God Builds People of Character
GOD BUILDS PEOPLE OF CHARACTER
October 15, 2006
My daughter works in a country & western-style restaurant in Westakiwin which has a plaque on the wall giving the ten commandments country-style. It reads this way:
1. There is only one God.
2. No false gods
3. No hankerin’ for others stuff
4. No cuss’n
5. Gather on Sunday
6. No killin’
7. Mind your Ma and Pa
8. Cheatin’ is forbidden
9. Ya’ll don’t steal
10. No white lies or gossipin’
No, I’m not preaching on the ten commandments. In fact, this illustration has absolutely nothing to do with my message. I just enjoyed it and thought you might as well.
Well, on to serious business. If you have your Bible with you, please turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and we’ll read verses 27 and 28.
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.
God is known for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Throughout Scripture Cod used ordinary people to affect his kingdom in extraordinary ways. Because God is everywhere, any situation has the potential for becoming extraordinary. His presence dramatically changes circumstances. There is no limit to what can happen. From man's perspective this process is unexplainable. From a kingdom perspective it is the normal way God accomplishes his will through us – His ordinary people.
Four things, however, set apart these ordinary people used by God. If we look carefully, we can see something they all had in common. Each person God used had a responsive heart ready to hear God and a life that was available to obey God. Each also possessed the integrity to honor God. And of course, they all loved God. That God can use me, an ordinary person, is something I find exciting. I love this verse: “No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him."
(1 Cor. 2:9)
Talent and ability are not prerequisites to being used by God. Accomplishments, awards, and recognition will not ensure kingdom usefulness; a "broken and contrite heart" does (Ps. 5 I:17). The Lord looks at the heart.
"I the LORD search the heart." (Jer.17:10)
Some months ago, I woke with a sharp pain in my side. Within hours I was in Emergency being examined. Before making a diagnosis the doctor checked my blood pressure and heart rate, sent me to the lab to have blood samples taken, and asked about my family medical history. He checked for warning signs of heart disease, stroke, or any hidden ailments. Although physical checkups are common to men my age, spiritual checkups are less common. And it is a spiritual check-up with the Great Physician that I want us to take today.
If we fail to heed the warning signs, spiritual sickness will grow just like a physical disease. Our spiritual hearts will weaken and fail us. The result may be a waning interest in the things of God, or, even more serious, complete moral failure – a fall into sin. A weakening heart, whether physical or spiritual, puts us in crisis. At the time of my attack, it was diagnosed that I had kidney stones. If I had not heeded that initial excrutiating pain and gone to the hospital , I would not have been diagnosed and on my way to treatment.
Likewise the Holy Spirit may point to symptoms that indicate a heart problem. God's Spirit may force you to stop and deal with a particular issue in your character or behavior. Like physical pain, the Holy Spirit can make things very uncomfortable for you if you don’t deal with your sin.
This whole message deals with the heart. Consider it a heart "checkup". The Great Physician, our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit may be dealing with you right now. Listen carefully to him. My prayer is that God will guide you into a healthy heart relationship with Himself.
A SPIRITUAL CHECKUP
In Psalm 139, verses 23 and 24 David wrote,
"Search me, 0 God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting."
Just as a doctor points out signs of your health and sickness during a physical checkup, the Holy Spirit will show you the condition of your heart. The Holy Spirit will use Scripture or situations or sermons or His servants to do it. And when he does, as when we receive our report from our doctor, along with signs of health, we may receive some bad news. But the good news is that God heals the hearts of men.
God is interested most of all in the condition of your heart. In Acts 13:22 (which is a reiteration of 1 Samuel 13:14), God testifies that in David he found a man after his own heart, one whom he could count on to "do everything I want him to do." Would God find you to be such a person? How is your heart health today? The number 1 criteria for a healthy heart is your relationship to God – your salvation. Are you born again? I John chapter 3, during a furtive night time rendezvous between Nicodemus, the Pharisee, and Jesus, Jesus urged Nicodemus to be born again, born spiritually not physically. He told Nicodemus that unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Jesus was explaining the importance of spiritual birth. Have you taken this step – accepting Jesus as your personal Savior? We all need to do that to become children of God, don’t we? John 1:12 says this: “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” That’s rebirth – birth that comes from God. We must believe and receive.
We can’t get to heaven on our own merit. “There is none righteous, no not one” says Romans 3:10. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God ( Romans 3:23). In Romans 6:23 we’re told: “and the wages of sin is death-eternal separation from God.” Only through Jesus Christ can we come to God the Father. John 14:6 tells us that “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” Jesus is God’s gracious gift to thee world. In Romans 5:8. we’re told that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And, in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. “ That is the number one criteria for a healthy heart – to accept Jesus’ sacrifice. Have you done this? I ask you again, are you born again?
