OK, Now What?
Once our sin is confessed and forgiven, once our ransom from captivity is realized and received, once the punishment that brings us peace with God is acknowledged as upon Christ and not me (Isaiah 53:5 & Romans 5:1), and once mercy absolves the penalty (Colossians 1:14)…what next? Now that the redemptive work of Christ has brought me liberty, what now? We know that we should not continue to sin (Romans 6:1). OK, but what then? How should we live?
Here I like Peter’s writing, telling me that I share this same faith with him (which is great since I tend to act like the mercurial apostle). Listen to his admonition – what should we add FIRST to this new live now that our faith in Christ has redeemed and transformed us?
“ I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence…(2 Peter 1:2a; 3-5, NLT).”
That phrase “moral excellence” is really in the Greek language one word – ajrethv. It is also translated from the Greek as “virtue.”
A Definition of Virtue
The term “virtue” in Greek often refers to “moral excellence” and “goodness.” Arthur F. Holmes describes “virtues” in the following way:
A virtue is a right inner disposition, and a disposition is a tendency to act in certain ways. Disposition is more basic, lasting and pervasive than the particular motive or intention behind a certain action. It differs from a sudden impulse in being a settled habit of mind, an internalized and often reflective trait. Virtues are general character traits that provide inner sanctions on our particular motives, intentions and outward conduct. (From Ethics: Approving Moral Decisions, IVP 1984).
According to Greg Herrick, a virtue is a tendency, stemming from who you are at your core level, to act in certain ways. It is not simply, therefore, an impulse, good or bad, but rather a settled habit of mind. Third, it has a function of providing judgment on motives and outward actions. Virtues, then, relate to who we are as people; our character. (Retrieved July 2, 2010 from http://bible.org/seriespage/virtues-leading-christlikeness#P477_109352).
Virtues in Greek Thought
Plato’s concept of moral virtue or excellence (ajrethv) centered on four inherent virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. One author commented: In Plato’s Republic, Socrates explains them through a doctrine of the three parts of the soul, suggesting that a person is prudent when knowledge of how to live (wisdom) informs her reason, courageous when informed reason governs her capacity for wrath, temperate when it also governs her appetites, and just when each part performs its proper tasks with informed reason in control (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Cambridge, 1995).
According to the open source Wikipedia (so take with some questions as to the full accuracy), in some Christian traditions, there are four cardinal virtues:
- Prudence – able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time
- Justice – proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others
- Temperance – practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
- Courage or Fortitude – forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation
These were derived initially from Plato’s writings (see Protagoras 330b, but also included piety (hosiotes)). The term “cardinal” comes from the Latin cardo or hinge; the cardinal virtues are so called because they are hinges upon which the door of the moral life swings.
The Septuagint and the New Testament do not appear to use the word ajrethv in the same way (see the webpage cited O. Bauernfeind, TDNT). Augustine was apparently the first one who began in earnest to bring Greek thought into theology for Christian use. He developed the concept of the four virtues in relation to loving God and he added to them—and explained them—in light of the “theological” virtues of faith, hope, and love. For him the virtues were firstly theocentric, not anthropocentric (man-cerntered) – (Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984).
NT Passages that use this Greek work (ajrethv) –
I mentioned that 2 Peter 1:5 uses this greek word for “virtue.” Any other NT passages?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
So where do we begin to identify a list of virtues by which to live our Christian life? We can go to Paul’s list (above – Philippains 4:8), but are these virtues or simply ways to think and view or lives? What inner disposition, what tendencies should guide our actions? What character traits should be the bulwarks to guide our thinking and frame our Christian lives of service? Do we use Augustine’s list as excusive, or could there be more virtues or moral excellences to include as framing our Christian expression?
What about the “fruit” of the Holy Spirit? “God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways” (Galatians 5:22-23 CEV). These represent the work of the Spirit in our lives, so are these virtues?
What about the characters of God and emulating them? According to Alexander Hill, holiness,justice and love—in a “creaturely” and derivative sense—should characterize the Christian’s disposition: “Be holy as I am holy,” says Peter, quoting the Old Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16). Also (John 3:16 & 1 John 4:8 – God is love). But then there is 1 Corinthians 13:13- these three remain – faith, hope & love and the greatest is love. So should these be our virtues?
Here is a list I might suggest from several sources. My thanks to Pastor Jesse Ross of LA Live Church and the aforementioned Greg Herrick, as well as Plato and Augustine. We would benefit from demonstrating these characteristics in our daily walk with Christ:
1. Reverence for God – Proverbs 1:7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Philippians 2:12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.
2. Practicing Humility – Proverbs 22:4 True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life. Colossians 3:12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
3. Seeking Wisdom – Proverbs 4:8 If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honor you. Proverbs 7:4 Love wisdom like a sister; make insight a beloved member of your family.
4. Exercise Temperance (Self-control) – Proverbs 25:28 A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. 1 Peter 1:13 So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.
One other thought related to this – 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
5. Courageous/Confidence in Faith and Love – Ephesians 4:15 – Speak the truth in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. John 6:35-40 – Those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.
6. Demonstrate Patient Endurance (Perseverence) – 2 Peter 1:6 “..and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness. Hebrews 10:36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
7. Expressing Love for others through Just Treatment – Deuteronomy 10:18 (The LORD) ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. Hosea 12:6 So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice,and always depend on him.
8. Expressing Thanksgiving & Gratitude – Colossians 3:16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 1 Timothy 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,
9. Transcendence – Ephesians 4:17 [ Living as Children of Light ] With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Philippians 2:15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. Galatians 5:16 – So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature
Finally – 10. Ever Watchful and Prayerful – 1 Peter 5:8 & 9a Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray continually. 1 Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.