A few years ago there was a lot of controversy again about politicians and their morality. John Major’s Back to Basics campaign backfired because of media focus on its moral aspects, where they exposed “sleaze” within the Conservative Party and, most damagingly, within the Cabinet itself. A number of ministers were then revealed to have committed sexual indiscretions, and Major was forced by media pressure to dismiss them. In September 2002 it was revealed that, prior to his promotion to the cabinet, Major had himself had a long-standing extramarital affair with a fellow MP, Edwina Currie. Some politicians defended their behaviour by saying that what they did in private had no bearing on their public office; in effect, there was no connection between their private morality and their competence to do their job.

So often we like to believe there is a nice divide between our characters and our behaviour, but the truth is that what we do is always the overflow of who we are and that character counts. Moreover, over the years I’ve come to see that God is really interested in who we are. It’s been said that our reputation is all we will take with us from this world. Our character really matters. God is interested in who we are. His goal (and it took me a long time to realise this, so if you are a young Christian, I hope you will realise this sooner rather than later!) is not to make us happy but to make us holy: His aim for every single one of us is that we become like Jesus: ‘those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.’ (Rom 8:28 TNIV) The Message version of that verse puts it like this: ‘He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son.’

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23 TNIV) is what Christian character really looks like. We need to spend time meditating on what Jesus is like, because He is our example and the litmus test for our faith.

These days, we’ve found countless ways to measure achievement. From National Curriculum levels and GCSE grades in schools through to performance reviews at work, from Kitemarks on products to regulatory bodies for anything and everything you can think of, we’ve become a nation of measurable outcomes. We can have all kinds of standards and achieve all kinds of goals, but it’s not quite so easy to measure character, is it?

For most of us as Christians, we aspire to hear the words ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ when we meet with God, but sometimes we think that that is achieved through our hard work and achievements in God. How many prayer meetings have we attended? How many good works have we done? How much have we given to the poor? We measure our worth in exactly the same way that the world does.

God’s measuring weights are somewhat different, I think. To be sure, our actions will count (see Matt 25:31-46 TNIV, for example.) God has created us in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10 TNIV). But He is as interested in motivation as outputs, as concerned about character as about achievements. And the chief thing He is interested in is (as I have mentioned before) how well we love. ‘We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other… this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.’ (1 John 3:14, 23 TNIV)

God is hugely interested in character, not just charisma, and one of the ways He works is by exalting the things that seem unimportant to us and bringing down things that seem all-important. He has a certain order for doing things and no matter how much we stamp our feet and go red in the face, He will not revoke His ways for our petty demands. Proverbs 18:12 TNIV says ‘Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour.’ Humility matters to the One who didn’t count equality with God as something to be grasped or used to His own advantage, but who made Himself nothing, being willing to take on human flesh in order to secure our salvation. (Phil 2:5-11 TNIV) Our character has to reflect His.

Allow God to refine your character and what you do will then inevitably reflect Him.