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Recently I've been partaking in multiple discussions regarding the concept of free will on this site (for the curious, see here, here, here, here), mainly because of its relevance in the context of the free-will defense against the problem of evil, and through these exchanges I've noticed that the concept of character is very important for at least some of its proponents. To illustrate this, let me quote this answer:

The "missing link" here is character. God has free will, and is fully capable of being tempted and enticed to do evil, but consistently chooses to use that free will in benevolent and righteous ways.

Or this answer:

One attribute of perfect character is having free-will and always using it to choose not to sin. (Sin is defined as breaking God's law, choosing to go against God's will. But since one can't use free-will to go against one's own will, God is by definition incapable of sinning.)

If God created a being that is totally incapable of sinning it would by definition not have free-will (with respect to sin). And without free-will, it would not have perfect character. So God cannot create a being with free-will that is incapable of sinning.

Yet it is possible for a created being to have free-will and at the same time be incapable of sinning (i.e. to have this attribute of perfect character).

Perfect character is something that a created being must develop over time, by learning to choose not to sin. Eventually, choosing not to sin becomes part of one's nature, while choosing to sin becomes impossible.

Christians have free-will, but their purpose in life is to develop perfect characters that always freely choose not to sin. They can develop this God-like character, but by definition no one can be created with it.

Note: I'm not endorsing these answers. I'm just showing them as examples of Christians who believe in the existence of some kind of mysterious interaction between character (the main topic of this question) and (libertarian) free will.

Just to make sure we are on the same page, I understand (libertarian) free will as an agent's ability to choose otherwise, that is, having more than one course of action available to them, when making a choice at time t, given a fixed past up to t. Essentially, the rejection of causal determinism when it comes to a person's ability to make decisions. And I think most people usually mean the same thing when they talk about (libertarian) free will.

Yet, the concept of character still puzzles me. First of all, because I'm not aware of any definition of libertarian free will where character is an essential part of the definition. I see character as a rather foreign concept in this context. And so when people pull out the character card in discussions about free will, to me it sounds like they are mixing concepts in a handwavy fashion, without providing any rigorous definitions, without clarifying how the concepts are supposed to make sense together in the same sentence.

What is character?

Is there a rigorous definition of character in Christianity? Does character exist as a "thing" in the first place (i.e., what is the ontological status of character)? Does character have any measurable or detectable causal effects on reality? For example, does an agent's character influence said agent in a way that determines or narrows the range of options available to them when making a decision at time t, and if so, how?

And what is the relationship between an agent's character and the laws of physics? Is character nothing but an emergent property of the laws of physics, in the sense that the concept of character is a convenient high-level abstraction, but ultimately adds nothing new to what the laws of physics can already explain? Is a person's character nothing but the current state of the neural wiring of their brain? Is character nothing but brain chemistry? Or is character something beyond the laws of physics, not reducible to them, and different from free will at the same time?

And if character goes beyond the laws of physics, where is the information of this character stored? Can it change/be updated over time? Does it obey its own "character update rules"?

In short, is there a rigorous definition of character in Christianity, and how is this definition reconciled with the laws of physics, how the brain works, and how libertarian free will works?


Regarding my sub-question about the relationship between character and the laws of physics, this question is closely related: How do defenders of libertarian freewill reconcile it with constraints imposed by the laws of physics?

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    Re where is character stored? Wouldn't it be handy if there were some fundamental part of our identity that transcended mortal life? Some kind of eternal self.... =) Jun 29, 2023 at 4:34
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    This question should be asked on SE-Physics. Since the laws of Physics are clearly the criterion.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29, 2023 at 6:30
  • See Matthew 12:33-37 for a biblical definition of character (a condition of the heart) and the effects of character (the production of the heart). Jul 1, 2023 at 13:19

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The concept of 'character' has developed a certain way with the fairly recent trend that promotes individualism. Perhaps the question has been influenced by this, because I note that in Young's Concordance, the word 'character' appears nowhere in the Bible. Yet it does in some modern versions of the Bible.

