Character Pleasing to God

young woman sitting by tree

What we say and what we actually do can be miles apart. But God doesn’t judge us by these as much as He judges us by our character. The one thing He really wants to see is godly character being built up in us. This means the way we behave according to our code of correct behavior, which is then demonstrated by the actions of our body. But we seldom think of character in terms of our body. The character we form is made known by the disposition that rules within us—referring to our customary moods and attitude toward life around us. God can change our disposition, but He is not the one who forms our character. We have to do that ourselves.

There is no quick and easy way to Heaven. This is also true in forming godly character. Choosing a quick and easy way to the ways of God does not benefit us. The only sure way is long and careful. We therefore need patience in the process. We can choose to ignore God and refuse to obey Him, or we can obey Him by bringing every thought and imagination under control. Then His life will be displayed in our body. The issue is not simply keeping us from going to Hell. The issue is that we have been saved for the very purpose of displaying Christ in our everyday life—in everything we do. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them,” said Jesus (John 13:17 emphasis mine).

headshot of a middle aged man

Patient striving for godly character shows the power of our love for God. Jesus did not choose the quick and easy way to the throne and kingdom He was destined for. He chose the long way of humility which took Him first to the Cross of Calvary. The heavenly Father’s perfect standard for a man’s character is represented by the life of Jesus. The Father does not make us walk right. Instead, He gives us the very life and Spirit of His Son, so His patience, love, and gentleness can be displayed in us. Then consistent godly Christian character is formed as the life of Jesus is made evident in our mortal body.

The only way to clearly understand the will of God is by developing godly character. Different Christians interpret His will in various ways at various times, but the Holy Spirit is the only true interpreter. When we first receive the Holy Spirit, we learn the most valuable lesson of spiritual life—that God’s will is revealed according to our character’s condition. But His will doesn’t change our character. It is our attitude toward His will, expressed in our newly-forming character, which begins to reflect His will. Paul said to work out our salvation, and to be consistent in character with what God has worked in, “That ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

two indigenous children washing dishes

Our character cannot earn or make us deserve a right to come before God. It is only by His grace that we can ever stand before Him. Let’s be wary of having an arrogant interest in our own character, which can then turn into our reason for believing in God. Be careful that nothing interferes with our proper relationship with Him. Anything that damages this relationship will interfere when God wants to use us to influence others toward Him. It will also mar our reflection of Him in the eyes of others.

“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” as we are “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1 John 1:7; 2 Corinthians 7:1 emphasis mine).

Are we guilty of encouraging a false, unhealthy holiness that does not come from the fear of God? If we focus on our own holiness, a subtle pride of the flesh which is not in the Word can slowly rise up in us. It does not lead to building character, but only to having experience. Then we tend to take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough.

three crosses in a field

God gives us the right disposition through the Atonement (Jesus shedding His blood on the cross for our sins). He puts it into us when we are born again. But it is up to us to work it out in everyday life, in and through our physical body. This is also the way our character is made and displayed. It cannot be expressed in any other way except through our body. And how can we tell if our emerging character is of the nature of God? only when the life of His Son is being made manifest (evident) in our body.

Strength in moral life depends on the quality of our morals. But in spiritual life, we need to deal with things that oppose us by drawing from the life of Jesus. This will produce holy character which is wholly pleasing to God. Can we save ourselves or set ourselves apart unto holiness? No, only God can. Our treasure in Heaven is the wealth of character we are storing up by remaining true to Jesus’ faith, not to our faith in Him. But it is dangerous to allow holy character to replace our faith in God. Let’s think long and hard about our development of godly character, and work out what these thoughts concerning what God have worked into us. Then we will know that the character we have developed is pleasing to God.

Ritual or Relationship?

