Chapter 21 – The Beauty of Virtue – Forgiveness, Kindness and Compassion

Forgiveness:  to pardon, to cease from exacting payment for a debt (monetary or personal offense) and foregoing all demands for recompense

Kindness:  beyond common politeness or customary courtesies, the otherwise unnecessary words or deeds shown another simply to give cheer, ease a burden, or provide a simple pleasure

Compassion:  sincere and sympathetic concern for the well being of others, especially towards those suffering bodily, emotional, mental, or spiritual ailments; the expressions of a merciful spirit

 

The beauty of virtue is beholding a vision of God (Mt.5:8).  We glimpse the awesome grandeur of God when we encounter the virtues of forgiveness, kindness and compassion.  We light up the world with the splendor of His loving-kindness when we practice them.  Holding them dear in our hearts combats the evil of their fleshly opposites that include the cold, shallow, hard-heartedness of vengeance, cruelty and indifference.  These virtues comprise a bright and colorful kaleidoscope-like menagerie of many other virtues.   In their beauty is the miraculous mystery of restorative healing powers.  Those who practice these virtues will exude an inner beauty more meaningful and lasting than any natural or contrived external appearance.  Forgiveness perpetuates loving and caring relationships by removing the obstacles that interfere with their continuance.  Kindness plants the seeds of goodness that replenish and restore hope.  Compassion is the spirit that moves a soul to take action to alleviate the many and various manifestations of pain, suffering and anguish.

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness is a pardon for an offense.  To forgive another does not mean that the offense somehow becomes acceptable, nor does it convey the notion that there was no injury or harm.  Forgiveness involves taking into account all the injuries resulting from an offense and all the repercussions in their entirety, those currently known and those yet to be realized, and then pardoning the perpetrator from all penalties we might wish to exact as compensation.  We are to forgive all perceived offenses regardless of their legitimacy or the nature of the existence of the offender.  We forgive others, we forgive ourselves, we forgive the inanimate, and should we hold a grudge despite His perfection, we forgive God.  Anything that stirs anger or wrath is an occasion to practice the virtue of forgiveness (Eph.4:25-27).  Though our anger may be justified, another’s sin becomes our sin of omission when we disobediently fail to forgive as God has instructed (Mt.6:14-15).  It is no sin to be the victim of someone’s ungodliness, but if we do anything other than show the goodness of God to those who sin against us, we risk letting their sin motivate us to sin in return.

 

Forgiveness is personal and not to be equated with the customary penalties given to those who commit felonious crimes; foregoing the penal process under the guise of forgiveness compromises justice and honesty by failing to hold the guilty accountable.  Teaching accountability often motivates the offender to repentance and personal rehabilitation.  Incarceration also serves to prevent the creation of more victims by not allowing the serious transgressors to prey freely upon their community.  Forgiveness and prison time for felons are not contradictory, but complementary and collectively necessary as recourse for criminal behavior.

 

Forgiveness first requires the desire for goodness as its underlying motivation, then mercy to see it through to completion, and lastly a sense of justice that we might be at peace knowing that the debts we forgive others do not compensate for the enormity of our indebtedness to God for His forgiveness of our sins (Mt.18:21-35).  The internal struggles we encounter when attempting to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply, helps us to appreciate the depth of the compassion and mercy of God who forgives all our sins against Him.  Failure to forgive others as God has forgiven us expresses ingratitude and indifference towards God when placed against the backdrop of His forgiveness as demonstrated by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross.  A habit of forgiveness, as it is with learning and practicing all virtues, spares us difficult life lessons designed specifically to highlight the hardness of our hearts and the need for His continual grace (Mt.19:8).   Our humble obedience to forgive merits His grace; the defiance of pride and exalting selfish concerns puts us in a position to be humbled by God (Pr.3:34, Mt.23:12, 1Pe.5:5, Jas.4:6).  The flesh can easily manufacture a host of rationalizations and reasons to withhold forgiveness from those who have done us harm, but none are valid in the presence of God.  Likewise, we must learn to accept forgiveness from God and others lest we exist in constant state of self-condemnation, hating ourselves, purposely isolating and excluding ourselves from receiving His blessings.  The inability to accept forgiveness begins a process of devaluing the sanctity of human life and invites a host of demons armed with self-destructive and self-penalizing behaviors such as insobriety, eating disorders, self-mutilation, indiscriminate sexual activity, recklessness and abusiveness towards self or others.  They come when souls consciously or sub-consciously believe they need to be punished for an offense and are unworthy of the good things life has to offer; accepting forgiveness extinguishes these thoughts.  Failure to accept forgiveness may be symptomatic of a perverse sense of pride and self-deception.  To believe a soul is unforgivable erroneously elevates the power and ugliness of sin above the power and beauty of God.

 

Without forgiveness, we are held in spiritual bondage, unable to grow, unable to approach the beauty of God, unable to let go of the past that we might enjoy a more rewarding present.  Without forgiveness, old wounds fester for a lifetime without ever healing properly; crippling our Christian walk and leaving obstacles in our path that continually interfere with our spiritual growth.  Without forgiveness, we persist in letting little irritations gnaw away at the quality of our most important relationships.  Without forgiveness, we compromise all manner of goodness and mercy that our spirit longs to experience, and do so simply because we fail to rid our lives of the leach-like demons of vengeance, hatred, avoidance and acute self-interest; demons that constantly regurgitate their foul bile into the streams of our thoughts and motivations.  Without forgiveness, we remove ourselves from a position to receive a multitude of His blessings because our Lord commands us to forgive, and lack of obedience always prevents us from rightly being in His will and intimately knowing His goodness.  Without forgiveness, our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical conditions collectively disintegrate due to the persistent anxiety and stress generated by stewing resentments and simmering hostilities (Ps.6, Pr.14:30).

