Friday, February 28, 2014
Discipline in Christian Virtues
"The conscience is privy to all our secret thoughts and motives. It is therefore a more accurate and more formidable witness in the soul's courtroom than any external observer." [John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience]
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable." [Paul, Romans 12:2, NASB]
The concept of discipline carries with it the notion of self-control, restraint, and focus. I think of self-management. Virtue, on the other hand concerns moral excellence, honor, purity and worth. The third component, Christian, means something far more specific than contemporary culture acknowledges or even understands. The word Christian is first used in Acts 11:26 to describe the disciples of Christ. Hence, seeing that the word disciple and Christian refer to the same person according to Luke's record, the best way to understand what it means to be a Christian is to understand what it means to be a disciple. Louw Nida defines a Christian as "one who is identified as a believer in and follower of Christ." BDAG says that a Christian is one who is associated with Christ. But this NT interpreter must understand "associated with" in the same way the ancient Mediterranean culture would have understood association. For contemporary western audiences, it simply means a very light or loose connection with someone. For the ancient mindset, to be associated with someone was to be included in that group. And to belong to "any group" in NT culture was far more significant than most of us in contemporary times can understand. Suffice it to say that to be associated with Christ was an extremely significant status when Luke recorded his history of Acts.
In the ancient Church, to be a Christian was to be a disciple (in the ancient sense of disciple) of Jesus Christ. If C, then D. D, therefore C. It is a very straightforward Modus Ponens syllogism. The Modus Tollens form would look like: if C, then D. ~D, therefore ~C. In other words, if you are a Christian, you are a disciple of Christ. If you are not a disciple of Christ, you are not a Christian. Indeed, the argument is as forceful, logically speaking, as any argument can be. Using De Morgan's theorem we would say if a person is a Christian, then he is a disciple of Christ. One is either, a Christian and disciple of Christ or she is not a Christian, nor a disciple of Christ. The idea that there is a difference between being a Christian and being a disciple of Christ is entirely foreign to Scripture and to ancient, authentic Christianity. I say all that to say this: to describe virtues as Christian is to say something very specific.
What, then are some of the more basic virtues that Christians should exhibit? One of the more basic and most neglected of Christian virtues in the modern, visible Church is intellectual virtue. The intellectual sloth of a predominantly hedonistic and secular culture has had an embarrassing influence in the Christian community. The lack of introspection and self-examination, coupled with the lack of interest in the intellectual renovation commanded by Paul in his letter to the Roman Church is simply staggering.
I often wonder how many Christians actually devote serious consideration to thinking about their own salvation, their sanctification, their knowledge of Christian doctrine, and their ability to hold a conversation in a way that challenges unbelieving thought.
This brings me to the discipline of intellectual virtue. The Christian is to be transformed into the image of Christ daily. But this transformation is the distinct work of the Holy Spirit in application of God's word to the human mind, or, entire person. This is precisely Paul's point in Romans 12:2. The Greek word used in this instance is where we get our English word metamorphous. The Christian life is a life of radical transformation. When we think about the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly we begin to understand the radical nature of Christian transformation. If we understand Paul correctly, we understand that Christian transformation is dependent on the human intellect. Christians have no choice, if we are going to grow into the kind of servants that God intends, but to be heavily involved in renovating the intellect. The fact is that transformation into the image of Christ proceeds upon a transformed intellect. We are to be transformed by the renewed mind. The concept is that the renewed mind is new. In fact, the implication is that the new mind of the believer is superior. This new mind is to serve as through the transformation process by which we grow in knowledge, grace, and sanctification. What does this look like in the life of the believer, away from Sunday morning service, during the week, when we are living our lives out there, or here, in the world of darkness, in the world that offers us so much access, not only to sinful passions and pleasures, but to idle entertainment as well?
