On Personality and Character

Psychology struggles to understand what makes people who they are. Identifying the cause, for example, of extremes in social disposition could open doors for many people who are trapped by their own personality traits.

But isn’t personality merely a random product of genetics, or a construct of unique environmental conditions? In any case, what influence can we exert over our own personalities? Not surprisingly, the Bible offers encouraging answers.

God’s creation expresses beauty in diversity. This is true of our personalities as well. Personality is the sum of the qualities that distinguish us as individuals, and it affects how we relate to others. We are all different because of genetic makeup and cultural conditioning. Many traits combine to form our personhood.

It is true, of course, that humans can be subject to forces at work in the world around them. The apostle Paul clearly identified the natural mind as being “hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7, English Standard Version). The human mind might give in to “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (Galatians 5:20–21). Such problems come from within and have a bearing on who we are in the world at large.

However, God does not accept this “natural” expression of the human mind as permanent and unchanging. Again, Paul notes the need for the mind to change: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). We can change. But will this have any bearing on personality?

In our interactions with other people we are instructed to conduct ourselves not by our natural minds but by God’s law of love. Christ instructed, “Love one another; as I have loved you. . . . By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). But this is a matter of character rather than personality.

Personality cannot be removed from character, however. Character affects how we relate to the world and to other people. It involves knowing right from wrong and freely choosing to do the right. The Bible defines what is right—the moral law of God; thus, consistently choosing what is right (exercising godly character) can and will temper our personality by transforming the mind as Paul indicated. People who have love for others will not prefer to live in isolation, nor will they seek to be the center of attention.

The prophet Hosea used a Hebrew term that clearly demonstrates the need for realigning our personal attributes: daath elohim expresses the type of relationship God wants with His people (Hosea 6:6). While the term is translated into English as “the knowledge of God,” it means something much deeper than just knowledge. God wants His people to love Him with all their heart—all their being. Daath embraces the inner attitude, the whole person. It can also be rendered as “sympathy” and conveys the idea of feeling as God feels.

If we feel as God feels, it means that a realignment of our personal attributes must take place. It will change who we are—how we function and how we relate to other people. King Solomon declared that the “conclusion of the whole matter” (the purpose of life) is for man to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Obviously, to meet this objective our natural thoughts and actions will need to be modified. We can realign them according to the law and character of God.