Real Love, Real Goodness

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    Day 1: A Few Core Thoughts about Your Heart

    Read Proverbs 4:23 and Matthew 12:33-37.

    Today’s devotional thought does not focus on the Scripture references (the remaining days of the week will). Here I want to provide a little explanation about virtue, character, and the “heart” of the matter.

    The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans generally agreed that virtue is necessary for a good life. The Hebrews (the Jews) in both the Old and New Testaments had well-developed thinking about virtue or character. One of my favorite books on character is The Glorious Pursuit: Embracing the Virtues of Christ by Gary Thomas.

    That’s what virtue is all about. Becoming like Jesus. Having the qualities of character that Christ had. Being like Jesus so we can act like Jesus. Having a renewed heart out of which will flow renewed thoughts, words, and actions. Becoming like Jesus so we can love like Jesus.

    Salvation means many things. First, it means you are saved by grace through faith. Your sins are forgiven. You are accepted by God. You are justified (pronounced righteous) because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. You did not earn this. You did not deserve it. You were given it because God is a gracious, loving, and merciful God.

    Second, it means you are transformed by grace. Being forgiven and accepted is just the start of God’s love. The love of Jesus takes you just as you are, but it will not allow you to remain just as you are. Love transforms you. God’s perfect love will perfectly change you into what you are meant to be. God’s love is so intense, so great, so amazing, that he refuses to leave you alone in your sin. Even when you prefer to do what is wrong, that is never God’s will or God’s love. So, he pursues you to change you. He changes you inside. He creates holiness, love, goodness, beauty, and all good things where it was previously messy and yucky!

    Third, it means God is incredibly interested in your character. Character counts. Good character is what we call virtue. Bad character is what we call vice. Love or hate. Peaceful or angry. Gentle or mean. Humble or arrogant. The heart is the source of everything else (reread the two scripture passages mentioned at the beginning of this reflection).

    Finally, salvation means you put into practice the habits of the heart. God enlists you in the transformation process. Yes, the Holy Spirit is at work inside you, but you join in, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, by putting into practice the good things that are the evidence of a healthy heart. And you refuse to do bad things that are the evidence of a hard heart. You continue to work out your salvation because God is at work in you (Philippians 2:12-13). You put off the old nature and put on the new nature (see Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:5, 12, 14). You do all this in the strength of Christ, not on your own strength. But please note – you definitely do it. That is how God designed the maturity process. You build a great and good internal character as you put into practice all that is good, true, just, pure, holy, godly, and beautiful.

    Instructions for Days 2-6

    Use the following guidance for each of the following days:

    • Read the passage for the day twice. If you are able, the second time read it out loud. There is power in hearing what we are seeing.
    • Be sure to notice EVERY word in the list of qualities provided. For every word, do a short self-assessment. Whether the words deal with virtues or vices, with good or with evil, think about how your life revealed each word in the last 7 to 10 days. Hopefully, you will see the virtues displayed and have little of the vices shown. But, as you are able, be rigorously honest. God knows your heart.
    • For each virtue, pray something like this: God empower me to be _______ this day. Or, God give me the grace to be ______ today. And for each vice, pray like this: God forgive me for being ________.
    • For each list identify one virtue that you want to focus on for special practice. You will intentionally put that virtue into practice TODAY.  At the end of the day, assess how well you did in practicing that virtue.

    Day 2: What Love in Action Looks Like

    Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13.

    This is the famous description and explanation of love. Love is fleshed out in all of its many expressions and evidences.

    Day 3: Life by and in the Spirit

    Read Galatians 5:16-26; 6:7-10.

    In this passage, you will find one of the most striking contrasts of living life in the power of God’s Holy Spirit versus living life by the desires of the sin nature. There is warfare between the Spirit of God and the sinful nature. If you have a little extra time, reread Ephesians 4:22-24.

    Day 4: Praying for Leaders in the Church

    Read 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 6:11-12.

    In these verses, the Apostle Paul describes the quality of character needed for those in church leadership. And really, they are a good foundation for all Christian leadership anywhere. Today’s prayer assignment is a little different. Identify a church leader or two (or three). If you need to, visit our church website. Click on “I’m New” and then click “Meet the Staff.” There you will find our entire leadership team. Pray for us that we would be this kind of leader and that with these virtues of Christ in us we would be worthy of the trust and confidence you so graciously give to us.

    Day 5: An Audacious Gift and a High Calling

    Read 2 Peter 1:1-12.

    This is a rich and deep passage, loaded with treasures. Notice a progression of how we add on new virtues to the previous ones. There is an integrity and wholeness of virtue that we need.

    Day 6: Putting into Practice What You Have Put on Inside

    Read Romans 12:9-21.

    In this passage, Paul gives a list of virtuous practices. As you read this list, you will notice that every action emerges out of an inner quality of character. As you pray for yourself, pray for our entire church, that we would become this kind of people of God and community of faith.

    From an earlier week, we are reminded that Augustine and Oswald Chambers lead us well on virtue. Holiness does lead to happiness. Virtue is its own reward. Becoming good is the surest way to feeling good. You were made to become like Christ, renewed in his image, reflecting his glory. That is our greatest joy.

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