The pursuit of virtue is a spiritual growth exercise. Spiritual growth means learning, knowing, believing and then acting in accord with the Truth of God. To grow spiritually, is to become more like Christ by learning to give precedence to the eternal and the heavenly, while aligning our values with the economy of God. It includes increasing our awareness of the presence of God in our lives, being free of the ungodliness that prevents us from coming fully into His presence and abiding in a state of uncompromised holiness and purity unto Him. It is moving from the realm of various idolatrous and superstitious beliefs like astrology and luck, and into the realm of grace and providential care of God.
Virtues are those characteristics of God that we can aspire to possess, the fruits of the Holy Spirit as expressed through us. They are pleasing to God, and as we practice them, we come to know God experientially as we learn of His attributes. To obtain virtue, we must first understand that the object of our pursuit is wholly Christ himself. Delineating individual virtues is merely to break the whole into smaller pieces such that they might be more easily understood and absorbed. Next, it is important to know that expressing virtue is not an exercise of willpower where a soul determinedly commits to doing good deeds. Rather, it is the act of willingly surrendering the human will to the divine will of God as an act of faith (Jas.4). We do this by acknowledging that as Christians, we are in Christ and Christ is in us, then we listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit and remain willing to be His obedient servant, faithfully removing the impediments that prevent us from fully expressing outwardly the life of Christ within us (Jn.14). In doing so, we unite ourselves to Christ, and our expression is Christ as expressed through our unique personalities. An attempt to act virtuously in the flesh, apart from Christ, is mere pretense. On the secular level, such behavior may be noble, but apart from Christ, we can do nothing good (Jn.15:5). We are to become virtue by uniting ourselves to Christ as an act of our will, subordinating our human will to His divine will for us moment by moment.
To surrender all to Christ is at first an all-consuming decision to do as He wills, redirecting the course of our lives to commit to replacing our ways with His ways. It is the beginning of a conscious, resolute effort to live as Christ intended. We become willing to rid our lives of any obstacles that interfere with fulfilling this commitment. Afterward, surrender is carried out in our daily lives as a series of choices, choosing to do as God would have us do rather than how we might otherwise do things ourselves. In order to be more fully aware of all the options available to us in any given moment, our thought processes must be expanded to include the heavenly realm, giving precedence to the eternal over the temporal. To illustrate, let’s consider someone who interrupts us and intrudes upon our time. They may seem to be a bothersome hindrance to the continuance of whatever task is at hand. However, such circumstances when put against the backdrop of the spiritual, eternal realm, may truly be an excellent opportunity to express the love of Christ to a lost soul. Choosing the eternal ways of God unites us with Christ and is the means to know Him more intimately; it likewise aligns our value system with the Truth of the Gospel. Choosing ungodliness alienates us from God and impedes intimacy with Him while adversely affecting the quality of our personal relationships as we deal with the consequences of sin.
As we grow spiritually, we learn to appreciate the eternal implications of our otherwise mundane daily activities. We likewise learn to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit while forsaking curiosities. As we become attuned to God, there will be many moments in our daily situations when we are confronted by a choice. Do we react according to our initial impulse, on human desire alone? Or, do we surrender the moment to God and act in accordance with His will? At these junctures, all forces of evil as well as our own fleshly proclivities come into play. What sounds so simple here on paper is literally an occasion for all hell to break loose. When we knowingly contemplate a decision with its eternal implications in mind, the demons, sensing the loss of their influence over us, begin their evil assault. They bombard us with various temptations, fears, and rationalizations designed to make the ways of God seem to be the most difficult, the least rewarding, the most costly, the least practical, the most ill advised, the least desirable, and so on. Whatever works best to distract a soul from the will of God, becomes their weapon of choice. These are the obstacles to be overcome, and they are uniquely construed to each individual’s weaknesses or past failings. These obstacles can also be quite personal and seemingly integral components of our personalities. These are the patterns of our unique version of the flesh. However, they are all contrary to Christ. By ignoring the demonic suggestions and obediently submitting ourselves to the call of Christ as an act of faith, we express virtue. Furthermore, we need to pay attention to any patterns associated with our failures to act on faith. These are the areas of our lives where the need for spiritual growth and healing are most acute.