The development of a strong Christian character starts at salvation, then develops you into of a man or woman after God's own heart. God is honing your character right now even as you sit here this morning. Your character is who you are when no one is looking and what you are willing to stand for when someone is looking. Character is what you should be striving for and what you can be trusted with. Strong Christian character results from both human effort and divine intervention. It is the work of God as you relate to him in love. Strong Christian character is the result of your heart's desire to obey God. God is in the process of making you holy – sanctifying you. It is His work in you. ! Thessalonians puts it this way: “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God, who calls you, is faithful; he will do this.” I find that so freeing, that my holiness is in God’s hands not mine. Isn’t that a wonderful promise? God will sanctify you! He will make you Christ-like. But, there is a great paradox in this process. It is found in first Corinthians 15:10. Turn to it now and we will look at it together. "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." Yes, our character is developed fully by the power and grace of God which works within us. Yet, it is also a conscious decision we make to bring our mind, heart, and actions into line with God's will. It is His work which He accomplished with our co-operation! And when we do not co-operate, do we really think He doesn’t know?
Hebrews 4:13 says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." God knows you inside and out. He knows your secret thoughts and feelings, your dreams and aspirations, your cherished sins. God knows where your loyalties are and where your weaknesses cause you to stumble. He watches you interact with his people and react to circumstances. God looks to see if you are trustworthy and faithful. God made you. He knew you before you were born. And how many of your sins did Christ die for? All of them – past, present, and future.
If you are a person of little integrity or questionable character, do not expect God to reveal much of himself to you or to use you significantly for his kingdom. If you are a person of great character and integrity, you no doubt already have experienced God's activity in your life as you serve him. He can do so much through you if your heart is right
Our God is a mighty God who hears and saves us. But, as you know, our sins separate us from God, and as a result, our relationship with him is not always what it should be. All sins equally separate us from God—sins of doing wrong and sins of not doing right. For the inaction of a good man can be as destructive as the violent action of a bad man. God’s Word says a lot about getting our hearts right with Him. Let’s look at a few verses at the beginning of 1 John. Turn to them with me. I am reading from the New Living Translation and will start at verse 6 in Chapter 1: “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth.
But if we are living in the light of God's presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.
If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.
If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.”
It never ceases to amaze me how we talk to our fellow man about his heart condition with words couched in so much diplomacy and tact that they often fail to have the effect we desire, while God’s Word says the hard things boldly and without apology.
I remember one of my former pastors who was preaching through Colossians, apologizing when he came to the third chapter. He was uncomfortable with preaching against sin. Was Jesus uncomfortable preaching to the Pharisees about their sin of hypocrisy? Was Paul uncomfortable preaching against immorality or impurity or greed or idolatry? No! And neither then is John when he says “if we claim we have not sinned, we call God a liar.” We should never apologize for God’s Word. It is the diagnosis and the treatment for every Spiritual illness. We have in our hands the “wonder cure” for all diseases of the heart.
Let’s look together at eight “heart pills”; 8 biblical qualities found in the man or woman God uses. | |
These eight are not the only qualities of good character found in the Scriptures, they are not a complete cure, but you may be well on your way to good spiritual health if you take this prescription.
The first pill is holiness. The prophet Isaiah saw God seated on a throne, high and exalted with angels flying about, calling to one another.
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa. 6:3)
Immediately Isaiah cried out in despair because he recognized his sinfulness in the presence of a holy God. In the presence of God's holiness comes an awareness of our lack of holiness.
Holiness means "to be set apart and separate." We` are to be separate from all that stains our world and dirties our lives, we are to be free of all sinful thoughts, destructive emotions, unclean images, impure motives, and questionable activities. Not free of temptation, but free of falling into temptation.
As I’ve already said, we cannot make ourselves holy. We can become holy only through the power of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Isaiah 35:8 states that God is building a highway of holiness that the wicked cannot travel..
A heart and mind that fail to acknowledge sin are barriers to effectively praying and seeking the Lord. If we choose to fill our minds with pornography, violence, immorality, hatred, promiscuity, and self-centeredness and call it entertainment, God will not hear our prayers. Psalm 66:18 tells us, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.” Isaiah 59:2 puts it this way: “your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” Harsh words! As Galatians 6:7 says, “you will reap what you sow.”