For example, in the NLT concordance, it defines 'character' as a noun meaning "moral excellence and firmness; main or essential nature." Then it lists these Bible verses as containing the word 'character' - Romans 5:4; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Hebrews 1:3 (page 2381.) An earlier edition of the NLT uses it additionally in Ruth 3:11; Proverbs 12:4 & 31:10; but not in Hebrews 1:3.

So, where the much older A.V. says "virtuous" in Proverbs, modern versions might have 'good character'. Of note, the NLT sticks to 'virtuous' in Proverbs but has 'character [of God] in Hebrews 1:3.

I make that my introduction to claim that "Christianity" does not define character, but that there is a modern trend in some groups within Christianity to suggest that a high level of virtue is what Christian character entails, even that 'perfect characters that choose not to sin' is what can be achieved, even while in the flesh.

The Bible, I would suggest, takes a sledge-hammer to that notion, because it speaks of our sinful human nature in such a way that our 'essential nature' (NLT) is sinful, or even 'depraved' (i.e. corrupted by our sin), so that we always have freedom of choice (or will) to choose that which is sinful and against God, yet we are incapable of choosing God's perfect good as we stand, in our sinful human nature (or, character.) Augustine had a lot to say about that and his explanations might be a good guide to what "Christianity" has long held to on this matter. Let me quote:

"The core of Augustine's theology was not entirely new with him, of course. Church fathers before him also believed in and taught God' supremacy and the human soul's dependency on grace. But Augustine contributed a new spin to these ideas and linked them together in a new way. As we will see, Augustinianism introduced into the stream of Christian thought something called monergism - the idea and belief that human agency is entirely passive and God's agency is all-determining in both universal history and individual salvation. Many people already know a part of this as 'predestination' and automatically link it with the sixteenth century Protestant Reformer John Calvin. However, the broader perspective is Augustine's monogeristic ideas of providence and salvation in which God is the sole active agent and energy, and humans - both collectively and individually - are tools and instruments of God's grace or wrath. ...While Augustine never completely rejected human freedom, the overall tenor of his thought militates against any genuine freedom of humans to thwart God's perfect will. God always gets his way, even when humans sin and perform evil acts." The Story of Christian Theology, pp.255-6, Roger E. Olson, Apollos, 1999

Augustine interpreted human freedom as the ability only to sin and commit evil apart from God's transforming grace. He elevated God's freedom and sovereignty over against all human freedom and debased human agency as always evil left to its own devices. (Ibid. p.260)

A controversy developed with Pelagius, born in Britain around 350. He wrote a book called On Free Will, to which Augustine responded vigorously. Pelagius claimed that a Christian can be without sin if he or she wishes (if only theoretically). He was declared to be teaching heresy on that and two other counts.

This relates to the question insofar as the issue of free will is involved. My answer is that the modern preoccupation with "character" is a red herring and should be dismissed. Christianity deals with our sinful human nature, and Augustine dealt with that, as it relates to our ability to choose. It is a massive issue, but if you toss out this modern concept of 'character' and replace it with the biblical 'sinful human nature', you should make headway.

