The purpose of this book is to encourage and to challenge fellow Christians to a life of greater intimacy with God. The study of virtues is the means to this end. This book defines virtues as the characteristics of God, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that we can aspire to obtain as part of our own being. To know virtue experientially, is to know God, and to know Him as if He were a flesh and blood companion of many years whose personality and characteristics are familiar and recognizable enough to be emulated. To study virtues is to learn the ways of God such that His workmanship is readily discernible in us, in others, and in the world around us.
Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 describes the Word of God as a razor sharp, double-edged blade that easily slices the meat off the bone. In that spirit, this book aims to be a stiletto, a dagger that is just long enough, just narrow enough, and so very pointed, that it slides easily through the protective rib cage and goes straight to the heart. Thus slain by His Word and crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20), a death to self that we might be alive in Him, the work of separating the flesh from the spirit can begin.
The pursuit of virtue is presented here as an exercise in spiritual growth. Spiritual growth means increasing our awareness of the presence of God in our day-to-day lives while conforming our ways to His, from the core of our being outward. Prior to examining individual virtues, spiritual growth issues will be reviewed in detail, including specific “how to” recommendations. It is imperative that we prepare our hearts in humility and submission as well as being well practiced at confession and repentance prior to our attempt to learn virtue. Since God is the goal of our pursuit, it is best understood upfront that encounters with God can be very humbling experiences. His awesome holiness is so overwhelmingly powerful and pure, all our impurities and ungodliness become grotesquely obvious to us as we near Him. First, our imperfections are exposed and then our faithless bravadoes and facades are completely stripped away from us, for no unclean or impure thing can exist in His presence. Akin to being naked, defenseless, and completely humiliated, our flesh will want to grab familiar garb and lean on comfortable crutches rather than let go of worldly ways so that our spirit may move freely toward God. We need to be prepared for this encounter or we will be no less devastated than Isaiah (Is.6:5) when confronted with the ugliness of sin which dwells in our flesh (Rom.7). Prior to studying virtue and having a more intimate, intense relationship with God, we as Christians, as children of God, need to be fully assured that God loves us. We need to know with conviction that Christ has provided the means for the forgiveness of our sins (1Jn.1:9), and that in Christ we are wholly acceptable to God and welcome into His presence, worthy of His blessings (Eph.4:20-24, Gal.4:4-7).
With the threat of devastation to our self-image now looming, the question as to why we should pursue a study of virtues begs to be answered. Many reasons could be given here as to why Christians should be acquainted with the virtues, but the primary reason is unity with God. Unity with Him is the ultimate purpose of this life God has given us; it is how we honor Him best. Virtue puts our lives in accord with life as God intended it to be. The resulting harmony of [our] purpose and [His] intent added to the indescribable joys and pleasures we experience as we grow in nearness to God, the source of all goodness, makes this endeavor the most rewarding life pursuit option available to us. Also, part of the beauty of this pursuit is that it can be done while pursuing other life interests, and as long as the ways of God are given top priority, all other areas of life become richer, fuller, and more rewarding. As Jesus said, His yoke isn’t burdensome or weighty (cf. Mt.11:28-30), and the pursuit engenders the fullness and abundance of life Christ promised (Jn.10:10).
Our study of virtues isn’t merely a discourse on individual virtues and love isn’t just presented as the supreme virtue. Though Jesus clearly teaches us the supremacy of love in Mt. 22:35-40, the focus here is more in line with verse 40, where Jesus says that love is the fulfillment of the law (also see 1Pe.4:8; Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14; Jas.2:8). In this work, love is presented as the fulfillment of all virtues and as the supernatural life of Christ as expressed through us. Presenting the interdependency of virtues and expressing the need for them to grow together, may be a new approach to some readers. The study of the component virtues provides the building blocks, or stepping stones, that need to be in place as we are learning to love. Two things to note here, first, this work is not meant to be merely a source of information or read as a mental exercise. Virtues must be lived in order to be learned, and this requires practicing their expression as we tend to the daily circumstances of our individual lives. Secondly, our pursuit of virtue equates to the pursuit of God, for God is love, and since God is eternal and infinite, it is important to understand that we will never in our time on Earth be finished with this pursuit. As humbling as this can be, to believe otherwise may lead to unnecessary frustration from our perpetual failings, or worse, giving up the pursuit altogether.
