Purity: clarity of vision in pursuing God who is holy and pure; the total absence of any adulteration of the indwelling Holy Spirit; absolute cleanliness and absolute goodness; godly perfection; communicating the Word of God without dilution, pollution, or compromise
Simplicity: having only the single desire to please God as one’s motivation
Honesty: knowing and pursuing Truth; communicating Truth in word and deed; being just and fair in interactions and dealing with others so as to affirm their dignity; the absence of deceit
Integrity: steadfast commitment to honesty and Truth; uprightness; consistently being fair and just; devout, devoted
Upright: continual commitment to living a virtuous life in the presence of God
Steadfast: firm loyalty to the ways of God, an unchanging desire to be with God; fortitude
The further along we proceed in our pursuit of virtues, we should see more overlap in their expression, and more intricacy in their interdependence. Let us pray now neither to lose attentiveness nor become weary in our pursuit as we experience repeated thoughts cast only in new shades of meaning. Let us continue without contempt for redundancy, for the portrait yet lacks many brush strokes; there is a variety of colors yet missing. The circle representing our pursuit of virtue is still just an open loop; our first revolution is incomplete and there is much left to cover before encompassing an understanding of the love of God.
Chapter 12 on faith and courage used the analogy of being the wheels on which our pursuit of virtue rolls; similarly, this chapter can be seen as the lubricant on the axels that allows those wheels to spin in perpetuity. Some virtues seem to have their moments; others seem to be constants. Though infinite in nature, some we seem able to grasp, or at least be at peace with our progress for a season, while others always seem to leave us grasping. Need it be said that we should neither be wholly satisfied with our progress nor should we fail to celebrate our successes with joy and thankfulness. Although our individual experiences in pursuit of virtue need not be the same, when the virtues of purity, simplicity, honesty and integrity are spoken of collectively, the fact that this pursuit is never ending becomes a comforting thought rather than having a laborious or futile tone as when first introduced as a journey without end. While we contemplate the holiness of God and the example of Jesus while in this body of flesh, then add these virtues to the list of characteristics we as children of God are to possess, the road ahead no doubt seems long. However, the beauty along the way gives our trek a warm and inviting presence, arousing our desire to draw nearer to the visions we now behold of an abundant and virtuous life.
Purity is dependent upon a right relationship with God made possible through Christ Jesus and allows us to see beautiful visions of God that keep us wanting to grow nearer to Him. Simplicity keeps us focused on God. Honesty simplifies our thoughts so that we do not lose our focus on His priorities. Being cognizant of integrity binds our efforts together into a cohesive, continuous whole which helps prevent compromising our virtues.
In our pursuit of virtue, our movement toward greater intimacy with God and our spiritual growth, though there are many contributing elements, purity is what best encapsulates all that is needed to grow nearer to God. With purity, the stumbling blocks impeding our way are removed so that we might progress toward Him. With purity, the fog that clouds our eyes and befuddles our thoughts begins to dissipate such that we begin to see God more clearly. With purity, the din of distractions is quieted, allowing the Word of God to be easily absorbed into our souls. With purity, the aromas of the goodness of God and the wondrous joys of His presence are partaken of more freely. However, for all the picturesque language used here to illustrate purity, the means of obtaining it are rather direct and concrete, and have been listed previously in chapter 10. Item number six from the list, regular housecleaning, is of particular importance. Learning to recognize our own shortcomings, the willingness to claim them followed by the desire to be free of them, is what is most needed to pursue purity. In other words, practice confession and repentance, perform any necessary restitution, and humbly learn the way of forgiveness, both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness to others. A habit of dispelling ungodly temptations is likewise needed. A pitfall to be wary of as we progress in the ways of purity is to become disproportionately sensitive to the shortcomings of others and proudly take it upon ourselves to point out the faults of those around us. Jesus instructs us to be clean ourselves before attempting to help others with their shortcomings (Mt.7:1-5). We should be motivated by compassion for another’s well being, not on a crusade to eliminate another’s sin while overlooking our own shortcomings. Similarly, St. Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens and gently help restore our brother or sister who succumbs to temptation only after examining ourselves (Gal.6.1-5). For every occasion that the Lord calls us to assist another with their failings, there may well be a thousand different convictions from the Holy Spirit we are to address in ourselves first. Anyone who spends more time addressing another’s failings than their own has succumbed to the pitfalls of self-righteous pride and false piety, and instead of being virtuous, has become a trivially trite and pesky meddler.