 

Do you ever felt like you are making great efforts to do all of the right things (or at least what you were told were the right things) to please God, yet He still seems distant or unreachable to you? Do you feel like a sense of guilt comes over you if you don’t pray or read the Bible? Or have you stopped praying and reading the Bible because you can’t seem to get anywhere, and everything you did read seemed so confusing and dull? Maybe you go to church because this is what you were told do, but you have never felt any real enthusiasm in being there. Or, are you doing as much as you can for your church, yet you still don’t seem to have any reward from God—or even worse—you just feel used by your church? Have you often asked yourself, just where is the fulfillment, the satisfaction and the real joy in following Jesus that others have told you about?

On the other hand, maybe you are one who really does find excitement and satisfaction with God and what He has done for you, but only after you attend church or various religious events and entertainment, thereby necessitating repeat visits to maintain this enthusiasm. All of these are common ploys of Satan to prevent you from having true intimacy with God. He tries to keep you in a mindset where you feel that you have to continually do works to be right with, or accepted by, God. When you left Satan’s domain and entered the domain of Jesus by getting saved, it certainly did not go unnoticed by Satan. And, in revenge for leaving him, he will persist in trying to keep you from having complete peace in Jesus. His goal is to turn your focus off of Jesus Christ and onto yourself (and ultimately onto him alone).

He wants you to wear yourself out in trying to be right with God on your own, to the point where you become bitter or discouraged and turn back to him. Actually, Satan would really like for you to hate God just like he does, and to never want to even try to follow the Lord again.

Since he has had thousands of years to observe others like you, he knows just what technique works to keep you from truly following Jesus.

What Satan tries to do here is to turn all of these ‘good’ efforts into a ritual. Jesus does not want rituals or your ‘works’; He wants a personal relationship with you. He wants yourcross worship trust and faith in Him alone. Religions have rituals, but they add up to nothing in God’s view. When Jesus died on the cross on your behalf, it was a complete work. There are no works, no rituals—there is nothing that you can do to improve on this or make yourself more acceptable to God on your own. Every time you try to do something to make yourself more holy before God, you are, in essence, canceling out the sacrifice that His Son made on your behalf. He already did everything necessary to make you acceptable to God.

You may now be thinking that reading the Bible, praying, or attending church are wrong. Each of these in themselves is right, and God expects them of you. But when doing them becomes your motive behind being accepted or becoming right before God, then doing them becomes just as wrong as worshiping idols. And you also enter the area of self-righteousness, which is just as sinful before God as idolatry or any other sin.

couple on bench

When you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, you are entering into a personal relationship with Him. In our human relationships, one person does not work to make the other accept him or her; instead, each accepts the other for who he or she is, by faith in him or her. They no longer have to prove themselves; they now have established trust between them.

If you have just become married, and you constantly do things to make your spouse love you, then you have entered into marriage for all of the wrong motives (and your spouse will really begin to wonder about you).

Your marriage partner should love you for who you are, not so much for what you do. What you do is a by-product of love, a way of expressing it.

Similarly, Jesus wants you to have trust, and simple, child-like faith in Him. He never set up a complicated set of rules and requirements that you must follow to improve your standing with woman worshipingHim. These only lead to things like favoritism, jealousy, regression, and failure. If you yield your self (or will) to Him in a loving personal relationship, you will soon find that you will want to pray, you will want to read His Word, and you will want to be in a fellowship of other believers who also want to do the same thing. You will also find that that all of these efforts to please Him before will now be the by-product of a relationship with Him now. It is only in a true relationship, not in a ritual, that will you find real peace in God.

Does God Care?

anxiety graphic

Are you going through a situation where you feel like God doesn’t care about you? Does it seem like He doesn’t see what you are going through? Do you feel like you have to worry and fret over your situation, since God apparently is not interested in helping you with it? Maybe you think He does not even notice that you are having a hard time. What does God have to say about this?

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

This verse actually says that we are to cast all our anxieties on Him. Most of what we fear or worry about never comes to pass. God is like a shepherd watching over his flock. He is ever scanning the field where the sheep are, looking for impending trouble, or for one who has gotten himself into a bad situation on his own.

