A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians

By Cris Hernandez, Child of God


Table of Contents


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)


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


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.



            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 22 – The Fulfillment of Virtue – Love

Love:  the sacrificial nurturing and caring for another person, body, soul and spirit; the life of Christ within us expressed outwardly

Love is the fulfillment of virtue in that it encompasses and employs all other virtues.  If we have learned our lessons from the previous chapters, we already have all the necessary ingredients of love in our hearts (1Cor.13).   Here we learn to blend them all together into a single thought and expression.   Love singularly fulfills virtue with the fullness of God, leaving no quarter for any semblance of evil or sin.  Showing love is how we care for the needs of others, whether this means the basics of food, clothing and shelter, or the soulful needs for learning, growing and emotional support, or sharing the spiritual bread and water of life.  The fullness of love is expressed when we surrender our wills to our Lord and allow Him to live His life through us, for God is love (1Jn.4).


The love we speak of here is not to be equated with the romantic or erotic passions that are a part of the normal human desire to mate; the love we speak of here doesn’t require “to have and to hold” another.  Likewise, love is neither the extent to which another pleases us nor a mere bodily response to physical and emotional sensations.  Love is neither an excuse to sin nor does it legitimize ungodly, reckless behaviors that endanger self or others.  The love of God that we are to express to all souls, especially in our closest relationships, always upholds the virtues we have learned in the preceding chapters.


To love others means knowing the Truth of God and living life accordingly.  It is letting our knowledge of Truth govern all our interactions, drawing upon His wisdom to provide us with the answers as to how best to tend to life.  We also love by sharing Truth and wisdom with those we’ve been given to love.  Our fear of the Lord brings His presence into all our relationships, ensuring our conscience is in accord with His goodness while stripping away the fantasies and delusions that lead to a myriad of maladies that compromise healthy interaction.  As we grow spiritually and mature in our Christ-likeness, we learn of His wisdom.  Doing so gives us broader and deeper insights into our life choices which in turn leads to making godly and productive decisions that are more rewarding than their fleshly alternatives.


Our love for others is based upon our faith in God, His power and His provision; we needn’t be overcome by our personal shortcomings or difficult circumstances.  Our faith leads to a courage that gives us the ability to maintain our virtue and bring the goodness of God to bear upon any situation.   Abiding in the Holy Spirit, we have the power to act according to His will; we are blest accordingly.  In addition, to exercise the virtue of love is to practice remembrance and watchfulness, knowing that any given moment is an occasion to express the love of God and lay the groundwork for a more godly future.   We recall the goodness of our Lord, how He has cared for us in the past so that we might fully trust in Him in the moment, and in turn demonstrate His love by loving those around us.  Likewise, we practice watchfulness and are able to recognize the hand of our Lord in our current circumstances so that we might join in His work while avoiding the pitfalls and traps the demons use to lead us astray.  The pursuit of virtue develops our power of discernment such that we can more easily see the way of our Lord, learning to love others as He loves us and prevent succumbing to fleshly lusts and evil temptations.


Since our love has the Word of our eternal Lord as its foundation, we are blessed with an unshakeable stillness that fosters the trust of God and our fellows as we walk in His ways.  We become worthy of being entrusted with greater responsibilities that lead to even greater deeds with even greater rewards.  The peace of our Lord sates our souls with a sense of fullness and satisfaction, freeing us from trivial neediness or grotesque wantonness, allowing us to tend to all His creation with unsullied motives.  By abiding in the loving ways of the Holy Spirit, we become a beacon of light for lost souls in a darkened world, showing others His way, reaping love from teaching others these lessons.  As we see others being touched with His goodness, we in turn become acquainted with the encouragement of hope that lets us know all things are possible in Him and that there are always better things yet to come.


Our love for others is expressed with purity, cleansed from sin, free of self-serving motivations and without selfish, fleshly lusts; love is holy unto the Lord.  Its singularity of purpose and intent keeps us focused on God, undeterred by demonic distractions while caring for and providing nurture for those around us.  The absence of duplicity in our motives brings simplicity into our lives; we live free of the complications and chaotic consequences of sin.  Our expression of love will be honest, in accord with the Truth of the Word of God and without any traces of deception or delusion.  Our integrity will prevent our love from being compromised by worldly temptations, dire circumstances or mistreatment; it will be tireless and ever-present, not succumbing to frustrations, tedium, futility, fears, impatience, or any other irritant that might otherwise exhaust our souls.


