Virtues of the Christian Life

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness… For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)

 

When I first became a believer, I was a man possessed with love and excitement. I loved much because I had been forgiven much. But as the years slipped by something happened in my life that happens to many believers: my gratefulness towards God’s mercy transformed into frustration at my lingering sinful nature. I understood why I failed so greatly before knowing Christ, but it was difficult to accept my failings when I felt I should know better.

 

It’s easy to beat yourself up, even run from God, when you fall. Out of frustration and shame, I have begged God to rid me of my sinful tendencies. Of course, God didn’t instantly heal me with a lightning bolt but answered me with a different kind of grace. While attending Bible college one of the professors preached a message about virtues. He talked about the importance of pursuing a virtuous life and practicing virtuous living every day. That message changed my life.

 

It’s important to note here that pursuing a virtuous life is not the same as trying to earn salvation. Our salvation is a gift that flows from God’s grace. But in our Christian journey, it’s important to do our part to improve our character so that we can grow in character and more accurately reflect Christ’s goodness to the world. Now let’s take a closer look at each cardinal virtue:

 

  1. Wisdom: For wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. (Proverbs 8:11). You’ve probably known people with book smarts who lack common sense. Or perhaps you know someone with street smarts who lacks knowledge. A person who has cultivated the virtue of wisdom can not only discern truth but has the ability to implement their insights appropriately in any given situation. According to scripture, characteristics of wise people include those who prepare properly for hard times (Proverbs 21:20), those who humbly heed instruction and correction (Proverbs 8:9), those who hold their tongues from saying foolish things (Proverbs 10:19), and those who fear the Lord (Proverbs 14:16-35). Because wisdom allows us to discern right from wrong, this virtue sets us up to practice all other virtues.

 

  1. Justice: Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). Most of us have some sense of justice from a very early age when we yell, “It’s not fair!” A just or righteous person gives to others what is deserved, keeps his word, and acts fairly even when no one is looking. According to scripture, a just person favors the innocent over the wicked (Proverbs 18:5), never accepts bribes (Proverbs 17:23), aids the poor, fatherless, and widows (Proverbs 29:7, Isaiah 1:17), and experiences joy (Proverbs 21:15).

 

  1. Courage: In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence (Proverbs 14:26). While most of us associate courage with lack of fear, courage has more to do with fear put in proper perspective. A courageous person chooses right even when a decision is frightening or comes with personal cost. Among many traits, the courageous person exalts Christ (Philippians 1:20), holds on to God’s promises (Acts 27:25), and gives an effective witness for Christ (Acts 4:13). A person can not exercise any virtue for long without courage because sin often appears easier or more attractive than virtue.

 

  1. Temperance: Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control (Proverbs 25:28). Temperance is an old-fashioned word for moderation. A temperate person exercises self-control, building a wall against unhealthy, sinful extremes. Among many qualities, scripture tells us that a temperate person does not gossip (1 Timothy 3:11), does not vent anger (Proverbs 29:11) is respectable and able to take on leadership roles (1 Timothy 3:2), and is sexually pure (1 Thessalonians 4:2-5).

 

So, are any of these virtues lacking in your life? I can see some areas where I am still weak. Thankfully, with God’s grace and a few good decisions, we can grow in our effectiveness and productiveness for Christ. Identify which cardinal virtue you struggle most with. Ask God for the grace to grow and make one positive change in your behavior this week that will help you develop this “holy habit.”

Resurrected

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
Psalms 118: 17, 22-23

Most of you celebrated the Lord’s resurrection yesterday. For many, it was a glorious day of rejoicing in the miraculous. It was a day where you reflected not only on the event 2,000 years ago, but on the resurrections in your own life. The day you accepted Christ. The day a long-awaited prayer was answered. The day sickness was healed or sorrow wiped away.

For others, this day only served as a reminder of your cross. You felt like you got left at Good Friday, weeping, while the rest of the world moved on to Easter Sunday. You wish you could celebrate, but you don’t know how. You may have even apologized to God for your somberness.

You’re not alone, I assure you.

In the past few months, I’ve watched several Good Friday’s and Easters play out in the lives of those around me. Engagements and babies ushered in cries of rejoicing and praises to God. Yet, cancer, infidelity, and financial hardship occurred uncomfortably close to these joyful events.

Most of life is like this. Happiness, unmixed, is not easy to come by.