Learning to make decisions based on faith requires right knowledge of God, His Word, His promises to us, and the historical record of His dealings with mankind as recorded in scripture. Incorrect knowledge can lead to faulty decision-making processes. Learning virtue requires making a habit of faith-based decisions. We must learn to make an intentional effort to trust God and heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit at all times. The following list, mostly paraphrased scripture, contains beliefs and actions essential to a sound foundation for spiritual growth. To grow spiritually, beliefs contrary to scripture need to be replaced with Truth. As we learn to walk by faith instead of by the ways of the world, scripture will be validated by one’s own personal experiences; such are the promises of God.
1) Rejoice in the conviction the Holy Spirit bears upon the soul and the pain (of shame, sorrow, regrets, and rues) it brings. It is by acknowledging our shortcomings that we are led to repentance and acts of contrition. Doing so leads to 1) the purification of our souls, 2) a more intimate communion with our Lord Christ Jesus, 3) a greater likeness to Him who first loved us, and 4) the rewards of a blest life (Ps.51, Mt.5, 2Cor.7:9-10, Eph.4:20-24, 1Pe.4:12-13, 1Jn.3:3, 4:15-20, Jas.1:2-4, 25).
2) God is infinite, the pursuit of Him (to have the mind of Christ) never ending (Ps.147:5, Is.55:9).
3) We can do all things in Christ (Mt.17:20, Phil.4:13).
4) God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him and we are blest for acting on faith (Deut.7:9, Jn.13:13-17, Rom.8:28, Heb.11:6, Jas.1:12).
5) Be constantly on guard. Take every thought captive to determine if it is from God or elsewhere (2Cor.10:5, 2Tim.1:14, 4:15, 2Pet.3:17, 1Jn.5:21, Rev.1:3, 16:15).
6) Pray without ceasing (1Thes.5:16-18).
7) Constantly renew the mind with remembrances of Him (Is.63, Rom.12:2).
8) Yesterday’s understanding is insufficient for today. Each day gives us an opportunity to grow, to learn new ways of trusting Christ, and to rely on Him to supply all our needs (Mt.25:1-13, 1Cor.14:20, 2Cor.4:15-18, 9:5:15, Eph.5:11-16, Phil.4:19, 1Pet.1:13, Titus).
9) The Holy Spirit is with us always, working in, on, with, and through us that we might grow and be of greater service. Be mindful of His presence and sensitive to His call (Mt.28:16-20, Jn.10:27, 12:26, 14:26, Rev.3:20).
10) Give thanks in all things, ever keeping our eyes on Him, having faith in His providential care and be free of fear and anxiety in our daily living (2Cor.2:14, 4:15, 9:5-15, Eph.5:20, Heb.13:15).
11) God knows what is best for us, and He wants His best for us. Our part is to believe and to put ourselves in a position to receive His blessings. We do so by removing the obstacles that interfere with our communion with Him (Mt.7, 18:7-14, Jn.14:16-21, Jas.1:12, 25).
12) Upon surrendering to Christ, expect persecutions and temptations. Such things help us to grow and to learn to trust in Him more fully (Mt.5:10-12, Lk.21:10-19, Jn.15:20, 2Tim.3:10-17, Jas.1:2-5).
“Curiosity is another vice from which the mind must be free. If we indulge in vain, frivolous, or sinful dreams, our minds will become incapable of choosing the proper mortification of our disorderly affections.”
Dom Lorenzo Scupoli (16th C.?); “The Spiritual Combat”, pg. 41 as printed by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., © 1945 by The Newman Bookshop