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Habit-forming Character

Have you ever wondered what makes a person who he is? When Jesus comes, our bodies will be changed when the mortal body that we now have puts on immortality. (See 1 Corinthians 13 and 15.) But we will still be the same people, even though our appearances will have changed. Do you know why? It is because what makes us who we are is our character, and this character is formed by our habits.


When Jesus comes, I am sure that we will not recognize some people. Imagine someone who was very old and perhaps deformed because of an accident. When you meet them, all the scars will be gone, and they will appear young and healthier than they ever were during their life on this earth. You probably will not recognize them by their appearance, but you will know them, because they will have the same habits and personalities as they had when you knew them in this world.


Job knew that he would be the same person when he met His God. While he lay suffering from boils all over his body, he looked forward to the great day when he would meet his Maker. He said about this, “Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. [How] my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:27. Job’s body was so sick and wounded that he may not have been recognizable to his friends, but when Jesus comes, he will not have any boils; he will have a completely new, healthy body. Yet, he will still be the same person. He will have the same thoughts, the same emotions and the same habits that he had in this life.


“We shall be individually, for time and eternity, what our habits make us.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 452. Now, that can be a very wonderful thought if our habits are good, or it can be a rather discouraging thought if our habits are not good. Thank the Lord that our habits can change, because every one of us has some habits that we would like to change. However, changing our habits is not an easy thing to do. Jeremiah wrote, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? [Then] may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.” Jeremiah 13:23. Day by day, as we form habits, they become more and more firmly established, and someday, when we are sealed, they will never be able to be changed; either we will be sealed with good habits, or we will be sealed with bad habits.


By the power of the Holy Spirit the moral image of God is to be perfected in the character. We are to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ.

LDE 183.2


In the above quote, there is hope, there is help for us!

However, there is no need to become disheartened. The Lord can help us do what looks impossible to us, and indeed would be impossible for us if we had only our own strength. Later in this article we will study how the Lord can help us do the seemingly impossible, but first I would like to look at one other aspect of habits that we need to study carefully.


Eternal Loss

Did you know that there are not only bad habits, which will keep us out of Heaven if they are not overcome, but also good habits which we need to cultivate? There are some habits that may not be such that they would keep us out of heaven, but they could greatly affect us throughout eternity. For years, I struggled with what it means when Ellen White describes these habits. Consider it with me carefully, and we will see if we can better understand it:


“For all that we might become through the right use of our talents God holds us responsible. We shall be judged according to what we ought to have done, but did not accomplish because we did not use our powers to glorify God. Even if we do not lose our souls, we shall realize in eternity the result of our unused talents. For all the knowledge and ability that we might have gained and did not, there will be an eternal loss.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 363.


I have read and re-read that passage and wondered, How could that be? How could it be through the billions and billions of years of eternity that there would be an eternal loss because I did not develop some talent here on earth? My further reasoning is unacceptable before God. If I do not learn to play the piano well here, I will have a million years to practice up there. What difference does it make? If I do not learn to speak correctly here, I will have a million years to learn there. All that really matters is that I make it there, right? And yet, this statement startled me. I thought, “What in the world does this mean? Could I get to heaven, and yet not have all that I could have had, and have to endure some eternal loss?”


I also pondered over what Paul says about this in 1 Corinthians 3:11–15: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation [with] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on [it] endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”


Paul is here talking about people who will be saved in heaven, but they will be saved with a loss. Jesus taught in the parable of the talents that the one who had the most talents was given another one. Could it be that those who develop their talents in this life will receive more talents in heaven? That seems to be indicated in Mathew 10 and Matthew 25, but it goes even beyond that. We take our characters with us to heaven. Those characters that are firmly established on earth will be the characters that will last throughout eternity.


Habits Develop Early

Why is it that those who do poorly in grade school continue to do poorly in high school and college? Is it simply because they do not have the knowledge to make it? No, it is because the habits they developed in grade school go on with them to high school, and the habits they had in high school go on with them to college.


Young people go to college and think, “I have not done well in the past, but now I will turn over a new leaf.” If you've tried to do this, you likely found it to be one of the hardest things you've ever done.


Some young people start college with such poor habits that they flunk. (That is like those who will not make it to heaven at all.) Others have not developed the best habits, but at least they make it through college by plodding along. Although they never really develop their abilities to the utmost, they at least still graduate. And yet, throughout their lives, they carry a loss, because they did not learn all that they could have.


There is one more group of college students. These are the ones who have learned to utilize their time, learned to concentrate, developed their memories, and learned how to listen during their early school years, and they carry these skills into their college years. They are blessed throughout life.


