In spite of every indication that there are difficult times ahead, I’m excited about this new year! I’m enthusiastic about striving for new goals and pushing myself beyond what I think I’m capable of. The noun “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word enthousiasmos, from enthous, meaning “possessed by a god, inspired.” And interestingly, it was originally used in a derogatory sense to describe excessive religious zeal.
In his book describing years of veterinary work in the harsh Yorkshire Dales of England, James Herriot tells the story of Tip, a sheepdog at a local farm. He first encountered Tip one freezing morning, when he walked up to the farmhouse door, looking for the owner. Suddenly, from under a pile of snow at the foot of the door, Tip emerged, cheery and full of excitement. James was shocked, and later asked the farmer why the old dog was left outside.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
I love reading invigorating stories of people who have started NGOs, founded orphanages, adopted foster kids, created fair-trade organizations, or pulled off some other world-changing feat. But as inspiring as these people are, most of us aren’t called to that kind of mission. We’re in one place, woven through a family and a community, living pretty low-key lives.
Whenever I log in to Facebook or load a news website—or when I glance at the newsrack at the checkout—it seems there are always some really ugly things going on, and I find myself oscillating between anger and despair.
As I scroll through my social media feeds, there are comments like, “This is so sad!” or “I hate that this is happening!” While I agree with those statements, I can’t help but feel that they’re a bit useless. How does saying that we dislike catastrophic issues help the people whose lives are being turned upside down because of them?
God’s unconditional love has no bounds, is unchanging and without limitations. It is given freely, no matter what. Each of us has sinned, and sin brings separation from God. Nevertheless, God loves us. It doesn’t mean He loves all that we do, but He loves us. In fact, He loves humanity so much that He made it possible for the breach caused by our sins and wrongdoing to be bridged through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”1
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The world provides enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” It’s easy to say things like, “The rich should really give to the poor and solve world hunger!” However, when the giving strikes closer to home, it can be tougher than we think.
In computer science and mathematics, Garbage In, Garbage Out describes the concept that flawed or nonsense input data produces nonsense output or “garbage.” In other words, inaccurate or faulty information at the start will inevitably lead to inaccurate or faulty results.
The great American evangelist Dwight L. Moody had a pithy phrase to describe character: Character is what you are in the dark.
As Christians, we all want to grow in spiritual maturity and Christlikeness. We want to become all we can be with Christ’s help, to put aside sin and who we are in our worst moments, and replace that with behavior that demonstrates the fruits of the spirit—love, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and so on.1
A key factor in becoming like Jesus is developing godly character. This article will focus on character traits that Scripture identifies as those that Christians should emulate and that lead us to Christlikeness. These Christian character traits can be differentiated from other character traits that, while good, don’t necessarily make one more Christlike. For example, creativity, flexibility, alertness, and decisiveness are good attributes to have, but they aren’t directly addressed in Scripture; whereas faith, gentleness, patience, love, gratitude, and others are.