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Character is not a matter of outward technique but of inner reality. God is concerned with what you are really like when no one else is looking. Douglas Rumford, in discussing the sad situation of a Christian leader who lost his ministry due to sexual misconduct, explains that this kind of thing is bound to happen when we allow a “character gap” to develop in our lives. He wrote: “The character gap is a weakness that will one day become apparent, when the circumstances or stresses of life converge and reach a breaking point. We may be able to coast for a while, and we may feel quite secure. But raw talent, personality, and fortunate circumstances cannot substitute for the forging of inner holiness, resilience, and the convictions that comprise integrity of character.”
Second Peter 1:5-8 lists the qualities of life and godliness that God wants for each of His children: “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The character qualities listed in these verses are admirable, but they are also overwhelming. We may aspire to these characteristics, but is it really possible for us to attain them? The answer, both from Scripture and from sheer human experience, is a resounding, “No!” In our own strength, this kind of character is not merely difficult to attain; it is impossible to attain.
If it were simply a matter of fitful human effort, the attempt would be futile. So what are we to do? Should we throw up our hands and walk away from the text, claiming that it makes impossible requests? That would be foolish. What we should do is pay attention to the context into which Peter wrote those words. The sentences just prior () provide the necessary key: In Christ we have been permitted to access God’s divine power and have been granted the incomprehensible privilege of participating in “the divine nature.”
There is only one person who is able to live the Christlike life: Jesus Christ Himself. You cannot live the life He calls you to without Him (). Only as you maintain your connection to Him can He live this life through you. As Martin Luther said: “It is not imitation which brings about our sonship of God, but our sonship which makes possible imitation.”
We have not only received a new nature in Christ (), but we are also indwelled by the Holy Spirit, whose power within us makes it possible for us to manifest these qualities of Christlike character.
True spiritual and character transformation takes place from the inside out, not from the outside in. The attributes of faith, goodness (or moral excellence), knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love all flow from the life of Christ that has been implanted within us.
 Douglas J. Rumford, SoulShaping: Taking Care of Your Spiritual Life (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1996), 354.
 Quoted in Gordon S. Wakefield, The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), 209.
Copyright © 2019 Ken Boa, used with permission.
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