Author archives: Molly Carman

A Closer Look at Virtue: Chastity

by Molly Carman

August 31, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part seven of seven. The previous installments dealt with kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, and temperance.

Properly defined, chastity is intentionally choosing to refrain from immoral sexual activity. Immoral sexual activity can be defined as physical acts with or entertaining sexual thoughts about people who are not one’s spouse. This virtue applies to married couples and singles alike.

It is important to note that virginity is not synonymous with being chaste. It is possible to be a chaste, sexually active married person; it is also possible to be an unchaste virgin. That’s because chastity is primarily concerned with respecting others and cherishing and honoring the sanctity of marriage. Chastity has less to do with whether or not someone is sexually active and more to do with their behavior in and outside of marriage.

From the first marriage of Adam and Eve in the garden, God created sexual desire to motivate men and women to enter the sacred covenant relationship of marriage, which is reserved for one man and one woman and is intended to be for life. Marriage is a good gift from God; it should be delighted in and protected. Scripture tells us, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). It is good, natural, and beautiful for a husband and wife to be intimately united together as one flesh (Gen. 2:24). As Paul explains, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3).

Chastity requires refraining from entertaining sexual thoughts and engaging in sexual acts while not married, and when married, remaining faithful to one’s spouse (Job 31:1). Habits of chastity can include dressing modestly, being self-controlled in dating relationships, looking to Jesus for our ultimate satisfaction, and not using others for our physical or sexual pleasure. For those who are married, chastity includes the giving of oneself to a spouse and honoring them and God with one’s body, heart, and mind.

Chastity’s opposite is the vice of lust, and it plagues both men and women. In the final chapter of her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung describes lust and how it distorts us, noting:

Lust makes sexual pleasure all about me. It is a self-gratification project…In lust, sexual pleasure is divorced from love and mutual self-giving. And when we lust we certainly want nothing to do with giving life and the future commitments that might bring…I want my pleasure, says the lustful one, and I want it now.

Lust wants all of the pleasures but none of the responsibility that accompanies sexual desire. Lust is unable to give of itself; it only takes. It takes away from the beauty of the unity between a man and a woman, the gift of new life, and the commitment of a covenant union before God.

The vice of lust has plagued humanity throughout history. But today, in our auditory and visually stimulated and pornography-saturated society that prizes anonymity, there are more temptations than ever to succumb to the temptations of lust. Moreover, television commercials, shows, movies, billboards, social media advertisements, and sexually suggestive songs reinforce the notion that modesty and chastity are concepts from an old-fashioned, bygone era. But for Christians who take their cues from Scripture rather than the culture, it is important to remember that God’s standard hasn’t changed. In fact, the standard of purity outlined in God’s Word is still binding on followers of Jesus (Mat. 5:28).

Unlike our secular culture, which either mocks chastity or declares it impossible, Scripture places a tremendous value on the virtue of chastity. For example, Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1 Thess. 4:3-6a). Lust does not honor the image of God in others or who God has called us to be as ambassadors for Christ.

Rather than indulge in the passions of the flesh, Christians are exhorted to “walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14). Lust says “yes” to the old self and the desires of sinful flesh, but chastity says “yes” to the new self which is in Christ Jesus. Like all virtues, chastity requires courage to walk away, to close one’s eyes, and renew one’s mind (Rom. 12:1) for the glory of God and the honor of others.

Throughout this series on virtue and vice, we have considered what it means for a Christian to put on the new self. As we seek to become more like Christ, we must courageously resolve to fight against the vices in our lives, which represent the old self, and put on kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity, which befit the new self. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).

A Closer Look at Virtue: Temperance

by Molly Carman

August 26, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part six of seven. The previous installments dealt with kindness, humility, diligence, charity, and patience.

Virtue can be defined as moral excellence. Someone is seen as virtuous if they exhibit morally good traits and qualities. Unfortunately, in a fallen world, virtue does not come naturally. But as we’ve seen in this series on virtue, through common and special grace, Christians can foster and grow in virtue. The next virtue we will consider is temperance (also known as self-control). Temperance is the practice of self-restraint and moderation; it teaches us to master our appetites—food and otherwise—and order them in a manner pleasing to God.

Food is necessary for life. But in His kindness, God also made eating pleasurable. People often gather around food for times of fellowship and to celebrate special occasions. Food also plays a significant role in the Christian life, as believers we are commanded to take communion together in remembrance of Christ’s work on the cross (Luke 22:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

But although gathering for meals is often a source of great joy, the good gift of food comes with its own set of temptations, particularly the temptation to overindulge. Proverbs 26:16 warns, “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” Temperance, which teaches us proper moderation, helps us resist the temptations of a disordered appetite.

