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 13 – Recognizing Virtue – Discernment, Remembrance, and Watchfulness

Discernment: (or “discrimination”) the spiritual gift that gives the ability to determine what is from God from what is not

Remembrance:  to remember God and the wondrous things He has done, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; keeping the mind focused on the eternal and heavenly places, not just the temporal

 

Watchfulness:  spiritual alertness and sobriety, vigilance and attentiveness towards one’s thoughts and imaginings, consciously embracing all virtues and ever being mindful of Truth; an attitude of continually learning godliness to foster spiritual maturity and steadfastness

 

Some may find it odd that the chapter on discernment is placed after wisdom and before humility, for there is no wisdom without discernment, and discernment is born of humility.  Again, the reader is asked to see the pursuit of virtue as circular in nature, having no definitive starting point and having no end.  However, unlike just going in circles as a dog futilely chases his tail, each revolution in our pursuit adds to the depth and breadth of our understanding as we grow and mature spiritually.  Though it is hard not to see these chapters as sequential building blocks, these three virtues that enable us to perceive the goodness of God are placed as near to the front as possible so that we might better comprehend the lessons to come, then as we proceed, hopefully we will have enough exposure to the overall concept of virtue to be able to appreciate the topics at hand in greater depth.  Together, the three virtues of this chapter cover the expanse of time and intersect the eternal.  Remembrance recalls past teachings, events and experiences to remind us of what we need to know in the moment.  Watchfulness looks forward to ensure that our present steps inspire a godly future.  Discernment launches our thoughts into the heavenly realms and brings to bear the eternal Truth of God into the moment.

 

Discernment

 

Simply to say discernment is the ability to determine what is from God and what is not belies the magnificence of this virtue.  Discernment has boundless applications for it’s at the core of every virtue, of every right thought and every right action.  It is powerful in that it gives a soul the ability to spot the enemy, to shine the light of God into the otherwise hidden recesses where the demons lurk, rooting them out and dispelling their influence.  It enables us to transcend the natural world and see objects, events and ideas from an eternal perspective.  With discernment, we develop keen ears that are attuned to the voice of God in any given circumstance, in any discussion or debate.  Its application is wisdom, transcending time through the ability to connect consequences with actions be they virtuous, valorous, vain, vulgar or vice.

 

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul speaks of discernment as a gift of the Holy Spirit, as a manifestation of His presence in the ministry of the church body, and of different members being blest with particular gifts for the common good.  Though he says each member has a different function, the chapter concludes with him saying that we are to “desire the greater gifts”, dispelling any notion that might arise that suggests discernment is not for everyone.  As a gift, its abilities are extraordinary, making wise the simple.   As a virtue, we cultivate His presence and abide in the Holy Spirit.  Our pursuit of knowledge of God leads us to Him.  Saturating our souls with the revelation of His Word gives clarity to our perceptions of God.  Our continual obedience fosters His ongoing presence in our lives, developing within us a wholesome familiarity with God and purity.  By abiding in the Holy Spirit, we enhance our ability to recognize where He is and where He wants us to be.  Discernment requires the fear of God and the willingness to subject all our thoughts and all our ways to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit.  We must be willing to expel all thoughts contrary to Him in deference to, and in reverence of, the Almighty.  Only by humbly bowing before the King, surrendering all that comprises our lives to Him, do we begin to be blessed with the perceptive powers of discernment, leaving the linear plane of the senses and commingling aloft with the heavenly host.

 

Remembrance

 

Both remembrance and watchfulness accompany godly discernment.  Remembrance is the background setting from which the dramas of our lives unfold, while watchfulness is attentively waiting for the cues that determine our next action.  As we read these words, the setting of our life is very likely a comfortable chair in the home.  As we go about the business of our day, situations and people come and go, and our physical setting changes regularly as we move about the world.  However, St. Paul informs us in Ephesians 2:4-7 that God has “…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Therefore, for the children of God, He is in us and we are in Him and He is in Heaven, so in Truth the setting for our lives is always Heaven.  The backdrop of our lives is ever the glory of God and the company of all the heavenly hosts.  Remembrance brings to mind all we know about the Eternal and the moments in time when the Eternal interceded in history, especially of Jesus and the sacrifices of His life and death.  Remembrance is a virtue that softens our hearts and enables us to make similar sacrifices for others by recalling the mercy and love God has shown us in Christ Jesus.  When we remember the example of Jesus and are truly thankful for the gifts of revelation, forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and salvation that are ours through Him, we are more inclined to be willing to be patient, kind and compassionate towards those whose life direction intersects with ours.  With remembrance, we are motivated to show others the life of Christ with our words and deeds, to love them sacrificially so that they might be likewise blessed with the goodness of God through us.  With remembrance comes the courage to act righteously, knowing that we are securely in Him and mindful of His providential care for His children.  With remembrance, we are humbled before God and correctly ascribe to Him all that is His, keeping us from displays of selfish pride, foul lust, or irreverent idolatry.

