Published on February 23, 2022 by Doug Webster  

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  Ephesians 3:16-17

Profiling personalities is fun and even a little addicting. Personality traits set us apart and draw us together. Everyone is unique and alike simultaneously. We map the traits that we inhabit, and we assign letters or numbers. According to the calculus of Myers-Briggs, you might identify as ESFP, which means your personality preferences are extroversion, sensing, feeling and perceiving. Or, if you identify as INTP, your preferences are introversion, intuition, thinking and perceiving. If you use the Enneagram diagram, you are trying to figure out your number. Am I a type eight: a challenger who is dominating, self-confident, decisive and confrontational? Or, am I a type two: a helper who is caring, generous, loyal and demonstrative? These self-assessment tools promise to lead us on a path of self-discovery. They help us solve the persistent identity question. In a culture that is as fixated on the self as ours is, there is an advantage to self-defining: “I’m an ESTJ,” or “I’m a type five.” 

Our oldest grandson is just like his dad. Nature and nurture have joined forces to create a thoughtful, perceptive, generous and creative introvert. His sister is an extrovert. She is expressive, dramatic, spontaneous and self-confident. Since grandparents are often one-step removed from parenting, they may even profile their grandchildren more objectively. There are many personality-shaping influences including: birth order, family dynamics, relational support, education, emotional stability, physical safety and economic security. Personality traits are fascinating, but they are not definitive and they are more fluid than we might imagine.

No matter what your Enneagram number is, the Beatitudes do a number on your personality. Jesus cuts to the chase, ignores the numbers and does a deep dive into character. He lays out a comprehensive profile of the grace-based believer, whose personality has been transformed by the character impact of the gospel. When it comes to personality, Jesus intended character to be in the driver’s seat. All those inborn personality traits that make you, you, are not the deciding factors of how you relate to others and to the world. The Spirit of God plays a big role in who we are and who we are becoming. Gospel truth transforms personality traits.

Regardless of our personality type, the beatitudes describe the Christian’s state of grace. They describe believers who, by the grace of God, know they are utterly dependent upon the Lord. They mourn for their sin and the sin of the world; they submit to the will of God; they hunger and thirst for righteousness; they show mercy because they have received mercy; their passion for God is single-minded and wholehearted; they are peacemakers; and they are persecuted because of righteousness. As the gospel builds our character, it changes our personalities. The process may be slow and difficult, but the journey of transformation and spiritual discipline is necessary.

All believers are gifted by the Spirit, and there is no indication that these gifts are assigned according to a personality profile. All believers should manifest the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This alone is bound to have a huge impact on our personalities, checking our sinful tendencies and empowering the new creation character created in Christ Jesus. We can’t hide behind our personality, nor claim that: “Since the Enneagram says I’m a type eight, I can yell at you,” or “Because I’m a type nine, you can walk all over me.”   

We’ve seen over and over again the danger of judging ministry effectiveness on the basis of personality. It is a mistake to confuse a dynamic, charismatic, fun-loving personality with a Christ-centered, cruciform character. The Jesus way insists on character-shaped personalities rather than personality-shaped characters. Anyone who is clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience is undergoing a personality transformation. Regardless of their Myers-Briggs profile or their Enneagram number, they are being conformed to the image of Christ Jesus and it shows.

Doug Webster is professor of pastoral theology and Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School.