Before explaining the Christian virtues (completing the 7 Virtues), I’d like to point out that my friend Quincy Jones makes an accurate observation on my last post. When I say that prudence is similar to patience, a better word to use would be “wisdom.” Prudence indicates wisdom – which includes patience – but using wisdom to determine the best course of action. This is a far better term to use.
My other friend, Nelson Fonseca, pointed out that all of these virtues are likewise found in the fruits of the Spirit. This is something I wanted to address in my next segment, which will demonstrate how all humans can live under the four classical virtues and some can live under the three Christian virtues, but it takes the Holy Spirit to perfect our lives. Until we are in a relationship with Christ, who then sends the Spirit upon us, we will struggle with the virtues.
Likewise, as if to accentuate my point that our culture has taken the virtues and turned them into vices, Fox News ran an interview with Eve Mauro who spoke about how she lost her virginity around the age of 18 because “…All my friends had lost theirs, so I had to keep up my rep.” In order to keep up her reputation, she had to violate all four of the virtues in giving her virginity away to some random dance instructor. Had she lived a virtuous life then her reputation with her friends would have been dismal.
With that said…
The 3 Christian Virtues
1) Faith – there are multiple modern understandings of what “faith” means, but they’re all wrong. In the New Testament usage it can mean “proof” as in forensic evidence, or trust and loyalty (for an excellent article on the issue of faith, pointed out to me by my friend Michael Rudy, go to Tektonics). Regardless, faith as a Christian virtue means to completely trust in God. It is virtuous to consistently trust God for all things in life.
Why is faith good? The best example is of Christ submitting to the Father and trusting Him, even unto the point of death. Christ trusted the Father in all things. This “trust” doesn’t take a leap as some would like to believe. There is a rational foundation for faith. At the same time, not everything has to be explained before we’ll trust God. We can have an acceptable measure of certainty based on limited evidence and still trust Him. This is what Christ did throughout His entire life on earth.
Is having faith scriptural? There are numerous passages that deal with having faith (that is, trusting in the Lord). So many, it’s impossible to list them all here. The overall theme of Scripture is that we are to trust in God in everything we do. Psalm 118:8 even says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” This doesn’t mean we can’t trust others, but that the virtue of faith will always rely on God before relying on others.
To take this further, we cannot fulfill any of the other virtues (except for the last one mentioned in this post) unless we have faith in God. We must have faith that He will renew our hearts so that we can live virtuous lives. Without faith in Him, the four classical virtues seem empty and abstract, things that we might be able to fulfill. Once we trust Him, He empowers us to live virtuous lives for Him.
How has faith become a vice? Faith has become a vice in many ways. For one, to trust in God and lean not on our own understanding flies on the face of modern psychology in that it eradicates our ‘self-esteem.’ To believe in God is one thing. To pray to God is one thing. To have trust in Him that He will guide your steps, well that’s just crazy to the modern thinker.
To trust in God means that we must let go of ourselves, but the ego of humanity is the most prized possession we have. We like to better ourselves. We like to “re-invent” ourselves. We have this idea that no one can tell us what to do. To place our trust in God, to have faith in Him, goes beyond the modern mind.
2) Hope – This is another term that people look at and wonder, “How is this a virtue?” The modern understanding for “hope” is looking forward to something that may or may not happen. But the connotation for the Greek word (elpis) means something more along the lines of looking forward to something in anticipation and with confidence. In other words, Biblical hope is one where we know what is coming and we look forward to it.
Thus, the virtue of hope means that we have certainty in what is to come from God. Similar to trusting in God (faith), we remain certain that He will never let us down, that He has a plan, and that He is guiding us toward a certain direction. We remain certain of the truthfulness of future promised events. We remain certain of our salvation. We remain certain of the truth.
Why is hope good? It is difficult to say that God hopes in Himself mainly because what is to come for us has already come for Him (since He is eternal). At the same time, in the life of Christ we see Him hoping on the Father – thus, the mystery of God hoping in Himself. Christ hoped for His resurrection, that is, He anticipated something and expected it to actually occur.
Is hope Scriptural? Hope is scriptural; without hope, we couldn’t have faith (Hebrews 11:1). Without the expectation of what is to come, we have nothing to place our trust in. We cannot live virtuous lives if we have no expectation of future justice for doing the right things. That is not to say we perform good deeds for the reward, but merely that due to the concept of justice and God’s promises that if we display His love through virtuous living, He will reward us.
