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Chapter 8


The Character of a Christian


In the preceding seven chapters we have learned about God and what He has done for us.  He has made us and given us our own will. He has created a universe for us to live in, and provided for us in every physical way. He has sent His son Jesus to give us eternal life and a relationship with Him. Now we will look not at what God has done but at how He expects and enables us to live.

To be a human being is a marvelous gift. We are unique in all of creation. We have been given the privilege of self-determination: the ability to learn from others and to discover new things for ourselves. We are not like this computer that I am typing on.

This computer at first glance seems to be intelligent, versatile, and speedy. It has in its memory two translations of the Bible, as well as a Greek and Hebrew Lexicon. It is able to calculate rapidly, make precise drawings, keep tract of accounts payable and receivable, and much more. It is able to communicate both with me and my family, through a keyboard and monitor, as well as other computers over the Internet.

While it can do all of these things, it is still only a boring box when compared with us. When presented with a given set of conditions, the computer’s response will always be the same. Some people would have you believe that we are like the computer. They will tell you that we are the result of “programming” we received from our upbringing and environment. They will tell you that there is no difference between each person other than that which can be explained by the application of psychology. To some people we are only naked apes.

The Bible tells us however that we are very different creatures indeed. We are not at all like a computer or an animal. We have the gift of a free will. We have chosen to accept that our own efforts will not lead to a holy relationship with God. We have accepted that Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection are sufficient to justify us before God. This was the very important first step in obtaining the eternal life we now have. But this new life is not something for the distant future, it is needed and available to us now.

As Christians we can go far beyond simply responding to our surroundings. We can live a life that is inspired and empowered by God. This life, which He has provided for the Christian, is so different from what we see around us that many times we, and the world around us, fail to understand it.

 The Bible, and especially the words of Christ, provide us a blueprint for the Christian life. What we will try to do is develop some general principles for Christian living. These general principles, together with our prayers and the work of the Holy Spirit, will build us up to be God’s person.


Why Does God expect the Christian to be Different?


     Jesus, through His death and resurrection has given us the key to heaven. Eternal life is freely given to all who ask by having saving faith in Him. What is it about God and man that requires more than that? If we have security in our salvation why is it necessary to live a changed life?

The first century Christians wrestled with this as well.  Look at Romans chapters 5 and 6.  Paul is responding to believers who said that if Christ brought forgiveness for sin, why should we stop sinning.  This is what Paul says in Romans 6:1–4. “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? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Let’s start with a short look at what saving faith encompasses. Remember that our saving faith is more than “our personal faith”. Saving faith is a combination of the exercise of our free will, the truth of Christ’s message, and the operation of the Holy Spirit in our heart. Therefore we need not fear that this faith we speak of is beyond our ability. Already the Holy Spirit is working to produce saving faith in all who ask. Remember that it is not behaving differently that makes us a Christian, but being a Christian makes us behave differently.

Saving faith will produce a change in our life now, not just on judgment day. Let’s look at some of the main elements of saving faith.

First, saving faith is believing and trusting Christ with all our heart as our personal Lord and Savior, yielding our will to Him and committing our total self to Him.

Second, saving faith is a repentant faith, involving true sorrow for sin. Furthermore true repentance involves turning away from the sin that has been committed.

Third, faith includes obedience to Christ, an “obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5). This obedience is out of gratitude to God for saving us and to the Holy Spirit for the work of regeneration in us.

Fourth, this faith includes a heartfelt personal devotion and attachment to Jesus Christ that expresses itself in trust, love, gratitude, and loyalty. Faith in the ultimate sense cannot be separated from love.[1]

This new life of faith is not a matter for only our future in heaven, but for the here and now. In the book of Matthew the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray. When we pray, we are asking for both God’s help and direction.

In Matthew chapters 5 and 6 Jesus is speaking to a large crowd that had come to learn from Him. He went up onto the hillside and gave us what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus taught in His sermon was not just the outward characteristics of being godly, but what it means to be godly. A Christian does not just appear to be a Christian, but truly is one.  When we look at the picture of godly living that Christ gives us in the Sermon on the Mount we are overwhelmed, indeed we must be. We cannot of ourselves live this way. But God has made provision for us to grow beyond our own strength and understanding. He enables us to go beyond a computer programmed response to our surroundings and become a child of God.

