Cultivating Christlike Character
Indepth Devotional Study of The Spirit Filled Life
"Cultivating Christlike Character" is the most important pursuit of life! To know Christ in all of His fullness is the goal of life. The prayer of Paul for the Ephesian believers (Ephesians 3:14-21) serves as a great and guiding prayer in the believer's pursuit for Christlikeness. "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (NIV)
If the Church is to fulfill its mission in the world–the mission of love resulting in reconciling the world to God–then the Church (and each individual believer in the Church) must be strengthened and empowered! A powerless Church cannot win the battle against a powerful enemy!
The Church is only as strong corporately as each believer is strong individually! Paul's prayer is that each believer will be 'strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man'.
The Holy Spirit is God's Agent to strengthen the Christian. The mighty Spirit of the God of heaven and earth is the same Spirit who breathed upon the chaotic void in creation to bring form and life. The Spirit came upon the prophets of old and they spoke words which brought conviction. It was the Spirit of God which came upon timorous Gideon and made him a bold leader of Israel. It was the Spirit that gave boldness to the one-time fearful Peter. Peter was enabled to preach a powerful sermon to the very people who had crucified Jesus! The result? "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: 'Bretheren, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:37 Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41)
What resources does the Father have available for the Church, when the Church is willing to bow its knees before the Father? Nothing less than the power of God's Spirit! "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses …" (Acts 1:8)
The Church needs nothing more, and God offers nothing less, than the mighty Holy Spirit!
God strengthens the Christian through his Spirit 'in the inner man'. The 'inner man' refers to man's reason, man's conscience, and man's will.
As believers, we need to be strengthened in our ability to know the difference between right and wrong. In a world of moral relativism, where the 'whites' and 'blacks' have been reduced to 'grays', where it is declared that there is nothing inherently right or wrong, the Christian needs to have a clear sense of moral distinctions. There are 'grays', but one can only discern the 'whites' and the 'blacks'–the areas of moral absolutes.
Some things are still right and some things are still wrong, regardless of all the changes that have come about in our twentieth century! We must not live at the mercy of our passions and instincts. We must rather have the 'mind of Christ' in order to know what is pure and what is impure.
A man once came into my office, disillusioned and discouraged. He had observed so much moral confusion and chaos in the world of his employment that he declared, "Sometimes I wonder what is right and what is wrong in the world today"!
When the Spirit strengthens you in the 'inner man', you will have a clearer moral sense of right and wrong.
To be strengthened in the 'inner man' is to be strengthened also in our Conscience. It is one thing to have a sense of right and wrong in our reason. It is an even greater thing to have a sensitivity personally to right and wrong in our conscience. Knowing right and wrong in our mind must result in feeling the pangs of wrong and the pleasures of right in our conscience. It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to give us a tough mind to discern right from wrong; it is also important to feel right and wrong in our conscience (heart).
The life of love is a life issuing from a good conscience. Paul writes that the "aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith". (1 Timothy 1:5)
Paul wrote also that "by rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith". (1 Timothy 1:19)
To be strengthened in the 'inner man' by the Holy Spirit, is to allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen the conscience, in order that the conscience may be a reliable guide to determine the rightness and wrongness of actions and attitudes.
The conscience, by itself, is not always a reliable guide to determine right or wrong actions and attitudes. The conscience simply stands guard over the values one puts into his moral nature.
Where does one find the right moral values to feed into his moral nature, over which the conscience merely stands guard? The Holy Scriptures, carefully applied to the believer's mind by the Holy Spirit!
"From thee that I no more may stray, No more thy goodness grieve, Grant me the filial awe I pray, The tender conscience give; Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make! Awake my soul when sin is nigh, And keep it still awake."
('I Want A Principle Within' by Charles Wesley)
To be strengthened in the 'inner man' is to be strengthened also in our will. It is one thing to have a sense of right and wrong in our minds. It is even a greater thing to have a sensitivity to right and wrong in our heart (conscience). It is greater yet to have power to deny the wrong and to do the right with our will.
It is not he who knows what is right, but he who does what is right that is approved by God. The mind (reason) needs to know right from wrong. The heart (conscience) needs to have moral sensitivity to feel right and wrong. But most important of all, the will needs empowerment to do the right and to shun the wrong.
Paul described the dilemma between knowing the right and the inability to do the right! "It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God's will so far as my new nature is concerned, but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God's willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin … Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free." (Romans 7:21-25, Living Bible)
"It is essential weakness of life that so often we know what is right, and we mean to do it, but our will is not strong enough to back our knowledge and to carry out our intentions. As John Drinkwater wrote:
"Grant us the will to fashion as we feel, Grant us the strength to labour as we know, Grant us the purpose, ribbed and edged with steel, To strike the blow. Knowledge we ask not, knowledge Thou hast lent, But, Lord, the will--there lies our deepest need, Grant us the power to build, above the high intent. The deed, the deed!
(Daily Study Bible; Ephesians; Barclay, p. 154)
How can the Resource of the Father best be described? The greatest resource of the Father, available to humble Christians, is the Holy Spirit who strengthens us with might in the 'inner man', i.e., in the reason (mind), in the conscience (heart), and in the will.
How should believers who bow before the Father respond to the Father's offer of spiritual resources? Ephesians 3:17 describes our response to the Father in terms of allowing Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith.
To respond to the Father properly is to receive the Son fully! The resources of the Father are imparted to us through the mighty Holy Spirit. When we respond to the work of the Spirit in our lives (in our 'inner man'), then the result is the enjoyment of the indwelling Christ in our lives.
