Developing the Character of Christ

The character of Christ develops in us as we learn to draw LIFE from him and participate with him in EVERYTHING we do.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

The first movement in transformation is NOT to try to do DIFFERENT things but to take everything we are currently doing and begin doing those things FOR AND WITH JESUS CHRIST.

The second movement in the process of transformation is to let go of whatever interferes and to embrace whatever helps.

Over time, shared INTIMACY with Jesus produces the transformational changes.

No man, no woman, no devil, and no set of painful circumstances can keep us from developing the character of Christ. In fact, difficult situations help shape our character the most.

As my mentor, Dr. Dallas Willard taught, “What we and God get from our lives is the KIND of person we have become.”

God intends for us to become the kind of men and women he can trust to do what WE want throughout eternity as we reign with Christ (Revelation 22:5).

Heaven is ready to help us. WE must decide if we will become like Christ in this life.

How, then?

Jesus taught, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (Matthew 12:33).

We can learn ways to open ourselves to the operations of grace such that the inner springs of our life change in God. In other words, there is a process we can follow by which our “tree” can be made good.

I view this transformational process as having five aspects.

(1) The HOLY SPIRIT’S sovereign action gives us “birth from above.” He inspires, empowers, makes tender, and strengthens our hearts – progressively renewing us. Our role is to WELCOME the Holy Spirit and SEEK his life and power.

(2) The TRIALS OF LIFE test and train our faith. Many of the tests we fail. However, instead of next time just “trying harder,” we find out WHY we failed and intelligently approach things differently next time.

(3) The classic SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES practiced regularly, as “means of grace,” open our inner life to the flow of God’s life.

These disciplines are modeled after those that Jesus and his disciples practiced. The assumption is that if we wish to do the things Jesus taught, such as “bless those who curse us,” we must also practice the LIFESTYLE Jesus lived.

Disciplines such as solitude, contemplation, meditatively reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture, fasting, loving acts of service (especially when no one is looking), generous help to the poor, small group fellowship, a 12-step recovery group as needed, public worship, and so on.

(4) RADICAL ORIENTATION of life around the person of Jesus Christ. It will not be possible for the one who seeks to become like Jesus to live life as “normal” people live.

Living consciously in his PRESENCE is transformative in itself. We arrange our life in ways that enhance our ability to desire and enjoy the presence of Jesus more than ANY OTHER THING.

We set our SELF to the side DAILY to follow him. We listen for his voice. Ask for his guidance. Yield to his will. Receive his comfort and strength. We privately love, thank, and praise him.

We whisper words of adoration and gratitude. We place him before our mind while we engage in everything else. We actively LEAN into love and kindness. We keep short accounts with sin, fear, and doubt, and anger by quickly surrendering these to Jesus.

We learn to “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

(5) Steps of COSTLY OBEDIENCE elevate us to entirely new levels of acquaintance with Jesus Christ. These invitations to costly obedience are NOT things we plan for or seek. They come to us.

Risking these sacrificial steps of obedience, we experience Christ’s resurrection power as well as the fellowship of sharing his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

Thank you for reading these thoughts. I am completely indebted to my spiritual mentor, Dr. Dallas Willard, for help understanding this process of spiritual formation.

Dallas’ books THE SPIRIT OF THE DISCIPLINES, THE DIVINE CONSPIRACY, and IN SEARCH OF GUIDANCE will be especially helpful for those interested in learning more.