I want to begin this article with a very pointed statement—“Character matters!” Who you are is as important as what you do. Your talk will be hollow and cheap if your walk does not live up to that talk. Your accomplishments will be left in a small pile of ashes to be blown away by the wind if you are not a person of high character and integrity.

Many people would not agree with my statement. They live by the popular mantra that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Biblical truth is quite the opposite—what is hidden will be revealed. Be sure your sins will find you out. If you have questioned the truth of Scripture after the last few months of news coverage, you are living on a different planet.

Over the years, we have watched people rise like shooting stars in business, politics, entertainment, the academy and, yes, even in religious circles. Tragically, too many shooting stars became falling stars. Why? Sooner or later, what was hidden was revealed, leaving the person fallen, broken and cast aside. Their career, families and life were left in shambles.

Yes, character matters. President George Washington wrote to his nephew that “good moral character is the first essential in a man.” Without integrity and strength of character, success will be fleeting. It is important to realize that character cannot be purchased, but acquired, step by step, over time. A life of integrity is formed from the inside out and is a spiritual work of mind and heart. A life of integrity is a combination of right knowledge and habitual practice of that right knowledge.

You don’t just wake up one day and discover that, overnight, you were endowed with high moral character marked by integrity of the heart. Character is like a muscle that must be developed and exercised regularly and consistently.

The same is true of character failure—it does not happen overnight. You don’t just awaken one day and decide to steal from your employer, cheat on a contract, act immorally or take a bribe. No, character failure happens inch by inch.

So, how do we develop this godly character? By walking with Jesus in the Word of God day by day. This provides the spiritual exercise required to build a strong inner core of integrity.

Let the Word of God flow over your life like a mountain stream over rocks and boulders. The Word of God has the power to smooth the rough edges off our character and shape us into the likeness of Christ. The constant flow of the Word of God over us renews our minds and shapes our thinking and, thus, our character. As the character of Christ forms in our hearts, we become Christ-like, and our outward actions and behavior will reflect that same character.

Do you remember the words of Jesus that night in the upper room? He knew His disciples were going to be tested by fire in the next few hours. He admonished them to “abide in me and let my words abide in you.” It is here, abiding in Christ and His words abiding in us, that we gain moral muscle and mental integrity. Character formation is a work of Christ in you. He shapes and molds you as you surrender to His will and His way. A heart filled with truth will produce a life marked by integrity and righteous acts.

I challenge you to make 2018 a year in which you will strive to become a person of godly character and uncompromised integrity. If you do, this will be a year in which you honor your God and bless others around you.