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.

 

Chapter 8 – The Purpose of Studying Virtues Part 2 – Knowing and Pleasing God

            “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth…  God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen.1:1, 31).  Please take a moment and read Genesis chapters one through three.         

 

            God created everything such that it pleased Him.  Man was created to know God.  To know God is to acquaint ourselves with as many of His attributes and His ways as we can comprehend so that they are readily recognized.  To please God is to utilize one of the many ways God has provided for us to worship Him.  It is not inaccurate to say that the purpose of life (in a biological sense) is to live life (spiritual life in communion with God).  God is the source of all life and therefore has no need of anything; He does not have a need to be known or to be pleased.  It is to our pleasure and well being that we fulfill the intent of the gift of life He has given us, to know and to please God.  As we do so, we rightly glorify God who is wholly deserving of our worship and praise.  

 

            God created man in His image, meaning man is spirit and has a triune nature.  We understand God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit; likewise, we are soul, body and spirit.  Man was originally created in full communion with God, righteous and living fully in His presence.  As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they died.  Communion with God was broken.  They fell from the presence of God and they were cut off from the life giving breath God originally breathed into mankind.  No longer did they dwell in the fullness of life with God.  Immediately they became needy, becoming insecure and lacking in significance.  Their concern for being naked before God is evidence of their lack of security in that they felt a need to do something in order to be acceptable to God.  The way they tried to shift blame upon one another when confronted by God, is evidence of their lack of significance as they attempted to restore their sense of worth by absolving themselves of responsibility for wrongdoing.  The fallen state of the first human beings has been inherited by all subsequent souls. 

 

            Pondering the immensity of their loss, of life before the fall and the pain of the immediate consequences of the original sin, can help us to appreciate what Jesus has done for all mankind and the magnificence of what is available to us if we choose to draw nearer to God.  Jesus came to restore what had been lost in the Garden of Eden.  He came that man might again have life in abundance (Jn.10:10) and be restored to righteousness and be able to enter fully into the presence of God (Heb.4:16).  Praise God!  With this gift, we are to pursue virtue which is glory and praise to God (Phil.1:8-11).  In so doing, we create a life of harmony by unifying our thoughts and actions with the original intent of God in creation.  Our desire to please God our Father should be as natural as any child’s desire to please their parents.  It is an expression of our love for Him in response to His love for us, and an expression of gratitude for the many blessings He eternally bestows.

 

            To please God is to be obedient to God.  To be obedient to God is to please God.  These deeds are definitely not exclusive of each other, as motivations they are exceptionally complementary.  The difference between the two is the direction in which the blessings flow.  Obedience brings blessings from God to us.  Pleasing God is our way of blessing Him in that we return to Him the goodness of our lives.  We do so out of gratitude and reverence for God with joy and praise, replacing the stench of our sin with the warm aroma of righteousness (Lev.23:18).  To align our beliefs and motivations with our actions in a godly way requires a conscious effort.  First, we need to be aware of our current motivations.   Next, be willing to contrast our thoughts and attitudes against what Jesus has taught us in His Word, and against the heroic examples of the saints who have gone on before us as, and also against lessons learned from mentors.  Then, we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to have access to our heart, allowing His ways to become our ways by forsaking all unholy or impure thoughts and motivations that are hostile toward the goodness of God.  Lastly, acting in full knowledge that we are in Christ and Christ is in us, proceed in accord with the Holy Spirit, surrendering our will to the divine will of God and following His instruction.  Doing so affirms our identity as children of God while not doing so is evidence of deception, rebellion and sin in general.    