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  • So you don't agree with Christians who believe in the doctrine of entire sanctification? Because for them (if I understand correctly), while they are being sanctified their sinful nature is progressively healed, and as a result their character improves. Jun 30, 2023 at 15:13
  • @GratefulDisciple God entirely justifies a repent sinner when they put faith in Christ, and from there on, they become more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ. As Paul put it, "Confident that he who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil.1:6), and Jude said he will keep us from falling, to present us faultless before him (Jude vs.24). The double benefit of union with Christ is justification and sanctification. We can distinguish (without separating) justification and sanctification. Both gifts are given in union with Christ. Justification is a
    – Anne
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:08
  • legal verdict pronounced on us; sanctification is the Spirit's work within us, bringing forth good works. I don't speak of 'my improving character' but I prefer to speak of how I have been set free from slavery to sin, to desire to please God and to become more and more conformed to Christ now that I am in union with him, by faith.
    – Anne
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:11
  • But as the linked GotQuestion article explains, the entire sanctification people make a distinction between "positional sanctification" (a consequence of the "legal" justification) and "progressive sanctification" (which you call "ongoing sanctification"). I think you would agree that union with Christ happened when we are born again (connected to the vine). Jun 30, 2023 at 17:43
  • But the question focuses on the element WITHIN our soul that is being progressively sanctified. Why not call it "growth in character"; character that increasingly has more love (see Nigel's answer)? Jun 30, 2023 at 17:44
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Definitions of free will tend to involve what can be chosen; that is, what options are actually available to choose from and what internal or external forces are at work to cause or impinge on the freedom of that choice. One could steal, purchase, or leave a candy bar on the shelf.

Definitions of morality tend to involve what should be chosen; that is, what are the practical and axiomatic principles that should be applied in choosing between multiple options. Thou shalt not steal.

Definitions of character tend to describe what would be chosen; that is, what behavior has an individual trained themselves into which severely limits, in a practical sense, the available options. I am not a thief.

Christian Character would have to be described using the characteristics of Christ, unto whose likeness every person reborn is being conformed:

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. - Romans 8:29

And these characteristics include much of what is seen in the sermon on the mount. They are descriptive of a new nature and not a prescription for modification of the old:

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. - Matthew 12:33-35

The way in which Christian character interacts with free will is that, as it develops within a person there develops an internal proclivity towards the choosing of certain options over other options which might be equally available. The option to steal the candy bar still exists but stealing has, over time, become as noxious a notion as eating a road-killed skunk. One "could" steal but one "will not": Practically speaking it is not an available option.

The Bible calls this "training in righteousness". The production of such internal proclivities, while not possible without the indwelling Holy Spirit, is also a matter of the practice of our obedience following conversion:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. - Romans 12:1-2

This internal proclivity (character) to live according to a godly morality is much better than merely operating beneath a set of axioms even if, outwardly, the results often appear the same. There is a strong tendency to pursue a righteousness of our own under the Law and this outward obedience can puff us up, as if we are made good by what we do.

The Gospel message is that we may develop godly character by virtue of what we are made into; the dwelling place of God's Holy Spirit:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. - Romans 8:1-6

There is a deliberate restriction of the flesh underneath the weight of external ordinances that has the appearance of godly character but actually has no value before God. This is man made religion and the seeking to establish one's own righteousness; it looks like Christian character but it is not:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. - Colossians 2:20-23

True Christian character is the character of Christ, planted in the reborn heart by the salvation of God and tended by the Spirit of Christ as He teaches us to obey from the heart:

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: - 1 Peter 1:2a

As Augustine said in a sermon from 1 John 4 regarding loving God, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

This is Christian character: To so exercise love of God and neighbor that the 'free will' options of what one can do are voluntarily restricted to only those that love would choose. It is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It is the habitual practice and exercise of a new nature and the manifestation of a righteousness that is not our own.

That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. - 1 Corinthians 1:29-31

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    I like this answer. Would you agree with this model of libertarian free will?
    – Mark
    Jul 2, 2023 at 18:33
  • @Mark I think so? Under this model I believe that the reborn Christian is actually more free since, prior to rebirth, righteousness was not an available choice. If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed. Jul 2, 2023 at 18:41
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    But then someone with perfect character would be someone who in fact cannot choose to do evil, because evil options would be excluded from O.
    – Mark
    Jul 2, 2023 at 18:42
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    And therefore, people in heaven will not have the freedom to choose to do evil. They will have freedom, but only to choose other things.
    – Mark
    Jul 2, 2023 at 18:43
  • @Mark Yes. I am still free to steal the candy bar. Objectively it is an available option. Practically, however, the set is limited by character: I could but I will not. As character approaches perfection, I imagine the limits of the set become more solidified and clear until doing evil is actually no longer an option. It has been excluded from the set of possibles by dint of character. Just like libertarian free will does not include the option to flap my arms and fly, so free will in heaven will not include the option to steal a candy bar. Jul 3, 2023 at 12:24
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St Thomas says "a character means a distinctive sign"

https://www.newadvent.org/summa/4072.htm#article5

He in this article he talks about the "Character of Baptism" and the "Character of Confirmation" being given to people who receive the sacrament. So a Character is a distinction that can be added.

