October 28, 2012

The Righteous Life In Christ

Ah yes...another ethics post to help us understand what is ethical. For the Christian, a post to help them understand what is righteous, who is righteous and what is the ultimate measure of righteousness...as if we do not already know the answer.

The topic of this post will be virtues or specifically Virtue Ethics. The very first thing that strikes me about virtue ethics is that is not an ethic of action or what a Christian would consider being based in actions or works. Virtue ethics can affect how a person behaves but it is not based in what they do per se, it is more of what they are. Virtue ethics emphasizes the role of one's character and the virtue(s) that one's character embodies for determining or evaluating ethical behavior. Virtue ethics are also called Aretaic Ethics or ἀρετή which is Greek for excellence or being the best one can be. Living up to one's full potential for the purpose(s) that they were made for. It is an idea of excellence that is ultimately bound up with the fulfillment of purpose or function and an act of living up to one's full potential. For a Christian, this means being Christ's disciples or being little Christs.

Virtue ethic is an ethic based more in the character of the one that has it or it is more interested in being rather than doing. I see a direct correlation to Christianity that is unique to Protestant Reformed Christianity but no other religion, not even that of Roman Catholicism. It is a state or condition that is not works-based. This virtue-driven idea that is based in being is remarkably Biblical, and specifically points a finger to Reformed theology and not denominations of the faith that are works-minded theology/doctrine like the Catholic Church. Sola fide fits nicely within this description. Once Christ is accepted in faith, the rest comes as a gift of grace. It is an ethic that is more concerned with what you are not what you're doing. The change is internal if it is anywhere. The internal change is the area of the Holy Spirit that is the down-payment or guarantee (ἀρραβὼν) (Ephesians 1:14) for salvation in a believer’s conversion.

Literally, the seed of God remains within the believer to gestate to become a full-blown  Christian (1 John 3:9). Through an act of faith we assent to what Jesus Christ did on the Cross and is then are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This indwelling literally changes the inward person to make them Christ-like or more Christ-like in character. The believer is not driven by some sense of duty or moral obligation at this point. They are literally ontologically changed internally in character that, over time, manifests in a complete change at the surface of the person in a metamorphosis. The inward change literally becomes who they are and over time, their character and virtue can rub off on others drawing them to the Christian faith through appealing behavior. Fruits of the Spirit. Fruits don't pick themselves, they must be picked which implies they would be enticing enough to an observer that they would actually approach and take hold of it themselves. As I have read in other sources, a virtue ethic dovetails really nicely with the idea of justification and subsequently sanctification. The irony I believe is that the person’s virtue changes because of the presence of Christ, through the Holy Spirit in the person’s life not through anything they initiate on their own. The believer only believes what Christ has done to atone for their sin.

The Bible also tells us that:

"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Rom. 8:5-6

As Christians we are called to develop virtuous lives that are measured up against Christ’s as the benchmark for our own. Christ who indwells us through the Holy Spirit. We are told in the Bible this is the gauge of whether the Spirit is truly within us. Are we in Christ or not?

"You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness." ~Romans 8:9-10

From a biblical standpoint that means we must first be virtuous before we can behave virtuously and that virtue must ultimately originate in God since God is the wellspring for Christian behavior. The wellspring of that virtue for man is Scripture.

Proverbs 23:7 ~ "...as a man thinks in his heart, so is he."

We must think Godly before we can be Godly. We must think holy before we become holy. We see this very point, that the Bible is the wellspring of virtue (holiness) and it is also God in written form in the following two verse. Therefore they reciprocally support one another. God is indeed the source of virtue and that virtue is  encapsulated in the Bible. So by reading the Bible/Gospel we become more holy, therefore more virtuous...like Jesus Christ.

John 1:1 ~ "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

1 Peter 1:16 ~ "...for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

We therefore see that virtue ethics need to be matched up to a set of moral principles for it to work efficiently and effectively…and this is exactly what we see in the Bible. Jesus prayed in John 17:17:

"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

The Bible also tells us we must feed on every word of God.

Matthew 4:4 ~ "...It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

I also suspect that this is why we are first exhorted to believe in Christ and then we are immediately exhorted to cling tenaciously to Scripture. We even see directly in Jesus’ actions that He always referred back to Scripture thereby acting as an example for us to do the same. Especially, when we are confronted by the system of the world (κόσμος) or the Devil. It is a virtue based, not action based existence that finds its constant guidance in the Scriptures. Jesus Christ embodied the virtuous (righteous) life that the Bible outlined because the Word was God (John 1:1). The Bible (interestingly enough) is the very revelation of the mind of God and a written revelation of His very being which contained His pathos (passion/emotion), His logos (logic/reason) and yes, even his ethos (character/credibility).

In the end Christians need to embody virtue itself since Christ is virtue. The irony is that we don't even do it, it is done to us through the Holy Spirit. If it was our work it would allow us to boast. The Bible tells us this is not true. All of our virtue therefore comes from Jesus continually, therefore our righteousness does to. We need only step out of our own way and let Christ reign for us through us to reach excellence or ἀρετή

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