Character Counts, But Faith Comes First
I have recently taken to admiring the select and liberated minority of the faithful who have realized that faith is more important than character. They are onto something big. They seem to have gotten over themselves, and realized their pressing and real need for redemption, which is a revelation we all need to experience. Get over ourselves- and realize that we are saved by faith, by God, and not by our own wits and "character."
It's not that I'm against character. I'm all for it. Ever since I was saved I have asked God to reveal any wicked way in me. I strive for the best character. Character is based on the morality of God and reason and practice. It's essential to civilization. I'm all for it.
But, having said that, isn't character often overated when God tells me "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." For if we ovestimate character and underestimate faith- and the grace that comes from it- we risk overestimating ourselves and underestimating God.
Our own character has limited awareness of what is right or wrong, and can fail while trying with all our might. Whereas, if we depend on faith, and the grace guidance of God that faith brings, we stand on more solid ground.
There's a signifignant block of us church folks of all brands (and non church folks too) who still look at the bible as a Sunday school "character counts" essay in which only such characters get into print. This would be the Sunday School-Readers Digest Annotated Good Characters Version [sic] ("SSRDAGCV").
But the actual Bible is not primarily a collection of stories about folks with the all time best character, but those with the best all time faith (Hebrews 11). What a different world this would be if religion caught this reality and lived by it.
Abraham jumped at the chance to make Ismael with his servant girl. He was also ready to pawn off his wife to save his own skin. Jacob stole his brother's blessing. Moses killed an Egyptian in a fit of rage. David slept with another man's wife, and then sent him off to war to be killed. Paul personally acquiesced to, and perhaps spearheaded, Stephen's assasination. Rahab sold her body for money, but when asked to faithfully hide the Israelite spies she gained the heritage of Christ! God put these folks in the bible not primarily for their character example, but for their faith example.
Again, I'm not saying character is unimportant, it's just not as important as faith. My experience has been that I spent years in my faith infancy living like worldly folk, depending too much on myself and my "character," but then I learned that faith in the living God of Israel is much more effective. It is also my experience that faith, and the loving promptings of the Holy Spirit that come from acting on it, has done way more to form my character than anybody's example of character, which in case you hadn't noticed, is sometimes more for show than for real. Now in a day when every man's sins are going to be plain to see, if not shouted from the rooftops, I think God knows also that character comes second, and faith first.
Jesus has revealed to me again and again that he is less impressed with our idea of our own characters, than he is with faith like his, a like precious faith! He died so that I would depend on him, and be saved, not that I would ever actually have a perfect character. That's what he had.
Anybody have children? Which is more likely true about them, and more rewarding to you as parents: that your children become perfect, or they have faith in you, love you and bond with you?
If you demand perfect character, and withhold love until that happens, you risk breaking your child, and you are not acting like God (cf. Gene Scott). Luke 18,17: "In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Now not all folks who lean toward "character first" religion are self rightous or slavishly pre-destinarian (ie once saved always saved, even if you still do bad stuff!), but it seems a bigger risk for those who lean that way than for us faith first-Holy Ghost filled, depend-on-God-always-folks.
We all know the story of Daniel in the lion's den. He wouldn't bow to Nebuchadnezzar's pagan dictates. Why? Because he had a better character, and a higher sense of morality? Probably did, and it helped, but that's not half the story. The motivation and strength of his choices didn't begin with himself and his character, with the bootstraps of his moral grit, but with his formation in the faith, with his faith relationship with his living God, and what God had revealed, and the strength he gained from all that and from his prophetic faith, which formed his character.
The world tells us that "every man, even one with the highest character, has his price" before torture, mayhem, and murder. Every man can be corrupted, save for Daniel, Mordecai, Ester, Peter, Paul, Stephen, John the Revelator, and 0scar Romero et al, except for the man or woman of exceptional faith, who follows hard after God in faith (Ps.63,8).
The matter of who we rely on- ourself or God- is not a small matter. It will determine our personal salvation, and the salvation of nations, tribes, and sects. We'll make it through judgement not relying on our character, or the character of our sect, or our nation, but on God, on our faith.
Jesus interestingly spoke of extra righteousness to be a part of his kingdom and to belong to him. What was he talking about? This is again simply the faithful dependance, of a young child on a parent, of us on God, for everything, not on one's present character. This extra faith dependance, and doing what he and his word say, is the best way to surpass the rightousness of the scribes and pharisees, who apparently had quite sufficent and righteous characters- characters so confident and solid that they sold out Jesus to death- while they didn't have the sufficient faith to trust and follow Him!
I sort of like my new found freedom depending on God for my righteousness, letting him lead me by the grace that comes by faith acts again and again. You see I tried to get all that from myself, my family, my nation, my education, my church, my pastor, my boss, my business, the scribes and pharisees, and my own character, but I've learned since that rightousness and a strong and informed character only come from God by way of faith.
Character counts! Yes it does. But, unless I'm missing something, faith comes first.
Peace Out Brothers And Sisters
Oct. 22, 2008
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...