One of the things Jesus taught on the hillside was how to pray. Rather than start by looking at the Sermon on the Mount as a whole let’s look at the “Lord’s Prayer” first. After we begin to understand what our Heavenly Father provides for us in response to our prayers, we will then look at some of the specifics in His sermon.

As Jesus was delivering His sermon He probably faced a very depressed crowd. They had come to Jesus not knowing quite what to expect, He was famous for miracles, perhaps they would get to see one. Perhaps they had a personal need that Christ would address. Often we as well come before our Lord not knowing what to expect of Him, or what He expects of us.

Instead of seeing miracles what they learned was what it means to be holy. They learned that they must be better than the best to get to heaven by virtue of their own actions. (Matthew 5:20) says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In fact it was worse than that, for later in the sermon Jesus says (Matthew 5:48), “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus then continued with what we know of as “The Lord’s Prayer.” This is not only a pattern prayer for us to use, but also shows us that Jesus takes a different approach to our relationship with God than we might.

When we pray, and think of our relationship with God, we tend to be self-centered. We ask “What’s in it for me?” The following passage is from Matthew 6:9–13. This is what Jesus tells us to ask for. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

Matthew Henry in his commentary states “It is taken for granted that all of the disciples of Christ pray. You may as soon find a living person who does not breathe, as a living Christian that does not pray. If prayerless then graceless.” One of the characteristics of a Christian is that he prays.

When we say “Our Father” we are acknowledging that we are His adopted children. We know that God the Father loves us. Look at 1 John 3:1–2 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.:”

Our hearts tell us to respond to the love God has shown us with our own love, and that is exactly right. God has given each of us, no matter how else gifted, the ability to love Him. All of the other changes we work in our lives grow out of the central fact that we love God. When we ask for God’s direction we can always use love as a litmus test. Ask God if our actions show our love for Him.

How else do we respond to our parent the Heavenly Father? What does an earthly father expect of his child, or better yet what does God tell us? Deuteronomy 5:16 tells us how we are to treat our parents. “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

We should live in a way that will bring honor to our heavenly Father. This of course means many things. To put it in simple terms we can think of how we can honor our parents and apply those same things to our Heavenly Father. I once heard a quote; it said that we should never say anything that we would be ashamed to have our mother hear. How soon we forget that our Father in heaven does indeed hear what we say, and see what we do. Are we doing things that hurt our Heavenly Father?

“Our Father which art in heaven”. We acknowledge that God is in heaven, and that that is His rightful place. Knowing that God is in heaven and we are here puts things into perspective.

When we say “Hallowed be thy name” we are giving glory to God. All other things in our life must be subordinated to the worship of God. Again this is more than a prayer, it is a statement of God first, and us after. We need to live our lives this way.

Next, Christ tells us to ask for the coming of the kingdom of God. This means that we must be prepared for its coming. It also means that we must be actively helping others to be prepared. If one is not a Christian, the last thing you want is for the kingdom of God to come. We need to be ready for Luke 12:40 says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Next comes a key point. God’s will is to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. This must start with us personally. There is no value in complaining about the sinful state of the world while God’s will is not being done by His own children. We must submit our will to His. This means His priorities not ours, this means building His church, not our glory.

Surrendering our will is a hard program to buy into. We are justifiably proud that we in the western world live in freedom. This freedom is popularly believed to be the freedom to do as we please. The proper use of the freedom God has given us is to be free to love and obey Him.  We must choose this path of our own will. The Holy Spirit will then equip us to walk the path.

We ask for our daily bread. There are three nuggets here. First, notice that we aren’t demanding but asking. The Christian is humble, and lives in dependence upon his Father.  Second, do not worry about the future. We live in daily dependence on our Fathers provision. This takes trust. We must know in our heart that God will provide each day for our needs.

And third, we don’t demand cake or caviar, but are looking for the basic resources we need. Riches or other material goods are not evil in themselves, but they may do much mischief inside of us if we are not careful.  See Proverbs 30:7–9.

The Christian is a forgiving person. We realize that we must ask for and accept forgiveness from God to be justified. This causes us to be humble and forgiving in our relationship with our fellow man. We, who have needed forgiveness ourselves, must always be ready to forgive.