In contrast, a life of forgiveness is one of peace.  Instead of the hostile and violent thoughts that accompany a lack of forgiveness, there are actions motivated by the goodness of God.  Forgiveness provides us freedom in that it allows us to let go of the past and make the most of our present, liberating us from the entanglements of sin, putting an end to potential lifelong tit-for-tat ungodliness and the habit of compounding another’s sin with our own.  When we live a life of forgiveness, searching our souls regularly and being on guard for when it is needed in the immediacy of the moment, we cultivate the goodness of God within us.  Forgiveness enriches our lives with healthy and loving relationships, removing the desire to ostracize ourselves or others, and eliminating the self-inflicted loneliness and isolation that accompanies a life lacking forgiveness.  By forgiving others, we acquaint ourselves experientially with our forgiving Father in Heaven as we begin to learn firsthand what it takes to forgive everyone of everything.  We are also freed from our ties to any unhealthy habits that serve to encumber our walk with Christ.  We are likewise freed from the burdens of guilt and remorse, past, present or ongoing.  Forgiveness removes the desire for revenge that gnaws away at any budding goodness within us.  Forgiveness soothes the emotional disturbances and mental anguish that can cause all manner of anxiety and personality disorders, from sleeplessness, depression, and twitches to suicidal thoughts, histrionics and anti-social traits.

 

To forgive someone, they need not be present.  To go to another and tell them we forgive them is to accuse them of an offense for which they may or may not be willing to accept culpability.  Such confrontation is not part of the forgiveness process.  To forgive someone, we define and delineate the offense, tally all the damage done without exaggeration, detail how it hurt us, and lastly, accurately record the repercussions, those already experienced and any potential fallout we may envision.  Then, with the help and grace of God, we pardon the offender, and from that moment forward, we cease to view that person as indebted to us.  Should we later find ourselves feeling resentments, ill will or open hostilities towards them, we simply remind ourselves that we have forgiven them, and cease the train of thought.  To heal a relationship wholly, all persons involved must be willing to own up to their transgressions, seek forgiveness and then be willing to make amends.  Not all relationships will be restored or preserved by our forgiveness alone and we must learn to accept this lest we fall prey to believing all failed relationships are our fault.  We forgive solely because God has forgiven us and has commanded us to do the same (Mt.18:21-22, Eph.4:31-32).  Though there are many benefits associated with forgiveness, any motivation other than a simple desire to please God only serves to pollute purity with self-serving intent.  Our obedience in forgiveness preserves the joy of life in His presence, perpetuates the flow of His grace and blessing towards us, and likewise frees us from bondage to a particular transgression.  By maintaining an attitude of forgiveness throughout the day, we learn to forgive as God has forgiven us, and learn to love the otherwise unlovable with an unencumbered, unburdened heart in the same manner as God loves us.

 

If we are honest with ourselves and have learned to own up to our shortcomings, we will know that there are times when we need to seek another’s forgiveness and make amends.  To believe otherwise compromises our integrity and our worship due to our disobedience and our failure to abide in the Truth (Mt.5:23-24, Rom.3:23).  Whenever we have wronged another, we have occasion to seek forgiveness and make amends.  To do so, we must be careful to confess only our transgressions and accept all blame for what we have done; we are always responsible for our behavior regardless of circumstances or another’s actions.  After simply stating what we hope to be forgiven for, we express our regrets and ask them to forgive us.  Merely saying, “I’m sorry” without specifically asking for forgiveness for our misdeed, doesn’t give others the opportunity to forgive us and we cannot assume that they have, or will in the future, if we don’t ask.  Also, when seeking forgiveness, we need to repent of the deed, specifically and generically, then be prepared to make amends for any harm we have done.  Whether the reparations require monetary or behavioral means, without this willingness the sincerity of our compunction is questionable.  Also, making amends is a powerful reinforcement of our identity as children of God, severing all links to past ungodliness, assisting in breaking sinful habits and becoming free of self-punishing behaviors.  Prior to approaching another to confess any serious wrongdoings, we should always consult our spiritual mentor since our intimate involvement undoubtedly prejudices our objectivity, creating the potential for compounding our sins and worsening the situation, especially when there are accomplices.  Should we have trouble owning up to our shortcomings or suffer from the unwillingness to seek forgiveness, we need to backtrack (see chapters 6 and 15), uncover the source of our rebellions and address these issues first.

 

We also need to learn how to forgive ourselves so that we might fully know the true healing power of forgiveness.  The need here is especially acute if a soul has come to Christ late in life or otherwise has many regrets concerning their past.  When we sin, we not only offend God, we hurt others and ourselves.  We can be blinded to the pain and damage we inflict due to a form of denial born of narcissism.  For instance, when we see someone else hurt another person, we are immediately able to categorize him or her as mean and hurtful.  However, when we’re the one inflicting the pain, the tendency is to rationalize our actions as being justified, and then cling to the lie that we don’t need to seek forgiveness.  However, God is not mocked, our conscience knows the truth and subconsciously we are classifying ourselves as a mean and hurtful monster, as one who is undeserving of the love of God, His goodness or His blessings.  When this happens, we then begin a cycle of self-condemnation, excluding ourselves from His presence and the good things otherwise available to us, and courting the demons that bring self-punishing and self-destructive behaviors.  To prevent this, we humbly learn to own up to our faults, repent of them, and in the same breath, forgive ourselves in the same manner we forgive others.  This is how we learn to be free of both sinful habits and the anguish of perpetual guilt.  Those who are unacquainted with self-forgiveness should start with relatively small and immediate issues, summoning faith and grace in obedience to His will.  Once we’re accustomed to the forgiveness process and understand the internal struggles and emotional issues associated with owning up to the ugliness of our sin, we then need to take a lifelong inventory of our transgressions.  We do this by specifically noting how our misdeeds have in turn hurt us, especially if they cause us to believe things about ourselves that are inconsistent with our identity as children of God.  Once the sin and repercussions have been tallied, we repent of them and thank God for His forgiveness, forgive others where need be, and likewise forgive ourselves.  This exercise, often done with age appropriate photographs to assist with our memories and historical perspective, has remarkable healing power in that it frees us from our past failings and allows us to conform more easily to the spirit of Christ within us presently.  When addressing our inventory of past transgressions, it helps to remember that God loves us unconditionally, without regard for our behavior.  Also, keep in mind that we are growing constantly and need to be able to separate the person we’re becoming from the person we’ve been in the past.

