Character, not conduct

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For far too long, Christianity has been defined by behavior. We love keeping spirituality on the basis of what we do and don’t do, because then we are in control of it. We can demand certain codes of conduct for our families and our Christian institutions. It’s plain and simple: a Christian looks like this, and we can hold up a model of behavior as a standard. So students at Christian colleges sign a pledge, as do staff members of churches and Christian businesses, that guarantees a certain code of conduct. That way pastors and administrators can assure a uniformity of Christian behavior, and keep the money flowing in from wealthy constituents who want to make sure everything looks good on the surface.

But as our dear friend Dave Roper pointed out, after encountering one of these pledges for a code of behavior, “I thought, having agreed to their restraints, I should then ask for the right to be arrogant, insensitive, harsh, spiritually indifferent, critical, troublesome and defensive. None of these issues were addressed by this organization’s rules.” That’s because these things have to do with character (or in this case, lack of it). But Jesus is far more concerned about issues of character than He is behavior, and character is built by trials, failure and brokenness. Give Jesus a group of smoking, drinking, card-playing, movie-going dancing idiots and He will change the world. Give Him a group of impeccably-behaved Christians who fall well within the code of ethics demanded by any Christian group and their pride will make them useless to Him. It’s the Pharisees against the sinners, and the sinners are the best messengers of the gospel of grace any day.

That’s because the issue is character, not conduct, and character issues from brokenness. This is why the truly happy people, in the deepest sense of the word — those who are “blessed” according to Jesus — are those who are described by the “Beatitudes” from the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes are just that: attitudes, not behaviors, and they are attitudes brought about by poverty of soul and loss.

Roper sums these up in the following way: “Those who are indwelled by and dependent upon the Spirit of Jesus are humble and self-effacing. They are deeply touched by the weakness and suffering of others. They are gentle and kind. They long for goodness in themselves and in others. They are merciful to those that struggle and fail. They are single-minded in their love for Jesus. They are peaceful and leave behind a legacy of peace. They are kind to those that ill-use them, returning good for evil.”

They have these attitudes because they have been humbled by life — by their own sin and need of a savior. They are recipients of God’s grace who can then turn around and give that grace to others. They are the epitome of Grace Turned Outward. They are the hungry, the thirsty, the poor in spirit. There is no code that applies to any of these people except the code of emptiness. You qualify for this group out of need, and if you qualify, welcome to the kingdom of God on earth.

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8 Responses to Character, not conduct

  1. Mark D Seguin says:

    Pastor John another great Catch and seriously consider taking new week off – You & gorgeous Marti deserve a well needed break, I firmly think / believe!

    PS and took up your challenge to re-listen to your song a few times! And wound up listening the whole Church @ the Catch and enjoyed it & even had a few Facebook friends join in the watch party too…

  2. Kevin says:

    What a wonderful contrast you have painted today with the colors of Character and Conduct ! Only John knew how well they would look together ! Your Catch today was truly painted with your best paints on a large canvas. My favorite part was “impeccably-behaved Christians who fall well within the code of ethics demanded by any Christian group and their pride will make them useless.” And now we can better answer this timeless question ! “Which would rather be if you had the choice – divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good ?” Someone tell Anne she can scratch off “angelically good !”

  3. Sandie says:

    I once was called on the carpet at a church I was a member of – back when God made dirt! Anyway, it seems I had severely insulted the sensibilities of my pre-teen group (and their parents) when I told them (in frustration) that I could get more accomplished with the teens I worked with at the high school, than I could with them – the very kids they looked down on because they were dirty, they drank and cursed, had sex and did drugs. Sad, because at least my kids at school were honest. Also sad, because they and their parents thought, because they were Christian kids and attended a Christian school, they somehow were ‘above’ acting like those unsaved wretches. Really sad, because some of those Christian kids – and their parents – wound up acting just as bad, and sometimes worse, than my high school kids. Life is a harsh taskmaster. I just pray they eventually came to their senses

  4. John A Fagliano says:

    I think the point people miss is that conduct is a natural extension of character. If you have God’s Spirit, not only are you less likely to be arrogant and troublesome, you will also have no desire to drink, smoke or gamble. (and if you already do have addictions, God will show you the way out if you surrender to Him as we learned from the 12 steps last year) The key is to live by His Spirit. So the only “Code of Conduct” anyone should sign should look like this:

    I pledge to surrender my will to God’s will for me on a daily basis and to prayerfully search my soul to see if my thoughts and actions are in line with His Will.

    signed, John A Fagliano 01/28/2019

  5. “There [are] two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe.
    You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”

    “To believe in Him is not such a great thing. To become like Him is truly great.”

    ― Richard Wurmbrand, author of “Tortured for Christ”
    (above quotes from his 1968 book: “In God’s Underground”)

  6. Kevin says:

    John, I think my 12 year old son found the exclamation point for “Conduct VS. Character”

    Matthew 21:28 (The parable of the two sons)
    28 A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30 Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. 31 “Which of the two obeyed his father?”

    I just finished reading of the sons of Isaac and Jacob each giving up their birth rights. Take a closer look above… finally an older son who did NOT give up his birthright !!! HOORAY !

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