 

Watchfulness

 

Watchfulness, in a complementary way with remembrance, is the virtue we use to keep ourselves under the direction of our Lord.  Acting as our own sentry and listening for further instruction from the Holy Spirit, we guard our hearts from all that is contrary to Truth, disallowing any manifestation of evil to enter into our lives.  We are to be ever on alert, watching out for the wiles of the devil that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe.5:8).  If we are not on guard, the demons will pollute our thoughts and turn our devotions into mindless ritualistic practices of self-indulgence that serve no purpose other than to make us feel good about ourselves.  Legalism creeps in whenever we act on our own instead of in humble submission before God.  Watchfulness helps us prevent beliefs contrary to Christ from entering into our lives by keeping His Word in our conscious thought processes.  When we are soberly alert to the Holy Spirit, temptations that serve to distract us from the way of God can be quickly identified and dismissed rather than being allowed to fester, grow and become sin.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Discernment:

Deut.1:9-18, discernment is a necessary virtue of leadership and wise counsel

Deut.32:20-39, discernment enables a soul to see the consequences of their actions

1Sam.3:7-9, discernment is being able to recognize the voice of our Lord

1Sam.25:2-38, discernment knows what is ours to do from what is the province of God

2Sam.14:17, discernment is the ability to determine what is good from what is evil

1Ki.3:6-15, discernment is a necessary virtue for being a judge, for administering justice

1Ki.4:29-30, discernment as an integral component of wisdom

Ps.119:65-67, discernment comes from obedience to God

Pr.1:2-7, discernment provides understanding and further development of virtues

Pr.2:1-8, discernment leads to a virtuous life that God protects

Pr.10:9-14, discernment as perceptiveness that prevents folly and its consequences

Ezk.44:23, instruction to teach discernment so as to tell the holy from the profane

Dan.5: the power of discernment enables Daniel to read the writing on the wall

Mt.16:2-4, Jesus instructs us to use discernment to recognize signs from God

1Cor.12, discernment (distinguishing spirits) as a gift of the Holy Spirit

Phil.1:9-10, discernment necessary for being clean and pure

Heb.5:13-14, spiritual maturity accompanies discernment

1Jn.4:1-6, St. John teaches us how to test the spirits to discern if they are from God

 

Remembrance:

Deut.7:12-19, remembrance of God, and what He has done, allays our paralyzing fears

Deut.8:1-14, remembrance as thanksgiving for His blessings and as a deterrent to pride

Deut.9:7-8, remembrance of God discourages sinful ways

Deut.24:17-19, remembrance of God and His blessings as the basis for being virtuous

Judg.8:33-35, failure to remember God leads to idolatry and lack of virtue

Neh.9:16-17, lack of remembrance leads to stubbornness and arrogance amid ungodliness

Ps.77, remembrance is a source of conviction leading to repentance and His security

Ps.103, a song of remembrance, thanking God for blessings and a vigorous, full life

Eccl.12:1, remembrance of God in our youth prevents regrets in our later years

Is.17:10-11, lack of remembrance reaps grief

Is.46:8-13, remembrance of God is to rest assuredly (have peace) in His omnipotence

Jer.23:35-36, lack of remembrance leads to trusting in the words of men instead of God

Ezek.16:42-43, lack of remembrance displeases and angers God; precedes His discipline

Lk.22:19, Jesus instructs us to remember Him and His works with the breaking of bread

Jn.14:25-26, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit of God will bring us to remembrance

 

Watchfulness:

