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 if 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 1:5-8)
“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” writes Stephen Covey in his classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Perhaps he had 2 Peter 1:5-8 in mind when he wrote those words. In any case, for the believer, virtue is truly a habit of the heart that leads to Christlikeness.
Developing Biblical Character
Pastor Greg Herrick writes the following about virtues:
The “virtues” which the New Testament espouses have God’s character as their source, the Spirit as their efficient cause in the believer, Christ as their model, and love as their goal. They are developed in the context of the spiritual life. They are certainly not inherent and they can be learned, but not apart from Christ.
As Christians, we are called to live virtuous lives using our talents and gifts according to God’s design and desire.
Biblically speaking, character formation is a joint venture that includes hard work and divine grace. Hard work by itself is not enough. We must take an active part in the process of moral development, but it is the Holy Spirit that enables and inspires our growth. We need to seek divine blessing as we do our part in working towards our moral development, recognizing that any progress we make is a gift from God.
The Apostle Paul describes this process this way:
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Why emphasize the development of biblical virtues? Virtues are conducive to flourishing because God designed us to function best when possessing and exemplifying these virtues. As James Spiegle puts it in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad,
To be virtuous is to live up to the divine standard for human life. Or better, it is to embody that standard, to display it in one’s conduct.
Biblical virtues reflect the perfect character of God, and are good for individuals and communities because we were designed to function at our best as virtuous creatures.
Putting Virtue Into Practice
Therefore, it is helpful to build for ourselves a list of virtues that are important to us, as did Benjamin Franklin. But unlike Franklin, who strove to make himself “morally perfect,” our list is to help us focus on the Holy Spirit’s writing of God’s law on our hearts, and remind us of the part we must play in this process.
Choose ten to twelve virtues that are important to you and write a short sentence after each one describing how that virtue should be applied. Also include at least one Bible verse on this virtue as a reference. Then put the list in a place where you can review it on a regular basis, asking God through prayer to help you more fully integrate these virtues into your life.
The following two tables, from the paper Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in A Proposed Virtues Framework that was co-authored by Jim Lanctot and Dr. Justin Irving, will help you think through this process. The first table, The Virtues of Moral Personhood, gives a very comprehensive list of biblical virtues:
The second table, The Virtue Continuum, reminds us that like most things in the Christian life, virtues are a balance between deficiency and excess:
Hopefully these help you “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul exhorts, and draw you closer to God as you seek to be holy as he is holy.