Purity is an internal quality of cleanliness and holiness, a godliness that originates only from the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, emanating an aura of goodness that is recognizable to both the godly and ungodly alike. To the godly, such visions create longings to be closer to God and have greater possession of His goodness. To the ungodly, it stirs a maddening lust as the contrast between purity and filth becomes unbearably obvious, rousing the unfettered demons and provoking an insatiable desire to mar and sully that which exposes their ugliness. It is a venomous jealousy that rationalizes soiling another in an attempt to improve one’s perception of self (Jn.3:19-21, Ac.5:16-18, Jas.4:1-10, 1Pe.5:8, 1Jn.3:1-13). Therefore, purity must be protected wherever it exists, and nurtured to maturity wherever its seeds have been planted (Mt.7:6, 1Cor.6:15-20).
Purity gives the children of God visions of the Eternal that the ungodly can neither see nor comprehend. Such visions color our world with fullness and beauty, with rightness and understanding, and with warmth and comfort. Glimpses of the hand of God in everyday situations and events occur with greater frequency as we progress in our pursuit of purity. The hand of God, the handiwork of His providential care, becomes more evident more often as purity clears the fog of the flesh and godly discernment begins to govern our perceptions. When a heart is pure, the Word of God will come to life as part of our understanding of the world around us. Children are no longer just kids, but a wealth of scripture verses instructing us in their precious care and remembrances of our own relationship with our Father in Heaven. The people around us become our brothers and sisters in Christ, equally loved by God and our eternal cohabitants in Heaven. Similarly, our eyes will see illustrations of the Word of God coming to life in events, circumstances and relationships. We will see the lessons of biblical stories relived in our daily lives. However, our observance of His Living Word is not to be passive, but interactive. We are called upon to live out what we have learned and interject His Word back into our surroundings by taking action in accordance with the Truth. By acting on faith in this way, our own actions become experiential lessons that reinforce our trust in His Word. When we humbly submit to His Lordship, we step into His presence and become united with God.
Preserving our purity causes otherwise mundane interactions to become an occasion to experience the ecstasy of being in His magnificent presence. However, the pursuit of purity also puts us in the arena of spiritual warfare as combatants. Our displays of goodness stir the demons to spew their foul bile upon our godly intentions, but our desire for purity should motivate us not to return evil for evil. Instead, we choose to maintain our vision of God by infusing His goodness into all our circumstances, defeating the wicked demons and causing them to flee in fear and humiliation.
To most of us, trying to remember everything scripture teaches us at any given moment would be a daunting and laborious chore, and the large volume of mental activity could potentially paralyze us into inactivity. Furthermore, due to the corruption of our flesh that seeks to sate personal preferences and selfish desires, we’re so prone to jumbling priorities and misapplying lessons that our expressions of true virtue are ever in danger of disappearing altogether. However, God knows us and is well aware of our propensity for complication and losing focus. As timely as the teachings of Jesus concerning simplicity were in His day (Lk.10:38-42), the need for simplicity in the lives of all the children of God is never outdated, and very likely intensifies as we take on the weightier issues of world around us today. The Law of God and the gospel of Christ Jesus clearly teach us that we are to love God first and foremost, and as a corollary, love our neighbors as ourselves (Deut.6:5, Lev.19:17-18, Mt.22:36-40). We are to love others as God loves us and as an expression of our love for God and for all His creation. When we recall that Jesus taught us that the Law of God depends solely upon loving God and others as ourselves, and when we allow its application to override all other considerations that we are prone to contrive, we practice the virtue of simplicity. Should we ever get lost along our way or otherwise become unable to discern the Word of God in a particular situation, simplicity is the virtue that will restore our spiritual senses so that we may again see His hand and hear His voice. All we need do is search our hearts, examine our motivations, remove all the selfish and unclean thoughts, and then beseech God in prayerful remembrance of the example of Christ, asking how we might express His love in the moment.
