A Model for Character Reformation
Posted by Admin on September 6, 2008A conception of this process--how Christians can participate in reforming their character--must influence the design of Christian education curriculum and programming. What exactly is changeable in us? The Bible highlights two critical areas requiring reformation in our character: (1) the mind, the thought life and beliefs (Rom 8:6, 12:2, 2 Cor 10:5, Phil 4:8), and (2) the desires, especially evident in bodily actions (Rom 6:12-13. 12:1, 1 Cor 9:24-27, Jas 4:1-3).1 As Swinburne notes, "A person's character is her system of desires and beliefs" (emphasis added).2 And each arena necessitates its own strategic approach to overcome ingrained patterns of thinking and desiring/acting, as explained below.
A critical feature of making progress in sinning less is becoming aware of the specific sins that need our attention (e.g., Lev 4:22-23, 27-28, Jas 4:17). All believers agree that sin ultimately is anything against God's nature, whether aware of it or not (Lev 5:17), anything that does not please or glorify God (Rom 3:23, 1 Cor 10:31), as the Westminster Confession affirms. Yet it may be the Wesleyan "working" definition of sin that suggests a helpful guideline for dealing with temptation. For practical purposes, consider that sin is "a voluntary transgression of a known law (emphasis added)."3 We can only work on what we are conscious of, what we are aware of. The Holy Spirit will convict us about a failing which needs corrected through a variety of means, such as the teaching and study of God's Word, an experience of suffering, the counsel or admonishment of a close and trusted friend or spouse, and inner witness of the Spirit. It is our job to listen and ponder the problem without defending ourselves. "A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel" (Prov 1:5). "The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel" (Prov 12:15). We have a knack for easily discerning the faults of others, but being largely clueless about our own frailties and foibles (cf. Matt 7:1-4). One barrier in sanctification is being ignorant about what needs to change. Being resistant to making a change is another matter.
1In Paul's comment about the former state of believers prior to salvation, he identifies these two distinct arenas: "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Eph 2:3).
2Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), 91. In the following discussion I am relying on Swinburne's analysis of character and the structure of the soul. The model is developed primarily in his The Evolution of the Soul, rev ed., (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), although his assumption of the evolutionary genesis of the soul is problematic for me.
3John Wesley, cited in Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 324.