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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

10 July 2005

Virtue: The Big Three

We devoted the previous column to the so-called Cardinal Virtues, following our examination of the Seven Deadly Sins. To some degree, many people can live good lives according to them. Now we turn to the Theological (or Christian) Virtues, which are considered gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). Any appearance of these in an unbeliever is a mere shadow of their expression in the life of a Christian.

One cannot be a Christian without FAITH. In this context, faith is human response to divine activity: One believes what God says and does. Some speak of “a leap of faith,” or of “blind faith.” These are not the best ways of looking at Christian belief. Faith is not blind. No, it is seeing more clearly than the world sees. It is not trusting in spite of the evidence. It is believing God’s evidence beyond any sensory information or evidence that world and flesh put forward. Faith clings to God’s promises of forgiveness and new life. It trusts that Scripture is true when it tells us who God is, who we are, and what God has done to bring sinful humanity back to himself. Faith is centered in Christ on the cross, paying for our sins, in his leaving the tomb, freeing us from the curse of death, and in his calling us to be his children through Word and Baptism.

Faith is not a “feeling.” Emotions change. We may feel happy or sad. We may feel close to God or far from him. Faith is the certainty that God is close to us and we to him, however we feel. Emotions mislead us; confidence in God is an unwavering compass, a map that is never mis-drawn. Faith knows that “for those who love God all things work together for good. (Ro 8:28)” It trusts that God always will be active on our behalf.

The next virtue we take up is HOPE. On an earthly level, people understand hope as “wishful thinking.” For the Christian, hope is the extension of faith into the future. Hope looks forward in anticipation of a new, perfect life with him in heaven. A Christian does not hope because he wants to escape this world, but because he already knows that he will escape. Indeed, through faith the Christian has already escaped this world.

The believer doesn’t ignore this world, but he puts “the last things first,” then devotes himself to a good life in these first things. If you read about those Christians who’ve had the greatest impact in this world, you’ll see that most of them were those who thought most about the next world. Hope tells the believer that God has already made a permanent difference, and empowers us to respond by making a difference of our own. We know that what we do doesn’t end at the grave, so we build toward eternity.

Lastly we consider CHARITY, which most modern Bibles translate as “love.” This means more than helping those who cannot help themselves, although our modern definition comes out of charity being exercised in the life of the Christian. 1 Corinthians 13 expresses charity beautifully. We might call charity “Christian love,” but we need to understand this love is different from romantic, emotional love or brotherly, reciprocal love.

Charity is the conscious will to do good to and for others, whether they deserve it or not. It is an echo of God’s love for fallen humanity, of Christ dying “while we were yet sinners.” Charity doesn’t seek gratitude, but more opportunities for expression. It also desires to serve God in all we say, think, or do.

As with others of the Seven Virtues, charity also has “sub-virtues.” Among them are forgiveness, helping the poor and defending the weak, and doing good to those who hate us. Our charity always runs the risk of being tainted by pride and the desire to be praised or by envy or anger, expressed in the dislike of those to whom we are being “charitable.” Thus we ask God to forgive us and to purify our motives.

Ultimately, faith and hope will pass away. We will see clearly God in his glory, and will no longer need to be guided by faith. The future will become our present, and we won’t have to hope for our heavenly home any longer. But charity will not end. Instead, it will be completed and perfected, finding full, eternal expression in our lives with God forevermore.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Blogger a said...

Thank you for articulating the truths behind these ancient terms. This look into the 7 vices and virtues was insightful and personally convicting.

18 October, 2013 07:09  

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