Our love will be expressed with joy, for our hearts will know the goodness of our Lord and be gladdened.  We will enjoy the elation that accompanies praising and worshipping God in all that we do, being energized by His presence because pleasing the Lord is also our pleasure.  Our love will also be expressed with thankfulness, free of complaints, criticisms, and unnecessary characterizations, for such thoughts only serve to compromise our virtue by impugning our ability to give thanks to God in all things.  The absence of ingratitude in our lives leads to an absence of resentments; we will not isolate ourselves away from individuals and communal activities due to any ill feelings towards those around us.  Instead, we will abide in an appreciation of His blessings, beginning with life itself and including all the wondrous things that fill His creation, finding joy in our loving interactions with others, ever thankful for His saving grace.


Our love will be expressed with a humility that has the life of the incarnate Christ as its source.  Our inspired deeds will not be cause for self-aggrandizement, but rather be cause for giving thanks for His presence, His trust in us, and the talents and virtues He gives us that make it possible for us to create a trove of treasures in Heaven.  Our care and nurture of others will be done selflessly, for our love is enabled by the fullness and abundance of our life in Christ who has at His disposal everything we need.  We are His children and we have been given an inheritance of His Kingdom in the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we are empowered to give without thought of recompense, reward, or recognition since God exists without need for anything and our life is in Him.  Our love is an expression of His goodness, an outward manifestation of His indwelling righteousness that finds satisfaction in pleasing Him with purity born of total submission to His divine will.


Our love will extol the virtues of justice, dignity and mercy.  Abiding in Him, we will be motivated to ensure that justice prevails upon our every domain, that fairness and equality are upheld in deed and not merely in rhetoric or litigation of questionable worth.  We will be willing to hold the guilty accountable for their transgressions so that they may learn the error of their ways and come to repentance, thereby protecting the innocent, preventing the creation of more victims and abbreviating the perpetrator’s list of offenses.  Our words and actions will lovingly uphold and affirm the dignity of all human souls, recognizing that all are precious in His sight and are never devalued by the application of secular standards of worth.  Instead, being ever mindful of Christ’s love for us and the sacrifices He made on our behalf, we will share with others the same mercy He has shown us.  We give to the ungrateful, forgive the impenitent, serve the undeserving, respect the contemptible, share with the selfish, and teach the ignorant.  Ultimately, we love the unlovable as Christ first loved us.


Our love will be tempered with patience rather than being compromised by rash actions or quick tempers, and we will not express impatience even when harried by demons.  Our love is eternal, a constant in time, always on our agenda and is never importune when abiding in His will and exercising godly discernment.  We will learn to love with acceptance; meeting people where they are at and helping them grow from there, and do so without condemnation or criticism of their shortcomings, being mindful of our own need for His forgiveness.  We do not usurp the province of God; we teach Truth with gentleness, firmly trusting the Holy Spirit to communicate any necessary conviction of ungodliness.  We will learn self-control so that our love is not negated by thoughtlessness or impulsive reactions, but is preserved by the stillness of unshakable faith and an uncompromised trust in God.


Our love will be manifest in acts of charity, the giving of our means and ourselves wherever our Lord calls us to serve, returning to Him a piece of His bounty that He has entrusted to us.  The love in our hearts will compel us to give generously and joyfully, for we know that sharing His goodness with another may just be the warm introduction to God a lost soul needs to find their way home to Him.  Our love is shared with others with hospitality, being considerate and kindly, welcoming guests and not treating others as unwanted, obtrusive, or otherwise unworthy of our time or effort.


Our love will be a constant in all our relations because we have learned to forgive another’s shortcomings in the same manner God has forgiven us, completely and unconditionally.  Our love for others will shine with a godly kindness that cheers the disheartened, restores hope in goodness, and reorients the recipient’s heart toward the benevolence of God.  By loving others, we will learn of compassion and be moved to redress another’s suffering and pain, and learn of the miraculous healing powers God has made available to us when we live virtuously.


