Actually, the Bible has quite a bit to say about this topic.
(1) To give a good definition of righteous character, as we want to apply this term in this Q&A, we would like to quote from several of Herbert Armstrong’s writings, the late Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God.
In “What Science Cannot Discover About the Human Mind,” copyright 1978, he wrote about righteous character as “the ability in a single entity to come to comprehend and distinguish the true values from the false, the right way from the wrong, to choose the right and reject the wrong, and, with power of will, to do the right and resist the evil.”
In “Mystery of the Ages,” copyright 1985, he elaborated, as follows:
“Perfect, holy and righteous character is the ability in such separate entity to come to discern the true and right way from the false, to make voluntarily a full and unconditional surrender to God and his perfect way — to yield to be conquered by God — to determine even against temptation or self- desire, to live and to do the right. And even then such holy character is the gift of God. It comes by yielding to God to instill HIS LAW (God’s right way of life) within the entity who so decides and wills. Actually, this perfect character comes only from God, as instilled within the entity of his creation, upon voluntary acquiescence, even after severe trial and test…”
(2) What we have to keep in mind, then, is that godly character is a gift from God. It must also be noted that this gift must be acquired and developed over time.
In “What Science Cannot Discover About the Human Mind,” Herbert Armstrong wrote:
“God’s purpose in creating man is to reproduce Himself—with such perfect spiritual character as only God possesses—who will not and therefore cannot ever sin! (1 John 3:9). Such perfect spiritual and holy character cannot be created by fiat. It must be developed, and that requires time and experience… But if man is to become God, in the process of God reproducing Himself, then the character that is to be built in him must emanate from God—and the spirit life that is to be his also must emanate from God.”
We might pose the question why God could not create character by fiat. Is there anything that God cannot do? Absolutely. For instance, God cannot sin. The reason is, He has willed never to sin, and His Will is perfect. We are also told that we must reject sin, but due to temptations and weaknesses, we do still sin from time to time, even after we have received God’s Holy Spirit. This is not to say that it would be impossible for us to keep God’s Law. God would never command us to keep the Law if He knew that we could not do it. With the help of God’s Holy Spirit in us, we CAN keep the Law–both in the letter and even in the Spirit. Jesus Christ, when He lived in the flesh, never sinned. He overcame sin in the flesh. He lived a PERFECT life. He did it because He was ALWAYS close to God the Father. His Will never to sin was PERFECT.
The only difference is that God the Father gave Christ His Holy Spirit without measure from His inception. Today, when God’s disciples receive His Spirit, they initially receive only a small portion of it. But we are to grow in God’s Spirit. We are to become perfect. And with God’s help, we can. When we sin, it is because we are not as close to God as we should have been. And, perhaps, because our will never to sin has not yet reached perfection, either.
But that is what character development is all about. We need to learn the right, choose the right, and live the right. The more we do, the more we develop godly righteous perfect character in our lives.
When we say that God could not create perfect character by fiat, we need to go back to our definition of godly character, which requires that a free moral agent needs to choose the right and reject the wrong, and to actually do the right and refuse to do the wrong. With THAT definition, God could not have created such character by fiat. Of course, He could have created beings who would automatically do the right and refuse to do the wrong–but they would not have been free moral agents with the POWER to choose. That power and ability, leading to right character, if applied correctly, requires time; so, by necessity, it could not have been created ad hoc.
We need to understand that God is reproducing Himself through man. The purpose of man’s creation is to ultimately become God. And in order to become God, man must develop the character of God. He must become perfect, as God is perfect. (For more information on this vital subject, please read our free booklet, “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God.”).
Regarding the need of character development in man, Herbert Armstrong also wrote the following in “Mystery of the Ages”:
“But there was one super-important quality that even God’s creative powers could not create instantly by fiat — the same perfect, holy, righteous CHARACTER inherent in both God and the Word! This kind of character must be DEVELOPED, by the CHOICE and the INTENT of the one in whom it comes to exist… I repeat, such perfect character must be developed. It requires the free choice and decision of the separate entity in whom it is to be created. But, further, even then it must be instilled by and from the Holy God who, only, has such righteous character to endow.”
He went on to say:
“God is more than one single person — God is a family — God is the supreme divine family — he is the Creator of all that is, and he has an ultimate PURPOSE — the creation of perfect, holy, righteous and spiritual CHARACTER, in MAN made immortal, to become part of that God family… WHY did the Creator God put MAN on the earth? For God’s ultimate supreme purpose of reproducing himself — of recreating himself, as it were, by the supreme objective of creating the righteous divine character ultimately in millions unnumbered begotten and born children who shall become God beings, members of the God family…
“WHAT, then, is man? He is a living being made from the dust of the ground. He is CLAY, and GOD is the Master Potter, molding, shaping, forming our CHARACTER — if we respond when he calls and draws us to him. With our willingness he is infusing into us HIS VERY OWN SPIRITUAL HOLY, RIGHTEOUS and PERFECT character!”
Please also note the following comments made in our booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World“:
“God wants us to build holy, righteous, godly character. We must develop the will to never sin, as well as the ability to carry out that will to never sin. We are to prove to God that we mean business. That requires time, and it requires the help of God’s Holy Spirit in us. We have to learn to resist the downward pull of Satan and his demons. We must overcome temptations to sin, even in the face of satanic persecution. God wants to see that we will not give in to the ‘dark side.'”
(3) Does the Bible support the claim that we must develop godly righteous character in our Christian lives–that God is creating His character in His disciples?
