Saturday, July 3, 2010

Show me what you got

Man with a poker face, fotosearch.comI was watching this movie once and towards the end there was a scene between a man and a woman that went something like this:

Raquel: I have character.

Winston 'The Wolf' Wolfe: There’s a difference between having character and being a character.

For me, it was one of those lines you never forget from a movie. For the Christian, it is never a good thing to be viewed as a character. Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and Mickey Mouse are characters but who among us wants to be labeled a “Mickey Mouse”?

What does it take to be a person of character? This question for me was enlightening because I initially thought about the positive qualities which one can demonstrate such as honesty, integrity and honor. But as I pondered the question I began to see that a person of character is one who doesn’t fear the light of truth. A politician mimics honesty, integrity and honor in an attempt to gain votes during an election campaign; but a scandal reveals who they really are and hopes for victory fall in embarrassment, shame and defeat.

A person of character doesn’t try to live shamefully, they will acknowledge falling short of their commitment. A person of character doesn’t talk the talk. They recognize that talk is empty, shallow and vain. A person of character realizes the importance of upholding what they say by the life they live. A person of character knows they are not perfect and will never convey to others that they are. For some Christians, getting snared in the Sprite Syndrome is a trap that becomes almost inescapable. We all know that the Sprite Syndrome declares that “Image is everything!But is that true? Is image everything? I look in the mirror and see an image of myself but that image isn’t me. It looks like me, it mimics me but when I turn and walk away from the mirror, the image of me is gone.

An image is an imitation of someone or something. People impersonate famous people because they look like them but the truth is they aren’t that person. A person can dress up and imitate Elvis Presley but we all know Elvis has left the building. As a child, I never knew the difference between butter and margarine because we never bought butter in our home. I don’t know why other than to say it costs more. But today, I know the difference between butter and margarine because my wife never buys margarine and she schooled me on the difference. Butter tastes different. It has a substance to it which margarine doesn’t.

That’s true with people too. People who imitate character lack substance and depth; they are superficial. It’s important for the Christian to understand that what people think about me is not the same as what people know about me. Jesus said,

...and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.1

Certainly Jesus was referring to the revelation of truth regarding who He is and His purpose for coming into the world but I believe that knowing the truth about myself, helps to liberate me from my fears. I say this because I believe that fear is what causes us to erect images of who we are to others. We become enslaved to an image instead of being a real person. Why must I hide that I struggle with alcohol? What would my family say if they found out my marriage is failing? What would happen if my husband found out that I was unfaithful? What would my church friends think if they discovered I gossip about them?

Does the truth really make you free? The answer is yes it does! There are three things that distinguish a person of character from a character: fear, shame and guilt.

Fear imprisons me. It forces me to believe that I will be rejected if others saw me as a flawed person. But the truth is that we only need to look at Jesus Christ to see that He was both despised and rejected for representing real truth. It’s not what others think of you that determines who you are, it’s what God says about you that gives your identity substance. Jesus calls His followers friend. God adopts the believer as His child; we are privileged to call Him Father (Abba). It’s when we face the fears about our failures and weaknesses, honestly confessing to God our need for help and deliverance that we begin to experience real freedom. I can dispel my fears by being honest with God, myself and others. A person of character does not live in fear.

Shame holds me in my prison of fear because I’m embarrassed by what I do. For some, it becomes a patterned cycle of behavior, do the deed and then feel the shame. I’ve fallen off the wagon but instead of seeking help, I pretend that all is well. Could it be that at the end of church service, there are people in genuine pain or trouble but shame keeps them from sharing the problem and seeking help? The notion of living up to the image that my life as a Christian is perfect is a false one. Christians have problems too. Christians face a crisis in faith, marital problems, unemployment, debt, homelessness, academic failure and many other problems. Certainly one does not speak of these things with a sense of pride but one should not shun the truth about having problems. A person of character is not stuck in shame.