This is the way it will be in heaven. Some will not make it at all, because they have developed such bad habits. Others who have not developed specific bad habits, but have not developed all the talents God has given them, when they get to heaven, will carry the loss throughout eternity.


Habits Seldom Changed

When is the easiest time for habits to be developed? Ellen White counseled parents:


“What the child sees and hears is drawing deep lines upon the tender mind, which no after circumstance in life can entirely efface. The intellect is now taking shape, and the affections receiving direction and strength. Repeated acts in a given course become habits. These may be modified by severe training, in after life, but they are seldom changed.” Child Guidance, 199, 200.


You know by your own experience that this is true. Very few people ever change the habits they develop in their youth. These habits are retained throughout life, usually with little modification. However, God’s prophet did not leave us without hope. Although these bad habits are “seldom changed,” it is not impossible to change them if we allow God’s Spirit to work in our hearts.


It is true, however, that the older one gets, the harder it is to change, but we cannot let this be an excuse. Hard or not, now is the time to make the needed changes. If a person is 50 years old, he or she may say, “I am too old to change now. If I were 15 years old, I could have done it, but I guess I will just have to wait until I get to heaven to change my habits.” That will not happen!


Now is the time to change our characters. Someone says, "in our glorified bodies, God will do a complete makeover for us, so heaven is not like that. Whatever we have been like here, if we simply make it, somehow we will immediately become better saints when we get to heaven.” This is true regarding our physical condition but goes against God's teaching regarding our moral and spiritual condition.


Lucifer found a way to become discontented, rebellious, and jealous. It all happened in heaven, which shows that it can go on there. That is why God has to make sure that our characters are developed here, so we will be safe to be saved for heaven in His holy presence. Our characters will not be changed after we arrive in heaven. The personality that we have here is the personality that we will have there. Job said, “When God comes, I will see Him for myself. It will be me, not someone else.” It will be our characters that we take to heaven—if we get there, by God’s grace.


If we are called to have Christ's character, what might that look like? This beautiful compilation from the Desire of Ages gives an inspiring overview of the character of Christ. As we gaze at Christ, we will be transformed into His image. Inspiration tells us, "Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple” (Desire of Ages, p. 827).


“He is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” C.O.L. 69.


More on the necessity of a changed character:


Fitting Up Place

The following are several quotations from the pen of inspiration on this subject. Here we can see exactly what God’s expectations are for us.


“We are here to form perfect characters for heaven.” Review and Herald, July 13, 1886.


“An important work is before us. We are to obtain a moral fitness for heaven.” Ibid., July 6, 1886. That is what this life is all about. Just like college is to prepare us intellectually to carry on a business or a profession, so this life is the fitting up place for heaven.


“Those who would be saints in heaven, must first be saints upon the earth; for when we leave this earth, we shall take our characters with us.” Ibid., August 19, 1890. Whatever you want to be like in heaven, that is what you must be like here.


Heaven will be a happy place for everyone who gets there, because no one will get there who has not learned to be happy. In The Signs of the Times, November 14, 1892, we read: “Let no unkind words fall from the lips of those who compose the home circle. Make the atmosphere fragrant with tender thoughtfulness of others. Only those will enter heaven who in probationary time have formed a character that breathed a heavenly influence. The saint in heaven must first be a saint upon the earth. The habits of speech, the character of our actions, put a mold upon us; and that which we cultivate in our association with others in this life, goes down into the grave with us, and will be unchanged when we shall come up from the grave. Many are deceiving themselves by thinking that the character will be transformed at the coming of Christ; but there will be no conversion of heart at His appearing. Our defects of character must here be repented of, and through the grace of Christ we must overcome them while probation shall last. This is the place for fitting up for the family above.”


“How long a time are you designing to take to prepare to be introduced into the society of heavenly angels in glory? In the state which you and your family are in at present, all heaven would be marred should you be introduced therein. The work for you must be done here. This earth is the fitting-up place. You have not one moment to lose. All is harmony, peace, and love in heaven. No discord, no strife, no censuring, no unloving words, no clouded brows, no jars there; and no one will be introduced there who possesses any of these elements so destructive to peace and happiness. Study to be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that you may lay hold on everlasting life.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 705, 706.


“What can be done for you? Do you design to wait until Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven? Will He make you all over new when He comes? Oh, no, this will not be done then. The fitting up must be done here. All the hewing and squaring must take place here upon earth in the hours of probation. You must be fitted up here; the last blow must be given here.” Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, vol. 2, The Progressive Years 1862-1876, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., 95.


