Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Holiness and Character Come Before Talent

On the west side of Michigan, Lake Michigan shoreline

I'm preaching again, this coming Sunday (Feb. 10), on Revival and Holiness. 

Holiness is about character conformed to Christ. It's about what Dallas Willard called the "renovation of the heart." Like a healthy tree produces fresh fruit, a healthy follower of Jesus manifests the character of Christ. Healthy churches make character development (growth in holiness; sanctification; spiritual formation) their first objective.

A church that values talent, ability, and appearance over character formation is a spiritually dead church. Such a church has taken on the form of this world (Romans 12:1-2), which today is the Age of Show Business (see Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.) It looks alive on the surface, but inwardly is constructed of dead men's bones. In church leadership, talent without Christlike character is fraudulent. 

Is that too harsh?

In After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters., N. T. Wright says, "The central thing that is supposed to happen "after you believe" is the transformation of character." 

This is the Galatians 4:19 thing - that Christ be formed in you. Or, as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:12 - "We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." 

This formation, the development of Christ-character in you, is our calling. It happens as we indwell Christ. 

The core of our own character formation into Jesus-likeness is love. Love is "the greatest of these" core virtues. We may disagree with others, but we must never cease loving them. Jesus loved those he disagreed with so much that he died for them. We are to even love our enemies, in spite of our opposing views. Anything less than this and you have left Jesus.

What will that character formation look like? Because it comes from attachment to Christ, it looks like Christ. Christ molds you, forms you, meta-morphs you into one who loves, lives, speaks, thinks, as Christ does. 

Wright's example is Sully Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who landed a disabled passenger jet in the Hudson River and saved 155 lives. The character of a pilot had been formed in him. Which means he no longer needed to wear a wristband that asked, "What Would a Pilot Do?" (WWPD) Rather, "the skills and ability ran right through him, top to toe." 

Wright: "The key to it all is that the Christian vision of character that has become second nature is precisely all about discovering what it means to be human - human in a way that most of us never imagine." 

Regarding what Captain Sullenberger did, "virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become "second nature." Not "first nature," as though they happened "naturally." Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being "second nature."

For Wright, our "first nature" is our subhumanity. The "second nature" Christ wants to form in us is his nature, which is true humanity. The question is, who am I, who are you, truly? Who am I when I am alone? Who am I when I am with others? Who am I on social media? Does my mouth, do my body parts, glorify Christ? (This is my true act of worship, what I truly venerate.)

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I'm now working on...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I am editing a book of essays on the Holy Spirit, authored by my HSRM colleagues. Hopefully this book will be out by the end of May.

And, when all this settles, Linda and I intend on writing our book on Relationships.