Also, no one can have a heart in one condition and produce fruit of an opposite condition. Matthew 7:16-18 says: “You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You don't pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles.
A healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit.
A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit.” The condition of your heart will affect your actions, and your actions will reflect your heart. To submit to God’s work of making you holy you will have to take another pill, the purity pill, for the second trait of good character is a pure heart.
Pure means "to he singular in substance, without any imperfections or impurities." A pure heart is one solely committed to Christ first and foremost (Matt. 10:39). Jesus said, “If you cling to your life you will lose it, but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Another paradox. You must lose your life in order to find it.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt. 5:8). The word sincere is closely associated with purity. It comes from the Latin phrase sine cere meaning "without wax." Wax was often used to cover or fill in cracks in pottery so that it could then be sold as undamaged. Under the test of fire, the wax would melt and reveal the otherwise hidden cracks and impurities. If we want God to reveal himself to us so we can see him clearly, we must approach him with "clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps. 24:4).
" The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (l Sam. 16:7). The pure in heart are precious gems of great value to God. Let’s look at the third pill of good character:
A CONTRITE HEART
Contrite means to be "humble and repentant before God," crushed by a sense of guilt and sin. In one way we are responsible for how we come before God. In another way, God will bring us to the edge of brokenness through our circumstances. Part of a covenant love relationship involves God's helping us to repent when we need to, but it still remains an act of our will. The prodigal son was not prevented from leaving the security of his father's house (Luke 15:11-32). His father allowed him the freedom to choose. But after the son came to the humiliating realization of where his decisions had led him, he repented and humbly returned to his father to ask forgiveness. His father ran to meet him, rejoicing in his return. Our Father loves our humility, our meekness.
Psalm 34:1 8 says,
"The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit."
God can take a heart once hardened and rebellious and make it moldable and submissive. He can break us. Without brokenness we become indifferent to God and to the needs of others. A proud heart exalts self and promotes independence from God. The opposite of a contrite heart. This is sin. The result of a heart broken over sin is clear in Psalm 51:16:
" The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and a contrite heart.
These, 0 God, You will not despise."
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you, says James 4:10
Let’s move on. The fourth “heart” characteristic I want to look at today is:
FEAR OF GOD
Fear being a sense of awe and reverence toward God. A lack of respect for God demonstrates a lack of understanding of who God is and what he is able to do. Proverbs 1:7 says, “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Christians who display a lack of fear will
4 continually use God's name in vain; or
4 deliberately sin, expecting God to forgive them;
4 they may view worship, prayer, tithing, studying God's Word, and commitment to the church as options for the Christian;
or they may
approach God in worship with a wrong attitude. How many of you know people who come to church explicitly to have their needs met rather than to honor and worship God. Don’t get me wrong. God will meet your needs in this service if you want Him to. He will speak to you through the music, the prayer, the sermon. But we should not come to church focused on our needs, rather the focus should be on God. We come to church to be equipped as God’s people to build up the body of Christ – so Ephesians 4:12 tells us). We also come to get to know God better. We are chosen to be His servants. Listen to Isaiah 43:10: "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. “ We are chosen by God to know God – what an awesome privilege!
The apostle Paul knew God. The same man who wrote of the unfathomable depths of God's love in Ephesians 3 spoke of "the terror of the Lord" in 2 Corinthians 5:11. His certainty of God's judgment motivated him to persuade others of the truth. Fearing God is part of walking in his ways, loving him and serving him with all our hearts as we observe his commands. "And now, 0 Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD'S commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" (Deut. 10:12-13).
Too often we are more afraid of men than we are of God. Most men dread being ridiculed by others. Jesus warned, "`Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).
God is searching for faithful people. He is searching for people he can trust to intercede on behalf of our nation. God is looking for people he can trust with God-sized tasks (Ezek. 22:30). Will you be that person? Will his eyes rest on you or pass over you?
You may have been unfaithful. You may have stumbled in the race and are limping along the sidelines. Forgiveness and restoration are available for those who recognize their failures and repent.
The eyes of Christ fell on his disciple Peter at a time of Peter's unfaithfulness. Peter ran out weeping bitterly because he recognized his own disloyalty (Luke 22:60-62). But Christ knew Peter's heart, and his eyes rested once again on Peter after the resurrection. Repentant Peter was forgiven, restored, and commissioned by his Lord (John 21:15-19)
A life of faithfulness begins with the repentance pill, sometimes a bitter pill, and it continues one step at a time. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” (Luke 16:10). Measure your faithfulness by applying this principle of faithfulness to your family, friends, self, and employer. You will find it harder to be faithful to God if faithfulness is not a part of what you are in your other relationships.