 

Now, while these exercises in forgiveness are fresh in the mind, pause and practice forgiving others and self.  If there is difficulty creating a list of offenses, begin with birth and segment life into five-year spans, and list the traumatic experiences from each age range.  Then discern where there may be a need for forgiveness in these events and proceed with the exercise.

 

Kindness

 

Kindness is like a spiritual gateway through which varieties of virtues are given means to flow.  Kindness is like the mast of a mighty sailing ship in that it supports the virtuous sails that provide the power to propel the craft.  Kindness is like the backbone of man, when it is compromised, the virtuous handiworks of his arms and legs cease to function.  Kindness is like an ever-flowing spring that provides the water of life for a multitude of living things that are our virtues. Kindness is like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day, tirelessly refreshing all who are touched by it without being given anything in return to replenish it.  Kindness originates from the power and energy of the Holy Spirit which flows through us, girding all our deeds with His goodness and mercy and willing sacrifice, giving life to humility, selflessness, charity, generosity and purity, all the while bringing the joy of hope to the thankful, praising God.

 

To exhibit kindness, is to summon the virtues of compassion, selflessness, faith, joy and charity, then channel them into an expression of His goodness and mercy, performed with simple and honest intent, with the purest of motives and without any expectation of results or returns.  Kindness affirms the dignity of others by surpassing and outshining all cultural and social norms of politeness, cordiality and etiquette.  Kindness likewise restores hope and offers encouragement to those worn down by the prevalence of the flesh.  Kindness negates fleshly traits such as selfishness, unruliness, rudeness, meanness, greediness, indifference, and self-centered thoughtlessness that if left unchecked, grow into the greater evils of cruelty, abusiveness, hostility and violence.  Kindness is a virtue that is always at our disposal.  There is not a lot of demonic activity against kindness.  Demons are not omniscient.  They do not have the discretion to differentiate the virtue of kindness from social pleasantries and niceties expressed in the flesh.  We can increase our productivity by taking any given situation and making it better with the application of kindness, and when we do, we are blest with a greater sense of accomplishment and of goodness.

 

Kindness is an action or gesture towards another that demonstrates the goodness of God.  It isn’t just being nice to someone, it is the heartfelt, sympathetic concern for another’s happiness and well-being, and the willingness to take an action for another’s benefit at one’s own expense; it is a willing sacrifice without thought of being paid back or rewarded in any way.  An act of kindness has the goodness of God and the benefit of the recipient as its only motive.  If this purity is corrupted in any way by contriving outcomes, posturing, guilt remediation, or scheming towards any particular end, the act ceases to be one of kindness and denigrates into self-serving manipulation.  Though we can’t control how our actions are perceived by others, if we practice kindness and make it our habit, our kind deeds will be spiritually uplifting for all involved; we will not make people feel like we’re trying to get something from them or otherwise make them suspicious of our motives.  To be kind, we will need to learn to be content with the joy of sharing the goodness of the Holy Spirit with others and with the sense of pleasing God.  We needn’t ignore that God rewards the faithfulness of His servants; however, we need to be careful not to let seeking rewards become our motivation lest we put the cart before the mule and stunt our spiritual growth with self-serving interests.

 

To learn to be kind we must be led by the goodness of God primarily.  To assist our progress, it helps to remember His goodness towards us when fatigue, sluggishness or insensitivity impedes our taking action.  If it isn’t already our habit, we will need to practice empathy; the analogy of “walking a mile in another’s shoes” is aptly applicable when learning kindness.  Then as we learn to see the world through another’s eyes, we will be better able to perceive what exactly their soul needs to replenish their spirit.  With this knowledge, we obtain the power to affect the mental, emotional and spiritual condition of the people around us in a good way.  We then have a choice to either brighten the world with an expression of His perfect goodness, or spread the blight of godlessness with sins of omission.  Without kindness, we allow indifference, selfishness, bitterness, or malice to overcome our innate spiritual goodness, grieving the Holy Spirit.   When we shortchange others the kindness we owe them as an affirmation of their dignity, we do so in defiance of our Lord and invite them to do the same to us.  We then begin compounding a downward spiral into ungodliness, creating stumbling blocks for the lost and dispirited, incurring His wrath.  The opposite is likewise true; one act of kindness can begin a chain reaction of kind deeds, supplanting their ungodly opposites all along our way and creating the potential to turn evil hearts back to God eternally.

 

Our ability to express kindness can also be used as a gauge to measure the quality of our spiritual condition as well as our ability to surrender to His divine will at any given moment.  When we are unwilling to be kind, we should search our hearts, discover the source of our rebellion, and do what is necessary to exterminate the demon.  An intentional lack of kindness is a form of disobedience.  Turning a deaf ear to His teachings on compassion embraces harshness and the demons of cruelty.  It likewise dishonors God with irreverence toward His Word and disgraces His creation when we fail to affirm the dignity of others by partaking of kindness.  Practicing kindness keeps us in a position to receive His blessings, while a hardened heart is prepared lessons designed to illuminate its poor spiritual condition.  Kindness cures hardened hearts by spreading the warm goodness of God that melts away the sinful bindings that inhibit its expression, enabling the way for greater expressions of forgiveness, mercy, and selflessness.