Ex.34:12-16, be on guard against concessions to the idolatrous, secular mind

Deut.4:23-28, lack of attentiveness leads to idolatry, destroying souls and nations

Deut.6:10-19, be mindful of Him and His blessings; possess goodness by destroying evil

Deut.15:7-10, instruction to look for opportunities to share His blessing with others

Ps.59:9, to be strong, keep watching for the Lord

Pr.4:10-15, watchfulness keeps us in the ways of God, avoiding the calamities of iniquity

Pr.4:18-23, watchfulness brings fullness of life and steadfastness in His ways

Pr.7, being inattentive to the Word of God leads to falling victim to the snares of sin

Pr.8:30-36, watchfulness moves us closer to God and brings fullness from His blessings

Jer.17:21-22, command from God to be mindful of caring for that which is sacred

Hab.2:1, watchfulness is minding the promptings and conviction of the Holy Spirit

Mt.16:6, Jesus instructs us to keep a watch out for legalism and false worship

Mt.26:40-41, Jesus instructs us to remain on watch in prayer to avoid temptations

Lk.11:34-36, to avoid darkness, watchfulness is needed to see things in His light

Ac.20:28-31, St. Paul says to be on guard against those who pervert the Word of God

2Pe.3:1-9, remember the Word of God and uphold Truth until His coming

2Jn.1:8, watchfulness is needed to avoid digressing in the ways of our Lord

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Discernment:

“Discrimination:  a spiritual gift permitting one to discriminate between the types of thought that enter into one’s mind, to assess them accurately and to treat them accordingly.  Through this fight one gains ‘discernment of spirits’ – that is, the ability to distinguish between the thoughts or visions inspired by God and the suggestions or fantasies coming from the devil.  It is a kind of eye or lantern of the soul (Mt.6:22-23) by which man finds his way along the spiritual path without falling into extremes; thus it includes the idea of discretion”

The Philokalia Glossary

 

“…the gift of discrimination [discernment] is nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace.  A [Christian] must seek this gift with all his strength and diligence, and acquire the ability to discriminate between the spirits that enter him and to assess them accurately.  Otherwise he will not only fall into the foulest pits of wickedness as he wanders about in the dark, but even stumble when his path is smooth and straight.”

St. John Cassian (360-435); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg.98

 

“Everything, however, demands discrimination [discernment] if it is to be used for the good; without discrimination we are ignorant of the true nature of things.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 119

 

 

“Discrimination [discernment] is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does.  Spiritual insight is characterized, first, by awareness of one’s own failings before they issue in outward actions, as well as of the stealthy tricks of the demons; and, second, by knowledge of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in sensible creation.”

ibid. pg. 158-159

 

“For without discrimination [discernment] nothing good is ever done, even though to the ignorant it appears to be altogether good; for what is done without discrimination will be either untimely, or profitless, or disproportionate, or beyond the strength and knowledge of the person doing it, or faulty in some other way.”

ibid. pg. 234

 

“To study and recognize the power, action and special flavor of each virtue and vice is not within the competence of everyone who wishes to do so; it is the prerogative of those who practice and experience the virtues actively and consciously and who receive from the Holy Spirit the gifts of cognitive insight and discrimination [discernment].”

St. Gregory of Sinai (14th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg. 231 #91

 

 

Remembrance:  

“…when remembrance of God is absent, there is a tumult of the passions within us.”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic (9th C. ?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 34 #92

 

“The blessed remembrance of God – which is the very presence of Jesus – with a heart full of wrath and a saving animosity against the demons, dissolves all trickeries of thought, plots, argumentation, fantasies, obscure conjectures and, in short, everything with which the destroyer arms himself and which he insolently deploys in his attempt to swallow our souls.  When Jesus is invoked, He promptly burns up everything.  For our salvation lies in Christ Jesus alone.  The Saviour Himself made this clear when He said: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #22

 

Watchfulness:

“Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart.  In this way predatory and murderous thoughts are marked down as they approach and what they say and do is noted; and we can see in what specious and delusive form the demons are trying to deceive the intellect.  If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.”

