“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self -control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love. For these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)
The first thing Peter tells us to do when we receive the gift of faith is to supplement it with with virtue. I am learning the difference between adding virtue to faith rather than focusing on working to please God and currying favor with other Christians. Scripture is clear that I can’t earn God’s favor because he is all ready pleased with me. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) As a felon it’s so easy to forget this promise from God because feelings of shame which leads to fear of how other people are judging me. My focus goes directly to works because I want to convince them that I am not some sick monster defined by a wretched mistake. I feel a drive to constantly point to my works and prove that I am a changed man, but have found doing this only leads to depression and despair. I want to isolate because my flight instinct kicks in when I am surrounded by people who know my very public offense.
What is the difference between living a works based life verses living with virtue? I believe the simple answer is gratitude. God opens the door for gratitude through the propitiation of Jesus Christ. Since I am God’s beloved child I want to live a life of gratitude for the incredible gift I could never pay back. My offense was against God and God alone. He forgives me, brings healing and restoration through the work of the cross. Choosing to live in the shadows of shame is no longer an option as a Christ follower. How can I possibly hold myself in contempt when the creator of the universe has pardoned me? According to Peter I am now free to add virtue to my faith.
This begs the question, “How do you add virtue to faith?” This is not as simple an answer as I would like because we need to figure out what virtue is in a culture that has tossed the concept away in favor of loving the world and excusing base behaviors. Throughout theological and philosophical history there has been some debate about what the virtues are, but a reasonable consensus over centuries of thought point to what scholars call the “Transcendentals.” All who are sensitive to new age terminology can drop the red flag, I am not talking about transcendentalism. The root idea behind these transcendentals come from Plato’s forms.
In order to unpack this term think about the popular notion of your desire to be a humanBEING not a humanDOING. The transcendentals are the properties of being human and are defined as Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. From a Christian worldview we seek Truth, discover Beauty and desire Goodness. Since we are free from sin we are now delightfully empowered to shed works based thinking and embrace a journey of attaining the virtues of truth, beauty and goodness!
“All things desire God as their end, when they desire some good thing…because nothing is good and desirable except forasmuch as it participates in the likeness of God.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on the Virtues)
Adding the virtue of Truth In the current mood of 2020 belief says that Truth is not as important as how you feel. The art of truth seeking is a difficult proposition to untangle because Truth has a way of making you feel uncomfortable. Truth makes you face pain while feelings tell us to cover over truth with a veneer of denial and a good dose of positive self talk.
Truth can be seen as judgmental and in our woketopian world making truth claims is a vice because it can make another person feel bad about themselves. For example, in a day room conversation I told a fellow friend and inmate that I believed the Bible was more reliable than the Koran because the Bible is God’s word to us and the Koran was not God inspired. This was unacceptable to his ears because I made a truth claim about God that pointed to the exclusive teaching of Christ.
Even as some Christians read this they might say I was insensitive to my friend because it could have caused him to feel threatened or outcast. However, and here is the rub, Truth will always inform us of flaws and false beliefs we are holding that are rooted in our emotions rather than logic. If our passions, devoid of virtue, are the only thing we allow to inform us we merely add trite pleasantries that don’t challenge deeper thoughts about our relationship with God and ultimately keep us from being transformed by renewing of our mind in Christ who is the Truth.
As a felon I have had to stare my crime in the face over and over again through treatment. The work of wrapping my head around the fact that I was capable of something so evil was torturous. I lived a life of denial of pain of my own sexual abuse for so long I found what I was truly looking for while engaging sexual fantasies online was to escape the reality of my pain and sooth my anger with the flattering lips of pornography. "With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk." Proverbs 7:21
I also found the reason that I liked working at warp speed and conquering the world for the cause of Christ was also my own attempts to self medicate. It’s easy to cover up pain and hide vices like pornography by operating at light speed. I told myself “I am doing good things and that is more important to God than overcoming a sin that no one needs to know about.” Talk about adventures in missing the point!
It leaves me in worship considering how kind God is that even when I was His enemy He loved me enough to chase me down, bring unrelenting discipline of His Truth, throw me over his shoulders and take me back home. No amount of coddling my ego and soothing me with lies from hell could bring the sweet relief of the rock solid Truth of Christ’s sacred heart and divine mercy.
“My dear son, be patient, because the weakness of the body are given to us in this world by God for the salvation of the soul. So they are of great merit when they are borne patiently.” -St. Francis of Assisi
It was the first time in three months that I was allowed to go outside and walk around the prison yard. Yes, it was a deep winter freeze of a Wisconsin December but after being locked inside for what seemed like an eternity confined to small spaces with other men, it was euphoric to walk around outside by myself to be alone in thought.
The chill made me feel alive again. As I walked I looked across the prison yard a shiver ran up my back, though not from the cold. “I have over a year yet in this place.” My right shoulder tensed and a newfound anxiety tick I never experienced in 45 years of life scrunched up the right side of my face. The Holy Spirit soothed the knot in my stomach and whispered a reminder “God disciplines those whom he loves.” I chuckled and said out loud, “Well, God, you must love me very much.”
What was a time in your life when you found a vice you carefully clung to? Have you given it to God? Tell us how you found freedom through confronting yourself with truth!
Are you in ministry and struggling with pornography? You are not alone. If you want to break free and confess your sin to a non judgemental brother and anonymously begin a journey towards healing and freedom please, drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org I would like nothing more than to have sweet revenge against Satan, our common adversary. Freedom is possible!