Guilt sentences me to perpetual punishment for my failures. I will always suffer guilt when I cling to the accusation of what I did. Guilt is the ghost that haunts my life. Guilt is my very own personal boogeyman. Accepting real forgiveness and moving beyond guilt can be a most difficult journey for many. It takes belief that God has forgiven me and it takes commitment and determination to say no to repeat the sins that enslave me to guilt. Many think they deserve punishment but what they need is to experience forgiveness. The criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus asked Him to remember him. Jesus said,

…Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.2

That man obtained forgiveness and yet we still refer to him as a thief. No matter what others think of him, he died guiltless because of the forgiveness of Christ. That’s what forgiveness gives you; freedom from the condemnation and penalty of sin. When you experience freedom from sin, you begin living a life of substance. No longer imitating but actually being real; honest and open about who you are in Christ. A person of character is not haunted by guilt.

People want to be around a person of character. A character can be the life of the party but they get exhausted and tired being a character all the time. What a character really wants is to be able to say, "This isn't who I really am."Man and woman behind masks

They want to take the mask off because they understand that people want to be around someone with substance; someone who is real. When someone says (literally), “Show me what you got”, allow them to get to know the real you.

  1. John 8:32, NASB
  2. Luke 23:39-43, NASB
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. Pulp Fiction, Movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, Written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary


Dean Spencer said...


As I was reading this, I was wondering what the difference between character and integrity was. One person's opinion, as I looked this up, was that "your character is your 'mark', engraved. Integrity is something we strive to engrave - to have our words be one with our acts."

In Christian circles, I often hear I want to be a man of integrity or I want to be a man of godly character. Since I'm not an English major, I still don't get it.

You make a distinction by using integrity as a quality of character. How would you describe, if you don't mind me asking, the difference?

Thanks for the insightful post. Definitely a lot to consider when we strive to be the man/woman God has called us to be.

sarah said...

good post...good thoughts. You've given me things to think about. Have a great 'cool' day.

MTJ said...

Dean: You pose an interesting question, How would I describe the difference between character and integrity

For me, character is innate in each of us. I think of character as being like ships leaving shore destined for another port. Each ship is designed differently; having a unique individual personality. Some ships have sails, some have engines while still others have only oars. The provisions, cargo and crew are different on each ship (attributes). They will not follow the same course and speed (experiences).

I see integrity as an attribute of one's character. It is just one of many we all have.

Mind you, I'm not claiming to be an authority, but that's my description (and I'm sticking to it). Hopefully, I've clarified what I was attempting to say.

Thanks for asking a really good question Dean.

MTJ said...

Sarah:You too!

Faith Imagined said...

I have been thinking about character a lot lately. I read a book a few weeks ago that said something similar to this, "In today's culture Charisma is more esteemed than Character but shouldn't be." Character is so important yet so underrated. I certainly agreed with your thoughts on the subject!

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Nice distinction between character and a character. If we could eliminate fear, shame, and guilt, a lot more would go right not only with individuals but also with the world at large. (Of course, there are a few attributes we would also want to add...)

MTJ said...

Alisa: That's a good quote, "In today's culture Charisma is more esteemed than Character but shouldn't be." -- I believe our culture focuses on entertainment which drives the need for characters who exude charisma. In television this is clearly emphasized on reality programming. The more attention you garner, the more visible you become to those who watch; your character value is tied directly to how the audience is drawn to you.

Elizabeth: Fear is the big one for me because it compels me to try and convey an image of someone I'm not. I thank God that I'm growing in His grace and that I gain comfort in my identification with Christ.

Sisterlisa said...

Great post. I have found that people don't take the mask off because others don't accept them for who they really are. And they know it. That pressure to always perform with the mask on is exhausting. When a person finds the people they can be genuine will be a place of grace.

MTJ said...

Sisterlisa: I agree! The concept of performing based on a perception of what others will or won't accept requires a works-centered, legalistic mentality. It's exhausting and prevents me from really experiencing the liberating grace and freedom provided by Jesus Christ.

Jenny said...

Insightful post. Is image everything? Certainly not. But it was must have been of great concern. The Apostle Paul does prioritize a good reputation in Titus 2:8 and elsewhere.

MTJ said...

Jenny: Was Paul concerned about image or personal conduct? Perhaps I'm making this a chicken/egg discussion. I'll concede that there is genuine concern. I may be looking at the word from a one-dimensional perspective. I appreciate the clarity you provided in Titus.