Love is all the above, twined and threaded into a single thought and expression, in obedience to His will, and with proper discernment, rightly balanced for the unique considerations of any given situation.  Love gives His will top priority and is willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of another.  Love has purpose, to please God, to spread goodness instead of evil, and to help the lost find their way home to Him.  By living love, we find the abundant life Christ said would be ours in Him (Jn.10:10).


God has given us a most wondrous example of the many aspects of love being expressed singularly in the salvation history and summarized in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  Let us now seek to understand His love by attempting to discern the components of love found in this verse and see the attributes of God that are the virtues we aspire to attain.   First, a word of caution; contrasting how God loves us against how we are to love God, and then against how we are to love one another, creates some difficulties due to the uniqueness of the Almighty; comparing the infinite with the finite certainly leads to unequal findings.  However, God has given us many examples and shown us how to love despite our shortcomings and limitations (Micah 6:8), and has likewise empowered us to do so (Acts 1:8).  To use the excuse, “I’m only human” may be true for the secular world, but for the children of God it is a lie because we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit enabling us to commit acts of love worthy to present as gifts before the King.


By sending His Son into the world, we are given an unadulterated glimpse of His wisdom (1Jn.1).  With this insight, we develop a fear of our Lord with greater depth and appreciation.  We are also given the means to His knowledge and wisdom through the words and acts of Jesus.  The presence of our risen Lord in our lives enables us to love Him with a rock solid foundation of faith that leads to divinely inspired courageous actions or restraint tempered by self-control born of a godly conscience.  His plan of salvation also provides for us after His departure; at Pentecost He blessed us with the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives within us, allowing mankind to abide in His presence as Adam and Eve once did in the Garden of Eden, today on Earth and then eternally in Heaven.  The indwelling Holy Spirit helps us develop an ever-present spiritual awareness that leads to the virtues of watchfulness and remembrance of Him.  His presence brings peace and hope to souls ravaged by sin.  By pursuing purity made available though Christ, we come to know the serenity of stillness and the unspeakable beauty of Heaven while yet on Earth.  The love of God is expressed with such simplicity in John 3:16 that virtually no prior doctrinal teaching is required to understand it, and children are able to come to a saving knowledge of Him at very tender ages.  This verse challenges a soul to take a soul-searching self-assessment, the beginnings of honesty, of the ability to acknowledge Truth that leads to developing integrity based on knowledge of His Word.


The proclamation of the coming of Christ is cause for joy in Heaven and on Earth.  It gives His children much cause for thankfulness and praise as the glory of God shines with blinding brilliance in His presence.  In the perfect timing of His arrival, we see the patience of God in the many years He prepared the world by sending prophets as documented in the Old Testament books.  The Son of God coming down from Heaven to dwell among us is an act of humility on a scale that can only be understood as the love of God.  He likewise generously expresses the selfless and sacrificial qualities required to manifest goodness for the benefit of others.  His love shows us mercy because we were yet sinners when He died for us, demonstrating His acceptance of us despite our sinful state.  He affirms our dignity by saying we are worth all that Christ sacrificed and achieved for our sakes (Rom.5:8).  His charitable plan likewise provides the means for our forgiveness.   His ultimate sacrifice, dying for all our sins, upholds the justice of God, for the lawful penalty of sin is the agonizing death of total separation from God, a death His mercy makes unnecessary for any human soul to suffer. Instead, the hospitality of God invites us into His home of many rooms that Jesus now compassionately prepares for us (Jn.14:2).  In the meantime, Jesus tells us to “Go and do the same” (Lk.10:37) with the gentle assurance that He is with us always, “even till the end of the age” (Mt.28:20).