Self-examination requires the virtue of honesty. Honesty is the awareness of Truth and adherence to truth combined with the absence of the intent to deceive. It is very easy to lie to ourselves for the sake of protecting a favorable self-image, telling ourselves we are things we are not simply for the sake of feeling good about ourselves. However, God sets the standard and God is the judge, and we are to subject our opinions of ourselves to the Truth of God. The truth is, we all have shortcomings and there is always room for improvement (Rom.3:23). Just to give this thought a quick nod of affirmation without delineating our shortcomings is contrary to the pursuit of virtue. If we fail to be honest with ourselves, we lose our credibility, essentially nullifying any potential to be a witness for godly virtue.
There are two categories for being honest to be discussed here. The first is adherence to Truth, abiding in the Word of God. The second is adherence to truth, correctly relating facts and abstaining from intentional deception. Being honest with the Truth is to bring our perceptions in line with the Word of God, forsaking fantasies and imaginations in order to be free of ungodly delusions. A teaching on being honest with Truth comes from 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. In addition, if we believe we are of greater worth to God than other souls, we are harboring a belief contrary to scripture (Rom.5:8). If we believe that someone doesn’t deserve to be shown the love of God because of some shortcoming we may perceive in them, our belief is again contrary to scripture (Jn.3:16). If we attempt to discount our own shortcomings because they somehow seem less offensive than the ones we discern in others, we partake in lies and deceptions that are likewise contrary to the Word of God (Jn.8:1-11). To overcome these failings, we pray for the willingness to learn the ways of self-examination and to have the ability to accept the Truth of God as it pertains to each of us individually.
Adherence to truth means being honest with people, doing so affirms their dignity and simplifies the interactions of relationships. Despite the variety of selfish and self-serving reasons we may use to deprive others of the truth, contriving stories complicates matters and is a way of conveying the message that someone is unworthy of the truth. Unworthy in that the decision has been made for them that they can’t handle the truth, or do not deserve to know it. The complications arise when we attempt to manipulate other’s thoughts and actions; one lie requires more lies to sustain it. Also, covering up the truth with stories may require telling different people different things, and puts a person in a position to have to remember every version of every story they ever told and who it was told to. Manipulating others with stories and lies is contrary to faith, primarily because dishonesty is ungodly, but also because it is an attempt to usurp the providence of God by arrogantly attempting to impose one’s will upon others. However, let’s not deny that there are situations where withholding facts may be more loving than inflicting the pain that accompanies them. Navigating our way through these situations is best done with the assistance of a trusted guide since we are apt to be blinded to our own underlying motivations, especially if we are likewise experiencing pain and are seeking a means of alleviating it. The greater our vested interest in a situation, the greater the potential for improperly discerning our true motivations. Should we find ourselves in a situation where our honesty seems compromised, our perception of His will for us is likely to appear muddled and clouded with fog, but this is not cause to proceed in a muddled fog. The way of God is light, if we lose sight of His way all we need do is hold our ground, remain mindful of His Word, seek prayerful guidance, practice simplicity, seek counsel from a trusted confidant, and be patient until the fog clears. When it does, we can then proceed with a clear conscience.
