Matt. 16:23-25 …He turned and said to Peter, Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men…. If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it.
I have used the words disposition and character in my ministry concerning the spiritual life because I was forced to find terms that would help the saints to understand the soul-life, the self, the “I,” and the old man. The terms natural life and natural have also been used related to the spiritual experiences of dealing with our self. The self is our soulish life, and the soulish life is something natural. In addition to these terms Paul mentions the old man in Romans 6:6. Each of these terms denotes a certain spiritual reality…. The soul-life is also called the old man. The self, the soul-life, and the old man are all something natural, something of the natural life.
We define these terms [disposition and character] according to their spiritual significance…. Within we have our disposition, and without we have our character. Disposition is what we are within, and character is what we express without. The inward disposition and the outward character are the extract, the essence, of our being. If our character and disposition were taken away, there would be nothing left to our being. (CWWL, 1989, vol. 3, “The Experience and Growth in Life,” pp. 129-130)
The terms character and disposition cannot be found in the New Testament, but the facts are implied in verses such as Matthew 16:26 and Luke 9:25. Matthew 16:26 and Luke 9:25 are parallel portions that use self and soul-life as synonyms. Matthew 16:26 says, “What shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life?” Luke 9:25 says, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?” The soul-life in Matthew 16:26 is the self in Luke 9:25. The soul is the life of the self, and the matters of disposition and character are very much related to both the self and the soul.
To illustrate the differences in disposition, we may use different animals, such as a turtle and a rabbit. A turtle walks slowly, and a rabbit runs quickly. Each activity is related to a particular thing within the nature of each animal…. The turtle and the rabbit each has its own disposition, its own makeup.
Your disposition denotes what you are in your makeup by birth…. If you are slow, you were made slow by birth; being slow is your disposition. Likewise, if you are quick, quickness is your disposition. One may be silent or talkative; both are matters of inward disposition. Although our disposition is something made by God, it still needs to be dealt with by God. This seems to be contradictory— something given by God must be dealt with by God. However, this is very much according to the divine revelation, and it is also confirmed by our experience.
Character refers to our outward expression… [of ] our inner being. The disposition is always explicitly expressed in our character…. Character is composed of about thirty percent nature and of about seventy percent habits. For example, if a child is placed in a Chinese home, he will be cast into a Chinese mold. The same child placed in a family of another nationality will resemble a person of that nationality when he grows up.
We cannot change our inward nature, but we can change or correct our outward character…. Many brothers have been trained in the military service. When they first entered the military service, they were not very punctual, but after some training and severe discipline, they were adjusted to be punctual…. This kind of training changed their outward character. (CWWL, 1989, vol. 3, “The Experience and Growth in Life,” pp. 130-131)
Further Reading: CWWL, 1973-1974, vol. 2, “The Normal Way of Fruitbearing and Shepherding for the Building Up of the Church,” chs. 1-3, 5, 7-8