So how do we deal with this reality? How do we deal with Good Friday and Easter coexisting?

I think we start with recognizing that the first Easter, the real Easter, was not just one event in time that occurred long ago. Christ’s resurrection spanned the ages and has eternal consequences. It applies to you and me today just as much as it did to Christ’s followers on Easter morning. It also applies to the future. Our hope, no matter where we may be today, is in the transforming truth of Easter.

Secondly, I think we need to remember that true faith in God does not rely on our emotions. If you cried on Easter morning because life has been wearing you down, God still accepts you. In fact, he died and rose for you so that he could more closely walk with you through these hard times. He knows, more than anyone, the heaviness of the cross.

Third, I think we need to remember that as awe-struck as Christ’s first followers felt after his resurrection, they still didn’t know what it fully meant… for humanity or for their personal lives. While the resurrection brought their beloved Rabbi back to them, he was different now. The resurrection simultaneously healed some wounds while opening a new can of questions, insecurities, fears, and even pain – at least temporarily.

Ultimately, all Good Friday’s will lead to joyful Easter mornings if we cling to Christ. Whether you are in a season of hardship, rejoicing, or a mix of both, the key is to keep walking in faith one step at a time. Only the risen Christ can guide us through the foggy path of life. And when our final Easter morning arrives, we’ll finally see with clarity that the journey was worth it.

Reflect on the “little resurrections” in your life – the times God answered a prayer in a very tangible way, the blessings in your life, and the miracles you’ve witnessed. All these serve as reminders of the great work God will continue to do in your life.

Blessed Are You

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to the city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Luke 1: 39 – 45

You don’t need me to tell you Christmas is here. Chances are, this past week, you’ve been rushing around trying to get last-minute errands completed. I had a mental list of “must do’s” running through my own head.

So as I read the gospel for the final Sunday of Advent, I was struck by how Mary prepared for Christ’s coming. Mary received the biggest news of human history, the coming of the Messiah (through her?!), and what did she do? Mary set aside her own agenda and “went with haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth. At this point, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is entering the final trimester and no doubt this older mother is tired and in need of assistance.

I imagine Mary must have had a lot of thoughts running through her head on the way to Judah. “Is Elizabeth really pregnant in her old age? She must be… but really? And how am going to explain my situation to Elizabeth? Will she believe me?”

Mary’s arrival is one of those great moments in history – a moment that reverberates throughout the ages that follow. This simple story of two pregnant women meeting carries so many implications. Some of the themes that stick out to me include:

1.     Mary’s faith. Mary was obedient to God and put faith in him. She set aside her own comfort and questions to help Elizabeth. Mary’s virtue shines through here, and God throws in a little reward – a miraculous and joyful greeting from Elizabeth.

2.     Elizabeth’s selflessness. Elizabeth’s news is a pretty big deal. Her husband receives a vision from an angel and she conceives in her old age after years of waiting. Yet, her first response focuses not on her big news, but on Mary’s. This reveals Elizabeth’s virtue and also adds emphasis to the reality that Mary’s news holds even more profound implications for humanity than Elizabeth’s miracle.

3.     The humanity of the unborn. In those days, pregnant women didn’t enjoy the luxury of ultrasound technology. Yet, God makes the humanity of these little ones very clear here. Elizabeth exclaims, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth refers to Mary as “mother” in the present tense and she refers to the growing baby inside of Mary (who probably wasn’t even showing yet) with his proper title:  Lord. God was “with us” the moment Mary conceived, and even the unborn John the Baptist recognized this!

4.     God works through fellow human beings. God could have found any number of ways to communicate his message that day. He chose to speak through Elizabeth and John and the communion between Mary and Elizabeth. He also brought help to Elizabeth during her last trimester through Mary and comfort to the newly pregnant Mary through Elizabeth.

5.     God’s love for women. How can there be any doubt that God has a special place in his heart for the fairer sex after reading of Mary and Elizabeth’s stories? God could have arrived on earth in any form he chose… and while the rest of the world remained ignorant, two women basked in the presence and knowledge of the Lord.

I am sure great theologians can extract even more from this story, but I’ll leave it here for today. As you celebrate Christmas, imitate Mary who “treasured up” the mysteries revealed to her and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Intersecting Faith & Life: How has God been present in your life this holiday season? Think of the little ways God makes his presence known and brings you comfort and joy even in the midst of trials.