Have you ever been with children as they tried so hard to help bring the groceries in the house when they were very small? One would pick up a gallon of milk and struggle with all his might to get it from the front door to the kitchen. You probably watched, amused, that this little one thought he could carry it all by himself. Then you most likely went over and took the gallon jug and carried it for the child. Or you might have put your hand on one side to steady and lift it some, while letting the child think he was doing it all himself.

But you were there all the time, watching over the child, making sure he could handle whatever he took upon himself without hurting himself or utterly failing in the task. If he tried to carry something far too big or heavy or dangerous, you would intervene. The child was sure he could handle the situation. But you knew all along that he had a lot more growing to do, and that it was far beyond his capabilities or experience at this point in his life. Yet you did not stop him from trying. All the time, he did not know it, but he was not alone.

Does our heavenly Father care any less about us? We often take on more in our walk with God than He intends for us to handle. Or else we hang back and don’t try to do anything beyond what we have been safely able to accomplish in the past. And how easy it is to worry ourselves into a state of anxiety, to the point where we convince ourselves that there is no solution to our situation!

Does our heavenly Father heap weights on us that are more than we can carry, and then stand back and laugh at us because we are crushed under the load? Don’t ever think that way of our loving Father!

Only unbelief thinks it is our responsibility to be weighed down, both inwardly and outwardly. Why don’t you roll the weight onto Him that burdens you so much? He loves to bear the burdens that are too much for His weak children.

Does God care? Isn’t His word plain enough to us? Who drowned the Egyptian army when they chased after His chosen people in order to bring them back into slavery? Who opened a jail cell and set Peter the Apostle free while everyone else in the prison slept? Who sent His Son to die for us, to take our sins upon Himself because we were incapable of dealing with them ourselves? God knows, and He cares about you and every single situation you are going through. With loving concern, He continually watches over you. He is with you right now, whether you sense His presence or not. What should you do? Cast “…all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”

–Alana Pangburn

The Dark Manger

dark manger

I walked down a street one evening recently where many homes were decorated for Christmas. Some had elaborate displays with a lot of lights; others displayed a simple arrangement and very few lights, or anything else that would really grab your attention. What caught my eye among all of these displays was a simple little manger scene with just the basics: Mary, Joseph, an animal and a shepherd. It was more meaningful than all of the others, because no light was shining on the manger scene, and baby Jesus was not present.* Only a distant streetlight made the display visible in the darkness, since it had no light of its own to illuminate it. Whether the darkened scene was intentional or just an oversight remains a mystery, but its current state of darkness gives it much more prominence than all of the brightest and most elaborate displays on the street combined.

Over two thousand years ago, the real manger scene in Bethlehem was in just as much darkness as this little representation is now. There was some type of light there, naturally, maybe a torch or small fire, but the type of darkness I’m talking about goes far beyond physical light. It is known as spiritual darkness, the absence of God in the heart. True joy and happiness only come when Jesus reigns in our hearts and lives. Jesus said, “…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

When Jesus was born, then the true light from heaven shone upon the world. He was God in human flesh, or Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”

God the Father loves us more than we could ever comprehend, even to the point that He would send His innocent, sinless Son to this earth to pay the ultimate penalty for the sins of every person on this earth—eternal death. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The more sin there is in this world, the more spiritual darkness is present as well. Evil loves darkness, and when the world is full of darkness, evil freely abounds. If the world had no real means of redemption (being free from the consequences of sin), it would be hopelessly lost to evil and sin.