Integrity fosters trust from those around us as we become known for our honesty and fairness. Integrity is the virtue that enables a soul to be a trusted servant of God. Integrity is born of our internal purity while its external expression in turn preserves purity. Integrity is the constancy of honesty and Truth, uprightness in demeanor and steadfast steps in the ways of our Lord. Integrity is our living loyalty to the gospel message despite the tolls exacted by the many antagonists who seek to persecute Christ and those influenced by His goodness. Integrity requires perseverance and courage, and this strength of character can only be attributed to the grace of God. It is a grace bestowed when we are willing to do our part and take a stand against the scourge of ungodliness. Such willingness comes when we decide to make the love of God our first priority with full knowledge that it costs us everything we would otherwise claim to be ours alone. All our possessions must be surrendered to the care and governance of God. Not merely material possessions or wealth, but also our loved ones, our thoughts, our actions, and our inalienable rights. When we choose obedience to God over self-interests, we surrender everything pertaining to our lives. To illustrate, if we feel a need to defend our dignity when persecuted with insults, we are choosing self-interest over the expression of love of God if we do so without concern for the perpetrators or respond to them with any form of ungodliness. Likewise, we may be called upon to sacrifice our right to life in defense of others when evil is moved to violence against the children of God. Integrity is not blind or mindless obedience. Integrity sees both the evil and the good, and the consequences of each is understood when decisions are made. However, choosing goodness and righteousness is always the foregone conclusion when pursuing the virtue of integrity.
Ps.18:26, our purity allows us to see the purity of God
Ps.19:9, purity comes from fear of the Lord and lasts eternally
Ps.24:3-5, purity allows us to enter the presence of God and brings His blessings
Ps.51:7-14, as God cleanses us of sin and ungodliness, we learn the joy of His salvation
Ps.73:1, a pure heart brings the goodness of God into our lives
Ps.119:9, instruction from the Word of God guides us in keeping our ways pure
Pr.21:8, the conduct of the pure is upright
Mt.5:8, purity gives us visions of God
Mt.5:48, purity as all encompassing perfection in the Lord
1Cor.4:2-5, purity as a clear conscience that avails itself to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit
2Cor.6:1-10, purity is required for an unblemished ministry
2Cor.7:1, be free of all defilements, perfecting holiness in the fear of God
Php.1:9-11, knowledge and discernment are required in order to be pure (blameless)
Php.2:14-16, grumbling and arguing compromise the purity of our service to our Lord
Php.4:8-9, maintaining our purity brings the peace of the Lord
1Tim.1:5, St. Paul teaches that the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart
2Tim.2:20-23, purity allows us to be useful in our service to our Lord
Heb.10:19-25, cleansed by the blood of Christ we may draw near to God in purity
1Jn.1:8-10, first acknowledge sinfulness before confession and being cleansed
Lev.19:18, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves
Deut.6:5, we are to love God with all our heart and soul
Mt.6:28-34, Jesus teaches to seek God first and trust Him to provide
Mt.22:35-40, Jesus teaches that loving God is most important, followed by loving others
Lk.10:38-42, Jesus tells Martha, despite all her activities, that only one thing is necessary
Jn.5:30, Jesus explains that He seeks solely to do the will of the Father
1Cor.13:13, St. Paul teaches that love is the greatest virtue
Lev.19:35-36, the Law of God instructs us to be honest in our business practices
Mt.5:37, Jesus teaches us to answer with either a “yes” or a “no”
2Cor.10:5, St. Paul teaches us to be free of fantasies for they are contrary to Truth
Col.3:9, St. Paul teaches us not to partake of the evil practice of telling lies
Jas.5:12, do not swear by Heaven or Earth, but answer with “yes” or “no”
Pr.10:9, integrity secures our ways while those who pervert His ways can’t hide
Pr.11:3, integrity is a guide, dishonesty and treachery destroy those who practice them
Mt.22:16, Jesus sets example of being true to God and impartial towards men
2Cor.1:12, the witness of St. Paul includes his integrity
Titus 2:6-8, uphold sound doctrine, practice virtue, and be an example above reproach
Ps.7:10, God protects the upright and holds them dearly
Ps.119:7, uprightness is an expression of gratitude as we learn of the goodness of God
