Developing Character
October 2001

“Developing Character,” Ensign, Oct. 2001, 22

Gospel Classics:

Developing Character

The following are some classic statements on the development of Christlike character by our ninth President of the Church.

True Greatness

“The highest of all ideals are the teachings and particularly the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that man is most truly great who is most Christlike. What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be. … By choosing him as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him, to have fellowship with him” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 93, 98).

“The true measure of a man is how he spends his time when he doesn’t have to do anything” (quoted by Robert L. Simpson, “Pollution of the Mind,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 113).

“As a Man Thinketh”

“No principle of life was more constantly emphasized by the Great Teacher than the necessity of right thinking. To Him, the man was not what he appeared to be outwardly, nor what he professed to be by his words: what the man thought determined in all cases what the man was. No teacher emphasized more strongly than He the truth that ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he’ [Prov. 23:7]. … Contentment, complacency, peace—all that makes life worth living—have their source in the mind of the individual. From the same source spring unrest, turbulence, misery—everything that leads to dissolution and death. … It is well for [every teacher and officer in the Church] to pause frequently and take stock of himself to ascertain ‘what he is thinking about when he doesn’t have to think,’ for ‘what he thinketh in his heart, so is he’” (“‘As a Man Thinketh … ,’” Instructor, Sept. 1958, 257–58).

“What a man continually thinks about determines his actions in times of opportunity and stress. A man’s reaction to his appetites and impulses when they are aroused gives the measure of that man’s character. In these reactions are revealed the man’s power to govern or his forced servility to yield” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1951, 8).

We Radiate What We Are

“There is another responsibility correlated and even coexistent with … agency, which is too infrequently emphasized, and that is the effect not only of a person’s actions, but also of his thoughts. Man radiates what he is, and that radiation affects to a greater or less[er] degree every person who comes within that radiation” (“Free Agency … The Gift Divine,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1962, 87).

“Sickness may waste the body, but the true life is the spirit within, that which thinks and feels and loves and suffers and wills and chooses, aspires, and achieves. The purpose in life is to beautify, ornament, develop that something within. To develop a more radiant and lovely character is the true purpose in life” (Gospel Ideals [1954], 357).

The Approval of Conscience

“Thoughts mold your features. Thoughts lift your soul heavenward or drag you toward hell. … As nothing reveals character like the company we like and keep, so nothing foretells futurity like the thoughts over which we brood. … To have the approval of your conscience when you are alone with your thoughts is like being in the company of true and loving friends. To merit your own self-respect gives strength to character. Conscience is the link that binds your soul to the spirit of God” (“Those Sculptors Called Thoughts and Ideals,” Improvement Era, July 1960, 495).

A Clear Conscience

“It is glorious when you can lie down at night with a clear conscience, knowing you have done your best not to offend anyone and have injured no man. You have tried to cleanse your heart of all unrighteousness, and if you put forth precious effort, you can sense as you pray to God to keep you that night that he accepts your effort. You have a sense that you are God’s child, not a mere cog of the state, but a person whose soul God wants to save. You have the strength, the sense of resistance to evil. … You also have the realization that you have made the world better for having been in it” (Gospel Ideals, 502).

The Development of a Grand Character

“Day by day, hour by hour, man builds the character that will determine his place and standing among his associates throughout the ages. … More important than riches, more enduring than fame, more precious than happiness is the possession of a noble character. Truly it has been said that the grand aim of man’s creation is the development of a grand character, and grand character is by its very nature the product of a probationary discipline” (“Man’s Soul Is As Endless As Time,” Instructor, Jan. 1960, 1–2).

Christlike Character

“True happiness is found in living the Christ’s life—on Monday as well as on Sunday. He who is virtuous only at intervals proves that his pretended virtue is but a sham. Such a person lacks sincerity, the foundation of true character, without which happiness is impossible” (Gospel Ideals, 502).

“What is the crowning glory of man in this earth so far as his individual achievement is concerned? It is character—character developed through obedience to the laws of life as revealed through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Man’s chief concern in life should not be the acquiring of gold nor fame nor material possessions. It should not be the development of physical prowess nor of intellectual strength, but his aim, the highest in life, should be the development of a Christlike character” (“Obedience Develops Character,” Instructor, Aug. 1965, 301; emphasis in original).

Detail from The Good Samaritan, by Walter Rane, courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art