Temperance is simultaneously a physical and spiritual discipline. When we practice temperance, we glorify God with our bodies. As Paul reminded the Corinthian church:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

Spiritual formation should affect all areas of life, including our physical habits. Learning to be temperate in our eating and delight in it as a good gift from God is a hard practice but a necessary one, and it begins by considering what kind of food and how much of it is good for the body.

Fasting is a habit used for cultivating the virtue of temperance. Many church denominations and traditions incorporate fasting into their liturgical calendars, Lent being the best-known example. Fasting does not necessarily have to be from food. We can fast from any number of things, including social media, entertainment, or shopping. However, these activities are not essential to life; we could live without them and be perfectly fine. But fasting from food is unique in that it increases the physical ache that reminds us that “man does not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8:3, Mat. 4:4). This exercise increases our knowledge of dependency on God for life and satisfaction. It is He alone who sustains us (Ps. 54:4).

The temptation to overindulge is often manifested in the vice of gluttony, which misleads us into seeking food or other material things for comfort. Philippians 3:19 demonstrates this folly, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Rebecca DeYoung echoes this scriptural warning in her book Glittering Vices when she explains, “The glutton eats for himself, and his mission is to gratify his own appetites. His mission is ‘pleasure first,’ and he orders the rest of his life around that goal. His god is his belly, and he serves it faithfully.”

It needs to be noted that food deprivation isn’t necessarily virtuous. In fact, a disordered relationship with food can lead us to overeat or undereat. Currently, over a third of the American population is considered to be clinically obese. Meanwhile, many intentionally starve themselves. There are a variety of causes for these conditions, a spiritually disordered relationship with food among them. When we overeat or undereat specifically out of a desire for comfort or control, we neglect to acknowledge God’s goodness, sufficiency, and authority.

Gluttony tempts us to rely on physical food and objects for happiness and satisfaction. It pleads “just one more” but is never satisfied. On the other hand, temperance says “enough” and encourages us to rely more on spiritual food and the gifts of God for satisfaction and fulfillment. Gluttony will tempt us to believe food is not a good gift from God. It will disorder our relationship with food to the point of deprivation and a desire for control. Temperance reminds us that God is in control and teaches us to delight in God’s blessings.

A Closer Look at Virtue: Patience

by Molly Carman

August 24, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part five of seven. The previous installments dealt with kindness, humility, diligence, and charity.

Patience is the capacity to accept delay, suffering, or interruptions in a reasonable and prudent manner. This virtue encourages measured and appropriate responses to comments, critiques, challenges, or criticisms. It encourages us to wait, take a step back if necessary, and consider the full implications of a decision before proceeding. In the Bible, Jesus fully embodied this virtue. He overlooked arrogance from religious leaders, did not criticize or condemn the skeptical, listened to the desperate, and endured much suffering. Patience is selfless; it prioritizes relationships over immediate personal wants and desires.

Patience is ultimately an expression of love. In On the Morals of the Catholic Church, XV.25, Thomas Aquinas wrote, “I hold that virtue is nothing other than perfect love of God.” In 1 Corinthians 13, the well-known passage about love, Paul begins by saying, “Love is patient.” It is noteworthy that Paul says love is patient before he says love is anything else. Cultivating the virtue of patience is part of learning how to truly love God and other people.

The first habit of patience is learning to be patient with ourselves as Christ sanctifies us to become more like him. The second habit of patience is learning to be patient towards others and extend loving kindness towards them. And finally, the third habit of patience is rejoicing in the truth of God’s love and patience towards us as we persevere in the faith.

Anger, the opposing vice of patience, is often referred to as wrath. But these are not entirely the same, because anger can be an appropriate response in certain circumstances—but only when it is a measured response and not brash. Wrathfulness, on the other hand, is a disproportionate and immature response to a situation. In Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung says that the primary concern with this vice “is that anger so disturbs reason that it twists any real concern about sin or injustice into service of self—protecting our own ego, demanding something from the world we would not reasonably expect from anyone else, feeding our own reputations for righteousness instead of admitting our complicity. True selflessness would eliminate anger.” DeYoung agrees with Aquinas, who believed that wrath inhibits the virtue of patience. When we are wrathful, we get angry too easily or quickly, are disproportionately angry, or stay angry for longer than is appropriate. In contrast, patience waits to respond, discerns a reasonable response, and is quick to forgive.

