Let’s quickly summarize what we’ve already studied about character.
- Character can only be passed on to our children when we have it in our own hearts first.
- When we say that we want to teach “good character” to our children, we mean that we want to teach them how to be holy.
- What we worship defines the character that comes out of our lives. Why? Because our worship of God tells Him and others that we agree with Him. Our actions back up what we really believe.
When I worship God, I’m telling Him that I agree with Him. I’m also admitting that only God can define what holiness really is.
Holiness can be a sticky issue. Our culture doesn’t have any standard of right and wrong. It often comes down to, “This is what our family does, so that’s why you should do it.”
So why does your family do it? When your child is grown, why should he continue to do it “your way”? Wouldn’t it be okay for him to invent his own standards of right and wrong?
If he comes up with his own standard, then does he really have good character?
As you can see, before you teach “good character” to your children, you have to define what good character is.
As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Peter 1:14-15, KJV).
First, God says what bad character is: “Fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.”
Our character is our style, our fashion. It’s our outward behavior that we put on to show what we’re like on the inside.
We’re born with a lustful fashion, a fashion that wants to grab everything, to take anything that we see and like. Just as the serpent enticed Even to grab knowledge that didn’t belong to her, we are born with a lust to grab anything that our eyes and flesh desire.
Bad character is selfishness.
God says we’re born with a sin nature, and these verses tell us that we start off doing it in ignorance. We just don’t know better. Our natural tendency is to evil and selfishness.
However, God continues by telling us the standard of good character: “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
When we study God’s character, the primary trait we’ll find is love. Everything He does is out of love for us.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8, NIV).
Good character is love toward others.
It is the opposite of selfishness. We see words such as perseverance, joy, helpfulness, responsibility, honesty, integrity, initiative, and self control. Each of these words is an aspect of loving others and of putting their welfare ahead of our own.
This is why we ended last week’s post by saying that worship includes spurring one another toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). Love helps others overcome their flaws, even when it might hurt them at first.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:5,6,9, NIV).
The essence of good character is loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, even when the actions love requires are very difficult.
The essence of good character is also a vertical love toward God. In fact, this really comes first. I love others because they are precious to the God I love and worship.
- God loves people.
- I love God.
- Therefore, I love people.
Just as God loves people, I must also love everything else God loves — and hate everything God hates.
So how do I discover what God loves and what God hates?
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us guessing. He is never vague. He never cruelly tries to trick us. He wrote it all down for us, in our own language no less, so that we could read it and understand it.
It’s called His Word, the Bible.
But, if I told you that you can teach your children good character by simply teaching them the Bible, I might still be too vague. Or maybe too broad.
God is exact. He tells us that His Law defines what is holy, just and good.
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12, NIV).
Israel’s king David tells us the benefits of God’s Law:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11, KJV).
So specifically, exactly, what is God’s law? How can I find these specifics for living and teaching good character?
Moses told the people of Israel,
“Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you…
“See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations…
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them…
“He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 5-6, 9, 13-14, NIV).
So we’re back to Deuteronomy again.
The Bible is clear that the laws of God, such as written in the book of Deuteronomy and the other first books of the Bible, show us our sin and point us to our need of a Savior. The laws of God also constantly paint a picture of and portray our Savior, who is the “goal” of every law and who amazingly fulfilled and obeyed each law perfectly. No, we won’t be able to keep God’s laws perfectly, for if we did, we would have had no need of a personal savior. However, just because we can’t do it perfectly doesn’t mean that we should throw them away completely.
We don’t teach God’s laws and character to our children out of hopes that they will attain perfection and thus not need a savior.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV).
Rather, we teach God’s laws and character to our children so that they will become His “workmanship,” filled with good works that they were originally created to do so that they could bring glory and honor to Him.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2, NIV)
It’s hard to “die to sin” and “do good works” without a standard. If we want to teach good character to our children, our first assignment is to study the law of God and learn the standard.
“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7, KJV).
A good “homework assignment” would be to read the book of Deuteronomy and begin making a list of God’s laws.