St. Hesychios the Priest (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 163 #6

 

“Watchfulness cleanses the conscience and makes it lucid.  Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered, banishing much darkness.  Once this darkness has been banished through constant and genuine watchfulness, the conscience then reveals things hidden from us.  Through the intellect it teaches us how to fight the unseen war and the mental battle by means of watchfulness, how we must throw spears when engaged in single combat and strike with well-aimed lances of thought, and how the intellect must escape being hit and avoid the noxious darkness by hiding itself in Christ, the light for which it longs.”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #24

 

 

 

Discerning Truth

 

The “D” Test for Discerning Goodness from Evil

 

This list is provided as a learning tool to help us grasp the basics of discernment.  Always think spiritually first, soulful (mind, emotions, will) second, and physically last.  This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, for God is infinite and His creation vast.

 

 

“D” words for testing positive, as being from God

 

Dear:  precious, heart felt, affirming dignity (Ps.116:15, 139:17, Mt.13:45-46)

Decisive: serves to settle dispute (1Chr.17:14, Eze.13:1-11)

Deep: profound understanding of Truth (Ps.92:5,107:24, Is.55:8-9)

Definitive: conclusive, final, serving to define (Gen.1, Rev.4:11)

Delight:  joyful pleasure (Ps.37:4-11, 94:19)

Devoted: consecrated unto the Lord, loyal, committed (Lk.6:13, Ac.6:4, Rm.12:10)

Dignified:  affirms the worth God gives every soul (Jn.3:16)

Direct: straight, clear and without dilution (Is.40:3-5, Mt.5:37, Lk.3:4-5)

Discipleship:  instruction in the ways of our Lord (Pr.8:33, 1Tim.4:6-11, 6:18)

Divine: godly in nature (2Pe.1:1-11)

 

“D” words for testing negative, or not of God

 

Deceptive:  misleading, lack of honesty

Defaming:  slander or libel, absence of integrity

Defeatist:  resigned to lose, absence of courage

Defiant:  challenging the ordained authority of God, failure to fear the Lord

Defiling:  to corrupt or make foul, absence of purity

Defraud:  to cheat or swindle, lack of integrity and justice

Delinquent: neglecting responsibilities, lacking watchfulness

Delusion:  having beliefs contrary to Truth, the absence of wisdom

Demeaning:  insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Demented:   false perceptions, lack of knowledge

Demonic:  of demons, fiendish, having an evil nature, contrary to goodness

Denial:  refusal to acknowledge Truth or facts, lacking discernment

Depravity:  moral corruption, absence of goodness

Depreciating:  to devalue someone, lacking dignity and justice

Depressing:  causing gloom, an absence of joy and hope

Derisive:  ridicule, mocking, lacking mercy, kindness and compassion

Derogatory:   to belittle or slight, insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Desecrating:   disrespect or abuse toward sacred things, failure to fear the Lord

Desperate:  hopelessness, recklessness, motivated by despair, lack of hope

Despising:  to regard with contempt, absence of forgiveness and peace

Destructive:   motivated to destroy or ruin people or things, lacking compassion

Desultory: aimless, without purpose, lack of remembrance

Detrimental:  harmful, causing injury, hurtful, lacking selflessness

Devious: underhanded, indirect, lacking honesty and integrity

Diabolic:  satanic, wicked, evil, cruel, absence of goodness and kindness

Dirty:  unholy, unclean, the absence of purity

Disdainful:  to reject with scorn, lacking compassion

Distorted:  warped, misshapen or perverted, lacking knowledge and wisdom

Distracting:  to lose original focus or to divert, lacking watchfulness

Distraught:  harried, worried, anxious, crazed, absence of hope, joy and peace

Divisive:  creating discord or dissension, absence of faith

Dreadful:  distasteful, shocking, lacking gentleness

Dreamy:   prone to fantasy, absence of self-control

Driveling:  senseless chatter, absence of watchfulness and wisdom

Dubious:  to cause doubt, lacking in faith

Duplicitous:  deliberate absence of clarity and honesty, lacking simplicity

 

 

Chapter 6 – The Beginning of Spiritual Warfare – Knowledge of Good and Evil

 

            There are but two prevailing powers of influence.  One is God; God is Light, God is Truth, and God is the source of all that is good.  The other power is that of evil, of darkness and deception, the antithesis of all aspects of goodness.  Reality is actively living in accordance with the Truth of God; all other thoughts are fantasies or deceptions designed to rob God of what is rightfully His, that being the portion of our worship that acknowledges God as Lord of all.  Anything that cannot be identified as emanating from God is contrary to God (Mt.12:30).