Many Scripture passages commend the virtue of patience. A few examples:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19)

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (Prov. 15:18)

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (Ps. 37:8)

Notably, the Bible refers to God’s wrath in several places. For example, the prophet Nahum wrote:

A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; the Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. (Nahum 1:2)

However, it is important to remember that whenever Scripture refers to God being angry or displaying His wrath, it is always a proportionate response to human sin and wickedness. Moreover, the Bible is quick to affirm that although God displays His wrath against sin, He is also “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh.9:31; Ps. 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). God is angered by sin, but He never sins in His anger.

As Christians, we must learn to be imitators of God in regard to how we manage our anger (Eph. 5:1, 4:26). We must practice not being easily angered (Ecc. 7:9) or unreasonable in our response towards situations and/or individuals (Col. 4:6).

Patience means setting aside our pride and humbling ourselves to be teachable and gracious. If we want to become patient, we should practice it in our lives, paying special attention to the opportunities we are given to practice patience every day. We should also pray specifically for patience. When we pray for patience, we should pray for courage to enter every conversation and situation with kindness, humility, diligence, and charity. The virtuous life is interwoven; we must practice all the virtues, and all the virtues encourage the practice of each other.

A Closer Look at Virtue: Charity

by Molly Carman

August 17, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part four of seven. The previous installments dealt with kindness, humility, and diligence.

The first three virtues outlined in this series—humility, kindness, and diligence—promote and encourage a right relationship with God and with others. Kindness teaches us to see others rightly, humility teaches us to see ourselves rightly, and diligence teaches us to respond rightly to God’s free gift of love. The final four virtues—charity, patience, temperance, and chastity—teach us how to practice a virtuous life in relation to the world and our bodies.

Charity is the voluntary and cheerful giving of one’s money or possessions to someone in need. It is characterized by a lack of stinginess or hoarding. A charitable person lives life openhandedly, receiving and relinquishing the gifts that have been given to them—possessions, means, and blessings—with a content heart.

It is important to note that charity is not practiced out of guilt or obligation. Charitableness is joyful generosity. As the apostle Paul explained, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:17). In addition, charity is not practiced out of a desire to look good in front of other people or draw attention to one’s wealth. Jesus encouraged us to give in secret so our reward for our generosity would be from God, not man (Mat. 6:1-4).

The amount a person gives isn’t what determines how charitable they are. Instead, a person’s charitableness hinges on their attitude when they give and how generous they are in relation to their means (e.g., the widow’s mite: Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4). Furthermore, charity is more about a desire to share the blessings of God with others rather than check-off the completion of a command. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” The virtue of charity requires sacrifice, which encourages Christlikeness. Charity glorifies God because we give what He first gave us, makes us more like Christ, who gave everything, and blesses the world who is in need.  

Charity is not just about how we give, however, but also how we receive. We are often ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help when we are in need because we do not want others to feel obligated or pity us. But just as we must learn to give cheerfully, we must also practice the habit of receiving cheerfully with gratitude in our hearts to God. Charity reminds us that we are stewards of blessing and servants to one another and our neighbors, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17). But we cannot always know who is in need until we confess that we need one another and give fellow believers an opportunity to practice this virtue.

When practicing charity, we must be on guard against the vice of avarice, or what we commonly call greed. Avarice is an obsession with money and the things that it can buy. In her book, Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung says two habits lead to avarice. First, we feel entitled to receive and keep the wages we have worked for because we earned them. Second, we are afraid of having nothing, so we give nothing. In other words, avarice teaches us to view what we have as “mine” instead of blessings from God and puts us in a perpetual state of fear of losing everything. Living our lives feeling entitled and fearful of losing what we have, hinders us from giving to others.

Avarice has harsh and deadly consequences. As Paul warns Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Even the exceedingly wealthy King Solomon warned against this vice, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecc. 5:10). Although the Lord blessed Solomon with great wealth, he counted all his gold and riches as vanity in comparison to the glory and gifts of God.

John Chrysostom (347-407), an early church theologian, said, “When you are weary of praying and do not receive, consider how often you have heard a poor man calling, and have not listened to him.” His words of wisdom echo Proverbs 21:13, which says, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” Unfortunately, in our culture today, avarice is always pulling for our attention and making us feel justified as we hoard the blessings of the Lord. This vice taunts our soul’s desire for satisfaction, but material goods will never satiate our longings.

In his book The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Whitmel Earley notes that when we are satisfied in the love of Christ, we will turn to the world with love. Alternatively, if we are blinded by avarice, we will turn to the world for love, believing that acquisition will save us. To keep ourselves from being led astray by avarice, let us encourage one another to, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

Charity reminds us that everything we have is from God (James 1:17). One way to start cultivating this gift is by not owning anything that you would not share, give away, or could live without. We must remember that it is by God’s grace that we have everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and we need not be anxious for anything (Mat. 6:25). Christians have been given the greatest gift of salvation and because of the grace and charity that has been given to us, much is required of us. The cultivation of charity reminds us of how we have been blessed to be a blessing to the world.