 

Compassion

 

From the Book of Proverbs (11:22) we read,

“As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout

So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”

 

Since discretion is an essential element of all virtue, it follows that without discretion, there is no virtue, and without virtue, there is no beauty.  Regardless of a soul’s external features, there is no true beauty without virtue.  All manner of pleasant and pleasing physical appearance are negated when a soul lacks virtue.  Likewise, a soul not blest with an appearance that appeals to the flesh can nonetheless become beautiful by practicing virtue, especially the virtue of compassion that is easily perceived as beauty by our spiritual senses.   However, over time, the joy of virtue can mold the human form such that one develops a smile that glows bright enough to light up a room, adds a sparkle to the eyes that stir weary souls to life, and exhibits gestures that invite warm human interactions and friendships.   The opposite is likewise true, a lack of virtue, a lifetime of coping with sin, can lead to seemingly permanent expressions of bitterness and disdain, a countenance that repels and causes immediate discomfort in others.

 

Perceiving the beauty of compassion is as basic as our primal instincts of safety verses fear; compassion conveys the feeling of being in a safe haven.  It communicates the sense of being cared for, that our needs are being taken care of while we are able to rest and recuperate in the warmth and comfort of soothing goodness.  Whereas kindness plants the seeds of goodness all along the way (Mt.13:1-23), compassion aims to redress suffering (Lk.10:30-37) or meet the needs of others (Mt.14:13-21).  Whereas kindness can be expressed in simple words or gestures in passing, compassion requires an investment of our time, effort and means in order to restore an injured soul, to set right an injustice, or otherwise provide for the needs of others.  Compassion is the spirit within us that moves us to action when we see pain and suffering.  It understands and responds to pleas for mercy that are often expressed merely through tears or expressions of anguish.  It has a genuine desire to alleviate the effects of sin and instill goodness; its motives are pure.  Compassion has sympathy for the downtrodden, the waylaid, the destitute, the dispirited, the diseased, the lost, the dispossessed, the defeated, the victimized and the compromised, and can empathize with the thoughts and emotions that are common to all life’s sufferings.  The compassionate soul lives to alleviate these things by learning to heal, to teach, to protect, to encourage, to console, to provide, to forgive, to care, or to shepherd, and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of others.

 

Before we can even attempt to express compassion, we need to keep in mind the needs that are common to all human existence, learn to recognize how they’re not being met, and then be able to discern a course of action to address specific needs.  All human needs can be traced back to the generic needs of significance or security (ref. “The Search for Significance” by Robert S. McGee, © 1985, 1990 Rapha Publishing; Houston, Texas, USA), and this includes all their manifestations, whether they are physical, soulful, or spiritual.  We can learn to recognize them in others by first learning to recognize them in ourselves, by paying attention to our own wants and desires and how they vary in priority as our condition experiences the highs and lows common to life on Earth.  Once identified, we can then see how a particular need is either being satisfied or neglected, and on what level, body, soul or spirit.  Though God has already provided for all our spiritual needs, we often need help learning to recognize and receive His provision for us.  Physical needs, food, clothing and shelter, at first seem simple, obvious and all inclusive till we remember our body’s internals, the effects of accidents and illnesses, and the instinctual urges to bond and mate.  Soulfully, we can tend to another’s needs by quelling the primary threats of indifference, worthlessness, and rejection.

 

Compassion heals.  As God has provided the means for our salvation and as medical doctors learn to heal the body, compassion neutralizes the demons that haunt human souls.  This has become well evidenced and documented in observation of twelve step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous where all the participants are victimized by the same impediment to spiritual and personal growth.  Whether an addiction, a proclivity toward a particular vice, post-traumatic stress, or any other personality or anxiety disorders, the company of fellow sufferers who are able to show the greatest amount of compassion due to their shared experience, knowledge and understanding, best facilitates the miraculous healing powers of compassion.  Our physical eyes cannot see another’s demons; we cannot fully know the nature, size or strength of the demons that afflict another’s wellness unless we’ve done battle with it ourselves.  Non-combatants don’t know the amount of courage and perseverance required to overcome something they can easily dismiss.  Conversely, in a support group, fellow sufferers can help identify the common enemy, its traits, what it feeds on, what weakens it, and then share strategies on how best to overcome it.  Compassion requires unconditional acceptance of others and foregoes all appearances of judging or condemning another soul for their shortcomings.  Support groups also provide a safe place for a soul to make confessions without fear of retribution or recrimination.  This environment leads to further repentance of subsequent sins as participants learn to make a habit of self-scrutiny.  Confessions to non-combatants risk a lack of understanding and confidentiality, and can be potentially dangerous in that it introduces them to demons that they may not be prepared to fend off, creating the possibility of further contagion.  Twelve step groups also teach making amends and when possible, undoing the damage done with full restitution.  By practicing these principles, members learn to grow into the newness of a godly life that is productive and full of joy rather than continuing in the desperation and depravity of addictions and subsequent, ungodly, maladaptive behaviors.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit within us will stir compassionate thoughts; however, there are simple things we can learn to help facilitate obtaining this virtue and being more like Christ.  First, we need to practice being observant, attentive and well informed.  Not knowing what is going on in the lives of people around us can lead to unintentional insensitivity, and even callousness or crassness depending on another’s emotional vulnerability at any given moment.  Being well informed will not be confused with being a nosy, gossipy, busy-body if we ask questions out of concern and not curiosity, pray for blessings for the person being discussed, and then not repeat what we know unless asked by another compassionate soul who is likewise only interested in the well being of others.  When we keep abreast of other’s circumstances, we can do as Jesus did, and with a kind word or deed address the needs of others without requiring them to rehash a lot of information that may be difficult for them to share.  Should we have troubles of our own, selflessly caring for others not only helps relieve our own discomfort, it is a witness and testimony to the love of God in Christ Jesus who lives in us and provides for all our needs.  Then, as we witness God watering the fields of the evil and the good alike, we become able to express compassion toward those we like as well as those we don’t (Mt.5:44-48).