If you're a Christian who believes in the Trinity and Divine Simplicity (i.e. a Catholic), then you don't ascribe "characteristics" to God because that would make Him parts.

He does, however, have attributes. As the mystics may say, "His Greatest Attribute is Mercy". So character doesn't mean attributes.

So, unless I'm using a different meaning of the word character, I think this definition suffices: "something which distinguishes".

Original-sin is a deprivation, not a character.

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. CCC 405

Baptism is a character, and confirmation aids in the battle against concupiscence. These are marks on the soul of man, which follow us after death.

For us, the living, following interior passions is the disordered way we use our freewill to do evil acts.

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How does Christianity define "character"?

This is a too broad of a subject matter to define with any exactitude. So many variables are at play in such definitions and many of them can overlap in individuals!

Modern dictionaries may define it as such:

The particular combination of qualities in a person or place that makes them different from others. - Source

In essence the term character is much more complex than a simple definition.

For example here is just a small example what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on this subject matter.

Quite distinct from the technical meaning which the term character possesses in theological controversy is that attached to it in the language of common life, as well as in the literature devoted to psychology, ethics, and education. The interest surrounding the conception of character in these latter branches of speculation has been constantly increasing during the past hundred years.

Types of character

Starting from the basis of the four fundamental temperaments, various classifications of types of character have been adopted by different writers. The intellectual, the emotional, and the volitional or energetic stand for the chief types with A. Bain. M. Pérez, taking for his principle of division the phenomenon of movement, distinguishes characters as lively, slow, ardent, and équilibrés or well-balanced. M. Ribot, proceeding from a more subjective ground of division and excluding indefinite and unstable types as strictly speaking characterless, recognizes as the most general forms: the sensitive, subdivided into the humble contemplative and emotional; the active, subdivided into the great and the mediocre; and the apathetic, subdivided into the purely apathetic or dull; and the calculateurs or intelligent. By combination these again afford new types. M. Fouillée takes sensitive, intellectual, and volitional for his scheme and by cross-combinations and subdivisions works out an equally complex plan. MM. Paulhan, Queyrat, and Fouillée and Malapert have each different divisions of their own, thus establishing, at all events, the impossibility of attaining agreement on the subject.

Ethology

It is very unwise to lay down limits to the progress of knowledge; but it may be affirmed that, at all events, we have at present nothing approximating to a science of character. As we have said, there is already in existence a considerable literature devoted to the psychological analysis of the constituents of the different forms of character, to the study of the general conditions of its growth, and to the classification of types of character. But the results, as yet reached, have little claim to the title of a science. There are moreover two obstacles, which though not, perhaps, absolutely fatal to the possibility of such a science are graver difficulties than Mill realized. Firstly, there is the element of individuality lying at the root of each character and variously determining its growths even in like circumstances, as we see in two children of the same family. The mistaken view as to the original equality and similarity of different minds naturally involved an erroneous under-estimation of this difficulty. Secondly, there is the fact of free-will, denied by Mill. We do not maintain that free-will is irreconcilable with a science whose laws are approximate generalizations as Mill conceived those of ethology to be. All anti-determinists allow enough of uniformity in the influence of motive upon action to satisfy this condition. Still the admission of free-will in the building up of character does indisputably increase the unpredictableness of future conduct and consequently of a science of character.

