Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” On this holiday set aside in Dr. King’s memory, I certainly hope that we are drawing ever closer to the realization of his dream.
The famous quote makes me stop and think. What is the content of my character? This MLK Day observance is a great opportunity to interrupt the cycle of life’s busyness and assess where we are with this. Am I a person of character? What can I do to strengthen and build my character? Are there influences that are getting in my way of becoming the person God would have me to be?
When I think of “character,” I think of what the Bible calls “the inner man.” The outer man is obviously your body - the part of you other people see. Character is evidenced through outward behaviors and deeds, yet it remains unseen. Jesus knows the character of every person; He knows what we struggle with. He knows how deceptive our hearts can be and whether or not we truly are people of character. John tells us, “[Jesus] knew what was in man.” (John 2:25) God’s goal for our character is that we would “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13) In other words, “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” If you are like me, you feel a ways off from achieving this goal. The Bible passage that contains my life verse (3:10) also says, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12) To be true to the reality that the Christian life is not a legalistic set of do’s and don’ts, here is a self-assessment you can use to evaluate your own character on this MLK Day 2020.
1. Am I a person of my Word? (Matt 5:37, ““But let your ‘Yes' be ‘Yes,' and your ‘No,' ‘No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”) Can people trust me? Do I make good on my promises? If you need help here, you are in great hands. The One who says, “I am the Truth” is your Savior. He wants to live through you (Gal. 2:20). Character is achieved when we surrender to Him.
2. Do I love the LORD my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? This is the greatest commandment. No one will achieve God-honoring character without this as a significant priority. It is impossible to love God with 100% while being a person of poor character. Your belief will always inform your practice.
3. Do I love my neighbor as myself? This is the second greatest commandment. So many verses of Scripture teach that great character is built by putting others ahead of ourselves. Seeing ourselves as servants to the world around us prepares us to become men and women of strong character.
4. Have I invited God’s Holy Spirit to build up the character of Christ in me? Christ Jesus is the only perfect person who ever lived. He is able to live through you. This is not just in the area of truthful speaking but in all of life. Christ’s love for those society has forgotten, His love for the Father, for the Scriptures, for the message of hope and love, His burden for the brokenhearted, and more will all rub off on you as you spend time with Him and become more like Him.
On this MLK Day 2020, let me encourage you to pray for God to develop the character of His Son Jesus through you. Even if the world around you judges you by some other standard, God will judge you by this standard. And His opinion is the only one that ultimately matters.