"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10)
Another pill, an obvious one, is OBEDIENCE. The man after God’s heart must obey God.
The apostle John wrote, "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome" (1 .John 5:3). Many have rightly said that it is impossible for a person who loves God to say, "No, Lord," because if Christ is truly our Lord, we can-not refuse him.
Obedience is submission to the instructions of an authority. Our obedience to Christ's commands is proof to God and to everyone watching us that Christ indeed is Lord of our lives.
Luke 6:46 contains Jesus' question, "Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Before we decide he was talking to someone else, we must think carefully over the past few weeks. Has God told us to do some things that we have not done? Is the obedience response a normal part of our lives? God loves obedience.
I have two more “heart pills”. Can you make it? If obedience was obvious, the next “heart” trait is truly a “no-brainer”. The man or woman who is after God’s heart will SEEK AND LOVE GOD.
God's Word says, "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exod. 34:14). God not only demands our complete love, but he also deserves it. He alone is worthy. God desires to be found by those who are seeking him. So it says in Jeremiah 29:13. Deuteronomy 4:29 says “you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. “
God longs to reveal himself to his people and share the blessings he has waiting for us. Even more, God wants to commune with us in a reciprocating love relationship.
Earlier in this message I mentioned the paradox that we must develop our character yet it it developed by God.
Another paradox in the Christian life is that we must seek God with our whole heart in order to find him, yet it is God who causes us to want to seek him in the first place.
God sets in your heart a desire to seek after him. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). It sounds so simple because it is, and yet all the complexity of God surrounds and enfolds that relationship. Love is the key. We love [God] because he first loved us. And how can our love for God be measured. It is measured by our love for others. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. . . . Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:19-21). God's love leaves no room for hatred of anyone. God loves them, too, and we can-not love God and hate the very ones he loves.
We will love those whom God loves if we allow God to love through us. Twenty years ago, when we lived in Cochrane, Alberta, Marcy was babysitting four children from one family. The youngest, two year old Joshua, was a very unlikable child. Having three older siblings, he was catered to, making him overly dependent. Having a constant low-grade infection, his nose ran perpetually, and because of his stuffy nose, his mouth was always open and drool ran down his chin. Recognizing her inability to love Joshua, Marcy prayed for God’s love for the little guy. Not only did God supply an abundance of love thru her, He gave our whole family the ability to love him with amazing love. Ask and you will receive.
If we love God we will love others. John 1:1 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” If you love God you will want to serve Him. And being a child of God you will want to be a SERVANT OF THE LORD. This is my last pill for this morning.
We must remember that our commander-in-chief is Christ Jesus our Lord. God has placed us in situations according to his will and his purposes. In other words, we don't wait to see how our employer treats us before deciding how hard to work. Rather, we work as if Christ were our overseer, and in reality he is. God places us, His servants, where he wants us to make a difference. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23-24). “We are to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” as James 1:22 tells us. You have everything you need to embody these spiritual qualities. How do I know that? Turn with me to 2 Peter 1 and we’ll read verses 3 and 4 from the New Living Version: “His divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness!
And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature.”
Through the Holy Spirit we have divine power, the power to live as Christ lived, the power to defeat the sin that plagues us, the power to be servant of the most High God, and best of all, the power to love as God loves. Love is the glue that holds all these things together. Paul noted, “And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
In summary whether we recognize it, God is involved in every aspect of our lives. He will take the ordinary circumstances we face and use them to develop our character. But our hearts have to be right first. If our hearts are sick or divided, we will fail to thrive as children of the King of Kings.
God will use all our circumstances for our benefit to promote greater dependence on him and to hone us and mature us. God wants us to see how he works through challenging situations. He is with us and in us to help us to overpower the evil one and to bring victory because we love him, and He loves us.
Romans 8:28 is a wonderful promise of God. "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God works for the good of those who love him. Our role is to be obedient to God and faithful as each task or circumstance is placed before us. As I said before, God will make you a man or woman after His own heart. In closing, I want to share with you a poem written by George Liddell. It is called “Godly Character.”
Give me a man of God – one man
Whose faith is master of his mind
And I will right all wrongs
And bless the name of all mankind.
Give me a man of God – one man
Whose tongue is touched with heaven’s fire
And I will flame the darkest hearts
With high resolve and clean desire
Give me a man of God – one man
One mighty prophet of the Lord
And I will give you peace on earth
Bought with a prayer and not a sword
Give me a man of God – one man
True to the vision that he sees
And I will build your broken shrines
And bring the nations to their knees