 

The world is full of deceptions that possess the power to lead us astray.  One example of this is to fail to acknowledge the existence of evil.  This leads to questioning both the existence and goodness of God.  This often occurs when evil possesses a soul into committing heinous acts that horrify and stun the masses.  However, the truth is that God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28).  Rather than being deceived by demonic schemes that defame God, we are to remain faithful and ever remember that His goodness will ultimately prevail over all manifestations of evil (Ps.110:1, Is.42:13, Jer.5:22, 1Jn.5:4, Rev.17:14).

 

Some other common deceptions include:

1)      giving credence to luck, fortune, serendipity, charms, chance and superstitions (as opposed to His blessings and providential care)

2)      astrology, voodoo, horoscopes, tarot cards, “crystal balls”, witchcraft, paganism, nature worship, and cultic religions,  (the pursuit of powers and knowledge that are not from God, or any belief system that denies the deity of Christ Jesus)

3)      beliefs based on ghosts or non-angelic spirits (cavorting with demons masquerading as deceased human souls)

4)      the occult (actively taking sides with Satan to one’s own eternal demise).

 

Participation or belief in any of these deceptions listed above is cause for repentance, but this list is not all-inclusive nor does it address our internal issues (obsessive, compulsive traits or addictions).  We should practice identifying any power that we allow to influence us and determine its source.  Then, if the power is not from God, stop believing in it and cease seeking or submitting to its influence and power.

 

Any Christian previously unaware of the information in the preceding paragraph is likely to have cause for repentance at this time.  The bulleted items below are designed to assist us with proper repentance.  Since repentance requires that we acknowledge our mistakes, misgivings and faults, those unaccustomed to self searching and introspection are also likely to experience a painful blow to their self-image (a “bruised ego”) or feel insulted, or possibly even dejected, rejected, fearful, depressed, unworthy, ugly, repulsive or foul.  None is the proper response to the conviction the Holy Spirit communicates to us (refer to Chapter 1 item 1 of spiritual growth list).  An offense taken at the suggestion of sinfulness is indicative of narcissism and pride.  Pride (when used as a measure of self worth) is never a virtue.  It is contrary to the virtue of humility.  Pride can lead to suicidal thoughts when a soul would rather die than acknowledge its behavior as being sinful.  Choosing pride over virtue prevents one from admitting to erroneous beliefs or ungodly behaviors, effectively blocking all paths to forgiveness and restoration with God or our fellows.  It also causes a soul to go into denial rather than allow its love of self to be compromised.  When our beliefs are firmly based on the foundation of Christ, we know that our acceptance before God is not based upon our individual deeds or talents, but rather on the completed work of Christ on the cross.  Our worth as His creations as being precious unto Him is likewise verified by Christ’s humbling and willing sacrifice on our behalf, we need not attempt to ascribe any greater worth to ourselves than this.  To believe we are somehow diminished if we acknowledge our shortcomings, is to deny Christ, for in Him we are righteous (acceptable) and justified (not under the condemnation of sin) (Rom.3:19-28, Rom.5:1-11, 1Cor.6:9-11, Gal.2:11-21, Titus 3:3-11).  It also requires a great deal of denial to think we have nothing to confess, and such denial is contrary to Truth and moves us further down the stages of sin, effectively stymieing our progress towards virtue.

 

Spiritual growth means learning to recognize our shortcomings and having the resolve to grow up and out of them.  This can’t be done if a soul is unwilling to claim them, preferring to avoid the growing pains by skipping the spiritual exercise of acknowledging convictions, confessing sins, repenting and performing restitution.  An analogy often told that might help us to separate our being from our behavior is to consider little children and the messes that they make.  Do we love them any less because of their mishaps and mistakes?  Absolutely not!  Such are the means to grow and learn, and the messes are expected because of their lack of years, knowledge and experience.  God sees us similarly.  He does not love us any less because of our failures, we are to learn and grow from them, and then leave them behind as we grow closer to God.

