The Overflow

living in the overflow of God's goodness through every season

Virtues: Skills of the Soul {part 1}

FaithMakayla Stewart1 Comment
Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

"We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God." Colossians 1:9b-10 (emphasis mine)

Theology is defined as the science of God. Theology teaches us not only about the Divine but also about the doctrines we are to believe and the duties we are to practice. To me, the "science of God" sounds like a beautiful mystery to be uncovered, one where you never really reach the end but can joyously seek it forever. As G.K. Chesterton puts it, "The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man." Now, theology may not sound as exciting to you as it does to me, but theology is for everyone because theology is practical, pertaining to what we believe, which determines how we live; it affects our lives now and our eternal destiny.

"To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Proverbs 21:3). Throughout Scripture we are given many "lists of virtues or character traits that we as Christians are to practice (Romans 12:17-21; 2Peter 1:5-8; and Colossians 3:2-17 to name a few). Not only does living by them set us apart from the world, but it aids us in fulfilling our higher calling to be like Christ who perfectly modeled these virtues in His life (1John 2:6 and Philippians 2:5-11). I must make it very clear that practicing virtues and good works is not a part of salvation, nor does it make God love you any more or less if you do them. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." Rather, doing good works and practicing virtues is what we are meant to do, its what is best for us whether we realize it or not. Ephesians 2 goes on in verse 10, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." As we look at these virtues, you can hear God say, "this is the way; walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21b).

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

God has called us to live in communion with Him and with others, which also implies living with ourselves. Life like that is played out by being right with God in our own hearts and right with the people we encounter. C. S. Lewis calls it the three parts of morality: “relations between man and man: things inside each man: and relations between man and the power that made him” (Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 1). The Bible sums it up in two commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Living in perfect love then is our calling, the groundwork for how we should live.

We can now dive into the virtues as C. S. Lewis identifies them in Mere Christianity. A virtue is like a skill you develop and continually work at. We could call it a character skill. Keep in mind these virtues are for the purpose of helping us live in harmony and according to our calling and purpose in Christ. Lewis by way of introduction says, “According to this longer scheme there are seven ‘virtues’. Four of them are called ‘Cardinal’ virtues, and the remaining three are called ‘Theological’ virtues. The ‘Cardinal’ ones are those which all civilized people recognize: the ‘Theological’ are those which only Christians know about” (Mere Christianity, Book 3 Chapter 2, page 76).

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude.

Prudence

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." - Matthew 10:16

Imagine prudence as an elderly man who has seen enough of life to have gathered experience. He is always eager to learn but when it comes to making decisions he is precise in his action and confident.  Prudence is intelligent, he is knowledge but more than that it is understanding – wisdom. Prudence includes what we would call common sense. He is an educated person and one who pursues learning in life. He is sensible. But what good is all this wisdom if it is not applied? Prudence is about more than just thought; he is also about action, and more importantly he knows how and when to act. Seeing spring coming ahead, Prudence prepares for the cleaning and planting season that will come with it. Prudence knows what someone is really asking. He reads the situation and responds accordingly. Confidently, Prudence knows when to speak and not to speak, and when the speaking comes, he knows what to say and what not to say. Prudence is about not only being good but also about being intelligent. For Prudence, life is not just meant to be lived; it is meant to be lived well with the fullness of the mind accompanied by physical actions.

“The proper motto is not ‘be good, sweet maid and let who can be clever,’ but ‘be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget this involves being as clever as you can….Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence is being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education in itself” (C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 2).

Temperance

"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness." - 2 Peter 1:5-6

Picture Temperance as the middle aged son of Prudence. He carries many attributes of Prudence which make Temperance possible. Temperance by his traditional definition is going the length and no further. He knows his boundaries and limits, how far he can go with pleasurable activates. In his activities, Temperance has the skill of going as far as he can and only as far as he needs to. If it comes to giving things up, Temperance can do that but more importantly he can do it alone and not require others to join him or condemn them for doing what he has decided not to. A life with Temperance is knowing the right amount of everything for you and you personally.

“The whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying….One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons – marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning” (C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, book 3, Chapter 2).

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

Photo Credit: Olivia Garretson

Justice

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” – James 2:1

Visualize Justice as a beautiful lady who treats every person she meets fairly. She is honest and truthful and is known for keeping her promises. But in keeping with her husband Temperance, she understands the importance of give and take in situations and relationships.

“[Justice] is the old name for everything we should now call ‘fairness’; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life” (C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, book 3 Chapter 2)

Fortitude

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” – 2 Timothy 1:7

See Fortitude as the courageous son of Temperance and Justice. He takes the qualities of his parents to go as far as he can and stick to his promises despite how hard the road may get. Fortitude is all about the courage to do what you say. He is bold and brave, fearless and firm. Yet the quietness of patience surrounds him as he willingly endures through suffering. Whether or not it is a duty to himself or someone else, Fortitude is going to stick it out no matter what.

“And Fortitude includes both kinds of courage – the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain. ‘Guts’ is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.” (C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, book 3, chapter 2)

Join me in my next post, Virtues: Skills of the Soul, part 2 as we meet the theological virtues and explore more insight from C. S. Lewis.