What does it mean to be a person of character? What counts as good character? If you were to think of people of good character, who comes to mind? Maybe a friend or family member? Perhaps someone famous? What attributes about them contribute to their character?
Perhaps you remember the Knights of the Round Table. They were men of great character in the legends of King Arthur. They were warriors who took an oath to uphold the code of chivalry—a moral system that went beyond rules of combat to included Chivalrous conduct—including qualities such as bravery, courtesy, honor, nobleness, and gallantry toward women.
One could not simply decide to become a Knight of the Round Table. It was only by the authority of King Arthur that they were knighted and given such a noble identity. Yet, from that point on, by declaration of the King and by their faithful desire to be true to the code, a profound character was bestowed upon them to carry out. Part of that noble character allowed each of them an equal place at the round table. No one knight was more worthy than the other.
Such character seems painfully absent in our day. In fact, some say such character is actually dead. One well known American scholar and professor (James Davidson Hunter) has written, “Character is dead. Attempts to revive it will yield little. It’s time has passed.” In fact, he says our culture has become so eroded that, “a restoration of character as a common feature within American society and a common trait of people will not likely occur anytime soon.” (The Death of Character, 2000).
What do you think? Is he right? What about your character? How would people describe you? Are you a person of character? Who or what gives you your character?
I’d like to issue you a challenge. Prove Professor Hunter wrong. Show the world that there are still people of character walking in our streets and serving in our society today. Show our culture that we are raising children and grandchildren of virtuous and sound character. In fact, show the world that we have men and women who gather together equally at the Lord’s Table and know what it is to go out and live noble lives of service.
Yet, that begs the question. How does one develop such noble character? The Apostle Paul helps us understand that today. In fact, he gets at the core of what helps produce quality virtuous character in people of faith. Did you catch it? It’s a powerfully revealing statement and it may not be what you expected: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
Do you see what he is saying? First, suffering produces endurance. The Greek word here for “suffering” (thlipsis), encompasses the broad range of suffering in life. In this case, it’s not referring to suffering for the faith, but rather to all the difficulties and afflictions that come from simply living in this fallen world.
In fact, the word itself actually means “to press upon.” It’s a reference for all the things the press in upon you—all the “pressures” of life—things like the pressures of work, parenting, paying your bills, fitting in at school, or finding a job. It includes all the distress and afflictions that weigh upon you. Things like sickness, marital problems, addictions, someone attacking your reputation, the loss of a loved one, and certainly all kinds of daily temptations.
Suffering produces endurance. To be sure, this suffering is not something we look forward to, but Paul helps us see the value and importance of the pressures and adversity of life.
Without them, our strength and our fortitude are little tested. Without adversity and distress in life, our inner being—who we are and what we are made to be—is never put into action, which then means character has little chance to develop and flourish.
People often want to have virtues like courage, justice, self-control, patience, and wisdom—all those things that make up good character—but they fail to realize what it takes to receive them and develop them. Listen carefully.
God the Father has created you in such a way, and God the Son has redeemed you in such a way, that you not only have the capacity for sound character, but you have been given the divine and holy character of Jesus Christ Himself. (I’ll say more on this in just few moments).
Thus, God simply calls you to be who you are. Paul is here saying that you are to exercise and grow into the character that God (by grace through faith) gives to you. Even more, Paul tells how the exercising of good character and the growth of godly character takes place.
In short, it occurs through adversity. It happens through suffering. You see, it takes the pressures of life to refine and expose the character that Christ gives. Endurance can never be endurance unless you are forced to persevere through something difficult.
And when you are forced to persevere through something difficult, you find out what’s inside of you. You find out how God has created you and how (by faith) He has recreated you.
You find out He has placed within you a character that is revealed and forged in the flames of life’s afflictions. It is here, in adversity and strife, that those virtues and moral qualities are allowed to be exercised and put into practice.
Ask the marathon runner who has to press through the hard miles, the mother who must press through labor and delivery, the cancer patient who has to press through sickness and treatment. Those things are not easy. They bring mental, emotional, and physical distress. Yet, such “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” See the point?
