Friday, May 03, 2013

Reputation versus Character

I've been hearing a lot lately about an outfit called It's in the business of "reputation management," which their web site describes as "the practice of making people and businesses look their best on the Internet."

There must be a place for such a business these days, I'm sure. Anyone who's ever found themselves the focal point of gossip or unfair misconstructions of their actions or beliefs, can understand how, with the Internet, which allows lies to fly a million times faster than the truth, will know this.

But sometimes managing a reputation in itself often entails a little misconstruction, a little fudging of the truth, doesn't it? It seems that many today are more concerned about looking good than they are about being good.

None of us is perfect, least of all me! I am a sinner saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I wrestle with temptation and sin every day of my life. I am quite conscious of my faults and sins and occasionally reference them in my preaching and teaching. (By the way, I wouldn't be wrestling with temptation and sin if I weren't a Christian. The closer we seek to follow Christ, the more conscious we are of the evil that resides within us and the evil that lures us. Christians who claim they don't wrestle with their own sins and temptations are either liars or deluded.)

But what all of us need more than someone to make us look our best--a reputation makeover--is someone to help us be our best, to help us boost our characters after we've fallen into evil or when we allow ourselves to be lured by it.

So, out of curiosity, I did a Google search. I looked for a and found that such an outfit actually exists! It sells kids' clothes that have the logos and images of fictional characters like boy bands, wrestlers, and movie and comic book heroes. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I had something different in mind.

Fact is, I already know a character-builder. (You knew I'd get to that, didn't you?) His Name is Jesus and He has shown a facility for rebuilding the characters of the most unsavory characters you can imagine.

For example: A man named Saul, a persecutor of Christians who approved and facilitated their punishment and murder, became Paul, a name meaning small or humble in Latin. The change in name wasn't about image. (In fact, in an era that valued arrogance, Saul/Paul's name change was bound to cause most people to look down on him, not look up to him.) The name chance was about a change God was making on him from the inside out. From being a guy who was certain of his own righteousness, he became a guy certain of his own faults and sins, but more certain still that the God he came to know in Jesus had died to atone for Paul's faults and rose to give Paul an eternity with God he didn't deserve. By His forgiving love, Jesus transformed Saul/Paul's character.

A woman who slept around and was shunned by others met Jesus and became an evangelist, spreading the news of the forgiveness and new life He brings to those who repent and believe in Him. By His forgiving love, Jesus transformed the woman's character and her daily life.

A thief on a cross saw Jesus being crucified next to Him, understood Jesus was faultless, and asked, in repentance and faith, that Jesus would remember Him in His kingdom. Jesus told the thief that that day, when he died, he would be with Jesus in paradise. Jesus used that man's repentance and belief to change his character, even if the man's reputation as a ne'er do well remained intact for the crowds watching his execution.

In the Old Testament, we're told about how God sent the prophet and priest Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel. God had revealed to Samuel that the new king would come from the family of a man named Jesse. When Samuel caught sight of Eliab, one of Jesse's older sons, Samuel thought to himself, "This must be the guy!" Eliab looked like a king.

But Samuel sensed God telling him, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Reputation--how others see us--can be built up, torn down, and even built back up again by us, by other human beings.

But character--who we are on the inside--is something altogether different. We can tear it down ourselves readily: by our thoughts, words, and actions, by the company we keep, by the thoughts we allow to govern us, by the gods and godlets we choose to give dominion over our lives. But only God can build up our characters. Only God can help us be our better selves. God gave Jesus Christ as "the way, and the truth, and the life," to amend, rebuild, and make new our characters. "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation," Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Let the God we meet in Jesus Christ go to work on your character. No one else may notice it. But as you follow Christ, you'll be set free from the opinions of others, from the norms of society.

A good reputation is a good thing. Proverbs 22:1 in the Old Testament says: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold." But reputation purchased at the expense of our character is worthless, even if it lines our wallets with cash. Jesus asks, "For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?" (Mark 8:36).

In the end, there's a bigger, eternal payout for focusing on character--daily submission to the forgiving God we see in Jesus--than there is for looking good to a world that is lost and rudderless anyway.

Jesus is the only real 

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