 

            Spiritual warfare is a daily, ongoing battle between good and evil in the theater of our human will.  The decisions we make are either in accord with the Truth and the will of God, or they are not.  Therefore, every decision is important and every decision has implications.  We are either moving toward God or toward darkness.  We are either in His will and in a position to receive His blessings, or we are outside His will and at risk of incurring the consequences of sin.  In addition, this warfare is not only personal, but has implications beyond our ability to comprehend in entirety.  An analogy (not meant for extrapolation) to illustrate the unknown future impact of our decisions:  consider each decision as a domino in a line of standing dominoes with divergent paths representing either the will of God or the way of darkness.  Choosing to be in the will of God either continues a blest line, or starts a new and blessed one while ending a pathway of evil.  Likewise, choosing ways contrary to God either continues an evil path, or ends a blest line while beginning a pathway of sin.  The oft-quoted phrase used to rationalize sin, “I’m not hurting anyone”, is totally bogus, there are always further implications and repercussions and it denies the damaging effects of sin upon themselves.

 

A greater appreciation for the magnitude of personal decisions should not paralyze a soul into inactivity.  In Christ, we have the righteousness of God.  As we abide in Him, we walk in Truth, and we trust Him to keep our paths enlightened.  Our part is to be attentive and follow where He leads.  As we tend to our daily activities, the Holy Spirit may prompt us to action or avoidance.  Should we act contrary to His will, He will convict us of sin.  In between His promptings, we are to trust in the righteousness of Christ within us and walk assuredly as His children.  The righteousness of our behavior is ongoing and not compromised by daily activities born of personal preference (as long as none is sinful).  Consider the analogy of life as a game of soccer.  The coach teaches the players the rules of the game and its strategies, conditions and trains the players for all aspects of the game.  Then he fields the players in the best positions to use their talents and abilities in achieving victory.  Once the game begins, if there is need for further instruction, the coach will convey the message while the game proceeds.  An infraction against the rules draws a whistle that stops play while the issue is addressed.  God is our coach who has prepared us for living the life of Christ “on Earth as in Heaven”.  We are the players who are supposed to use our knowledge and talents to the best of our abilities to His glory.  Should there be further instruction or an infraction, we are to trust the Holy Spirit to inform us so that we may learn and improve.  Our part is to be attentive and be ever willing to obey His instruction.

 

We should also be aware of the fact that spiritual warfare expends our energy.  Though our spirit is empowered by the infinite energies of the Holy Spirit, our body and soul will experience fatigue after confrontations with demonic influence.  Being tired can lead to greater vulnerability if we fail to stay on guard, so we need to be prepared.  Many may already be aware of this experience if after any prolonged stressful situation when every moment a new thought arises that tempts us away from the peace of our Lord, then later we find ourselves tired, listless, and in need of rest despite the lack of physical exertion.  Another aspect of spiritual warfare to prepare for is the demon’s tendency to use the people around us as their spokesperson.   When we are confronted with decisions with moral implications, it isn’t unusual for us to hear words encouraging us to compromise our virtue.  Whether they come from a known detractor taunting us, or someone we hold dear who has been deceived into offering ungodly advice, we must remain on guard against all notions contrary to Truth.  We do so by taking every thought captive and comparing it to the Truth of the Gospel (2Cor.10:5).

 

The following list outlines the components of spiritual growth.

 

1)      Know who you are, a Christian’s identity is in Christ

  • we are children of God; identity is determined by our spiritual rebirth in Christ
  • man is a 3 part whole; a spirit that has a soul and contained within a body
  • life as defined in the Bible is of God and therefore eternal, and God meets all our needs (what is required to sustain life); what we require for living  is a sense of significance and security

 

2)      Understand a Christian’s righteousness in Christ

  • based on completed work of Christ on the cross, not performance, behavior or ability
  • we are wholly acceptable and loved by God just as we are, nothing we do makes us any more, or any less acceptable to God
  • we never need to feel unsuccessful, unworthy, unloved or unlovable, defeated, insecure, inadequate, unforgivable, fearful, condemned, or depressed in our relationship with God

 

3)    Know the role of repentance in the life of the Christian

  • understand what it means, and appreciate its implications (joy, peace in Christ vs. not)
  • know how to repent:  simply turn from self to the ways of God, be willing to do so whenever convicted of sin; if unable to do so, be willing to seek counsel, pray for and accept help and continue seeking Him
  •  know when to repent:  when the Holy Spirit points out an ungodly thought or deed
  • maintain attitude of willingness to repent of anything at anytime