A Closer Look at Virtue: Diligence

by Molly Carman

August 12, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part three of seven. The two previous installments dealt with kindness and humility.

The third virtue Christians should strive to cultivate is diligence. Properly defined, diligence is careful and persistent effort. Like kindness, diligence does not work for the sake of recognition but finds delight and satisfaction in good work for its own sake. Diligence does not despise work or overindulge in rest and play. Instead, it embraces work as an expression of love and care.

Paul encouraged the early church to be diligent in everything, to the glory of God:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24)

In the book of Proverbs, we are told that the diligent person will come to a good end:

The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. (Prov. 12:24)

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes to poverty. (Prov. 21:5)  

When life presents challenges and trials, diligence helps us to press on no matter what. In The Works of the Reverend and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ, the 16th century Puritan pastor Richard Greenham said diligence “makes the rough places plain, the difficult easy, and the unsavory tasty.” In other words, diligence fosters a teachable spirit and the disposition to rest in the truth that God knows best when we find ourselves in the rough places of life (Prov. 16:9). Diligence would not be necessary if life were easy and always smooth sailing. But since life isn’t easy, we must practice diligence to persevere through discipline and trial (Heb. 12:7).

Sometimes, God calls us to do work we would have never chosen for ourselves. But diligence teaches us to learn contentment, being grateful for the work that lies before us, no matter how hard it is (Phil. 4:12). We respond with diligence, not because of our own abilities, but because we trust in God to complete every good work that He has already begun in our lives (Phil. 1:6). This promise applies to our daily lives as we physically work and to our spiritual lives as we allow God to work in and through us, sanctifying us into the image of Christ—the new self of the virtuous life.

When diligence is neglected, we can become slothful. When most people hear the word “sloth,” they think of laziness. The slothful person is indeed lazy. However, slothfulness is not an exact synonym of laziness; rather, it denotes a certain type of laziness. Historically, the vice of slothfulness has also been called acedia—spiritual or mental apathy.

In Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung says, “Sloth has more to do with our laziness about love than laziness about our work.” Sloth is resistant to the demands of love, and therefore apathetic towards the sanctifying work of love. Love is not easy; it requires work and commitment. In other words, the sluggard and the ambitious workaholic can both suffer from slothfulness.

The love of Christ is not something that we earn; it is a gift. But Christ’s free gift of love is meant to elicit an active response from us. Once we have received the gift, we must engage in the hard work of loving and being known. This work is uncomfortable and wonderful all at the same time. Among other things, it means accountability and a willingness to change.

The sluggard wants all the benefits of love without any of the investment or commitment. Meanwhile, the workaholic believes that Christ’s love is conditional on their performance; they work hard because they do not fully trust that Christ’s love will remain when they fail.  

To the sluggard, Proverbs 6:6-8 says:

Go to the ant … consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

The ant considers what needs to be done and diligently goes about the task instead of waiting for another to complete the work. However, the benefits of cultivating diligence in one’s life transcend developing a good work ethic. Diligence fosters a right relationship with our work, affecting how we complete it and for Whom we ultimately do it. The tragedy for the slothful is that, in the end, they resist their greatest desire—love—because of what it requires of them. As Solomon explained, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Prov. 13:4). On the other hand, the workaholic must learn to work within their limitations for the glory of God and not themselves (1 Thess. 4:11-12). If we are tempted to overwork as a means of “earning” the love of God or others, we must learn to grow our reliance on God, knowing that it is not out of our own strength that we do anything (John 15:4-5).

Diligence is an active response to Christ’s free gift of love. It encourages us to be who we are called to be in Christ (the new self) and not settle with who we were (the old self). Our culture tempts us towards both extremes of sloth. We consume ourselves in work or avidly avoid it, forgetting the purpose of the work itself—to change and transform us into the image of Christ. Changing habits and cultivating virtue requires work. In other words, it demands the virtue of diligence.

A Closer Look at Virtue: Humility

by Molly Carman

August 10, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

This is part two of seven. You can read part one (kindness) here.

The first virtue that we discussed, kindness, is concerned with seeing and treating others rightly. The second virtue, humility, is concerned with seeing ourselves rightly.

Humility is a difficult virtue to cultivate and maintain because as soon as someone thinks they have become humble, they likely no longer are. However, Scripture speaks of humility as a disposition that is essential to a righteous and holy life. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Furthermore, Proverbs speaks frequently about the virtue of humility: “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life” (22:4), and “Humility comes before honor” (18:12b). Christ himself was characterized as the humble servant who denied himself to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ’s example of humility (Mat. 16:24).