Ps.140:13, uprightness is being mindful of being in His presence with thankfulness
Pr.2:7-9, God provides the upright with wisdom and discernment and protects the godly
Pr.3:31-32, uprightness leads to intimacy with God
Pr.11:6, uprightness spares us the calamities of sinfulness
Pr.14:11, the upright will flourish, the wicked will be destroyed
Pr.15:8, God enjoys the prayers of the upright, false worship is an abomination to Him
Pr.15:19, the way of the lazy has many barriers, the path of the upright is clear
Pr.21:8, purity is foundational to upright behavior
Pr.21:29, uprightness leads to confidence in our ways before our Lord
Is.26:7-10, uprightness born of remembrance of the majesty of God
Is.57:1-2, uprightness brings the peace of our Lord
Titus 1:7-9, St. Paul lists the necessary qualifications of the upright (just) church elder
Titus 2:11-12, by the grace of God we live uprightly, in remembrance and in hope
Ps.51:10-12, steadfastness born of longing to be in His presence; willingness to repent
Ps.112:5-7, steadfastness as trusting in God and not succumbing to worldly fears
Ps.119:5-6, steadfastness spares us the shame of disobedience
Is.26.3, steadfastness brings the peace of our Lord
1Cor.15:56-58, our victory in Christ over death enables us to be steadfast and faithful
Col.1:19-23, being steadfast in our hope in Christ and His Word keeps us upright
Heb.6:16-20, our steadfastness has God as its surety
1Pet.5:9-11, steadfastness as having well-established habits in the ways of our Lord
“We should zealously cultivate watchfulness, my brethren; and when – our mind purified in Christ Jesus – we are exalted by the vision it confers, we should review our sins and our former life, so that shattered and humbled at the thought of them we may never lose the help of Jesus Christ our God in the invisible battle. If because of pride, self-esteem [elevated sense of self-worth], or self-love [narcissism] we are deprived of Jesus’ help, we shall lose that purity of heart through which God is known to man. For, as the Beatitude states, purity of heart is the ground for the vision of God (cf. Mt. 5:8).”
St. Hesychios the Priest (9th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg.171 #52
“If we preserve, as we should, that purity of heart or watch and guard of the intellect whose image is the New Testament, this will not only uproot all passions and evils from our hearts; it will also introduce joy, hopefulness, compunction, sorrow, tears, an understanding of ourselves and of our sins, mindfulness of death, true humility, unlimited love of God and man, and an intense and heartfelt longing for the divine.”
ibid. pg. 181 #113
“Purification of heart, through which we acquire humility and every blessing that comes from above, consists simply in our not letting evil thoughts enter the soul.”
ibid. pg. 196 #193
…simplicity is nothing more than an act of pure and simply charity, having only one aim and end, which is to acquire the love of God; and our soul is simple when we have no other aim in all that we do or desire.”
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622); “The Art of Loving God” pg. 105;
Sophia Inst. Press © 1986
“All relations of men with each other, the whole life of the community, depend on faithfulness to truth.
“What forms the bridge [the bonding of souls in a trusting relationship]? The facial expression and gestures, the bearing and actions, but, above all, the word. The more reliable the word, the more secure and fruitful the communication is.”
“…we have two elements which must accompany the desire for truth if the complete virtue is to develop: consideration for the person addressed and courage when truth-telling becomes difficult.”
Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 16, 17;
Sophia Inst. Press © 1998
“…a person of integrity [does not] take advantage of people. Integrity shares knowledge with others rather than hoarding it for personal gain.”
James S. Bell Jr. and Stan Campbell; “A Return to Virtue” pg. 122,
Northfield Publishing © 1995
“When we think of integrity, we think of someone who is honorable and trustworthy – a person who keeps their word and guards their reputation. To be called a man or woman of integrity is a high compliment. Such a person knows the difference between right and wrong and diligently pursues doing right, no matter what the obstacles. Jesus provides the best example of a man of integrity; He was not swayed by outer influences but lived a life above reproach. Integrity comes not just from the pursuit of right living, but the pursuit of God, which leads to right living.”
Elaine Wright Colvin and Elaine Creasman;
“Treasury of God’s Virtues” pg 155, Publications International, Ltd. © 1999