 

4)    Determine to grow and to follow Christ in total submission

  • to begin, a decision must be made to follow Him without any reservations or qualifications
  • take every thought captive, weigh all thoughts and attitudes against the Word of God
  • be prepared to do battle with demons and self, know our defenses (Truth, righteousness, knowledge, faith) and our weaponry (the Word of God) as revealed in Eph.6:10-17
  • Trust in God, not self; abide in Him and learn the ways of brokenness
  • the object of our pursuit is the love of God and our goal is Christ-likeness

 

The following diagram is a simple illustration to demonstrate the importance of believing the Truth of God and being free of delusions.  In our daily lives, we are confronted with a variety of situations requiring us to make decisions and respond.  Making choices is the activity of our will.  The input we use in making these decisions is based on our belief system.  Processing our beliefs isn’t always done consciously, so those new to spiritual growth must learn to hear their own thoughts and understand the importance of acting in accord with Truth.  For those accustomed to making decisions based on feelings or gut reactions, it will take some practice to filter through all the noise and static and only process beliefs based solely on Truth.  Once we learn to apply Truth to our mental activities, our thoughts should become able to discern good from evil.  We then base our decisions on choosing the ways of God and steering clear of evil influences.  The results are godly behaviors that produce feelings and emotions that reflect the goodness of God, choosing the joy and peace of abiding in the Holy Spirit as opposed to the ugly and chaotic consequences of sin.

 

 

 

Beliefs – How they Affect our Actions and Feelings

 

Situation that requires making a decision

                                           +————————————————-+

↓                                                         ↓

                                Truth of GOD                                         False Beliefs

↓                                                         ↓

Godly Thoughts                                  Ungodly Thoughts

↓                                                        ↓

Godly Behavior                               Ungodly Behavior

↓                                                         ↓

Godly Feelings/Emotions              Ungodly Feelings/Emotions

Scriptural References:

 

On our Christian identity:

Jn.1:10-13, to become a child of God, receive Christ

Jn.3:16, believe in Christ to have eternal life

Jn.17:3, eternal life is to know God

Jn.20:31, believers have life in Christ

Rom.6:4, believers have newness of life in Christ

Rom.6:23, eternal life is a free gift of God in Christ Jesus

Rom.8:9-11, we belong to Christ and our spirit is alive because of His righteousness

Gal.2:20, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us

Col.3:3-4, Christ is our life

1Thes.5:23, we are sanctified and preserved entirely, spirit, soul, and body

 

On our Righteousness in Christ:

Rom.3:22, righteousness of God through faith in Christ

Rom.5:17, receive the gift of righteousness through Christ

Rom.5:21, grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ

Rom.8:31-35, Christ paid the penalty for our sins; no need to fear condemnation

Rom.10:4, in Christ, righteousness no longer based on keeping the law

1Cor.1:30, in Christ we have righteousness

2Cor.5:21, righteousness of God from being in Christ

Gal.2:21, if righteousness is based on keeping the law, then Christ died needlessly

Phil.1:9-11, through Christ we are filled with the fruit of righteousness

 

On Repentance:

Mt.4:17, Jesus teaches us to repent of our ungodliness

Mk.6:7-12, apostles teach repentance and freedom from demons

Ac.2:38, St. Peter preaches repentance in order to receive the Holy Spirit

Ac.8:22-23, St. Peter instructs repentance to be free of bitterness and bondage to iniquity

Rom.2:1-10, rewards of repentance opposed to the tribulations and wrath of evil deeds

2Cor.7:8-10, godly sorrow leads to repentance and preservation of His blessings

2Tim.2:22-26, repentance as coming to one’s senses and escaping demonic deception

 

On Spiritual growth and submission to God:

Mt.4:19, Jesus calls us to follow him

Mt.5:48, Jesus teaches us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect

Mt.16:24-26, Jesus teaches it is necessary to put our ways aside in order to follow him

Mt.19:21, Jesus teaches that practicing virtue is to gather treasures in Heaven

Lk.14:27, we must tend to our spiritual responsibilities in order to follow him

Lk.14:31-33, Jesus teaches to have victory in him, we are to surrender all that is ours