 

            Acting contrary to the ways of God is the hypocrisy of not aligning behavior with identity; we are children of God, not children of wrath.  In Christ, we possess all the goodness of God, and all we need do is be willing to let it be expressed outwardly.  Our identity is in Christ, we are the family of God.  As His children, we are to be like Him because we are born anew in His Holy Spirit.  When we fail to act in accordance with our identity, we pretend to be something we’re not (unrighteous when in Christ we have the righteousness of God) and succumb to hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy isn’t merely saying one thing and doing another; it’s being righteous but acting as if it were not so.  Our failure is our sin.  Trying to shift blame by pointing an accusatory finger at others, only serves to avoid owning up to one’s own sin.  We are always responsible for our own behavior.  Others may aggravate or instigate, but we are still responsible for our response.  The standard of behavior that is acceptable to God and preached from the gospels is perfection.  Spiritually, we have the perfect righteousness of Christ in us (1Cor.1:30) and are thus qualified to carry the gospel message in word and deed.  Therefore, it is not hypocritical to teach and preach the gospel despite having shortcomings.  In the flesh, which is not a Christian’s identity, no one is qualified. 

 

            Those who reject our Lord put themselves at odds with God (Mt.12:30).  All such souls can be considered “anti-Christ”, for everything they espouse is contrary to the way of Truth.  Their words are perverse, delusional, and evil.  In all they do or say, they mock the suggestion that all souls should strive to be pleasing to God.  Unbeknownst to them, they grieve their own spirit with resentments, hostilities, anger, and self-loathing, for God is not mocked (Gal.6:7).  Should such souls die without repentance, they pay the ultimate penalty of eternal damnation.  While on Earth, the consequences for sin are many and varied.  Constant opposition to the nature of creation as God meant it to be, robs a person of the peace that only comes from resting in the arms of God.  The more adamant the rebellious soul becomes, the further they progress in ungodliness as their sins become ever more grievous.  A life of depression, of various personality or anxiety disorders, is meant for the ungodly, not His saints.  Active rebellion often leads to suicide.   Such souls prefer to put an end to their self-imposed misery rather than own up to mistakes and repent of their sinful ways.  The misery of sin is bitterness, isolation, a cold heart, a sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, futility, lack of fulfillment and a pervasive fear of what lies ahead or beyond the grave.   God has ordained creation so that we reap what we sow.  All that is good is from God and goodness fulfills while evil leaves a soul destitute.  Hell is the abyss of eternal damnation for those who fail to repent of their evil.  It is characterized by the complete absence of goodness; no creativity, no life, no joy and no peace.  There is also plenty of that here on Earth as well for those who choose not to please God.  

 

Scriptural References:

 

Mt.3:16-17, the obedience of Jesus followed by God the Father being pleased

Jn.17, identity as children of God and separating the godly from the worldly

Rom.8:5-14, secular attitudes are hostile toward God; the ways of God bring peace

Rom.12:1-2, as an act of worship, forsake secular ways for the ways of God

Rom.14:16-18, abiding in righteousness pleases God; also earns respect of our fellows

Gal.6:8-10, we reap what we sow, either eternal blessings or further corruption

Eph.5:6-14, learn to discern goodness from evil to know how to please our Lord

1Tim.2:1-4, godliness and dignity as being pleasing to God

 

Commentaries:

 

“Our greatest ambition must be to see the crucified Christ always before us, His life and death, what efforts He demands of us.

            Seek nothing beyond this.  It will please the divine Master.  His real friends ask only for those things that will enable them to fulfill His commissions.  Any other desire, any other quest, is but self-love, spiritual pride, and encirclement by the devil.”

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli (16th C.?); “The Spiritual Combat”, pg. 23 as printed by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., © 1945 by The Newman Bookshop

 

“The practice of performing all of our actions solely from the intention of pleasing God may be difficult at first.  With the passing of time it will become familiar and even delightful, if we strive to find God in all sincerity of heart, if we continually long for Him, the only and greatest Good, deserving to be sought, valued, and loved by all His creatures.  The more attentively we contemplate the greatness and goodness of God, the more frequently and tenderly our affections will turn to that divine Object.  In this way we will more quickly, and with greater facility, obtain the habit of directing all our actions to His glory.”

ibid. pg. 30

 

“In particular, we must never forget that His majesty is infinitely worthy of our service, a service motivated by a single principle of love, whose only object is His will and desire.”

ibid. pg. 32