VIRTUES &VICES: Countering the Deadly Vices with Godly Virtues


What is the scriptural understanding of "character"? It is connected with the notion of "image". Our modem understanding of "image" is weaker than the scriptural one. "Image" or "ikon" in Greek is a key word for understanding what it means to have Christian character. Our modem notion of "image" usually involves an outline or symbolic representation, or a painting or sculpture. The Greek term "ikon" included this, but went further: in Greek an image shared in the nature of the thing that it was an image of."14

To take on Christian character is to take on the image of God, so that we can represent God, act in his name, speak his word, exercise his authority where he gives us responsibility, and work on his behalf. Hence the great importance of Godly character: it is a person's new nature after the image of his creator that makes him fit to represent God, to take his part.

Father-Son Image

Another word or concept for character is "stamp". We ought to bear the "stamp" of God. It should be clear by what we look like, how we behave, speak, and think, that we've been formed by the same father. When Jesus' authority was challenged by the Jewish leaders, he defended himself on the basis of his identification with his heavenly Father:

'I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.'

They answered Him, 'Abraham is our father.' Jesus said to them, 'If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. You do what your father did.' They said to Him, 'We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.'

Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in Him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.' (John 8:37-47)

This passage is a study in sonship. There are two possible understandings of the meaning of "son" here.  First, a son is one physically descended from his father. Second, a son is one who has the character of his father.

Jesus here speaks of the second meaning. The one who is your father is the one you are trying to imitate. The proof is in the actions which betray character: here is your father whose "imprint" or "stamp" you bear.  Everyone has a father(s) in the second sense. Everyone is made in the image of someone not himself, and ultimately the only two from whom the images come arc God and Satan. Man's identity is derived. He can't form it himself.

"Manufactured Identity”

Our age is specifically complicated regarding image and identity because we have an unprecedented means of imprinting image in the audio and visual media. We are prey to a network of influences that insist that one's personal worth depends on physical appearance, youthfulness, money, gadgets, and an ability to impress people.
People build their sense of self around their possessions. They value themselves according to what they wear, eat, travel, and recreate with. People also mold themselves around positive and negative achievements.  "I am a self-made person," I am a doctor," I'm a Yuppie," or "I'm an ex-con," or a "flunkie." While some find their identity in what they do, others find their identity in what they feel themselves to be. Many of today's models are heroic because they live without commitment, obligation, responsibility, or personal involvement. They are heroic for exploiting others. People who possess some of these characteristics are condemned to be valued only in terms of money, beauty, and success.  Those who have the courage to not conform are judged worthless by society.

Dick Keyes, in his book Beyond Identity: Finding Your Self in the Image and Character of God, describes the modem crisis in heroism:

To make matters worse, heroism has become separated from moral values; often morals and models work against each other in the same person and in the same society. The heroes and heroines of music, film, literature are only rarely heroic for their moral qualities. Rather they are heroic for their rebellion against the values of society, for their freedom from restraint and limitation.  The worst in them is often pictured as being desirable.  This is a drastic change from the mainstream of Western cultural history. How rare are writers like C.S. Lewis whose genius as a writer of fiction lay in his ability to make moral goodness attractive and heroic.

The other side to the separation of heroism from morality is illustrated by a story about two women talking over their back fence. One asked the other, "What do you think of Mrs. So-and-so?" After a long pause the second woman responded cautiously, "I think she's a good person." With a look of satisfaction the first woman replied, "That's what I thought you would say. I don't like her either." Moral goodness today is often portrayed as something unheroic - unattractive, deadly dull, excruciating.15

Many people today are highly insecure and overly self-assertive because they have been stripped of important "identity-forming" pillars, such as a strong relationship with God and with Godly people. There is a massive "identity war" going on.

The value of a human being doesn't come from his goodness or creativity, his stature and claim to greatness, or his contribution to the economy or society, or the size of his bank account. He has value because he is made in the image and likeness of God. As men and women reflect God's character they realize their own true character and identity. Men and women apart from God attempt to manufacture their own identity. They cannot succeed because man's identity is derived from his Maker.

Full identification with Christ

Many Christians profess faith in Christ but remain under the influence of anti-Christian images. We don't want to play the game. Full conversion entails a full identification with Christ. The question set before us is: "whose children shall we be?" In taking on the character of Christ we need to actively resist taking the character, the stamp, of those who are Christ's enemies.

We each have our own images and models of who we would like to be. Our models exert tremendous control over our lives, often more than our morals. We must examine who our models are and ask: do they conform to the image of Christ? Paul prays for the Christians that they may receive knowledge and all discernment so they can "approve what is excellent" (Philippians 1:9,10). We are tempted to let Hollywood or Wall Street construct our models for us. God redeems us and calls us to be conformed to the image of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28,29).

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1,2)
Our identity needs to be founded on Christ and on the Godly character which Christ exemplifies; not on the mish-mash of attributes and qualities that comes from the "world" and that appeal to our "flesh."  [Go to "Place of Gifts"]
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| Pride | Greed | Lust | Anger | Gluttony | Envy | Sloth | Bibliography | Notes
(c) 1994, 2001 Don Schwager