Education and character

The true aim of education is not merely the cultivation of the intellect but also the formation of moral character. Increased intelligence or physical skill may as easily be employed to the detriment as to the benefit of the community, if not accompanied by improved will. Both do not necessarily go together. As it is the function of ethics to determine the ideal of human character, so it is the business of the theory or science of education to study the processes by which that end may be attained and to estimate the relative efficiency of different educational systems and methods in the prosecution of that end. Finally it is the duty of the art of education to apply the conclusions thus reached to practice and to adapt the available machinery to the realization of the true purpose of education in the formation of the highest type of ideal human character.

Character

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I can't speak for all of Christianity, but here are four examples from denominations that believe building a perfect character is the fundamental purpose of Creation:

Glossary | United Church of God offers these definitions (and others):

Character: The discernment, willingness and determination to make and carry out proper moral, ethical and spiritual choices regardless of the circumstances, pressures and tendency to do otherwise.

Free will, free choice or free moral agency: The freedom to decide without undue pressure whether to embrace or reject a particular course of action; the characteristic of not being governed by prior causes (such as instinct) or divine intervention but able to decide for oneself.

Human nature: The characteristics, tendencies and behavior of a human being. It is fundamentally neutral, although over time self-gratification tends to predominate. As creatures of choice, we are enjoined and expected to resist the pulls of base self-motivation and respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Repentance: A reversal of direction in attitude and actions. We repent when we realize we are headed the wrong way, then stop, turn around and begin moving in the right direction. Spiritually, it involves genuine sorrow for sins and a resolve to do what is right.

Trial: A test of faith, patience or stamina through being subjected to suffering or temptation. We are tried through the difficulties of life. Such tests work patience and build and reveal our character. "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small," wrote Solomon (Proverbs 24:10). Successfully endured trials build holy, righteous character and trust in God.

The Restored Church of God says:

“What is perfect character?” Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Incredible Human Potential. “It is the ability, in a separate entity with free moral agency, to come to the KNOWLEDGE of the right from the wrong—the true from the false—and to choose the right, and possess the WILL to enforce self-discipline to DO the right and resist the wrong.”

Over a lifetime of overcoming sins, faults and weaknesses in the flesh and building God’s divine nature within oneself—through faithful obedience to God by the power of His Spirit, walking in the way of outgoing concern for others and “love [which] is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10)—a Christian can qualify—that is, meet God’s standard of approval—to receive salvation and rule under Christ in God’s kingdom.

Does Character Really Matter? | Living Church of God, from yet another organization, discusses the importance of character:

PRODUCING RIGHT CHARACTER

Right character is not simply a matter of knowing what is right; it requires doing what is right! We can identify three primary ingredients necessary to the development of good character. The first is knowledge of what is right and virtuous, the second is habitual practice of what is right and the third is perseverance in doing right—even when facing adversity. It is one thing to practice doing the right thing when it is convenient or even advantageous. It is quite another to do what is right in the midst of stresses and pressures to compromise or to give up. The Apostle Paul explains that "pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance [fortitude] develops maturity of character—that is approved faith and tried integrity…" (Romans 5:3–4, Amplified Bible).

It is the struggle against adversity that deepens and solidifies our character. If we learn to make right choices even when those choices seem to be to our immediate detriment, we are developing the long-term view that lies at the heart of right character. This view is based upon an understanding of the ultimate reason why right character is so important.

Why Character Matters | Philadelphia Church of God explains the historical importance of character:

Why Religion and Morality? In 1776, the year Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his cousin, “It is religion and moralityalone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” There it is again. Why did the Founding Fathers keep pointing back to these fundamental building blocks? Adams himself answered that question in 1798, while serving as president: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

They kept referring to religion and morality because, as Adams said, our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people! And why?

