How Do I Live a Virtuous Life?

Living a virtuous life would be almost universally agreed upon as a good thing. We also desire to live a good and moral life that everyone respects. A virtuous life is believed to help us attain some higher level of being or at least keep us from being punished by God. Based on that belief, many religions, even Christian leaders, have created a moral code on how to live.

Moral Codes 

A famous list of virtues in Catholicism was made in 590AD by Pope Gregory I called the “seven heavenly virtues.” These seven heavenly virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, patience, and humility. Pope Gregory desired that all Christians use this list of seven heavenly virtues to live a life that would please God and oppose the seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, and pride. It is also possible that since the catholic church was very influential during the times of Pope Gregory, he desired to change the direction of the culture by pushing the seven heavenly virtues. 

Having a few virtues that need to be focused on creates a moral code and a more commonly agreed-upon societal norm. Creating moral codes is not unique to Christianity or Catholicism, but it is also seen in other religions. For example, Islam has five pillars: faith, prayer, alms to the poor, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Hinduism has seven deadly sins written by Gandhi, such as politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice. Then you could argue that the Bible in the Old Testament, with its ten commandments, are a form of a moral code (Exodus 20:1-17).  

Moral Codes Give a Sense of Empowerment

The presence of moral codes across other world religions makes people think that all religions are the same. Their moral codes all seem similar and lead to the same ideals, so why is one better than the other? I acknowledge that religions have a similarity in their moral codes, but I argue that Christianity is much different. World religions are similar in that their moral codes give a sense of empowerment that if one lives by their virtues, they’ve attained a higher level of purpose and are doing well with their god or gods. The measurement of how virtuous one is is usually subjectively defined by how you compare to your neighbour or the various guru you admire. Christianity, in contrast, tells us to look to the standard of all virtue, God, and measure ourselves next to him (1 Peter 1:16, Matthew 5:48, Ephesians 4:32). It also tells us that we’re not able to please God on our own since our best and most righteous deeds, or in this case, virtues are not good enough (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23).

Scripture has many more virtues for us to follow than just the seven heavenly virtues or the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). First, we see that scripture wants us to practice virtues (Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 4:8). We see, for example, that we’re to be peacemakers (Hebrews 12:14), loving (1 Peter 4:8), and control our anger (James 1:19). We’re also to be forgiving (Ephesians 4:32), kind (1 Corinthians 13:4), gentle (Titus 3:2), faithful (Luke 16:10), trustworthy (Proverbs 12:22), persevering (2 Thessalonians 3:13), and compassionate (Colossians 3:12) amongst many other biblical virtues. Even Peter tells his readers in 2 Peter 1:5-7 to add to their faith seven virtues. He emphasizes those seven virtues because they will help them withstand the pressures of following false teaching and becoming ineffective in their walk with God (2 Peter 1:8-15). 

Therefore, based on what we see in 2nd Peter, practising virtues will help in spiritual formation and help us withstand the temptations of a sinful life. Consider other places in scripture, such as Colossians 3:5, which says to put to death sins such as “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” Then later, Colossians 3:12 and 14 say to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. The virtues of Colossians 3:12 and 14 help fight off the sins of Colossians 3:5. Virtues, in other words, strengthen our spiritual formation. I would encourage you to practice virtues as we find in the scriptures to help you become more effective in your walk with God. 

Virtues are Not The Remedy for Sin

A word of caution is that we must not consider virtues as the remedy for sins. Thinking that if I worked hard and stayed disciplined enough, I won’t sin. Only justification and final salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross alone is the remedy for sin (Romans 3:20-24, Titus 3:3-7). Only through the power and strength of the grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit are we able now to live out the virtues the Bible pushes to grow spiritually and overcome sinful habits (Titus 2:11-12, Romans 8:13). In theory, if for some reason you can live out biblical virtues through hard work and discipline then you, as opposed to Christ, gets the glory. Therefore, admit you cannot live out biblical virtues and ask Jesus for more grace to live a disciplined and virtuous life, and he will get the glory (Titus 2:11-12).  

Virtues form us into the patterns and standards of life determined and desired by God. But to live by those virtues as determined by God is impossible apart from his grace (John 15:4-5). Don’t strive to live virtuously apart from the power of the Spirit because to do so leads to pride in being more “spiritual” than someone else. May the Lord help us to practice biblical virtues in his strength for his glory.

Reference 

  1. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/what-are-the-seven-heavenly-virtues.html 
  2. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-seven-heavenly-virtues 

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