When Jesus came to live in this world, He broke the stronghold of darkness. He fulfilled all the requirements of the laws God set out in the Old Testament of the Bible. He never sinned Himself, but He took upon Himself all of the sins of every person in the world (those who had previously died, those currently alive, and all yet to be born) when He died on the cross. Then, when He declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30), sin and darkness no longer reigned—they were forever defeated! But this victory is not automatic for us. We have to accept by faith that He died for us, and believe that His victory over sin is our victory over sin. We must, as well, make Him the lord or ruler over our life, and no longer let our own self remain in command. We must admit to God and ourselves that we are sinners (wrong-doers) and repent (turn completely) from our sinful ways. When we surrender our lives to Him, we become the light of the world as well as His Spirit enters into us.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

This Christmas season, are you going to continue to remain in the darkness, or are you going to let the Light of the World (Jesus) be the light of your life? Will you be ashamed to have His light shine on you because of the sins you cling onto in your life? He came to this earth and overcame the darkness forever. Now is the time to let Him overcome the darkness in your life too. For more information about the way to God, click here.

*(Ed. note: Baby Jesus was not stolen from this display, nor was His absence an oversight. Many feel that the manger display is more accurate if baby Jesus is placed in the manger on Christmas Eve, since He had not been born until then.)

No Room for Gray

no gray area graphic

An answer to a question on a forum post I read recently stated that there is black, and there is white, with 256 shades of gray in between. The thought of gray areas between black and white led me consider how we often think of God and the Devil. In our sphere of understanding, we tend to view God as the white side, and the Devil as the black side, with our existence being in the gray areas between the two. As long as we do what is right, and keep from doing what is wrong (at least, our definition of right and wrong), then we will move up or down in one of those gray areas.

We figure that, at the end of our existence, we will hopefully end up in the white side, and all those who did too many wrongs will end up on the black side.

We might also feel that somewhere along that gray-shaded road, we might make the decision to go God’s way and jump off the gray road onto the white side before we die, while the rebellious ones slip off onto the black side.

This is far from the truth. In reality, there is no gray area, there is only black and white. No matter how much ‘good’ we do, or may have done in our lifetime, we will always stay in the black side. We are never between the two sides; we cannot straddle the fence. We may think that we weren’t that bad, with just a little lie here, and maybe an insignificant item stolen there. But a window is still broken, even with just a little crack.

You probably wonder how you ended up in the black side in the first place. To be honest, you never ended up in the black; you began there. Our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, were on the white side in the beginning. But, by way of the Devil, Eve’s heart was deceived, and as a result, Adam ended up willfully sinning against God. This meant that Adam and Eve could no longer remain in the white side, since God is holy, and cannot tolerate any sin. (For a more detailed background, read Genesis 3 in the Bible.)

Now Pandora’s box  of sin was opened and could not be shut. It resembled a little bit of yeast which causes a whole loaf of bread to keep rising. Sin has now spread throughout the whole earth. It has been, and still is, present in everyone, everywhere. Its effects have been deteriorating everything in the earth, including the earth itself, for centuries.

We have been boasting of the great progress we have made since the early days of our existence, yet we are no more out of the black side than the moment that Adam and Eve were driven into it.

To add more bad news to all of this, we have been blinded to the fact that we are constantly living in sin, unless God, through His Spirit, opens our eyes to see how sinful we are. Then, to add insult to injury, we, in our own strength, cannot get free of sin and get out of the black side.

It may seem hopeless at this point, but this is just where hope begins! God already had a plan for bringing every man, woman and child out from the black side, long before Adam and Eve were even created. Why did He wait until after-the-fact to make His plan known? Why couldn’t He just stop sin as soon as it started, or make a means to prevent it from ever occurring? It all comes down to what is called the ‘free will.’ God put within each of us the ability to choose—to make our own choices. He never made us as machines, or robots with preset programs, that decide what we would or would not do. He is not a supreme dictator that makes uncompassionate ‘do or die’ commands upon every living thing. He is a loving God who knows us more that we know ourselves. In normal family relationships, parents love their children, and the children choose to love their parents in return. They are not ordered to love them. The option exists for the child to choose not to love them at any point. But most don’t, because they do love their mother and father. If God prevented anyone from sinning, then there would no longer be any choice available. Any reason to love Him would be taken for granted.