Jn.10:27-28, Jesus says we will hear His call and never be snatched away from Him

Jn.12:26, as we serve and follow Jesus, we grow nearer to Him and are blest

2Cor.10:3, do not to engage in spiritual warfare in the flesh

2Cor.10:5, destroy all notions not from God

Eph.6:10-18, instructions on how to fight demonic deception and temptations

Col.2:8, do not let the ways of the modern world distract the teachings of Christ

Col.2:20-23, submit to Christ, not to the ways of man or to a religion of mere rules

1Tim.1:5, the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and faith in God

Heb.12:9, submit to the instruction and discipline of God our Father

Jas.4:7-10, instruction to yield to God and to fight evil

1Pet.2:9-11, St. Peter says we are primarily spiritual beings and at war with the flesh

Jude.1:16-21, instruction to remain faithful and examples of fleshly behaviors to avoid

 

Commentaries:

 

“To each virtue there is an opposing vice; hence the wicked take vices for virtues.”

St. Thalassios (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 312 #89

“He who asks to receive his daily bread (cf. Mt. 6:11) does not automatically receive it in its fullness as it is in itself: he receives it according to his own capacity as recipient.  The Bread of Life (cf. Jn.6:35) gives Himself in His love to all who ask, but not in the same way to all; for He gives Himself more fully to those who have performed great acts of righteousness, and in smaller measure to those who have not achieved so much.  He gives Himself to each person according to that person’s spiritual ability to receive Him.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 150-151 # 56

“The person who has surrendered himself entirely to sin indulges with enjoyment and pleasure in unnatural and shameful passions – licentiousness, unchastity, greed, hatred, guile and other forms of vice – as though they were natural.  The genuine and perfected Christian, on the other hand, with great enjoyment and spiritual pleasure participates effortlessly and without impediment in all the virtues and all the supranatural fruits of the Spirit – love, peace, patient endurance, faith, humility and the entire truly golden galaxy of virtue – as though they were natural.  He does not fight any longer against the passions of evil, for he has been totally set free of them by the Lord; while from the blessed Spirit he has received Christ’s perfect peace and joy in his heart.  Of such a man it may be said that he cleaves to the Lord and has become one spirit with Him (cf. 1Cor.6:17).”

St. Markarios of Egypt (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 294 #23

“Many [Christians] are not aware how the demons deceive the intellect.  Being naïve and undeveloped, they tend to give all their attention to the practice of the virtues and do not bother about the intellect.  They move through life, I fear, without having tasted purity of heart, and are totally ignorant of the darkness of the passions within.  Such people, unaware of the battle about which Paul speaks (cf. Eph.6:12) and not imbued with personal experience of true goodness, regard as lapses only those sins which are actually put into effect.  They do not take into account the defeats and the victories that occur on the plane of thought, for these, being internal, cannot be seen by natural sight and are known only to God our judge, and to the conscience of the spiritual contestant.”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 30 #37

 

“Nothing is more foundational to your freedom from Satan’s bondage than understanding and affirming what God has done for you in Christ and who you are as a result.  We all live in accordance with our perceived identity.  In fact, no one can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with how he perceives himself.  Your attitudes, actions, responses, and reactions to life’s circumstances are determined by your conscious and subconscious self-perception.  If you see yourself as the helpless victim of Satan and his schemes, you will live like his victim and be in bondage to his lies.  But if you see yourself as the dearly loved and accepted child of God that you really are, you will live like a child of God.”

Neil T. Anderson “The Bondage Breaker” pg. 42,

© 1990, 1993 by Harvest House Publishers

“It is critical that Christians understand their vulnerability to demonic influence.  Those who say a demon cannot influence an area of a believer’s life have left us with only two possible culprits for the problems we face:  ourselves or God.  If we blame ourselves we feel hopeless because we can’t do anything to stop what we’re doing.  If we blame God our confidence in Him as our benevolent Father is shattered.  Either way, we have no chance to gain the victory which the Bible promises us.  In reality we are in a winnable war against principalities and powers from the defeated kingdom of darkness.  But their lies can gain a measure of control if we let them.”

ibid. pg. 174