His Without Reserve

 As we left Carmen (Chapter 19), she was making her way, still teary-eyed, to her advisor's office. "The man at the registrar's office told me that I hadn't completed all my requirements. He showed me that I'm missing a core curriculum class."

Her advisor looked over her record. She had met all her requirements for her major and two minors, but, sure enough, she did not have enough hours in the core curriculum. Without those hours her education would lack balance.

Balance is equally important in our Christian character. Our model for a balanced and complete character is Christ. Paul wrote: "For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). In order for us to even imagine approaching such quality of character, let's bring together these spiritual facts: (a) a legitimate objective of every Christian is to become complete in Christ. The call is unequivocal. (b) We cannot become spiritually complete outside of Christ. (c) As we acquire the qualities of Christ, we begin to be "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). (4) Our completeness grows out of being bonded to Christ.

This experience is symbolized by a building-the temple we are to become. With "His precious and magnificent promises" (2 Peter 1: 4) as our foundation and "complete in Christ" (Col. 1:28) as our Architect's blueprint, we now search in the Word of God for our list of building materials. (All Bible texts in this chapter are from the New American Standard Bible [NASB] unless otherwise noted.)

In Imitation of Christ's Personal Beauty

The rainbow illustrates our blueprint-the character of Christ. A rainbow displays the full spectrum of colors, balanced and blended. As you and I grow in Christ, we fix our attention on the rainbow of Christ's personal beauty. As we incorporate this beauty into our thought lives, we are privileged to display these colors as we move about within the inner sanctuary of our minds and as we move about in society.

What virtues do we think of when we think of Christ? We think of love, humility, submission, perseverance, obedience, grace, confidence, and willingness to suffer for others. Are any of these to be ours? Yes. Peter names several, saying, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter1:8). He writes of faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (vss. 5-7, NKJV). In other places the Bible speaks of "aspects" and "respects" (Eph. 4:15; Col. 1:10).

Before we search for other scriptures that suggest "qualities," let's note four significant points in 2 Peter 1. In building a balanced and complete Christlike character: (a) we are to depend upon His divine power and His precious and magnificent promises (vss. 3, 4); (b) we are to exercise "all diligence" (vs. 5); (c) we gain success through practice (vs. 10); and (d) we are to expect "increase" but not instantaneous results (vs. 8).

Here are other contributing scriptures:

In Micah 6:8: justice, kindness (mercy), and humility.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13: faith, hope, and love.

In Colossians 3:12-14: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, readiness to forgive, love.

In Ephesians 4:1-3: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, unity, peacefulness.

In Galatians 5:22, 23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We should not become impatient in our endeavor to develop these qualities. We should study each one for several days, so we may understand its significance in our own thought patterns. Daily prayer concerning a chosen quality focuses our attention on our recognized needs and on the One who can help us transform a word in scripture into a habit of life. Possessing these characteristics changes us from carnal to spiritual believers whom God our Father can proudly call "my people."

Is This Too Much All at Once?

There's no question but that the Holy Spirit, speaking through Bible authors, means for us to develop all these virtues. Peter urges us to apply "all diligence," adding and adding one after another of these qualities (2 Peter 1:5). Deep in our thoughts, where no one can hear, we mumble, "This is too much! It's discouraging!" Our weak human nature objects: "I can't do that!" Of course, we can't. It's too much all at once. Where do we turn? In this situation, as with any perplexity, we turn to our Deliverer.

Do you have a flower garden? Petunias, periwinkles, irises, begonias, zinnias, impatiens, pansies, roses. Do they all leaf out at the same time? Do they all grow at the same rate? Do they all bloom at once? No. There's a time for each one, and each develops in its own way. The development of Christlike characteristics is like that. For each quality the leafing, the budding, and the blooming all occur on a different schedule. Only the Holy Spirit knows the best selection and timing for the qualities in your personal character-garden and mine.

Character development should not be left to take care of itself. Growth in Christ emerges out of the soil of diligent prayer. The Holy Spirit is our horticulturist. The qualities listed by the apostles and prophets are our seeds. We are the gardeners.

With these qualities we grow toward the spiritual stature "which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). This is no feeble endeavor. By dedicating ourselves fully to the Lord, we accept the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives. "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18, NRSV). With ample nourishment from the Scriptures, our "hidden person" is counted mature and is a reflection of the character of Christ in society. These qualities are an "adornment," "precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:3, 4).

James wrote: "Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (chap. 1:4).

Now We Are Cooperating With the Will and Power of God

In a symphony orchestra the conductor guides, instructs, coordinates, and corrects. In our character growth the Holy Spirit is the Conductor. He orchestrates every step, but we are the musicians. We play well but as sinners we make mistakes. So how do we avoid mistakes? Peter wrote: "As long as you practice these things, you will never stumble" (2 Peter 1:10). The idea of practicing Christian virtues should not seem strange. Pianists know very well that it is not enough to master the fingering of the C major scale. They must know how to finger every scale, first C major; then others like E major, B minor, and G flat major follow in order of difficulty. Proper fingering varies from scale to scale and each scale requires a great deal of practice. So each life experience draws upon our ability to display the different virtues we have learned and practiced. And God is glorified.

If we do our part in building Christlike traits into our characters, we gain confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit as He does His part. We see how effectively He prepares us for victories now and fits us for eternal life. In the imagery of 1 Peter 2:1-9 we are "living stones . . . being built up as a spiritual house" for "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." As we have seen, this is a building process. If we accept our Architect's plans without reservation and rely fully on our Contractor's ability, we don't need to fret or worry or struggle. Is it not true that the Lord is more eager to see Himself reflected in us than we are? Yet He is patient.

If we see that we are failing to have a Christian attitude toward a neighbor, we may freely turn to our High Priest "and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). What does a baseball player do when he realizes that he's not able to put an inside curve ball into play? After team batting practice, he and the coach continue at the batting cage, working on that particular pitch. Patience, perseverance, resolve. Gradually he improves his batting average on that pitch from .073 to .185. Wherever we have weaknesses, we may call on our Coach to show us how to improve our ability to change the circumstances of failure into circumstances of success for Him.

Ellen G. White wrote: "When he [the child of God] sees a weakness in his character, it is not enough to confess it again and again; he must go to work with determination and energy to overcome his defects by building up opposite traits of character. He will not shun this work because it is difficult. Untiring energy is required of the Christian; but he is not obliged to work in his own strength; divine power awaits his demand." (1)

It's Possible to Have a Christlike Character

Are we in danger of becoming frustrated or discouraged over the Bible's lists of "aspects"? With the companionship of our divine Friend, who designed us to grow into His likeness here and now, we may justifiably enjoy every step on the Highway of Holiness.

One Biblical scholar has shared this assurance with us: "The evident impossibility of human attainment of the perfection of God [Matt. 5:48], the certainty that none of us can reach the level that James suggests-perfect and complete, lacking in nothing-has caused most of us to dismiss this challenge as fantastically impractical. This is to miss the point completely. It is this transcendent goal that keeps us from ever settling down in complacent self-righteousness, from the false satisfaction that we have at last arrived at holiness" (2).

Let joy fill our hearts as we confidently move forward and upward with Jesus toward thinking as He thinks, feeling as He feels, and loving others deeply as He loves us deeply. At every step we may be complete in Him!