 

When expressing the goodness of God with compassion and kindness, or when performing a service for Him, a host of demons arrives with a proven set of strategies designed to knock the purveyors of goodness off their course.  As puerile as it seems, name-calling can be an effective weapon preventing good deeds and is often the demon’s first salvo aimed at the children of God.  Whether it is children calling each other “goody goods” or adults attaching labels such as “bleeding hearts” or “crusader”, we need to learn not to let these simple attacks deter us from the tasks God has given us to do.  Being called a “hypocrite”, “self-righteous” or “hateful” by an ungodly soul should not deter us in our obedience to God.  An easy way to deal with them is to simply acknowledge their perceptions and then take a stand as being on the side of good by explaining to them the potential evils of leaving the task undone.  Instead of being deterred by the simple assaults of our detractors, we should ask ourselves; “Is this task truly something God has given me to do?  Is the detractor pursuing evil or good?  Am I willing to endure persecution in my obedience to God?”  Our reply to these souls, who most likely don’t understand deeds motivated purely by goodness, can be our witness and testimony to the love of God, turning not only the situation away from evil and towards goodness, but also the hearts of the lost.

 

Demons will also attempt to magnify the challenges any given task presents in an attempt to overcome our goodness with annoying frustrations or a sense of futility.  At such times, remembrance of Christ and a variety of our lessons will defeat the demons and keep our focus on God in obedience.  Thankfulness, perseverance, purity, courage, patience, joy, self-control, or charity, or any combination of virtues applied to the situation with proper discernment, can be used to repel the attacks of these demons.  Another demonic foray that aims to rob us of the joy of pleasing God is to create false expectations that lead to disappointments when expectations are not achieved and the realization of failure leads to an array of feelings associated with disenchantment.  This can happen when we insist on our own sense of fairness, resent uncomplimentary but helpful feedback or critiques, or develop a martyrdom complex.  If we allow ourselves to think that everyone around us should be as concerned with the task God has given us to do, and that they should be willing to make the same sacrifices we do in order to complete our task, such thoughts will undoubtedly lead to resentments.  Instead of joy and peace in our service, we will be overcome by these common frustrations and be left with nothing but ill will to show for our efforts.  We can make ourselves out to be great martyrs worthy of adulation and hefty rewards if we allow the demon of pride to infect our humble obedience to the call of Christ.  If we are overly sensitive to criticism, unable to discern the constructive from the destructive or the caring from the malevolent, then our joy and thankfulness will indeed be replaced by resentments.  This also happens if we are unwilling to listen to any suggestion that we may have erred or that a better way is possible, feeling insulted rather than abiding in our dignity.  If we listen to these demons, we will be overcome by feelings of being under appreciated, become disgusted with another’s perceived lack of usefulness or paltry contributions, and then disparage and demean them in an attempt to lessen the damage to our fleshly self-image.  Among fellow Christians, this qualifies as judging another’s servant, and is exactly what St. Paul instructs us not to do in Romans 14.  Instead, we need to forgive the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, be an example of Christ ourselves, and encourage and assist others in their spiritual growth.  We can maintain our joy while in service to our Lord by refusing to entertain thoughts critical of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and by truly being thankful that God has deemed us trustworthy and capable.  It also helps to take an inventory of all the things that make it possible for us to be in a position to serve God.  A list that includes our eternal salvation in Christ, knowing God, life itself, our mental and physical talents that enable us to perform a particular service, and all resources available for our use; these are all things to be thankful for and not taken for granted.  Being thankful for all things at all times gives us joy instead of the misery that accompanies indulging in ingratitude, being critical or condemning others.

 

Demons attempt to squelch all expressions of goodness; however, their means are likewise limited by the extent the children of darkness are willing to go in pursuit of evil.  We must never forget that there are souls on this Earth that enjoy evil and consciously reject God rather than part with their perverse pleasures.  The self-serving and hedonistic pursuits of the flesh seem benign when compared to the sadists, masochists, and the violently controlling and abusive types.  These miserable people take pleasure in another’s pain, suffering, oppression, and distress so much so that they seek out ways to inflict such things upon others.  Should we fail to comprehend the full extent to which evil will go, we risk being completely stupefied with fear, overcome by their grotesqueness, collapse in a state of shock or otherwise rendered inert, and then be left suffering from posttraumatic stress.  Not only will we be unprepared to seek the grace of God in the moment we encounter unrestrained evil firsthand, afterwards the common result is the inability or unwillingness to be an uncompromising servant of God.  As Christians, we are targets for the demons because they can recognize the goodness of the Holy Spirit within us, and true to their evil nature, they crave to foul, soil, humiliate, abuse, maim, destroy or desecrate all that is good.  Such is the pleasure of the depraved and sadistic souls who never clean their spiritual house. They come to prefer the company of demons and become like stringed puppets in carrying out demonic whims.  We need to be prepared and know that they exist.  When we encounter extreme evil, we must remember and have faith in God, for His grace is sufficient to overcome all evil.  Then we seek the courage to act righteously.  Whether that means being still or an extreme intervention, God supplies the necessary grace in the moment.  Our part is to trust Him, to act in accordance with His will with the assurance that we do the right thing.

