In my quest to know Jesus better, I have come to the simple conclusion that reading the Gospels regularly and trying to put His teachings and example into practice is the easiest and most accessible way to do that. So for the last few years, I’ve been reading a devotional that features a text from the Gospels for every day of the year. If I thought I already knew the Gospels well, this exercise completely ousted that idea! Almost every day, I am surprised, unsettled, convicted, inspired, and moved by the words and deeds of the Master.
For most of my life I’ve described my faith as a “Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know” type of faith. Jesus said He loved me. The Bible tells me so. I didn’t have a lot of questions. And when I did I was usually satisfied with answers like “only God knows” or “you just have to take this one by faith.” In other words, logic may not apply here, but believe anyway. I was surprisingly okay with this.
Have you ever been happily reading an enjoyable book when suddenly a sentence hits you right between the eyes? In The Furious Longing of God,1 Brennan Manning writes:
Our city in South Africa regularly experiences major power issues, with up to five hours of what they call “loadshedding” daily. Due to overdemand and undersupply, the electric company must cut back and shut off the electricity intermittently. During these periods, industry grinds to a halt, stores close, traffic booms, fans and fridges turn off, and everyone suffers. There’s only so much you can do without power.
At the start of this year, I decided I was going to live a healthier lifestyle. You know, exercise more, eat healthier, and maybe even shed a couple of kilos.
I killed our van. I was driving along at the peak of summer—and also at the peak of rush hour—completely lost. In the middle of crawling traffic, my air conditioner stopped working. I thought it was just bad luck that I was stuck in traffic and my car had no AC, so I did what I often do when things are going wrong: I powered through.
Have you ever put a stalk of celery in colored water? What happens is that the celery starts to change color as the water is soaked up through the stem. It takes a couple of days to see the change, but soon the celery stalk will take on the color of the water it’s in. Celery also very quickly absorbs any poisons and pesticides in the air or in the soil.
I was raised in a Christian home by dedicated Christian parents. We prayed before we went out, whenever we got in the car, before we cooked, before we started our homework, and of course, before going to sleep. The bookshelves were full of children’s devotional books and Bibles, and we watched Bible cartoons in the evenings.
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.
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