November 20, 2017
If you are a football fan in South Florida, you are aware of the history and rivalry that exists between the University of Miami and Notre Dame football programs. If you are a Canes fan, you thoroughly enjoyed the Hurricanes dominate win over the 3rd ranked Irish recently. The game brought back a lot of memories from the past, not the least of which was the 1988 game which was creatively tagged by a T-shirt entrepreneur as, the “Catholics vs. the Convicts.” While the Hurricane players at the time relished in the notoriety, the fact is, it became a reflection on the character of the football team and by extension, the university. It certainly does not reflect the character of the current coaching staff or Hurricane team. But the truth is, in the long run, character does matter, and reputation is important for individuals and organizations, including football programs and universities.
Our Christian lives and our testimony as Christ followers is no different, character does matter. In speaking about pursuing character, John MacArthur said, “No one can win a race with intermittent effort. Christlikeness cannot be reached with half-hearted effort it must be an ongoing, daily pursuit.” The apostle Paul said, “Let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained,” Phil. 3:16. The literal meaning of the words “keep living” refer to walking in a line. It is just like a runner who has to stay in his lane and keep up the same effort until he reaches the finish line, we must stay in line spiritually and keep moving forward toward the goal of being like Christ. In athletics character can be measured by whether a person plays by the rules, or shows good sportsmanship. No one likes to play games with a person who bends the rules or thinks the rules do not apply to them. When a person does not play by the rules, it is natural for us to question their character.
Christian character is developed by allowing God’s Spirit to work in our lives through the study of His Word. We study the Bible to learn about the kind of character God desires in His people. In the Bible we learn that self-discipline is a key ingredient to being obedient to God, defeating sin in our lives, and putting on Christ-like qualities. It is important for Christians to understand how Jesus addressed the issue of character in their everyday lives, and according to the Bible, Jesus placed a great value upon character, because he taught that character is an expression of the heart. God judges a person’s heart and the Bible teaches us that character grows out of the condition of the heart, and challenges people to align their hearts according to God’s values. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The heart refers to the whole person; mind, emotion, and will. A person’s heart is his or her character. Before a person is saved the heart is depraved. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” God looks on the heart of people and what he sees there causes a person to be right with Him or separated from Him.
Character as a matter of the heart involves holding to God’s values no matter what. Proverbs 4:23-27 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk from you’re your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only the ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or left; keep your foot from evil.” We guard our hearts by practicing self-control and self-discipline. We demonstrate this by doing right and avoiding evil, by keeping God’s commands, and by paying attention to character, because it is the inner source of outward behavior. It is important that we realize that we do not have the power within us to practice self-control and have self-discipline, unless we seek God’s power, and trust Him to help us.
Much more important than a football rivalry, our responsibility as believers is to determine what it is that we can we do today to embrace God’s values, guard our hearts, and truly reflect the character of one who has been redeemed in Christ. Heart issues are often more about attitude than about behavior. We can “act” like “Christians,” do all the right things and still ignore our own flawed character. We need to pray that we can focus more on our heart attitude than on religious activity. We need to constantly be aware that our heart is depraved and incapable of Godly character without the transforming power of God’s Spirit. We must constantly align our attitudes and desires according to the true values God has shown us in His Word. And just as importantly we need to communicate God’s high esteem for character to the generation we have been entrusted to educate and disciple.
Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the football games!