A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians

By Cris Hernandez, Child of God

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I – Preparation

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  (Gal.2:20)

Chapter

1) Notes on Spiritual Growth            

2) Definitions 

3) All Human Needs Are Satisfied In Christ

4) Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage 

5) Understanding the Meaning of Virtue      

6) The Beginning of Spiritual Warfare; Knowledge of Good and Evil

7) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 1- Obedience

8) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 2- Knowing and Pleasing God

9) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 3- Preparing for Heaven

10) The Acquisition of Virtues:  How To

 

Part II – Pursuit

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  Job

 Chapter

11) The Foundations of Virtue:  Fear of the Lord, Knowledge, Wisdom

12) The Pursuit of Virtue:  Faith, Courage

13) Recognizing Virtue:  Discernment, Remembrance, Watchfulness                      

-The “D” test for discerning goodness from evil

14) An Attitude of Virtue:  Peace, Abiding Prayer, Stillness, Hope 

15) Perpetuating Virtue:  Purity, Simplicity, Honesty, Integrity       

16) The Pleasure of Virtue:  Joy, Thankfulness, Praise      

17) The Essentials of Virtue:  Humility, Selflessness, Goodness

18) Sharing Virtue: Justice, Dignity, Mercy  

19) Virtue and the Human Will:  Self-Control, Patience, Gentleness

20) Empowering Virtue: Charity, Generosity, Hospitality

21) The Beauty of Virtue: Forgiveness, Kindness, Compassion

22) The Fulfillment of Virtue:  Love

 

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation” 

Herbert Spencer as quoted in “Alcoholics Anonymous” © 1939, 1955, 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

Introduction

            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 His purpose and our 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.

 

Cris Hernandez

Child of God

email:  aprimeronvirtue@yahoogroups.com

 

 

Copyright Information:

King James Version (KJV):  public domain (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible)

New American Standard Bible (NASB*):  © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

New International Version (NIV):  © Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

(* Unless otherwise noted, scripture passages quoted within this text are from the NASB)

The Philokalia: (Vol. I © 1979 The Eling Trust; Vol. II © 1981 The Eling Trust; Vol. III © 1984 The Eling Trust; Vol. IV © 1995 The Eling Trust; Vol.V unavailable to the author)

Concerning scripture contained within quotes taken from The Philokalia, “All Biblical passages have been translated directly from the Greek as given in the original Philokalia.  This means that quotations from the Old Testament are normally based on the Greek Septuagint text.”   (from the translators of the Philokalia)

Note:  text within the quotes from the Philokalia and elsewhere contained within brackets “[example]” is from the author.

 

The author extends his appreciation to all his teachers whose thoughts are contained within this text as well as to those who supported him while these lessons were being prepared.

 

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Chapter 12 – The Pursuit of Virtue – Faith and Courage

Faith:  believing the Word of God as the basis for action; having a fear of our Lord that is greater than the fear of the world; an all-embracing relationship with God based on trust, placing all cares into His hands as the way to overcoming worldliness

Courage:  willingness to act on faith regardless of deterrents; having faithful strength, perseverance, persistence, and willing obedience in times of sufferings, trials, temptations or peril

 

Faith isn’t mere belief; it is acting upon belief.  Courage is the degree to which we are willing to act upon our faith in God.  Together, they are the dynamics of a growing intimacy with God, the wheels on which we roll in our pursuit of virtue.  It is one thing to know the good news of the coming of Christ, and quite another to base all of our life’s decisions upon the gospel teachings.  Knowledge is a beginning, the realization that there is a need to be moving toward God, faith is each step we take toward Him.  The first step of faith is widely referred to as a “leap” because it moves a soul from the familiar, physical realm, into the yet unknown realm of the spirit.  For those who now choose to continue to grow, this is normally followed by many wobbly steps as we learn experientially that God is trustworthy, that His Word is Truth and His promises secure.  It helps to know that God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28), but it requires faith to put this knowledge into action, and then courage to remain faithful through adversity.

 

Faith

 

Faith has as many applications as our life has moments.  A veritable list of faithful champions is found in the book of Hebrews chapter 11.  It tells of many great deeds from the Old Testament and teaches what is possible when living by faith.  We are likewise called to put our beliefs into action, but this is as much an internal exercise as it is one that produces visible, external acts.  We are taught that God loves and cares for us (Jn.3:16, 1Jn.4:10), that Christ Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (Rom.3:21-26, Heb.2:16-17, 1Jn.2:1-3), and that in Christ we have the righteousness of God and are wholly acceptable to Him (Rom.15:15-17, 1Pe.2:4-10).  It is a matter of faith to put these beliefs into action by freeing our minds of all condemning thoughts that suggest we are 1) unworthy of His blessings or unqualified for service, 2) that our sins are so bad that we are unforgivable, 3) or that we are so wretched that we are unlovable even to God.  It is faith that calls us to identify ourselves as children of God as opposed to how we might otherwise see ourselves according to the flesh.  We exercise faith as we search ourselves for all ungodly thoughts and habits for the purpose of repentance, allowing the ways of God to be expressed through us, unhindered and unimpeded.  Faith should likewise enable us to forgive others and be free of any seeds of bitterness that prevent us from loving others as God loves us.

 

Courage

 

In our obedience to God, we carry out His will for us in both our normal routines as well as in answering specific callings.  Courage is required to part with old, familiar ways while learning the new, sometimes discomforting, ways of God.  Courage is also required when God calls us to act but our base instincts start squealing and screaming that such action is contrary to both our well-being and best interest.  Courage is the willingness to trust God firmly with sure knowledge that His ways are right and best.  Courage is the virtue that allows us to express our love for God and His ways in the face of adversity.  Courage is what enables us to keep our wits about us and pursue a righteous course of action even when the body trembles.  Courage is born of conviction; it grows with experience from intimate encounters with God that teach us He is trustworthy, that what we do in obedience to Him is truly right and best for all concerned.  Courage requires resolute affirmation that the eternal implications of the moment are of greater importance and worth than any immediate, temporal trauma.  Courage also enables us to sacrifice the status quo in order to introduce the potential for greater goodness.