 

The world is full of unenlightened souls who put little or no effort into personal or spiritual growth.  Such people are prone to being motivated by personal vendettas, by petty jealousies, by the bitterness of lifelong disappointments, by sharing their pain by inflicting it on others, by a lusty greed for whatever they can get their hands on, and again, by the desire to ruin whatever joy and goodness they see in another’s life.  They are opportunists who seek to take advantage of another’s vulnerabilities, plotting complex schemes with covert and dishonest tactics.  What such people fail to realize is, whether by intentional denial or inability to figure it out, that the misery of their life is their own choosing, that their bitter harvest is reaped from the evil they sow.  These forlorn souls take pleasure in being spiteful, controlling, manipulative, disruptive, perverse, abusive, violent, unruly, or crass.  However, as children of God, we are not to indulge in any of their behaviors in return.  As difficult as it may be to exercise self-control in the presence of such malfeasance, we have been taught to love our enemies and do good things for those who mistreat us (Lk.6:27).  Lost, darkened and demented souls are in need of our compassion since they know neither the joy of salvation nor the beauty of kindness and forgiveness.  Though their actions may stir anger within us, we will need to recall that all souls are precious in His sight, practice forgiveness, and with proper discretion, treat the ungodly with compassion so that they might come to repentance and a saving knowledge of our Lord Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Forgiveness

Ps.32:1-6, asking forgiveness of God through confession and repentance, heals

Mt. 6:9-15, failure to forgive as God forgives is a sin of omission

Mt.18:21-35, God holds us accountable when we fail to forgive others as He forgives us

Mk.11:25, before asking God to pardon sins, we first pardon all whose sin infects us

Lk.17:1-4, anticipate troubles in relationships and always remain willing to forgive

2Cor.2:5-11, a lack of forgiveness gives opportunity for the schemes of demons

Eph.4:29-32, a lack of forgiveness compromises our virtue

Col.3:12-14, our forbearance of other’s shortcomings depends upon our ability to forgive

 

Kindness:   

Pr.11:7, a person who lacks kindness is treated with indifference

Pr.12:25, kindness gives us the power to encourage and gladden others

Pr.14:21, our ability to be kind reflects the quality of our spiritual condition

Pr.14:31, kindness honors God, oppressing the downtrodden is a disgrace that taunts Him

Pr.19:17, kindness towards the needy serves our Lord and He rewards these good deeds

Mic.6:8, with our knowledge of goodness our Lord expects us to be kind and just

Mt.18:5-7, lack of kindness can cause another to stumble and this angers God

Lk.6:32-38, the kindness we extend toward others is the measure of our blessings from God

Rom.2:1-13, failure to reflect the kindness of God invites the wrath of His judgment

Rom.11:22, kindness perpetuates blessings while hardened hearts learn of His severity

1Cor.13:4-7, kindness is recognizable in our expressions of love in the Holy Spirit

2Cor.6:1-10, service to God is marked by the ability to show kindness to persecutors

Gal.5:16-26, kindness is evidence of His lordship over us and the Holy Spirit within us

Eph.4:29-32, impurity, bitterness, anger, wrath and malice compromise kindness

Col.3:8-14, impartial kindness is a sign of our renewal in Christ and knowledge of Truth

2Tim.2:22-26, impartial kindness is a required virtue to be a servant God

Titus 2:3-5, reverence for the Word of God is made manifest through kindness

2Pet.1:5-9, failure to show kindness is symptomatic of ignorance or forgetfulness

 

Compassion:

Pr.11:22, exterior beauty is wasted when unaccompanied by inner beauty

Mt.9:18-38, the compassion of our Lord Jesus brings miracles of healing

Mt.14:13-21, the compassion of Jesus in tending to the physical needs of the people

Mt.15:32-38, the compassion of Jesus preemptively addresses the needs of others

Mt.20:29-34, the compassion of Jesus restores those who plead for mercy

Lk.10:30-37, Jesus instructs us to have compassion for strangers in need

Php.2:1-18, in Christ we find the humility that enlightens our world with compassion

Col.3:1-14, children of God have a heart of compassion for all

 

Commentaries:

 

Forgiveness:

On The Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6:12-13):

“Scripture reveals to us in these words that he who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with this neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for.  Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgment of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sin.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 302

 

“Wisely bear in mind that, if God acquits, no one can condemn (cf. Rom.8:33-34).  If you have been called [to serve God], do not worry about your past life, even if to some extent it has been soiled:  for it has been purified once more by God and through your own self-correction.  But afterwards be diligent and watchful, so as not to eclipse the grace.  Then if someone stupidly casts aspersions on your [service] because of your past, he will hear a voice from Heaven saying, ‘What God has cleansed, do not call unclean’ (Acts 10:15).”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 370-71 #51

 

“Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt.6:14).

This then is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.  But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.  Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul.  Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.  But this is not to the credit either of the devil, or of the person who tempts, or of the person tempted.  The devil, being maleficent, deserves our hatred, for he acts with no concern for our welfare.  The person who tempts us merits our compassion, not because he tempts us out of love but because he is deluded and oppressed.  The person tempted, finally, endures affliction because of his own faults, not on behalf of someone else.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 95

Kindness:

“True kindness allows to life a proper space and freedom of movement; it even gives and provides these, for only in this way can life grow and develop.”

“Kindness pardons, for it is magnanimous and releases the offender; it trusts and always allows life to begin anew.”

“Kindness can look beyond itself; it does not begrudge to others what it lacks.  In fact, it can even rejoice with others.”