Likewise, it’s the same for the Christian who endures sufferings because of the faith. Again, I’m not referring to persecution here. Rather I mean the personal temptation and spiritual affliction that occurs on account of what the various temptations of life do to you.
You know the afflictions that temptation brings. You strive to fight against them, along with all the internal wrestling and unrest they bring. Such temptations can be ruthless and relentless.
Each of you has sins you struggle against over and over again. Perhaps it’s a short fuse, maybe its gossip, or envy, or jealousy, or maybe it’s lust. Perhaps it’s a misbelief about your own worth or how others, even God, view you, where you wake up each day tempted to believe the voice of shame.
Such temptations bring a daily struggle to control your thoughts, your eyes, your tongue (the words you say) and your actions. And you suffer under those temptations. The devil, the world, and your own sinful nature attack you and mislead you. So you battle hard to put those desires and impulses in check.
But then you fail. You give into temptation. You sin, again and again. Here, too, you must bear the affliction of your guilt. Confess your sin, and find mercy at the foot of Christ’s cross and sacrifice. For there His blood covers you, forgives you, and restores you.
Yet, as difficult as it may be to bear, like other suffering, this “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” Not just any character, mind you, but sound virtuous character—character that is rooted in something far more powerful than your own self-resilience and your own self-reliance.
This is character that’s rooted, not in King Arthur or the power of the code of chivalry, but in the character of King Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit. This is why Paul can say, “3we rejoice in our sufferings.” Because suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5).
Just as one did not become a Knight of the Round Table on their own, you do not become a Christian of character on your own. God does more that knight you, He baptizes you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ushering you into His eternal kingdom and bestowing upon you a holy and noble character.
Through the water and the Word, God pours out His love into your hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. There He names you, there He claims you, and there He tames you and your sinful nature with His love and forgiveness.
His promise is never to leave you nor forsake you. You are His very own, who He welcomes to His table to dine with Him. Then, He sends you out into the world to simply be who you are and to live out your baptismal identity with character.
You see, when you are baptized, you are given a virtuous character and a holy identity. This is so important in an age that tries to say your identity is found in your sexuality or in your preferred gender. Instead, the waters of Holy Baptism give you the very identity and character of our King, Jesus Christ.
He certainly endured suffering—by cruelty and by cross. And that suffering certainly produced endurance. That endurance certainly revealed His holy character. And that holy character certainly produced hope—a hope that was present even in the face of death.
It is this character that has (by faith) been poured into your heart by baptism. Thus, the character of Christ was poured into your life to lead you and guide you.
But how do I put this character into action? How do I live out this character? Simply said, by faith! Not a stale and stagnate faith, but faith that is exercised in the daily life of suffering and affliction—faith that is exercised through daily prayer and repentance.
From the moment that you are baptismally knighted by King Jesus, you find faith is a busy living active thing. Baptismal character, then, is put into action by faith, not magically, but through the act of believing and by the action of faith virtuously lived out each day.
After all Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). No, that isn’t easy. But it reveals your character. For when Jesus calls you to follow Him, He bids you come and die. Not just physically. He calls you to die to yourself, to die to your selfish desires.
This too is part of your baptismal character. For when you are baptized into Jesus it means that the old sinful in you, the self that gives in to temptation and fleshly desires, is by daily contrition and repentance drowned and put to death with all those sins and evil desires.
But yet, when you die with Jesus it means you also rise with Jesus. Again, not just physically, but spiritually, right here and right now. Those sinful desires that rage inside are put to death. Thus, you and I are spiritually drowned so that a new, forgiven and freed person can emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Do see how this works?
Like the Knights of the Round Table, you are now called to go forth and be who you are, acting with baptized character and integrity. By faith, you have the character of Christ wrapped around you, in you, and over you. You live with character because you have the character of Jesus. His identity gives you your identity!
So I challenge you again. Show the world that there are still people of character walking in our streets and serving in our society. Show our culture that we’re raising children and grandchildren of virtuous and sound baptismal character. In fact, show the world that we have men and women who gather together at the Lord’s Table and then to go forth living with character. Amen.