Character vs. Reputation: Does Your Inside Match Your Outside?

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Who are you? I know that’s a strange way to begin an article, but I need you to consider the question for a moment. If you are like me then there could possibly be two answers to this question. The first is who you are when no one is watching, this is your character. The second is what others say or think about you, this is your reputation. For today we want to do some self-examination and consider your character and how it lines up with your reputation.

Why Do You Do the Things You Do?

Here is a warning from Scripture:

Matthew 6:1 – “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them…”

Whether you like it or not, we all have a reputation to uphold, and a good reputation is a wonderful thing. Proverbs 22:1 reminds us that “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” If you have a good reputation, that is fantastic. You want to keep your reputation intact because it is of great value. However, the question to consider is how are you building that reputation and is that all you care about? In other words, will you compromise your character to maintain your reputation?

When you only care about your reputation, you are on shaky ground. Living to only uphold your reputation can lead you into a trap. You may do things, not because you think they are the right thing to do, but simply because it makes you look good. The attitude is, “I don’t really want to do this but if I do it, people will see it and it will enhance my image in their eyes.” For example, do you work harder when the senior pastor is watching because you want to make a good impression? Do you sing louder or worship more expressively in church so people can see how spiritual you are? Do you work harder when the boss is around but then slack off when they leave? This type of mindset is exactly what Jesus warns us against.

Let me put it to you this way, why do you do the things you do? What is the motivation behind what you do? Are you driven to be seen? Are you only worried about your image? Do you want people to think you are greater than what you are? These are the trappings of living only for reputation because what people think becomes your greatest motivation. This type of living is not sustainable and ultimately produces no real lasting fruit. This type of motivation is also very subtle. It can creep in without you even recognizing it and that’s why Jesus tells you to be careful.

What’s in Your Heart?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

A long time ago when I was a teenager someone gave me a card. I can’t remember what the occasion was, but written in the card were these words, “character is who you are when no one is watching.” Character is the real driving force behind everything you do. It’s the part of you no one sees yet it is the real you. You can have good character, which will sustain you. You can also have bad character, which will ultimately destroy you. For our article we are going to use character in its good form.

Character, or what’s in your heart, is what God pays attention to. Notice what God said about King Saul:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Let’s consider the question I asked earlier, why do you do the things you do? Is it character or reputation? People motivated by character live by one code – God sees. God sees what you do, when you do it and why you are doing it. It’s what we call living for an audience of one. People who live a life of character are always examining not just what they do but why they do it. You want the good things you do, that people see, to flow out of a right heart, which only God sees. In other words, right actions on the outside are a by-product of right motivations on the inside. That’s why what’s in your heart matters so much because it is the source of everything you do.

Focus on Life Off-Stage

When character is your motivation, you do the right thing for the right reason. It could be seen by everyone or it could be seen by no one, it doesn’t matter. When reputation is your sole motivation then you have to be seen or you won’t do it. The goal is to get to the place where the person you are on stage (when everyone is watching), is the same person you are off stage (when no one is watching).

I would even take it a step further. The you that no one sees should be greater than the you that everyone sees. Your prayer life should be greater in private than in public. Your worship should be greater in private than in public. The man or woman you are in private should far exceed the man or woman you are in public, whether you are in church, work, or at home doesn’t matter. When this happens, you are building the type of character that will help you not only get to the place God wants you to get to but will help you stay there.

How Do You Tie It Together?

In Matthew 6 Jesus gives us the formula: do it in secret.

When you give – do it in secret.

When you pray – do it in secret.

When you fast – do it in secret.

Doing it in secret doesn’t mean no one will ever see what you do. It means that when you do it there are only one set of eyes that matter the most – those of your heavenly father. You remember that God is looking at your heart, which is the reason you do what you do.  Doing it in secret, where pleasing God is your motivation, keeps your motives pure and your focus on character high. When you do this, Jesus gives us a pretty remarkable promise – that God will reward you.

“So that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4).

Jesus says the same thing in verse 6 about praying and verse 18 about fasting. Some translations even add the word openly, your father will reward you openly. Obviously, there will be some things that will be done when people are watching. That is ok. Just remember why you are doing it and whose glory you are doing it for.

I challenge you today to focus on only one thing: the off-stage you, the secret you, the you that nobody sees, the real you. Focus on becoming a true person of character, doing your greatest works in secret and for the right reasons. If you spend your time building your character, God will take care of building your reputation. When your character and reputation match, you are well on your way to becoming the person God has wanted you to be all along.

Clarence Haynes

Clarence Haynes