“Kindness means that a person is well disposed toward life.  Whenever he encounters a living being, the kind man’s first reaction is not to mistrust and criticize but to respect, to value, and to promote development.”

“…in kindness there is strength – strength in proportion to its purity – and perfect kindness is inexhaustible.”

“Kindness requires patience.  Suffering returns again and again and demands understanding.”

“One other thing is required of kindness, some which we rarely speak: a sense of humor.  It helps us to endure things more easily.”

“A friendly laugh at the oddity of all human affairs – that is humor.  It helps us to be kind, for after a good laugh, it is easier to be serious again.”

“…we shall seek for kindness in the place from which all virtue comes; we shall seek for it in God.”

“If we could see God’s goodness, this abyss of kindness, we would be joyful all our life long.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 110-112;

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

Compassion:

“Compassion implies the most intimate sympathy with people who are suffering, despised, and marginalized.  Harsh judgments of others by any ‘paragon of virtue’ who invokes God, even the God our Lord Jesus Christ, reveal total shamelessness.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

 © 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 50

 

“Wherever compassion is missing, ‘works of righteousness’ are poisoned.”

“In the face of the suffering of heartlessly despised people, the compassionate person is shaken by sympathy and enlists to do something for them.  True sympathy urges us to action.  Active sympathy makes it clear that we are on the way to worshipping God as the supremely compassionate one and honoring Him in real life fashion.”

ibid. pg. 51

“The intellect is the organ of wisdom, the intelligence that of spiritual knowledge.  The natural sense of assurance common to both intellect and intelligence is the organ of the faith established in each of them, while natural compassion is the organ of the gift of healing.  For corresponding to every divine gift, there is in us an appropriate and natural organ capable of receiving it – a kind of capacity, or intrinsic state or disposition.  Thus he who purges his intellect of all sensible [physical] images receives wisdom.  He who makes his intelligence the master of his innate passions – that is to say, of his [passionate desires of the will] – receives spiritual knowledge.  He whose intellect and intelligence possess an unshakeable assurance concerning divine realities receives that faith with which all things are possible.  He who has acquired natural compassion receives, after the utter annihilation of [self-centeredness and self-adoration], the gifts of healing.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 217 # 33

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

Chapter 4 – Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage

The purpose of this chapter is to highlight the implications of succumbing to any given temptation.  It should also serve as a tool to assist us in our introspections and to trace the roots of our sinful habits.   Correctly identifying our shortcomings helps us differentiate false guilt and self-condemnation, from the conviction of the Holy Spirit.   True convictions should result in our confession and repentance, ignoring them blasphemes His grace

 

Temptations can be understood as trials or tests allowed by God.  They consist of ungodly thoughts or demonic suggestions purposely devised to induce a soul to sin.  God allows the demons to tempt us in order to help us with our spiritual growth (Jas.1:2-4).  It is by this testing that we become souls of proven character before God, our fellows and ourselves.  We nurture our ability to trust God as we endure and learn to overcome.

 

Concerning the progression from mere suggestion to actual consummation of sin, it is important to note that our culpability does not begin until we contemplate carrying out the temptation.  Being provoked with an evil thought is not sinful; entertaining these evil thoughts is indeed sinful and is cause for repentance.  The fact that the demons are able to make suggestions that our souls are able to perceive, does not constitute culpability on our part, nor does reacting to the suggestion.  However, as soon as a thought is recognized as being evil, if not dismissed and disposed of immediately, culpability begins.

 

When a soul decides to pursue virtue and embarks on a journey of spiritual growth, the demons take note and begin their onslaught of evil suggestions.  This venture is much akin to swatting a wasp nest with a broom, for in order to bring the goodness of God into our lives, we need to expel the impurities and clean house; Jesus uses this analogy in Luke 11:24-26.  For those new to spiritual growth issues, this is a warning to be prepared for some truly absurd and grotesque thoughts when uprooting demons.  We need to be prepared for these temptations to be stronger and more persistent than usual when making our first serious effort to expel them.  There is no need for alarm, it is normal to be disturbed by their foul suggestions.  All that needs to be done is dismiss these thoughts for what they are, the desperate activity of demons being thwarted and displaced.  Also, keep in mind that demons are not omniscient; they cannot read our minds, they merely perceive our activity and send predictable temptations aimed at our individual weaknesses.  The work of C. S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”, is an amusing and lighthearted reading that provides much valuable insight into the workings and activities of demons.

 

Our Lord knows our weakness and promises us that that we will not be tempted beyond our ability to endure (1Cor.10:13).  However, since we are infected by sin (or concupiscence), we share in the battle described by St. Paul in Romans 7:14-25 and it is understood that we will have our failings (1Jn.1:5-10).  For Christians, the prescription for sin is confession and repentance, activities that should become an integral and regular practice for those pursuing virtue.  It is understood that owning up to one’s shortcomings can be emotionally painful and mentally anguishing.  Initially, it hurts our sense of self-worth and our positive self-image to see ourselves covered with grotesque blemishes, but the consequences of not doing so are much, much worse.  Sin, because it is outside the will of God, has ungodly consequences (2Pe.2:2-22).  Deception and denial fool a soul into believing it is without sin.  Anyone who says they have nothing to confess is a liar (Jn.8:51-59; 1Jn.1:5-10).  Furthermore, if unaddressed, such delusion can lead to false sense of security concerning the eternal disposition of one’s soul (1Cor.6:9-11; 2Thes.2:1-12).