If humility is the practice of rightly ordered perception of oneself in relation to others and before God, how then should we perceive ourselves?

As in everything, we ought to take our cues from God’s Word. First of all, the Bible tells us that all humans are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Therefore, everyone—including ourselves—possesses great dignity and worth on account of our Creator (Ps. 139:14, Mat. 22:20-21). Elsewhere, the Bible says that mankind is created “a little lower than the heavenly beings” and “crowned with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). This high view of humanity is tempered by the reminder that we are made of dust (Gen. 2:7, 3:19; Ps. 103:14; Ecc. 3:30) and are mortal, our lives are like a vapor (Gen. 6:3; Ps. 39:5, 78:39, 144:3; James 4:14). Furthermore, all humans have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, Is. 53:6). Not one of us is righteous—we all need a savior (Rom. 3:10-11, 6:23). This knowledge should shape the way we think about ourselves, others, and our standing before God.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explained a common misconception about humility: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” In other words, humility is not a feeling of low self-esteem. Such thoughts lead to ungodly habits of self-degradation and idolization of others. True humility courageously decides to consider other’s well-being before your own and acknowledges God’s holiness and authority.

Unfortunately, humility is often torpedoed by the vice of vainglory. Vainglory is not simply vanity (i.e., the obsession with physical looks, beauty, or fashion). Rather, Rebecca DeYoung describes vainglory as being concerned with the display or manifestation of excellence. Everything that a vainglorious person does is for the purpose of being noticed, recognized, and admired. In other words, the world is their stage, their reputation is everything, and everything they do caters to their reputation. Some people struggle with vainglory more than others, but it plagues us all.

Social media entices our appetite for vainglory. Every post, comment, like, and share of our perfectly arranged and photoshopped lives encourages this vice. Vainglory wants others to be impressed and admire our “good” deeds. The temptation takes shape when we embellish our stories, do a good deed so that others will see, or lie about our abilities to get flattery and attention.

When we are vainglorious, we frivolously strive after man’s approval while neglecting to give glory to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Vainglory seeks to satisfy our deepest desire—to be known and loved. But unfortunately, this vice will leave us more desperate and confused in the end, because it cannot quench a desire that only God Himself is capable of satisfying.

Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Let us not become desirous for vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26). The remedy for vainglory is humility. When we step back from our own reflection in the mirror and instead seek to reflect Christ to others, the seeds of humility can begin to take root in our lives. While vainglory shouts to the world, “here am I, look at me,” humility cries to God, “here am I, send me.”

The habits of vainglory and the habits of humility do not occur overnight. Both grow out of small decisions that we make about how we will live our lives. Humility is a conscious decision to choose habits of servanthood, selflessness, and stewardship. This virtue begins by honestly assessing our habits of life and how we are hindering ourselves from virtuous living. Humility begins with asking the Lord to search and know us, examining our hearts, and practicing giving glory to God alone (Ps. 139:3-4). Humility teaches us to see ourselves rightly before God and in relation to others. When we see ourselves rightly, we live more peaceably with all, especially with ourselves.

A Closer Look at Virtue: Kindness

by Molly Carman

August 3, 2021

According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). They are counter to and often inhibited by the vices of envy, vainglory (pride), sloth, avarice (greed), anger (wrath), gluttony, and lust.

Virtues and vices are not personality traits; instead, they are the result of our habits. These habits transform us from the inside out, one decision and action at a time. Thankfully, habits can be changed, but they are not changed through passivity. Change requires a willingness that is intentional, tenacious, and consistent. By familiarizing ourselves with the seven virtues—and their opposing vices—we can develop new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.

The first virtue we will consider in this seven-part series is kindness.

Put simply, kindness is the disposition of being considerate, service-minded, and concerned for others’ well-being, without desiring or expecting anything in return. This virtue is discussed and commended throughout Scripture. Paul talks about kindness in almost all of his letters to the early church. He commands them, “Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). In addition, Paul says that we should, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

In the 2015 film adaptation of Cinderella, Cinderella’s mother charges her daughter to “Have courage and be kind.” This simple piece of advice is very insightful. Kindness requires courage because it goes against the current of a self-centered world. And the best examples of courage require kindness because they involve being considerate and aware of the needs of others.

Cultivating the virtue of kindness is challenging precisely because it immediately confronts our human desire to be seen and noticed. Our culture is a conditional one—we give so that we can take. But kindness requires us to give with no expectation of getting anything in return. It requires denial of self for the benefit and building up of others.