Alexis de Tocqueville’s 19th-century observations on the American republic answer this critical question. After touring America for two years in the early 1830s, he returned home to France and wrote his political classic Democracy in America. Like the Founding Fathers, Tocqueville acknowledged that religion and morality were indispensable to the maintenance of the American republic. Why indispensable? He said that while the constitutional law of liberty allowed Americans complete freedom to do as they please, religionprevented them from doing that which is immoral and unjust. In short, Tocqueville surmised, liberty could not be governed apart from religious faith, lest there be anarchy.

Without the moral restrictions of a higher spiritual law, the liberty afforded Americans in the Constitution would be abused. George Washington and the other framers clearly understood that. That’s why they kept harping on religion and morality. They did not want to see the United States of America self-destruct.

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Caveat: I cannot comment on the concept of libertarian free will and if character is an essential part of the definition. And I am not qualified to comment on “the rejection of causal determinism when it comes to a person's ability to make decisions”. One thing I do know is that each person is responsible before God for the decisions they make. There are undoubtedly many different points of view within Christianity regarding character, but you may find the following thoughts useful:

You ask, “What is Character?” A.W. Tozer described character as “the excellence of moral beings.” From a Christian perspective, persons of character are noted for their honesty, ethics, and charity. Descriptions such as “man of principle” and “woman of integrity” are assertions of character. A lack of character is moral deficiency, and persons lacking character tend to behave dishonestly, unethically, and uncharitably.

What is Christian Character? The basis of Christianity is Christ Jesus and the basis for a Christian character is founded on the example of the Son of God who came from heaven to dwell with us in human form. The Bible informs us of what God expects of all who claim to follow Christ Jesus. This is what the Bible has to say on the subject:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

As Romans 5:3-4 explains, godly character is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. Character in the believer is a consistent manifestation of Jesus in his life. The Lord is pleased when His children grow in character.

You test the heart and are pleased with integrity (1 Chronicles 29:17).

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart... (Psalm 15:1-2).

King Solomon had much to say about character, especially in chapters 10 and 11. For example:

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out (Proverbs 10:9).

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity (Proverbs 11:3).

Solomon mentions “a wife of noble character” in Proverbs 12:4 then the Epilogue gives a detailed description of the noble characteristics of the woman who fears the Lord.

Other biblical examples of men of character include King David (1 Samuel 13:14) although he sinned on occasion (2 Samuel 11). Then we have King Ahab who may have acted nobly once (1 Kings 22:35), but was still a man of overall bad character (1 Kings 16:33). Several people in the Bible are described as having a noble character: Ruth (Ruth 3:11), Hanani (Nehemiah 7:2), David (Psalm 78:72), and Job (Job 2:3). These individuals’ lives were distinguished by persistent moral virtue.

In my answer above I have partially quoted from this article: https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-character.html

An important consideration on this subject must begin with the character of God, in whose image we are created. For example, God is love and is wholly good. We can trust Him because He never changes and He can never lie. He is holy, righteous and just. God is compassionate, gracious and merciful. He is also patient and longsuffering. This article expands on the characteristics of God: https://www.gotquestions.org/character-of-God.html

You quote from an answer written by someone else: “Christians have free-will, but their purpose in life is to develop perfect characters that always freely choose not to sin. They can develop this God-like character, but by definition no one can be created with it.”

All I can say is that sinful humans are incapable to reaching perfection through their own efforts. We need help, and that help comes from above as a free and undeserved gift:

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

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    Modern versions of the Bible use the word 'character' but the way this is understood today is hardly in line with the biblical teaching of human nature. Today people are led to think that if they are determined and have a strong will, they can become admirable characters others will look up to. But Rom.5:3-4 A.V. speaks of 'patience', not character, though your last sentence, quoting vs.5 is spot on. It's not about our character or what we strive to do to improve it, but God's transforming grace making us more Christ-like, so that HE is seen, not us. The AV is clear about that.
    – Anne
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:32
  • @Lesley Thank you for taking the time to write an answer. With respect to the part where you say "You say" and then quote a paragraph, I didn't actually say that. That was quoted from an answer written by someone else. I added a note in my question clarifying this. Regarding "causal determinism", I included a link to a source explaining term.
    – Mark
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:54
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    Oh, I just noticed a typo. I meant "causal", not "casual". The concept is "causal determinism", see plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal. My apologies for the mistake.
    – Mark
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:57
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    I've corrected my error re the source of that quote - thank you for pointing that out. And many thanks for the link about causal determinism. I've learned something new today - so it was worth getting up this morning :-)
    – Lesley
    Jul 1, 2023 at 6:37
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Let's break character out into 3 pieces:

