In pursuit of moral excellence.
I have come across either in reading or in conversation the issue of virtues and vices. I hear it mentioned casually that everyone needs to have their vice. Their little bit of naughtiness as a release. Their own little foible or flaw that they indulge in. They know they shouldn’t, but it’s so irresistible and ironically it feels so good.
Where does that come from? I suspect it might be sourced in our declaration of independence from God in the act of disobedience that lead to the human condition that is fundamentally flawed. There is certainly a knowledge of the good. There is definitely an acknowledgement of the preference for the good. There is clearly an understanding of a sense of upset when wrong takes place. For all that, however, in establishing the good, there is also a concession that we don’t pursue it, we cannot live up to it and perhaps a resignation to just do the best we can muddling from virtue to vice. It’s as if having the knowledge of good and evil has only oriented our hearts away from the pursuit of the good.
Peter’s encouragement in his letter is to add to our faith goodness. The connection we have to God in Christ by faith should allow us to be in pursuit of goodness, of virtue or moral excellence. That still sounds radical and it is. Not just to accept our tendency to sin and indulge in that which is patently not good, but actually make it our point of duty to express the good in every aspect of our lives. It’s more than just being honest, it’s about actively pursuing what is right, true, good, pure and the best in every given situation.
Writing that out sounds exhausting. It sounds like we’re not allowed to make mistakes and have slip-ups. It will sound like that if we’re viewing it that way. Yet even that illuminates something about our natural inclinations without Christ. If we’re asking the question about where the line is of what’s allowed and what’s not, that rarely suggests that we are concerned about crossing, it does suggest that we have a tendency of veering close to the line. The pursuit of moral excellence is not even focused on the line because it’s face is not towards the dark, it’s towards the source of all that is good. If we are faced in that direction, our question is never what we can get away with, our desire is what will be pleasing and delightful in the sight of God.
When our hearts are inclined to Christ, we will have the desire to see Him living a life of moral excellence in every sphere – to friends and foe alike. We will want to see that and follow in His path. We follow Him in the Spirit, we won’t succumb to the work of the flesh that often leads us to accept moral mediocrity and then to depravity.
I am well aware that it’s not easy or always possible to live a sin-free life, to always be focused on Christ and be in pursuit of moral excellence. I am ever aware of my failings and flaws before God and before people. The love of Christ, however, never allows me to wallow in what I did. The point of grace has always been about seeing His goodness lift me to know He is able to keep me falling and keep on the path in pursuit of moral excellence.
The failing doesn’t define us. The focus should. The focus that says God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. In Christ we are connected to the one who has excelled in the good in the most authentic expression of humanity ever. He gives us the confidence and hope with each new day’s mercies that we can live in moral excellence.
It is all the more needed when we hear, see and experience the effects of fallen humanity in so many areas of our lives. Institutions hiding ugliness that is practiced as the norm. Relationships covering infidelities and disrespect. Us in our own lives struggling with those desires to yield to those vices that don’t serve us or our loved ones, but we find irresistible. The darkness is not the answer when we have those urges. Walking in the light is.
There’s a distinct invitation in following Jesus to see what life is like in the light on the individual and relational basis. That walk is one done in pursuit of moral excellence.
When we add that pursuit to our faith, we help in the process of being productive and effective in our relationship with Jesus.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden