Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Spiritual fitness

We had a lecture about 'Christian virtue' at my theology course session last night. What's Christian virtue, I hear you ask... Well, the definition we were given for 'virtue' is basically 'good character', so Christian virtue just means a Christian understanding of what good character is.

Yesterday's lecture was an introduction to the topic of Christian virtue and next week we'll be moving on to look at the church's role in developing it, helping us to become better people. We were left last night with the analogy of churches being like gyms: just as gyms help us develop physical fitness so churches should help us develop spiritual fitness; that is, Christian virtue. I'll look at this in a bit more detail in a moment, but I should just say that I'd change the analogy slightly. I'd say our churches should be like fitness clubs, rather than gyms. A gym is a building and churches are communities, not buildings. So something like a fitness club (which still meets a gym but is more obviously about the people) works a bit better for this analogy, I think.

Let's have a bit of Bible to illustrate what we're talking about with Christian virtue, from Galatians 5 and 2 Peter 1:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So Christian virtue is not about academic learning, spiritual experiences, social action or correct behaviour, good and important though all these things are. These good things should all flow out of our good character, our virtue:
Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

All of this leads me to wonder how good a job our church meetings, structures and programmes are doing at developing this good character, this Christian virtue in us. I blogged a couple months ago about church meetings and this was my conclusion back then:
So in our church meetings (and in all our interactions with one another; it's not just a Sunday thing!) we should be strengthened – built up – and equipped to do God's work.

I'd like to add to this a little bit, in the light of our lecture yesterday. And that's to say how we are equipped to do God's work: we are equipped by being transformed into people of good Christian character, people full of 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'.

Dallas Willard (whom I have mentioned in the past) says this:
There is now lacking a serious and expectant intention to bring Jesus' people into obedience and abundance through training... Somehow the seriously thought out intention – not just a vague idea or wish – to actually bring about the fullness of life in Christ must be re-established.
Do you think he's got a point?

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