  1. Axioms - what are the fundamental beliefs that direct my decision-making, priorities, and aspirations?

  2. Nature - what do I want? Paul argues that it is possible through the Holy Spirit for a person's nature to be changed (e.g. Romans 8:1-4. For those willing to use a Book of Mormon citation, see also Mosiah 5:2)

  3. Priorities - I probably want more than one thing. How do I sort those priorities? If I have a desire/commitment to X, is it trumped by some other desire/commitment?

I do not see character as a physical thing; it is a shorthand to describe the fundamental desires & beliefs that guide a person's actions. Since all of the items cited can be changed, a person's character can develop. A dissertation on character could add mountains of detail to each of these categories, and add many subcategories to them.

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Christian teaching

I am unaware of any specific Christian doctrinal definition of character--the categories listed above could be used in non-Christian circles.

However, the scriptures do offer some clear examples pertaining to these categories and the kind of person God wants us to become:

Axiom example:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt 22:37-39)

All the other commandments follow if this is treated as the object of our decisions.

Nature example:

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)

Our sinful desires can be overcome and replaced (though this is not meant to be easy).

Priorities example:

Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)

Jesus prioritized His Father's will over the desire not to suffer.

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Physics

The classic argument that free will cannot be real because it is incompatible with a Newtonian universe suffers from the minor handicap that we do not live in a Newtonian universe.

Reducing character (and thoughts, priorities, beliefs) to neurology would be to abandon a mind-brain distinction in favor of metaphysical naturalism. Aside from the fact that there is great reason to believe that the mind is not the brain nor a mere product of the brain, Christians who believe in the supernatural on other grounds would have no reason to appeal to naturalistic explanations of the mind in an effort to escape evidence for the existence of the soul.

Conclusion

Character is a description of attributes possessed by intelligent agents; though it may be influenced by experience, it is not deterministic.

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  • Thanks once again HTTR for the answer. Would you mind expanding a bit more on the exact interaction between character and free will at the moment of making a decision at time t? Do you concede the definition of libertarian free will that states that at time t there is a set of multiple options available to the agent, instead of only one (determinism)? If you concede that definition, would a "perfect" character reduce the space of options to only a very restricted subset, making it impossible for the agent to choose to do evil, for example?
    – Mark
    Jun 29, 2023 at 13:10
  • I'm basically interested in a model of how character affects free will at the exact moment of decision-making, but it's okay if no such model exists. Well, free will itself is a mystery, so I suppose trying to model free will + character is bound to be even more mysterious.
    – Mark
    Jun 29, 2023 at 14:43
  • @Mark my bad I never got back with you on this. If you're looking for a calculable, Newtonian model for decision-making, I don't think one will be found. Because free will is not deterministic, we can't model it quite the way you'd model an equation in chemistry or physics. Something I've learned, though, is that waiting until the moment a decision needs to be made to determine where I want to go is unwise. To avoid temptation, I should decide in advance what I will do when faced with a given temptation. So which is the exact moment of decision-making, the plan or the execution? Jul 31, 2023 at 1:53
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Character has been defined as doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

Of course that definition doesn’t work in any religious setting where an all knowing God sits observing every deed done by every human.

Christianity tends to define character as doing what is right as a result of cultivating the fruit of the spirit. The scriptures say love of God and love of neighbor when practiced fully will be the best demonstration of good character.

Matthew 22:36-40 NWT

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 He said to him: " You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second, like it, is this: 'You must love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets."

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