Scriptural References:



Mt. 5:43-48, Jesus instructs us to love all souls with perfect virtue

Mt.22:36-40, Jesus teaches us to love God above all things and then one another

Lk.6:27-38, Jesus tells us to love others unconditionally as our Father in Heaven loves us

Lk.10:25-37, Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors with mercy and compassion

Jn.14:15-21, Jesus says our love for Him will help keep us attuned to God

Jn.15:9-17, Jesus commands us to follow His example in loving sacrificially

Rom.12:9-21, our love is zealous, energetic and humble in overcoming evil with virtues

1Cor.13:1-13, if our love isn’t rightly motivated then all our service is corrupt

1Jn.3:16-24, if we love in Truth, our hearts will be stirred to action by our virtues

1Jn.4:7-21, our love for God and others identifies us as children of God abiding in Him






“When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us.  Artists first draw the outline of a man in monochrome, and then add one color after another, until little by little they capture the likeness of the subject down to the smallest details.  In the same way the grace of God starts by remaking the divine image in man into what it was when he was first created.  But when it sees us longing with all our heart for the beauty of the divine likeness and humbly standing naked in its atelier, then by making one virtue after another come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul ‘from glory to glory’ (2Cor.3:18), it depicts that we are being formed into the divine likeness; but the perfecting of this likeness we shall know only by the light of grace.  For through its power of perception the intellect regains all the virtues, other than spiritual love, as it advances according to the measure and rhythm which cannot be expressed; but no one can acquire spiritual love unless he experiences fully and clearly the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  If the intellect does not receive the perfection of the divine likeness through such illumination, although it may have almost every other virtue, it will still have no share in perfect love.  Only when it has been made like God – in so far, of course, as this is possible – does it bear the likeness of divine love as well.  In portraiture, when the full range of colors is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile.  Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness:  when the luminosity of love is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed in the beauty of the likeness.  Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom.13:10).  In this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love, and in the perfection of love it finds its own fulfillment.”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 288 #89


“If, as St. John says, ‘God is love’, then ‘he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him’ (1Jn.4:16).  But he who hates his neighbor, through this hatred, is separated from love.  He, then who hates his brother is separated from God, since ‘God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.’”

St. John of Karpathos (7th C.), The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg. 321


“Perfect love… loves all men equally.  It loves the good as friends and the bad as enemies, helping them, exercising forbearance, patiently accepting whatever they do, not taking the evil into account at all but even suffering on their behalf if the opportunity offers, so that, if possible, they too become friends.  If it cannot achieve this, it does not change its own attitude; it continues to show the fruits of love to all men alike.  It was on account of this that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, showing His love for us, suffered for the whole of mankind and gave to all men and equal hope of resurrection, although each man determines his own fitness for glory or punishment.”

St. Maximos Confessor (7th C.), The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 60


Chapter 13 – Recognizing Virtue – Discernment, Remembrance, and Watchfulness

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

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


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


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




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


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




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




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



Scriptural References:



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

The Philokalia Glossary


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

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


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

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



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

ibid. pg. 158-159


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

ibid. pg. 234


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

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




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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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




Discerning Truth


The “D” Test for Discerning Goodness from Evil


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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Deceptive:  misleading, lack of honesty

Defaming:  slander or libel, absence of integrity

Defeatist:  resigned to lose, absence of courage

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

Defiling:  to corrupt or make foul, absence of purity

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

Delinquent: neglecting responsibilities, lacking watchfulness

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

Demeaning:  insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Demented:   false perceptions, lack of knowledge

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

Denial:  refusal to acknowledge Truth or facts, lacking discernment

Depravity:  moral corruption, absence of goodness

Depreciating:  to devalue someone, lacking dignity and justice

Depressing:  causing gloom, an absence of joy and hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desultory: aimless, without purpose, lack of remembrance

Detrimental:  harmful, causing injury, hurtful, lacking selflessness

Devious: underhanded, indirect, lacking honesty and integrity

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

Dirty:  unholy, unclean, the absence of purity

Disdainful:  to reject with scorn, lacking compassion

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

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

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

Divisive:  creating discord or dissension, absence of faith

Dreadful:  distasteful, shocking, lacking gentleness

Dreamy:   prone to fantasy, absence of self-control

Driveling:  senseless chatter, absence of watchfulness and wisdom

Dubious:  to cause doubt, lacking in faith

Duplicitous:  deliberate absence of clarity and honesty, lacking simplicity