 

Succumbing to a particular sin with regularity engenders a habit.  A habit becomes an addiction when a soul’s ability to abstain is compromised.  Such addictions most assuredly rob us of our ability to serve our Lord freely and without making allowances for sin.  St. Paul refers to these addictions as “slavery of sin” in Romans 6.  Addictions are diseases of the will.  They compromise a soul’s ability to make life choices freely and without undue coercion from within.  Activities that make a soul very susceptible to addiction include gambling, intoxication, homosexuality, pornography, and abusive relationships.  Twentieth century psychological studies once termed these behavioral imbalances as “neurosis”, and later by a variety of labels under the heading of “anxiety” and “personality” disorders, but do so without acknowledging sin.  The refusal to acknowledge sin as the underlying cause of these ailments leads to perpetually addressing the symptoms without ever remedying the root cause.  Again, confession and repentance of our sin is how we overcome.

 

If a soul surrenders to an addiction to the extent that they no longer consider it sinful, the stage is set for being overcome and possessed by evil.  The modern psychologist refers to such cases as “psychotic” or “psychopathic” while generally dismissing the influence of evil.  This collective misdiagnosis by the scientific community has rendered their “treatment” ineffectual, and to drawing the conclusion that such chronic cases have no cure.  If not for the miraculous healing power of Our Lord Christ Jesus, their assessment would be correct since the ability to acknowledge Truth is so severely compromised.  However, let us not discount the usefulness of modern medicine in treating psychological disorders, but rather hold fast to the belief that true healing is from Christ.  Our confession and repentance of sin followed by accepting His forgiveness, heals in Truth.  The point to be made here is that the sooner a sinful suggestion is recognized and dismissed, the easier it is to do so again.  The opposite is likewise true.  Once a particular sin is repeated, it then becomes easier to repeat the sin and harder to repent.  This is why it is important to impress upon children the importance of virtue, so that they may enter adulthood without the burden of spiritually crippling habits.

 

Stages of Sin*:  From provocation to losing the will to combat evil 

 

*adapted from St. John of Damaskos (675-749) “On Virtues and Vices”, The Philokalia, Vol. II, pg. 337-338

 

1)      Provocation– an ungodly thought or suggestion yet without passion and without

mental imagery, no sin or culpability for sin exists at this stage.

  • Mt.4:1-11, Satan attempts to distract Jesus from the Will of God

 

2)      Momentary Disturbance– the provocation’s initial effect upon a soul, brief loss of

stillness, hostility and/or enticement, yet without sin or culpability.

  • Rom.8:6-8, a mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God
  • 2Cor.10:5, take every thought captive and destroy all those contrary to His will
  • Col.3, instruction to be free of all hostile thoughts and replace them with love

 

3)      Coupling/Communing – taking mental possession of, and entertaining a provocation, contemplating it and giving it mental imagery, the start of culpability, a lapse of watchfulness.

  • Mt.5:28, Jesus says to look at another lustfully is adultery
  • Mt.15:19-20, Jesus says that evil thoughts in our hearts destroy our purity

 

4)      Wrestling – a soul’s activity to resist a provocation; two possible results, 1) a passion that leads to assent, or 2) destroying it and returning to stillness.

  • Rom.6:21-23, St. Paul says Christians are free to choose goodness
  • Gal.5:17, the conflict between the spiritual soul and a soul in the flesh

 

5)       Assent – giving approval to a provocation, the decision to act on a passion.

  • Rom.14:22, St. Paul says to act on a desire is to give it approval, though the faithful conscience will bring conviction when there is error

 

6)      Actualization – the sinful act, succumbing to temptations or provocations, acting on passion.

  • Gen.3, the story of mankind’s original rebellion against God and the consequences of sin

 

7)      Prepossession – sinful habit, predisposition to yield to a particular provocation.

  • Ac.8:18-23, St. Peter rebukes Simon over his bondage to sin
  • Rom.1:26, those whose accept sinful ways incur a total break from goodness
  • Gal.4:8-9, St. Paul speaks of being a slave to sin
  • Eph.4:19, St. Paul speaks of succumbing to sin such that it becomes one’s practice
  • Col.2:8-9, St. Paul warns against being captivated by the ways of the world
  • 1Tim.5:13, St. Paul speaks of learning sinful habits
  • 2Tim.2:22-26, contrasting godliness with the insanity of being addicted to sin
  • 2Tim.3:1-7, human will is weakened by continual indulgence in ungodliness

 

8)      Captivity – obsession resulting from habitual sin, a life controlled by evil passions.

  • Mt.4:24:  Jesus heals those possessed by evil
  • Mt.8:16:  Again, Jesus heals the demon possessed
  • Mt.8:28-33:  Jesus commands the demons to leave a possessed soul
  • Titus 3:3:  St. Paul speaks of slavery to sin for those unwilling to repent

 

Commentaries:

“You should also learn to distinguish the impassioned thoughts that promote every sin.  The thoughts that encompass all evil are eight in number:  those of gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem [narcissism] and pride.  It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not these eight thoughts are going to arise and disturb us.  But to dwell on them or not to dwell on them, to excite the passions or not to excite them, does lie within our power.  In this connection, we should distinguish between seven different terms, provocation, coupling, wrestling, passion, assent (which comes very close to performance), actualization and captivity.”

St. John of Damaskos (675-749); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 339-340

 

“For the devil is in the habit of promoting in the soul whatever he sees is in accordance with the soul’s own disposition, whether this be joy of self-conceit, distress or despair, excessive toil or utter indolence, or thoughts and actions that are untimely and profitless, or blindness and unreflecting hatred of all that exists.  Quite simply, he inflames in the soul whatever material he finds there already, so as to do it as much harm as he can, even though in itself the thing may be good and acceptable to God, provided that it is used with due restraint by one who is able to judge things and to discern the intention of God hidden in the six passions* that surround him…”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 233

* see commentaries on Goodness at the end of Chapter 17