 

If there is a rarity of courage, it may be because we perceive it to require dire external circumstances in order to be manifest.  This is not necessarily so, courage is required to address many internal issues as well.  Consider a painful event from the past whose wound still festers, or owning up to an addiction or sinful habit, or anything about ourselves or our lives that we prefer to avoid because thinking about it causes pain or discomfort.  These are all areas where courage is needed to redress our life’s issues in accord with the ways of God.  After deciding to address our personal issues, it is best to work with another Christian more experienced in the ways of spiritual growth.  An effective way to cultivate courage when dealing with our personal issues is to begin with a smaller, less potent demon, then use this experience to ensure our steps are sure in the ways of our Lord before proceeding to larger ones.  For those whose ungodly desires were removed by God all at once, the process of learning virtue should begin immediately lest the demons return sevenfold on account of the new believer’s lack of experience.  A firm foundation in Christ prevents making a difficult situation worse due to a believer’s lack of knowledge or understanding (Mt.12:43-45).  Exuberance accompanied with false bravado, incompetence from inexperience, and trepidation from lack of preparation, are a few human failings the demons exploit with jeer in their attempt to frustrate our good intentions.  Instead of this, we are to trust God, allowing Him to determine both the proper time and priorities, while maintaining an ear anxious to listen for His guidance.

 

Exercising courage exposes our human vulnerabilities.  Therefore, we must be practiced at drawing upon the strength of God to endure, to uphold us when our frailties would otherwise leave us wounded, struggling, and thrashing about for our own survival.  To make a stand for Christ, to thwart evil with goodness, to put ourselves at risk coming to the aid of another, all require that we be well versed in the ways of our Lord and that our identity be resolutely entrenched in our standing as children of God.  Without these, we may be putting ourselves at risk needlessly, or worse, doing so outside the will of God.  To prevent this, we allow the inspiration of God to be the sole motivator and instigator of our actions.  We must be willing to act as the Holy Spirit leads and empowers us, and then be prepared to faithfully endure whatever circumstances arise from answering His call.  We must also remain open to feedback and further instruction from the Holy Spirit.  The spirit of God within us is powerful, not timid.  May our actions be bold and our resolve everlasting, for our faith is in God, not ourselves.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Faith:

Rom.10:17, faith is born of hearing and learning the Word of God

2Cor.5:1-9, instruction to make decisions based on eternal truths and promises of God

Heb.11:1, faith is assurance of the grace of God, deeds based on being in His presence

Heb.11:4-5, examples of faith as action and not mere belief

Heb.11:6, without faith it is impossible to please God

Heb.11:7-33, more examples of faith as action and not mere belief

Jas.2:17, belief alone is not faith, faith is acting in accordance with our beliefs

1Jn.5:3-5, faith is learning to live according to His ways and parting with worldly ways

 

Courage:

Deut.31:3-9, courage as fearlessly trusting God; overcome through obedience

1Sam.17, faith and courage personified in David’s confrontation with Goliath

1Chr.28:9-10, 20, courage is necessary to act in obedience to God

2Chr.15:1-9, courage is needed to root out evil

Ps.27:14, courage as perseverance, waiting patiently to see the hand of God at work

Mic.3:7-9, courage comes from being strong in the Holy Spirit

Mt.9:1-8, courage needed to confess sins and accept forgiveness from Christ Jesus

Mt.9:20-22, courageous faith is rewarded, healing is the result

Mt.14:27, courage is ignoring worldly fears so that we may approach God boldly

Jn.16:33, courage as the conviction that the ways of God are right and best

1Cor.16:13, instruction to act firmly upon faith, and be strong in the Lord

Php.1:12-20, courage required to proclaim the gospel boldly and with right motives

2Tim.1:7-12, the spirit of God within us is powerful, preserving us as we serve Him

2Cor.5:5-7, with courage we are to walk by faith (spirit) and not by sight (flesh)

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Faith:  

“Faith is a relational power or a relationship which brings about the immediate, perfect and supranatural union of the believer with the God in whom he believes.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 189 #8

 

“Spiritual knowledge unites knower and known, ignorance is always a cause of change and self-division in the ignorant.  Hence nothing, according to sacred Scripture, will shift him who truly believes from the ground of his true faith, in which resides the permanence of his immutable and unchanging identity.  For he who has been united with the truth has the assurance that all is well with him, even though most people rebuke him for being out of his mind.  For without their being aware he has moved from delusion to the truth of real faith; and he knows for sure that he is not deranged as they say, but that through truth – simple and always immutably the same – he has been liberated from the fluctuating and fickle turmoil of the manifold forms of illusion.”

ibid. pg. 282 #91

 

Courage:

“Courage does not consist in defeating and oppressing one’s neighbor; for this is overbearingness, which oversteps the bounds of courage.  Nor again does it consist in fleeing terrified from the trials that come as a result of practicing the virtues; for this is cowardice and falls short of courage.  Courage itself consists in persisting in every good work and in overcoming the passions of the soul and body.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, that it, against men, as was the case with the Jews of old, where to conquer other nations was to do the work of God; it is against principalities and powers, that is, against the unseen demons (cf. Eph.6:12).  He who is victorious conquers spiritually; otherwise he is conquered by the passions.  The warfare described in the Old Testament prefigures our spiritual warfare.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 258