The pursuit of virtue also involves spiritual warfare, for there is no way to grow spiritually without combating the demons. Demons can be understood as any obstacle that prevents a soul from being wholly united with God and His will, as the rebellions and temptations we face when we attempt to surrender fully our human will to His divine will. The Bible portrays demons as the legions of fallen angels who are loyal to Satan, having both intelligence and purpose (Mt.12:25-27; 2Cor.2:10-11; Eph.6:11-13; Rev.12). Their aim is to defame God and desecrate all that is sacred. They especially hate Christian souls who have a sincere and strong desire to worship God and honor all that is His. Demons operate using the powers of suggestion and persuasion to communicate with human souls. They tempt the children of God into acting outside of His will. They easily influence ungodly souls who are not even aware that demonic suggestions are not their own ideas and therefore unable to separate evil notions from their own thoughts. The greater their influence over a soul, greater is the soul’s potential for committing acts of heinous evil. This work aims to prepare us for this battle by first revealing the demon’s tactics and then explaining how to overcome their assaults. Lack of preparation here can likewise have devastating results.
The author is a firm believer that unity in Christ and expressing the love of God are far more important than strict adherence to the doctrines that serve to divide His disciples. Accordingly, an effort has been made to walk lightly around theological issues, choosing certain words that are less likely to be the cause of theological debate, while defining others within this text so that the reader knows the author’s intended meaning (2Tim.2:14). For example, “unity” will be used frequently; “salvation”, “theosis”, “justification” and “sanctification” are used sparingly. It is the author’s prayer that the purpose of this text, for us all to grow in nearness and likeness to our Lord Christ Jesus, not be compromised by our doctrinal differences. As Christians, we all read the same book; therefore, the Bible is liberally referenced in this text as an inerrant and authoritative source of Truth. Again, it is the author’s prayer that any current differences in our understanding and application of scripture not become an impediment to our pursuit of virtue. The author also invites the readers to read around, or translate into their own framework of beliefs, any statement herein that is a matter of doctrinal interpretation in order to keep from dismissing the intent of the text altogether. Likewise, if the author’s definitions don’t match the reader’s definition, the reader is invited to switch the pairings of words and their definitions throughout the text. Giving priority to meanings instead of demanding that a particular word convey the same theological concept for all Christians is one way to keep from compromising our unity in Christ. The author prays for your indulgence for the rewards of virtue are great.
Also, please do not take the aforementioned warnings lightly, learning to live in the spiritual realm has inherent dangers, whether from agitating the demons or from adverse reactions to encounters with the holiness of God. To proceed without proper preparation is analogous to getting married without first being willing to make a faithful commitment, or having children without first being willing to put aside selfish, self-serving ways in order to rightly provide for them. Lack of preparation here can be similarly painful and harmful to self and others. It is quite intentional that the first 10 chapters of this book all concern preparation for the 12 that follow. It is also recommended that this undertaking not be done alone, the use of a mentor is highly recommended, as is having someone to provide feedback and compare notes. Before proceeding, a few more specific precautions:
- Do not compare yourself or your progress to others, you will either become smug and conceited, or disillusioned and defeated; learn to be satisfied with simply pleasing God. Comparing ourselves to others always leads to sinful pride or an erroneous sense of inadequacy.
- Do not believe any suggestion that the pursuit of virtue is futile, unrewarding or unfulfilling, all such suggestions are from the demons and are contrary to the Word of God.
- Keep your primary focus on Jesus and the examples of the saints who have gone before us, do not dwell on your successes or failures; again the result is either pride or frustration.
- As we grow spiritually and learn to recognize the goodness of God more readily, it should become easier to compliment and encourage others as we learn to live our lives in the fullness of His love. Likewise, ungodliness also becomes more apparent. Do not succumb to self-loathing or the temptation to point out the failings of others, and do not lose heart when those who were once esteemed begin to appear all too human.
The author would also like the reader to understand that these lessons were originally prepared so that the author could learn about virtue. The author does not claim to be a “paragon of virtue”, but rather a soul who came to Christ as an adult and has had to unlearn a wealth of sinful habits in order to learn of virtue. There are many un-referenced sources in this work because the author pursued many topical studies prior to formulating the idea of writing a book. These sources include books, magazines, preachers on the radio and television, pastors and priests during worship services, classes, friends, and so on. One last note; the scripture passages following the chapter texts contain lessons to be learned as taught to me in my personal travels and studies, they aren’t meant to be literal or condensed translations.
I pray ye well.
Child of God