Grace Sufficient

The longer one waits to begin the overcoming process, the more difficult it becomes, but thank the Lord that no one is so old and so entrenched in habits that God cannot change him or her if they really want to change. God has promised extra grace—grace sufficient for every need.


This extra measure of grace is given to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the angels, and their help is available in this life only. We have not been promised these extra gifts in heaven, for it is here in this life that the grace is needed. Without this added grace, we are in the situation that Paul described in Romans: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but [how] to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do.” Romans 7:18, 19.


Paul realized that without help he could do nothing at all about his evil tendencies, so what did he do? Did he just sit back and say, “Well, God, you will just have to accept me as I am, because I cannot change; I know that You will take care of perfecting my character when I get to heaven”? No! He cried, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Verses 24, 25. He realized that alone he could do nothing, and that he could not take his sinful character to heaven, so he looked to Christ as his hope.


Overcoming With the Spirit

Paul explained more about this hope in Romans 8: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God [did] by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3, 4.


Paul had some habits of the flesh that he wanted to overcome, but could not in his own strength. Have you ever been convicted about something that needed to be changed in your life, but you have tried and found you cannot change? That is where Paul was. Some have been convicted about smoking. They have tried and tried, and they just cannot break the addiction. They are slaves to this wicked habit. Other people are impatient. They do not want to be, nor do they mean to be impatient, but they try hard, and they are still impatient. It is seemingly impossible to overcome the habit. Some are afflicted with habits of laziness. They do not have enough get-up-and-go to even read their Bibles or the Spirit of Prophecy. There are still others who have developed habits of lust over years and years. They are constantly thinking thoughts of lust, and they cannot break free from them. The list of evil habits that we have goes on and on: gluttony, fretfulness, worrying, daydreaming, envying, and more.


We want to overcome, but we cannot, just as it was with Paul. What is our only hope? Paul tells us: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13. [Emphasis added.] Paul goes on to say in Gal.2:20

"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."


There has to be a new birth in each of our lives. There must be a crucifying of the old life and a resurrection to a new life. Jesus came down to make this possible. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.


It takes the crucifixion, death, and burial of the old life, and a resurrection to a new life of holiness. Is that possible? Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. This is not just an empty phrase. It is a promise, and it is guaranteed by the infinite power of the God of the universe.


Replacing the Old with the New

We must put off our acquired habits that do not reflect the sunshine of obedience and the trust of heaven. Yet we must not just give up our bad habits; we must also develop good habits. The Christian life is not just a matter of “do not do this” or “do not do that.” It also involves developing what is good.


It is not good enough to simply overcome fretfulness. We must then go on to cultivate cheerfulness. It is not good enough to just overcome lust. We must then learn to develop the true, holy, and sanctified love that God wants each one of us to have. It is not good enough to just overcome worrying. We must develop a faith that will carry us through every trial and every perplexity. It is not good enough to just overcome grumbling. We must develop an attitude of praise and thanksgiving that, as Paul said, is thankful in every situation.


The parable in Luke 11:24–26 is about a man who had an unclean spirit. That means he had bad habits that he could not overcome, and these were such bad habits that the devil actually took over his life in some of these areas. The Lord came and cast out the demon and set this man free. The demon then went out from this man, we are told in verse 24, and went “through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none.” So then this demon said, “ ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with [him] seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last [state] of that man was worse than the first.” You cannot have an empty life forever. Sooner or later that vacuum will be filled with something. If it is not filled with what is good, it will be filled with what is evil. Today is the only day that God has given us to develop habits that will make us the kind of people who will be happy in heaven throughout eternity.


Stop and Think

When Jesus comes, there will be two classes of people as we see in Matt.13:24-30, the tares and wheat; those who have changed and those who have remained the same. “Therefore, if anyone [is] in Christ, [he is] a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 11 Corinthians 5:17.


Again recall the statement that we looked at in the beginning, from Testimonies, vol. 4, 452. “We shall be individually for time and for eternity what our habits make us.” Stop and think about the habits that you have formed throughout your life. What habits do you still have that must be overcome, that will keep you from entering heaven? What talents have you neglected developing? Do you want to suffer an eternal loss because you did not gain all the knowledge or ability you might have?


Revelation 22:11-12

[11]He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. [12] And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.


Let us fix our minds on the goal to be won, and press toward the mark. Now is the probationary time that we have been allotted. Do not despair, my dear friends, our Savior and all the host of heaven are near to help you in this work. No one is too weak or too sinful to be saved, if they will fully surrender themselves to God. This is my prayer for each of you.


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