The bible has a lot to say about character and character development. Can people build character without the input from God? Sure, but to a point. I have known atheists who have learned perseverance and gratitude. However, without the eternal perspective on suffering and enduring hard times, in the end, what does it even matter? This often leads to depression – I have seen it firsthand in my friends and family who don’t have a relationship with Christ. In Roman 5:1-5 it says:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith,we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Everyone on this planet is going to suffer, that is a fact. But Christians can have joy in suffering, while building character, because they know it can have a redemptive outcome. Better yet, one day they will be in the presence of God where suffering has ceased. That is real hope, being certain that there will be peace after death in the presence of a loving God for all eternity.
Because we grow up in an entitled culture, that entitlement gets embedded in our flesh in a way that only difficult and uncomfortable circumstances can dig out . After we accept Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, God transforms us in a way that cannot be duplicated by any humanly effort. He knows us intimately and can pinpoint exactly where we are flawed in our character and change our condition to be more like His. These two things - the "breaking off" of our crappy self and the building up of the spiritual life of Christ we have within - work in conjunction with each other to develop deep character that can be seen in our lives:
"We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies." 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
James, who was murdered for his faith in Christ, spoke of the connection between suffering and character:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4:
Peter, a disciple of Jesus, knew all about suffering. Persecuted for his faith in Christ, he was verbally and physically assaulted. Yet under these conditions, he writes in his letter of 2 Peter the connection of Godly character:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3-8
God promises to do his part on transforming our character, but this requires cooperation on our part, as we work out our faith (participate…make every effort…). And when we do, it can lead to radical character development such as self-control and perseverance. And what does this ultimately lead to? A number of things. One is love (vs. 7). Building character moves one toward victoriously loving others. It allows the love of God to shine through us for others to see. Another thing character development leads to is being effective and fruitful in a way that truly counts (vs 8). We see some other ways in verses 10 and 11:
”Therefore, my brothers and sisters,make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:10-11
Allowing God to renovate our character (after our entitled society has wrecked it) leads us to walking upright and strong in this life, and not being taken down by stumbling blocks (vs 10). Best of all, as a Christian, when all is said and done and we have shed this mortal coil, God will welcome us into his eternal kingdom with a “rich welcome”.