The transformation of the Christian life begins with a new emphasis upon training the Christian intellect. The discipline of intellectual virtue with the Christian involves, first and foremost, a passionate desire to know and love God with your entire being. This places the Christian in a position of needing to understand God's revelation of Himself to His Church. The Psalmist tells us that he has treasured God's word in his heart so that he might not sin against him. (Ps. 119:11) The KJV leads one to believe this means memorizing Scripture. It does not. The Psalmist is elevating God's word to a place of highest treasure and deepest regard. God's Word must be the most precious thing for the Christian because it is the only key to understanding the one God we are supposed to know and love. Jesus Christ is the Word made Flesh. (Jn. 1:14) To know God is to know Scripture and to know Scripture is to know God. A lack of enthusiasm for bible study is a sure sign that one's heart is not interested in God at all. How many Christians show amazing interest in programs at their respective Church, but very little interest in personal bible study? It is a sad state of affairs when Christians are more informed on the personal lives of modern celebrities than they are of Christ, of Paul, of Moses and others in the sacred text.
We are ending the second month of 2014. We have ten months remaining. Where are you in your study of Scripture? Most of us established goals when the year began. We established new goals at work, goals for the gym, goals for our diet, goals for many things that we consider important in our lives. As a Christian, what kind of goals did you set for 2014? Have you examined your heart and the sin that still plagues you and established goals for how you will mortify those deeds of the body in 2014? Have you enlisted an accountability partner who is not afraid to call you out when they see you slipping (and you will slip)? We all slip. I slip every day in one way, or another. The battle to mortify the deeds of the flesh is the most intense battle you will ever fight. It is exhausting! Unless you give the discipline of intellectual virtue more attention, you are destined never to make much, if any progress in sanctification. Christians are called to live a holy life. We are called to be different. Christ does not redeem us to wanton pleasure. He calls us away from the hedonism we see in most cultures around this globe.
Now is the time for you to examine your week in light of your Christian walk. Do you spend more time with modern entertainment than you do in Scripture? Do you invest more money in soccer or hunting or fishing or golf than you do knowing Christ? I once told a young man that he needed to invest in a Bible program that, at the time, ran around $200. He was amazed that I would make such a recommendation. However, I already knew this young man was an avid golfer. I knew he was about to purchase a set of clubs than would cost nearly five times that amount. What does it say about us when we are willing to spend large amounts of money on hobbies on the one hand and on the other, we recoil at making similar investments in our ability to know and understand the God we claim to love?
Not only must we be diligent and willing to make investments in tools that can help us understand God better, we must be willing to do the really hard part: deliberate. We must spend more time attempting to understand Scripture than anything else we do. The desire to understand God's word so that it will change us has to be our greatest desire. Paul tells us that word of God performs its work in those of us who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13) The word of God is on a mission. The purpose for knowing Scripture is not knowledge. It is not to formulate arguments. It isn't even so that we can teach and preach. The purpose for knowing Scripture is sanctification. The reason we desire to know Scripture is because we desire to be like Christ. The only way we can ever have the mind of Christ is by understanding the divine revelation that is Scripture.
The virtue of the Christian intellect involves having the mind of or thinking like Christ. The Christian intellect must cast off the propensity to think only in temporal terms. It must be disciplined to equip itself with the thoughts of God Himself. Christians must discipline their lives and minds to turn from entertainment, from selfish ambition, from pride, from intellectual lust, to having the mind that was in Christ. We must put away intellectual sloth. We must avoid the foolishness of secular philosophy with its unrestrained speculations and idolatry of mind as well as the laziness that is fostered in the concept of cheap grace. The Christian intellect should be exercised daily, should be familiar with critical thinking, know and understand how to use logic for God's glory, and it should be intimately familiar with the history, background, and content of Scripture. What do you know about Scripture? Do you know the books of the Bible? What do you know about the history of the Bible, the languages of the Bible, the people of the Bible? If God means anything to you at all, you need to know these things and much more. Christians are commanded to love the Lord with our entire being and that includes the intellect.