We are to have an expectation of things to come; in this expectation, we live as though these things have already come, thus we live virtuously.
How has hope become a vice? I love the quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, when Red says, “Hope is a dangerous thing.” Though the point of the movie is that hope is a good thing, the best of things, our society has seemingly bought into the idea that hope is dangerous.
There is so much cynicism in the modern world. An excellent book on the cynicism that exists is Dick Keyes book Seeing Through Cynicism (I also wrote an article on how Nihilism has entered our culture). The point is, in a society that lacks hope cynicism takes over.
In a cynical society, those who hope are often laughed at and looked at as naïve. To have hope is to lack cynicism, which according to the cynic, means you are easily duped and not enlightened. To have an expectation of goodness at some point in the future and to consequently live as though this hope has already been fulfilled is a foreign concept to the modern thinker. The modern thinker wants to hope, wants a better future, wants to believe, but deep down mocks those that actually have hope.
3) Love/Charity – I choose to use these two words because English doesn’t really have an equivalent of agape, which is the final virtue. Not only is agape the final virtue, it is the most important of all the virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13). But why is it the greatest of them all? Because if we are to live any of the other virtues, we must first love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-39). All of the virtues rest on the fact that we first love God and then love our fellow humans.
After all, if we love neither then why bother to live a moral life? If we don’t love God, then why live a moral life that demonstrates our love for Him? If we don’t love our fellow human, why live a moral life that helps humanity? In order to live a virtuous life, we must love God first and love humanity second.
The biggest mistake that people can make is to say that virtues are an obligation and leave it there. To some extent, the virtues are an obligation; but just as a father is obligated to love his child, the obligation is not a burdensome one. It comes naturally. Why? Because just as a father naturally loves his child, so should we naturally love God. When we love the Father because of the Son’s victorious work in our lives through the Holy Spirit, a virtuous life is to naturally follow. If you claim Christ, but your life isn’t one of virtue, than either the Spirit is not within you (meaning you are not a Christian) or you do not love God as much as you think you do. The proof that we love God is displayed in how we live our lives.
Why is love/charity good? Agape is the highest good because it summarizes the nature of God (1 John 4:8). This means that God is self-sacrificial (the mere act of creation was a sacrifice: God plus nothing equals God while God plus something equals less than God). When one loves self-sacrificially, when one engages in true charity where the action is done out of love for the other person, then one is engaging in the highest good. All the actions of God can in some way be traced back to either His love for Himself or His love for us. In all that He does, He does in love. Love is the beginning of virtue.
Is love/charity scriptural? Absolutely! As seen previously, the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our entire being and to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. This means that we are to sacrifice to both God and our fellow man. Until we can do either of these, we cannot live a virtuous life. The virtuous life begins out of love for God and humanity; if love for either is lacking then one can never hope to live a virtuous life.
How has charity/love become a vice? In watching a show on yachts yesterday, a billionaire said, “You know, you make all this money and then buy a multi-million dollar yacht, it’s a status symbol. What else are you going to spend your money on?” One could say, “to help the poor,” but why? That’s sacrificial and gains nothing for the rich man.
The modern concept of “love” is generally eros, that is, self-interested or pleasurable. We “love” someone and therefore have sex with the person. We “love” people in Africa and therefore help them in order to get in our karma points. Think of the concept of karma, which drives much of modern thinking; you perform good deeds for the purpose of receiving something in return. Christianity teaches that you perform good deeds purely out of love (though it is okay to hope for, that is anticipate, a good reward – but this reward is a side item, a consequence, and not an end). Such an idea of self-sacrificial love is hardly honored in the modern mindset.
We love our possessions, we love our egos, we love ourselves, and we do “good things” so long as those good things benefit us or give us a good name. True agape is hated in our culture because it requires one to give up what is most precious to that person; himself.
The only way to ever achieve a virtuous life is through Jesus Christ. Though one can reach for the virtues without Christ, one simply cannot obtain them without Him. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to accomplish this. Which means that when Christians fail to live virtuously we send off a bad image. We set a bad example. We show ourselves to be no different from the world. As Christians, we should ascribe to these 7 Virtues and seek to live them every moment of every day. We will fail, but this is no excuse to give up.