Kindness is often inhibited by the vice of envy. In her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung makes the distinction between covetousness (jealousy) and envy, noting:

The covetous person delights in acquiring the thing itself, while the envier delights in the way redistribution of goods affects her and her rival’s respective positions. Thus, it gives the envier satisfaction to see her rival’s good taken away, even if she herself does not acquire it as a result.

Envy is a result of the habit of not loving one’s neighbor. To love is to will the good of another, but to envy is to delight in another’s demise. Proverbs 14:30 warns, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” Envy destroys one’s own soul.

In today’s society, envy is encouraged through the proliferation of social media and a culture of comparison. As we become more self-centered and desire recognition and praise, we begin to idolize our success at the expense of another individual or group’s failure. Kindness refutes these impulses by pursuing peace and healing with one’s neighbor. Moreover, kindness recognizes that retribution will not heal or satisfy any past pain, but by serving and considering one another, we will restore unity.

The first step to cultivating the virtue of kindness and overcoming the vice of envy is, as W. H. Auden wrote in his poem Many Happy Returns, to “love without desiring all that you are not.” Scripture consistently praises the virtue of kindness. When we implement habits into our lives that encourage this virtue, we will be transformed more into the image of Christ.

How Should Christians Think About “Wokeness”?

by Molly Carman

July 22, 2021

Since its beginnings in the first century, the church has faced varied resistance from the surrounding culture and challenges to the gospel. Recently, a new challenge has emerged: “wokeness,” or the state of being “woke.” Merriam-Webster identifies “woke” as a slang term meaning being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” On the surface, wokeness might sound like seeking justice and showing concern for the weak and oppressed—things the Bible urges us to do (Isa. 1:17, Micah 6:8). However, wokeness often embraces theories and ideologies inconsistent with or even hostile to the Bible. Many well-intentioned Christians—out of a desire to be compassionate, accepting, and loving—are succumbing to cultural pressure to conform to woke ideology, likely unaware of its unbiblical tendencies.

To help Christians think biblically about wokeness, Owen Strachan, FRC’s Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview, has written a new book, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement is Hijacking the Gospel. In the book, Strachan walks through the history of woke ideology and examines its consequences in American culture and the church. He also consults Scripture to give Christians advice for responding to the woke movement.

Wokeness in the Culture and the Church

The first two chapters of Christianity and Wokeness examine how woke ideology is entering the culture and, more consequentially, the church. According to Strachan, “wokeness” means to be “awake” and in tune with the prevailing zeitgeist. Critical Race Theory (CRT), which sees society as an intentional system of power structures meant to oppress others based on their skin color, is currently the most well-known example of woke ideology. CRT purports that “White Privilege” is at the root of social justice issues and must be eradicated. 

The 21st century American church has been both passively and actively incorporating woke ideology into their institutions and practices. Strachan observes that some Christians have started apologizing for and repenting of their “whiteness.” Often these actions are prefaced with the proposal that we should change the gospel to fit with woke ideology so that brothers and sisters of color will be more comfortable in the church. While true racial reconciliation is an important outworking of the gospel (Eph. 2), wokeness changes the gospel by teaching that white people are never able to fully repent for their actions because they are inherently racist by nature of being white. But the gospel says all have sinned, and everyone can be fully redeemed through the work of Christ. With its different view of sin and redemption, wokeness undermines the gospel. This is why Strachan argues, “[W]okeness is not a prism by which we discover truths we couldn’t see in a Christian worldview. Wokeness is a different system entirely than Christianity. It is, in fact, ‘a different gospel.’ But it is not just that. In the final evaluation, wokeness is not just not the Gospel. Wokeness is anti-Gospel.”

Why is Wokeness an Ungodly System?

In chapters three and four, Strachan outlines his concern with the theological and cultural implications of CRT and woke ideology. First, he encourages believers to guard their hearts and minds, noting the apostle Paul’s admonition not to be taken captive by false philosophies (Col. 2:8). Strachan argues that wokeness represents a man-centered gospel that takes others captive through legalism rather than setting them free in the grace of Christ. In other words, wokeness says that only your works can save you—but you can never actually accumulate enough works to satisfy its requirements. Ultimately, this philosophy promises so much, only to abandon its followers in the end.

Furthermore, Strachan provides guidance for responding to unbiblical ideologies. According to Strachan, wokeness calls into question the sovereignty of God and contradicts Scripture by saying that the root of all evil is “whiteness.” But, as Strachan explains, “[in] biblical terms, ‘white’ skin is not our biggest problem. Sin is.” He goes on to say, “If you have been convicted and demeaned for your skin color or heritage (whatever each may be), you have been wronged.” Woke ideology turns humans against one another, and results in individuals being judged by the color of their skin and status in society rather than the content of their character or their status in the eyes of God.