 God does not want us to sin. But we have to choose whether we will sin against Him or not. He will not force us, or corner us, into following Him.

The plan He made to rescue us further emphasizes His love for us. He always sees the big picture and knows what our future will be. As a loving Father, He looks out for us (if we allow Him to) by making a means of escape. In order to come before Him, we cannot have sin in our heart. And the penalty for our sins is death. During the time period of the Old Testament in the Bible, God made a temporary covering for sin. It was through the sacrifice of an innocent lamb. But this sacrifice was temporary and incomplete, and could not permanently remove our sins. Therefore, God prepared a way for a permanent sacrifice to be made, through His Son, Jesus.

Jesus left His heavenly Father and became human like us, but without sin, or allowing sin to enter into His heart. During His time on the earth, He remained obedient to His Father, fulfilling all of the requirements that God had laid out in His Law (found in the first five books of the Bible). The ultimate fulfillment came when His Son willingly sacrificed His life on a cross, just like the innocent lamb that had to sacrifice its life on the altar. That is how much God (and His Son) loves us, so much that He was willing to give His Beloved Son as a sacrifice for everyone: past, present, and those not even born yet, and that His Son was just as willing to make this sacrifice. The good news for us is, that all we have to do is believe in His Son, and accept His sacrifice as our sacrifice.

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

At this point, we might feel that there may be some gray areas in life, and we’ll stand in them until we can figure out what to do next. It won’t work! It is still black and white only. We make the gray areas by believing the lies that the Devil feeds us. Just ask Eve:

“And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:2-6).

The Devil is the master of deceit, and he has had thousands of years to analyze us and to know our strengths and weaknesses (much more than we know). He never wants us to leave the black side, and he does all he can to keep us there. But, through our pride and unbelief, we insist that our way is better, and that we can make it to the white side on our own. Meanwhile, we are busily going off on the wrong road, lost for eternity, still on the black side.

What is your choice? to remain in the black side under the illusion you are in the gray side, or to trust and believe in Jesus and His sacrifice for your sins?

If you made that decision to believe in Jesus, or just want to know more, please click here.

–James Pangburn

On the Ledge


flickr photo shared by TrailVoice under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I can still remember a particularly beautiful Spring day when I was eight years old. The flowers had just begun to bloom around Sugarloaf Mountain, not far from Frederick, Maryland, near the Virginia state line. I remember sitting there high up on a mountain ledge. It reminded me of granite shepherds silently watching over the lowlands and local communities in the valley way below me.

I can also remember sensing the divine presence of the Lord God there. While I sat high on the ledge, observing the scene below in all its beauty from the height of the mountain, His sweet, still voice spoke to my heart, saying, “My son, what do you see?”

I responded to Him through my thoughts as I prayed. When I opened my eyes I said, “My heavenly Father, I can see that in the distance the area around Sugarloaf Mountain is still just as beautiful as it ever was.

I loved looking out at all the vast farmland below, divided only by jagged rows of wooden fences. I can still remember small clover blossoms of purple growing throughout all the green grassland where the farm animals grazed. The still waters of many small grassland ponds glistened. Little babbling brooks also branched off in many directions as they flowed through the farmland, restoring life wherever they went.

Then, once again, I sensed that same sweet voice from God saying to me, “My son, what do you really see around you?”

I responded, “My heavenly Father, I see my own fears: how rough and dangerous the jagged rocks seem to be, and how sheer the cliffs appear. The precipitous trails that lead down this mountain seem unstable. I can also see the fresh, trickling spring water flowing between the uneven ridges to the base of the mountain.”

Again the same sweet, still voice spoke to me and said, “My son, you observed well.”

Then I realized what He wanted me to recall to my mind while I sat on the mountain ledge:

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23).

[This was my mother’s favorite psalm.]