The Holy Spirit's work is never separate from, but always preparatory to, the work of Christ in our lives. To the extent that we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit (who is God's Agent to quicken the reason and to sensitize the conscience and to empower the will), to that same extent will we enjoy the presence of the indwelling Christ! The Holy Spirit is the Instrument of God's work in our lives ("strengthened with might through his Spirit" v. 16), but it is Christ who is the Substance of God's glory in our lives. The Holy Spirit came, not to glorify Himself, but to glorify Christ in our lives. Jesus spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit when he said, "He (the Holy Spirit) shall praise me and bring me great honor by showing you my glory". (John 16:14, Living Bible)
One cannot adequately respond to the Father without receiving the Son. No one comes to the Father except through the Son. To receive the resources of God, given through the Spirit, is to respond in faith to Christ. Only he, in whose heart Christ is abiding, is enjoying the benefits and blessings of the Father.
The resources of the father are great–strength in the 'inner man' (reason, conscience, will) through the mighty Holy Spirit!
The only proper response to these divine resources is the response of faith, by which Christ dwells in our hearts (v. 17). "Without faith it is impossible to please him (God)." (Hebrews 11:6)
What is the outcome or realization when Christ dwells in our hearts by faith? Ephesians 3:19 tells us that, when Christ dwells in our hearts, we will know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
Love present in our lives and increasing in our lives is the greatest evidence that we have received Christ into our hearts by faith. A faith response to the Father is best evidenced by a love increase in our lives!
This love surpasses knowledge (v. 19). 1 Corinthians 13:2 says, "If I have. . . all knowledge. . . but have not love, I am nothing".
This love is not theoretical, intellectual or abstract, but this love is practical, personal and concrete. It is possible to know about God's love, but never personally to experience God's love, just as it is possible for persons to know about marriage without ever experiencing marriage love.
This love of God is comprehended or experienced 'with all the saints' (v. 18). "Where is that love to be experienced? How are we to grasp it and find it and enter into it? We find it and we experience it with all God's consecrated people. That is to say, we find it in the fellowship of the Church. John Wesley's saying was true, 'God knows nothing of solitary religion' . 'No man,' he said, 'ever went to heaven alone.' The Church may have its faults; the Church members may be very far from being the people they ought to be; but in the fellowship of the Church we find the love of God." (Daily Study Bible; Ephesians; Barclay, p. 156)
This love, personally experienced by those who respond in faith to receive Christ, has infinite potential for growth. Note Ephesians 3:17-19 (Living Bible): "And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God's children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself".
The greatest realization in life is the realization of God's love in our lives. Life, as it was meant to be lived, is life that is indwelt by Christ, and Christ's indwelling presence is manifested through growth in love! Our little lives can be filled with love. When our lives are filled with love, we can be said to be filled with the fullness of God, for 'God is love'. (v. 19)
"Can we contain God's fullness? No. Can we receive it–up to the full measure of our always limited, yet ever enlarging capacity? Yes. " (Prayer and Life's Highest; Paul Rees, p. 26)
Are you tempted to doubt that God the Father can give you the kind of love that we have been describing? Then remember Ephesians 3:20: "He is able to do!" "He is able to do exceeding abundantly!" "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us!" When we are loving, we are doing the very thing that can turn a hurting world into a healed world. that can turn a divided world into a united world, that can turn an alienated world into a reconciled world!
"There are three things that remain–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13, Living Bible)
This is a book on the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, and love-saturated life. This book can be used in several ways. It can be used as a daily devotional guidebook, with the reader reading one page each day for approximately five months.
Each page includes, along with the practical-oriented devotional reading, an appropriate Scriptural reference, a written Prayer For The Day, and a written Affirmation For The Day. Because the book is divided into thirteen chapters, the layout of the book is designed in such a way that it can easily be used for an adult Sunday School course. The individual chapters contain enough content, and yet are short enough in length, that they could also well serve as material for small midweek study groups within a local church. There are thought provoking questions listed at the end of each chapter, to provide class participants an opportunity to review and to discuss the main content of each chapter. Because there is a developing theme throughout the book it can also be used and read like any other 'regular' book.
It is my hope that, through the reading of this book, believers may better understand the person and the work of the precious Holy Spirit and may hunger and thirst for that deeper experience of 'perfect love' (or as it is sometimes referred to 'entire sanctification'). It matters not what term we use to describe the the 'deeper life'–whether it is termed 'sanctification', 'full surrender', 'Spirit baptism', 'the second blessing', 'perfect love', 'holiness of heart', 'the exchanged life', 'the crucified life', 'the fullness of the Holy Ghost' –the important thing is that we experience all that God expects us, as believers, to experience. But we are talking about more than an initial experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. As important as the initial experience is, it is just as important to understand and to experience the reality of daily 'walking in the Spirit'. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God for the believer. In fact, no greater gift could be given! But this precious gift is not given indiscriminately or unconditionally. The condition for receiving the gift of the Spirit in His fullness is total surrender and wholehearted faith. The believer obtains the fullness of the Spirit through faith, and further, the believer maintains the fullness of the Spirit through faith. The result of obtaining and maintaining the fullness of the Spirit is increase in Christlikeness. While it is true that only the Holy Spirit can create Christlike attitudes and actions within the life of the believer, it is also true that the Holy Spirit cannot accomplish this noble goal without the cooperation of the believer. Hence the title of this book is meant to 'throw some of the weight of the responsibility on the shoulders' of the sincere believer. 'Cultivating Christlike Character' is only possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit–but not independent of the believer's initial faith response, and the believer's daily volitional surrender, and the believer's daily appropriation of God's grace resources. 'Cultivation' depends upon human effort!
One purpose of this book is to shed some 'light' on some rather 'deep' truths regarding the experience and the life of holiness. But, beyond gaining mere intellectual knowledge, it is my hope, as author, that this book will guide earnest believers in their daily cultivation of Christlike character. "Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." (Romans 5:5, Living Bible)
Ronald G. Christian
Fort Collins, Colorado