INTRODUCTORY LESSON NO. 1
DEVELOPING THE PERFECT CHARACTER OF CHRIST
By Missionary/evangelist Jeff Hostetter,
Christ’s Church at Bomso, Kumasi, Ghana
P.O BOX 685 UST
From 1839-43, famous American evangelist Walter Scott wrote a series of articles entitled “Perfection” in his monthly periodical “The Evangelist.” (This was contemporary with Alexander Campbell’s publication, “The Millenial Harbinger.) According to Bro.Scott, the last plank of the Restoration Movement’s “platform” or agenda of restoring the Lord’s church, was the restoration of the perfection of the Christian’s character. Walter’s list of items needing restored was these: Ancient Name; Ancient Book; Ancient Polity; Ancient Gospel; Perfection. Interestingly enough, no leading proponent of that movement to restore biblical Christianity in those days, men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell, had any problem with Scott’s call to holy blameless lives for the disciples of Christ under the term “Perfection.” Neither his own personal integrity nor his basic thesis was questioned by anyone within the circle of the Restoration Movement.
Scott’s thesis on perfection was that sinners need converted and saints need perfected. Sinners are converted outside the church and then become saints. These saints are now perfected in their character within the church and are made fit to enter the eternal kingdom of Jesus our Lord. We must preach the cross to sinners unto their repentance and then subsequently teach saints the crown of glory unto their perfection. So Scott saw salvation as taking place in two distinct stages:
1. Entrance into Christ and His church by an act of faith – immersion.
2. Sanctification – which is the maturation into the image of Christ. This must occur to be worthy of that calling. To fail to do so would be to fail to reach heaven.
At this point, one must ask why, in the 1840s, in the midst of the revolutionary and rapid reform of faith and practice we call the Restoration Movement, there wasn’t any controversy from his fellow co-workers. Why then is there such controversy now, among many self-appointed leaders of this same movement, when such men as Jay Wilson basically advocate the same thesis as Scott? Interestingly,(in view of the charges against Wilson of teaching “sinless perfection”), the best known proponent of the Methodist Holiness version of “sinless perfection”, Charles Finey, was very popular at that same time. Scott wrote rejecting his theory of a supernatural intervention by divine fiat – an instantaneous epiphany - that took one above all temptations. Rather, he pointed out, being perfected is a partnership between man and God. We have our small part and God has His much, much bigger part to play. Without the gift of the Holy Spirit, no man can achieve Christ’s character, no matter how hard he tries. Yet that doesn’t preclude the very strenuous efforts the saint will need to make in achieving this lofty goal.
Scott pointed out that man has powers of both self-examination and self-governance. The ability to see our faults and shortcomings also includes the ability to do something positive about changing them. To be able to know the right thing is to thus be able to also do the right thing. Sin is a choice. It is always a choice, or there would be no penalty attached to it. We are able to refuse temptation, or God would not condemn us to eternal hellfire for doing something that we couldn’t help! (“The devil made me do it” –NOT!) He emphasized the necessity of brutally honest and courageous self-examination as a key element in changing into Christlikeness. Free-will creatures, if they are self-aware and can understand their responsibilities toward God, must also be able to govern themselves. Their many multiple choices add up to equal one’s character.
Scott stressed that the Creator, knowing full well the real needs of His creatures, is capable of providing a perfect gospel that is perfectly suited to meet their spiritual needs – freedom from the love of sin, the practice of sin, and the consequences of sin. Our God is able to deliver and save to the utmost those who were captives of sin and Satan by the power of the gospel. He did not write of some instant, easy and painless miraculous anointing by the Holy Spirit changing us into gods. Rather, he admitted that the path to perfect character would take rigorous training with much self-discipline and self-examination going on daily with total candor and scrutiny - plus a healthy dose of time in nearly every case. (Campbell supposed that men would not be perfected in this way until near their deaths.)
At no time did Scott, or does the writer of these lessons on character, propose that we will ever have the supernatural power of Christ or be omniscient like God. We are talking about the moral perfection that comes from being surrendered to Christ in full. It is this author’s desire to help 21st century saints become like Christ in their character. The only perfect standard of character is Christ’s. He is the model man, the originator and the perfecter of our faith. I can hold out no other persons’ example as superior for imitation. He set the stage and is the original mold. No other, not matter how great and awesome, can say what is our true essential potential that needs realizing to qualify for the inheritance long prepared for those who have the faith to receive it. Mt. Everest is still the highest mountain to climb and Jesus is still the only perfect man to follow to heaven. Since we’ve been graciously granted the glory of God within ourselves, which is His own divine Spirit of Christ, we have the real potential to develop such character if we so wish. To not do so would be a major mistake! Our eternal destiny would be fatally jeopardized ...irrevocably. We must believe wholeheartedly that God does make His fullness dwell in His church. (Eph.1:23)
Walter Scott’s articles convinced me that character was the essence of the perfection issue. Jay Wilson convinced me that Christ in glory was the essential picture of faith that transforms a Christian into that same glory. Before meeting Jay, Don DeWelt had taught me that Jesus is the “second Jesus” that dwells in my body, and that we should spend every minute focused on Jesus in order for the Holy Spirit to fill me. I must admit that Charles Finney convinced me that we should aspire to overcome all sin and be victorious, even though he had major doctrinal failings. It was my wife Sherrie and daughter Jessica who encouraged me to write this series on character for teaching here in Christ’s church in Bomso, in the city of Kumasi, Ghana, at our Wednesday Bible study. Most of all, it is the Scriptures themselves that have convicted me that the essence of Christianity is holiness. Without it, no one shall see the Lord! (Hb.12:14)
I have personally come to realize that I need to be holy, as my Father in heaven is holy. (I Pet.1:18) Sin is not my friend! It has done me great harm. I hate it. Yet most say it will never be overcome. We are told to overcome evil with good. It is the positive taking on of Christ’s great character traits that will overcome our past evil habits with good. I have also come to see that nearly all people in the Western world are humanists. Even after immersion, in values, and in culture, they are still humanists in their daily practice. We need to become Kingdom people, not cultural people who are produced by Satan’s factory of lost souls. We must be people of the Book, who know the book and live the values and priorities of the Book rather than the foolish fads of modern junk culture. Thank God that for Christ’s sake God forgives us and gives us time to clean up our act. As Steve Doty preached, “grace is space to grow in”.
I took the 60 character listed within the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), or School or Tomorrow’s curriculum as a guide for these articles. I’ve borrowed their key single text and definition and then written these articles to examine each facet of the perfect character of Jesus Christ. May they benefit you in your search of that abundant life that was promised by the Lord. May His own Spirit help you progressively take on the completed fruit of the Spirit so that you may also bear much fruit that will last in winning others to the life that is truly life. Joy in the journey! Strength for the fight. See you at the finish line in heaven. GO FOR IT!