We ask that God might deliver us from temptation. As a Christian we recognize that we have not become some kind of invincible warrior. We remain weak and ask God to deliver us from temptation. This means that we do not seek out places where we will be tempted. There are some places where a Christian will not be found because they are full of temptation to sin. In this visually oriented age it means that there are magazines, TV programs, videos, and movies that Christians will not watch lest our hearts are tempted to sin.

In addition we need to realize that each of us has unique weaknesses. If we know that we are easily tempted by drink, stay away from the bar. The Christian is prudent because the Holy Spirit is guiding us.


Keys for Christian living


     Looking back at the Sermon on the Mount we see some key aspects of Christian living. One of the reasons that Christ gave them to us together with the Lord’s prayer is that we must realize that the power to live the Christian life comes from above. We have the responsibility to choose to live a godly life. Our Father is a great respecter of our independent will, and allows us to go astray if we choose to. When we keep the wisdom of God’s word in the Bible before us we have God’s help for godly living.

The Christian acknowledges God the Father and Jesus Christ in his heart and before men.  1 Chronicles 28:9 says “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.” David is telling Solomon that knowing and serving are linked together.  Notice also that God will respond in kind to our seeking Him.  Look at what Jesus has to say about the importance of acknowledging Him. Matthew 10:32–33 says “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

The Christian loves Christ. Ephesians 6:24 says “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Paul is telling the Christians that God’s grace will be poured out for all of the believers at the church in Ephesus who love Christ. This same promise and obligation hold true today.

The Christian worships God. Worship is a daily part of the Christians life. Look for opportunities to worship and give glory and praise to God. John 4:24 tells us “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Worshipping God is an exclusive act.  We are not to worship the things of the world, or other powers. Satan tries to take our worship which is rightfully God’s. Some of the things he may substitute in our lives are job, money, house, and even our spouse or children. One way to see who you are truly worshiping is to examine your priorities. In Luke 4:8 the Bible says, “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

The Christian is kingdom minded. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he prays that they will be thankful that they are citizens of the heavenly kingdom. When we remember that we belong to Christ’s kingdom it is easier to make sure that our goals go towards those things expected by Christ rather than those things expected by the world. Also we live in the expectation of the imminent return of Christ. We live each day prepared for His coming. Colossians 1:12–13 says “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,”

The Christian surrenders his will to the Father. This obedience is our way of showing our love and commitment. By being in the word we can fill our hearts with the good things of God.  The Spirit will be alive in us. When we are filled with the work, and love, of the Lord we don’t worry about what not to do. Rather, we are happily doing what we should do. In John 15:9–10 Jesus says “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

The Christian lives in dependence on the Father. We have the choice every day to depend on ourselves and others, or on the Lord. The Scripture contrasts the two ways in the verses below.

Isaiah 36:6 “Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. Psalms 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

The Christian asks for forgiveness. Just as it is impossible to receive salvation unless we recognize we are sinners, so it is also impossible to be a Christian and not recognize that we are still have the ability to sin again. God, in his love, has sent his Son to pay the price for our sins, the penalty is removed. How can we appreciate Jesus if we don’t remember our daily dependence on His forgiveness. Here is 1 John 1:9–10 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

The Christian forgives others. Colossians 3:13 says “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” I believe that we should extend forgiveness beyond just the community of believers as well.

The Christian flees temptation. Think of fleeing temptation as preventive maintenance for the human soul. By avoiding situations where we know we are weak we can prevent the desire to sin from growing in us. Look at what James 1:13–15 has to say “When tempted, no-one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

The Christian loves his fellow man. In 1 Peter 4:8 we find the following “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” This can be safely extended beyond believers. Christ is an example for while we were yet sinners he loved us. The sin that this covers is ours by the way.

Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1 to 7:28) and answer the following questions.

Do you know anyone who can live according to the ideals in the Sermon on the Mount?  Do you know anyone who thinks they can?  Do you think you can?







1. How would you describe a righteous life?





2. How are we able to live a righteous life?





3. What kinds of gifts does God have in mind for us?





4. Find some parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer.





5. In what areas do you feel you need to improve in?





[1] Elements of saving faith are from The Full Life Study Bible,   commentary on Faith and Grace, pp 302.  General editor Donald Stamps, c 1990 by Life Publishers International.  Pub by Zondervan, Grand   Rapids MI.