to be intimate with doubt, and we can take comfort in that.

A slow pace or even perceived lack of sanctification is not an actual proof of unbelief. I do believe it was John Piper who said, when asked what his greatest source of doubt was, “the slow pace of my sanctification.”

Stephen Mattson

Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing.

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