It is true, however, that we will not find the word “character” in the Authorized Version or the New King James Bible. But the concept of character development is clearly conveyed–even in annotations in the New King James Bible, as we will see. In reviewing other modern translations, we discover that they actually use the word “character” in numerous places. Although this might be more an interpretation than a literal rendering of the original, they are nevertheless correct in their understanding of the meaning of those Scriptures.
(a) In general, the need to have a good or noble character in our lives is emphasized in these passages:
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, New International Version).
Boaz said the following about Ruth: “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11, New International Version).
Beginning with Proverbs 31:10, a “virtuous woman” is described. The New International Version translated the introductory verse as follows: “…a wife of noble character who can find?”
In addition, the New King James Bible has the following headline to Psalm 15, where David answers the question who will be accepted by God: “The Character of Those Who May Dwell with the LORD.”
Regarding Ananias who was sent by God to Paul to baptize him, we read Paul’s testimony about Ananias in Acts 22:12, that he was “a pious man who obeyed the Law and bore a good character with all the Jews of the city” (“The New Testament in Modern Speech,” by Richard Francis Weymouth; the New King James Bible says, “having a good testimony with all the Jews”).
And notice 3 John 1:12: “The character of Demetrius has the approval of all men, and of the truth itself. We also express our approval of it, and you know that we only give our approval to that which is true” (Weymouth; the New King James Bible says, “has a good testimony from all”).
2 Peter 1:5 points out:
“But for this very reason–adding, on your part, all earnestness–along with your faith, manifest also a noble character: along with a noble character, knowledge…” (Weymouth; the New King James Bible says, “virtue.” As we have seen, the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31 is a woman of character.).
(b) The Bible also shows that godly righteous character must be DEVELOPED in man:
Luke 1:80 tells us the following about Jesus Christ, according to Weymouth: “And the child grew and became strong in character, and lived in the Desert till the time came for him to appear publicly to Israel.” The New King James Bible says that He became strong in spirit. This would include, becoming strong in character.
As Christ grew in godly character, so must we. Of course, Christ never sinned. But He had to continue throughout His human life to choose the right and reject the wrong, and to live the right and refuse to live the wrong (compare the prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 7:14-16).
Describing Jesus Christ as He is now, Hebrews 1:3 refers to Him as “…being the brightness of His [God the Father’s] glory and the express image of His person…” The word “image” is translated from the Greek word “charakter,” which means “engraved,” “stamped” or “carved.” Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible renders the Greek expression as, “impressed character.” Moffat translates Hebrews 1:3 as, “He, reflecting God’s bright glory and stamped with God’s own character, sustains the universe with his word of power…”
Christ is the image, character, imprint, stamp or exact representation of the Father’s “person,” “nature,” “being,” “substance” or “essence.” And so, Christ’s disciples are to engrave the nature of who and what God is–His righteous and holy character–into themselves through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Weymouth translates Hebrews 12:10, as follows:
“It is true that they disciplined us for a few years according as they thought fit; but He does it for our certain good, in order that we may become sharers in His own holy character.” The New King James Bible says here, “that we may be partakers of His holiness.” When we do, then we are partakers of His holy character. This is a remarkable rendering, as it shows the correct understanding that God wants to create His holy character in us.
A general description of one aspect of God’s righteous character (which we are to acquire), can be found in Hebrews 6:17: “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us” (Revised Standard Version).
Weymouth translates 2 Corinthians 13:11 as follows, showing that we need to grow in perfection regarding our righteous character:
“Finally, brethren, be joyful, secure perfection of character (the New King James Bible says here, “be complete”), take courage, be of one mind, live in peace. And then God who gives love and peace will be with you.”
Compare, too, Romans 5:3-4: “… we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope” (New International Version).
The Living Bible renders this phrase, as follows: “And patience develops strength of character in us…” The Revised Standard Version says: “… endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” The New American Bible states: “… affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope…” Lastly, the New Jerusalem Bible renders it in this way: “… perseverance DEVELOPS a tested character…”
Weymouth renders Romans 14:19 as follows: “Therefore let us aim at whatever makes for peace and mutual upbuilding of character.”
Similar Weymouth’s rendering of 1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then, brethren? Whenever you assemble, there is not one of you who is not ready either with a song of praise, a sermon, a revelation, a ‘tongue,’ or an interpretation. Let everything be done with a view to the building up of faith and character.”
Note, too, Colossians 4:12: “Epaphras, who is one of yourselves, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, sends greetings to you, always wrestling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand firm–Christians of ripe character and of clear conviction as to everything which is God’s will” (Weymouth).
Take also note of James 3:2: “For we often stumble and fall, all of us. If there is any one who never stumbles in speech, that man has reached maturity of character and is able to curb his whole nature” (Weymouth).
Notice also the following requirement for a minister of God:
“He [a minister, overseer, elder] must have a good report of them which are without. Have an established character which speaks well for the church among the unconverted” (1 Timothy 3:7, People’s New Testament).
1 Corinthians 15:33 warns us not to allow the hindrance of the development of our good character, by associating ourselves with those whose standards and life style are ungodly and detrimental to our spiritual growth: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character'” (New International Version).
And 1 Corinthians 3:13 adds: “… the true character of each individual’s work will become manifest. For the day of Christ will disclose it, because that day is soon to come upon us clothed in fire, and as for the quality of every one’s work– the fire is the thing which will test it” (Weymouth).
As mentioned, even though the word “character” is not used by the Authorized Version or the New King James Bible in the above-quoted Scriptures, they do describe the different aspects of godly character in those passages.
In conclusion, the Bible teaches the concept that we must develop godly and righteous character in our lives–and that it is God who creates His character in His disciples–over time–and with their ascent and cooperation.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link