The Bible and Ethnicity

Because questions of race and ethnicity are so closely tied to woke ideology and CRT, chapter five and six provide an in-depth study of what the Old and New Testament have to say about our identity as human beings. Strachan explains how Genesis teaches that all humans are equally part of one human race. Although we may have different skin tones, languages, or ethnicities that distinguish us, we are all human beings who are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).

Further, the doctrine of the fall—not CRT—explains the fractured relationships present in humanity. It is not the differences between our skin colors that make us misunderstand, betray, and abuse one another but the sin that infects us all. One tragic consequence of the fall is the sin of racism, which is one way that humans wrongly show partiality. God is not elitist and shows no partiality to anyone, as the apostle Paul frequently discusses in his letters (Rom. 2:11, 10:12; Gal. 2:6, Eph. 6:9). The New Testament also demonstrates how everyone can be united and reconciled in Christ through the gospel message (Eph. 2:14-18, 2 Cor. 5:16-21). God desires that, ultimately, every tribe, tongue, and language be untied in Christ to form the household of God (Eph. 2:19; Rev. 5:9-10, 7:9, 21:3). As Strachan explains, “Distinctiveness is no bad thing and is, in truth, a gift and blessing of God—but unity will be our song in all the ages to come.”

The Response to Wokeness

The final chapter of Strachan’s book considers the reality of American history, specifically slavery and the civil rights movement. He concludes with recommendations for how Christians can respond to woke ideology in a biblical way, reminding his readers: “We cannot fall silent. We cannot stand by as people around us are taken captive by wokeness or any ungodly ideology.”

Although Christians ought to recognize racism’s sinfulness and the necessity of repentance for racist thoughts, actions, and attitudes, they should also recognize that certain groups of people are not inherently racist simply because of the color of their skin. Strachan concludes, “Wokeness is advancing far too quickly to treat this matter lightly, or to assume that these issues will simply ‘go away.’” He reminds his readers, “No—they will not go away. As we have argued throughout the book, strongholds and false ideologies must be destroyed, not ignored or treated with a softshoe approach.”

May we all heed this timely warning and put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17) to stand firm against all unbiblical ideologies in our day and proclaim the gospel of truth.

Owen Strachan’s recent interview about his new book on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins can be viewed here.

How to Respond to Your Friend Who Is Leaving the Faith

by Molly Carman

July 13, 2021

In its annual American Worldview Inventory report, the Cultural Research Center announced the results of a nationwide survey that revealed, among other things, that only six percent of American adults hold a biblical worldview—an all-time low. For some, this statistic might be just another number. But for others, this statistic is deeply discouraging because it is indicative of their friends and family leaving the Christian faith.

Many Christians are taught how to share the gospel with non-Christians, but what’s often not taught is how to respond when those who were raised within the church, have heard the truth, and even perhaps once believed in the gospel walk away from the faith. Individuals may choose to leave Christianity for a variety of reasons, perhaps because of a painful experience (e.g., a church split or being a victim of abuse), doubts left unanswered (or feeling rejected when their doubts are voiced), or a sin they want to participate in. No matter the reason, Christians need to respond to our friends’ situations and choices with grace, humility, and compassion.

Here are four steps you can take when responding to a friend who has announced they are leaving the faith.

1. Listen and Learn

Listen to what your friend has to say. James wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). If your friend is willing to share their reasoning for leaving the faith, it is best to hear them out rather than berating them or getting defensive. Choosing to leave the Christian faith is no small decision, one your friend has most likely wrestled with in private. Your friend’s heart will likely grow harder towards Christianity if you respond to their decision with hostility and rebuke.

Listening will also provide you with an opportunity to learn any areas in which your discipleship of them or fellowship with them as believers may have fallen short. Do not assume that you already know why your friend is making this choice. If they are willing to confide in you, be fully present and listen to their story.

2. Ask Questions

After your friend has confided in you, you can ask questions. Some of the best questions to start with are:

  • What has led to this decision?
  • What has been hard?
  • What has been good?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • What do you need right now?

By asking thoughtful questions, you can learn how your friend has been processing, thinking, and reasoning through this choice. Your job in these conversations is not to be right, win a debate, or convince your friend to change their mind. Instead, your job is to seek to understand how they came to their conclusions. Leaving the faith is a serious choice, and we must take our friends seriously and choose our words judiciously: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Prov. 21:23).

