Recently I listened to a previously recorded message by NT Wright on Christian Virtue. Here's a link to the audio, if you're interested. It'll take an hour for the main message...but totally worth it. If not, here are a few thoughts...
He presents a new metaphor, that I don't think can replace the "Jesus in my heart" talks...but can definitely expand it and describe it well. He talks about virtue in regards to the man who landed the plane on water back in January in New York. The man practiced many of the skills required for that landing over 1,000 times so that on THIS time, when it mattered most, they would come as a sort of second nature.
He then spoke of learning a second language. When we do this, it doesn't come naturally. We learn the basics first. Then things begin to make a bit more sense. We can put sentences together, although we probably make mistakes often, etc. You practice for days, weeks, months, often years. He noted that one of the greatest compliments you can give someone who has learned a second language is to mistake them for an actual native citizen.
He was quick to remind his audience that he is not advocating grace by works, or that we can earn any bit of this. But that Christian Virtue is much like learning a language. The language/lifestyle Jesus Christ spoke of in the Beatitudes and throughout his lifetime. The language of life....the language of new creation.
In moments that reminded me how over my head all of this can be, he reminded us of Plato's Cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, courage), which had "happiness" as their main goal. It's a mistake often made by humanity, and ends up in a variety of efforts, all pursuing "happiness" for the greatest amount of people as some sort of worthy and attainable moral goal.
But when we replace "happiness" with the "new heaven and new earth - new creation", we see that as Christians, virtues like Faith, Hope, and Love serve an incredible purpose, and become the mission of the Church in many ways.
May we be learning the language/customs of the Kingdom of God, and live as the citizens we are being re-created as. His Kingdom come...
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