3. Offer Encouragement

Offer encouragement to your friend. That is to say, do not encourage them to leave the faith. Instead, encourage them by letting them know that they are not alone in struggling with their faith.

Being a Christian comes at a price. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He also said that the world would hate and despise those who love and follow Him (John 18:15-25). Being a Christian also does not mean never struggling with sin or having doubts. In Romans 7, Paul describes the struggle with sin that Christians will continue to have.

We should reassure those who are thinking of leaving the faith that it is okay to have doubts, falter, struggle with sin, or be weary or afraid. Be careful not to puff yourself up (1 Cor. 8:1). Instead, show your friend empathy, remembering that you are a human as well. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ask God for the words to say to encourage your friend.

4. Pray

Finally, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Only God can change your friend’s heart and mind. It is God who turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezk. 36:26). Pray to have the self-control to listen, the wisdom to ask good questions and seek understanding, and the love and courage necessary to uplift your friend and speak life into their situation if invited. Do not give unsolicited advice but keep that door open and pray that the words of your mouth would be pleasing to God (Ps. 19:14). Pray for your friend’s healing and renewed trust. Pray that God would reveal Himself to your friend and that they would respond and not reject the truth. Also, invite other Christians to pray with you for those you know who are leaving the faith.

Our hearts should break for those who are discouraged, scared, or disillusioned and are considering leaving the faith. We must continuously build one another up in Christ:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:23-25)

Olympics Foreshadow Bleak Future for Women’s Sports

by David Closson , Molly Carman

July 9, 2021

In the lead-up to this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, participating nations are holding tryouts to determine who will represent them at the 32nd Olympiad. Some of these tryouts have generated controversy, such as when American hammer-thrower Gwen Berry turned her back on the American flag during the anthem. However, the most controversial story to emerge from the tryouts so far is New Zealand’s decision to include Laurel Hubbard on the women’s weightlifting team. Hubbard, a biological male who identifies as a transgender woman, will compete against female athletes at the Olympics.

The Olympics are not the only sporting event where female athletes are having to compete against biological males. For example, for the past few years, high school girls in Connecticut have competed against (and lost to) biological males in track and field. Even though a handful of states have passed legislation to preserve women and girls’ sports, most Americans remain unaware of the threat gender identity ideology poses to the future of women’s athletics.

How should Christians think about and respond to storylines relating to transgenderism and the Olympic Games (and sports in general)?

First, we must recognize that the underlying issue is a rejection of reality and a denial of truth.  Allowing biologically male athletes to compete in women’s sports denies important truths for the sake of supporting personal experiences and beliefs that are not grounded in reality.

Truth aligns with reality. We can know that truth exists because the evidence is all around us. Take for example the simple mathematical equation 2+2=4. Not only is there an answer to the equation, but it is knowable—we can comprehend the answer because it logically follows. Furthermore, the answer is objective—it doesn’t matter if you want 2+2 to equal something different, the correct answer will only ever be 4. The answer is also absolute—it will not change through time or space, 2+2 will always equal 4. Finally, truth is exclusive—all other answers are wrong, no matter what.

Although we may not always know the answer, that doesn’t mean that the answer does not exist or that we should make up our own answer. Declaring 2+2=5 is wrong, regardless of how much we wish it to be true or how sincere we are in making the declaration. It is wrong for athletics to accommodate a person’s declaration that they are female when they are biologically male, even if the declarer is sincere. Research demonstrates that biological males have a significant, physical advantage over biological women, even if they have taken hormones to suppress their testosterone.

Second, we must remember that Christians are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Our culture has told us that love accommodates, applauds, and supports individual desires over objective reality. Despite what our culture says, the Bible tells us love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). It is through graciously speaking the truth that we best love our neighbor. As Creator, God is the ultimate standard of truth (John 8:26, 17:17) and He defines what is good (Psalm 25:8, Luke 18:19). God desires Shalom for the world, where things are the way they ought to be.

Tragically, things are not how they ought to be. The world is broken due to sin (Gen. 3). Because of this brokenness, our subjective personal experiences or desires can conflict with the truth. Without a standard of truth, our experiences can deceive and mislead us. When Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He was showing us that He is the objective standard of truth around which we should order our lives.

Truth can be controversial and unpopular at times, but that does not make it any less true. Because we live in a broken world, we will face challenging and heartbreaking situations. As Christians, we can take comfort that our experiences do not have the final word, our pain is never wasted, and our struggles have a purpose (Rom. 8:18-30). Without knowledge of the truth, we will not know how to respond to our experiences or process them well. So, let us live in truth and exhort those around us to abide in Christ’s word, for then we will “know the truth” and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

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