We can look upon salvation in relationship to time—that is past, present, and future.
We were saved from the penalty of sin and its guilt when we believed: "And Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'" (Luke 7:50 NLT); "Then he brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31 NLT); "The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God." (1 Cor 1:18 NLT); "Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing." (2 Cor 2:15 NLT); "God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God." (Eph 2:8 NLT); "For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus." (2 Tim 1:9 NLT).
We are being saved from the power of sin by the very same faith: "Make them holy by Your truth; teach them Your word, which is truth." (John 17:17 NLT); "Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God's grace." (Rom 6:14 NLT); "Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him." (Phil 2:12-13 NLT); "And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." (Rom 8:2 NLT); "So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves." (Gal 5:16)
We will be saved from the presence of sin: "This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." (Rom 13:11 NLT); "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see." (1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT); "See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don't recognize that we are God's children because they don't know Him. Dear friends, we are already God's children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is." (1 John 3:1-2 NLT)
There is the unwritten law in the mind of humankind that I call the law of “expectation.” Depending upon the circumstances, our minds will have certain preconceived notions as to how things ought to be. This is a good thing because it enables us to see. According to the experts, sight is 90 percent imagination. If it were not for our experience, our minds would not be able to rightly interpret the images that our eyes deliver to our cerebral cortex. Our sight and our memory play a harmonic role in allowing us to see both familiar things and those things new to us without becoming disoriented.
However, when it comes to actions, we have another law in effect that is called prejudice. It is also based upon experience (whether good or bad, right or wrong). We see, we judge, and we react accordingly. This allows us, more often than not, to operate our automobiles alongside those belonging to our neighbors, in rather close proximity without creating a total catastrophe. But what happens when our expectation leads us to a false prejudice? We pick up the phone and call our insurance agent to inform him that we have had an accident. Hopefully it was not beyond the scope of repair for the car and healing for our bodies!
Unfortunately, in our personal relationships with others this law of expectation takes on unrealistic proportions. We often expect of others what we do not demand of ourselves. We may have a whole host of societal standards based upon where we live, work, or worship. These standards may or may not match those held by someone else. What results is the inevitable collision of standards of conduct where feelings are injured and relationships destroyed. “But like a good neighbor, State Farm” isn't there to help you pick up the pieces.
Let us now call in the accident investigator to determine the cause of the calamity. Perhaps we can listen to the cockpit voice recorder and hear what was really said in the minutes that preceded the event. We could check the flight recorder (black box) in order to ascertain the attitude of the heart. Perhaps we could check the weather forecast to see if there was an air of deception present that hindered visibility. The accident investigator looks through all the evidence and then comes to the conclusion that this accident was preventable and assigns fault (oftentimes to both parties).
The world looks upon us believers as though our faces were engraved upon Mount Rushmore. There is an expectation of absolute perfection in all we say or do. It is a bit like being an airline pilot whose reputation is only as good as his last landing. It would not matter if the pilot had made thousands of perfect landings if the last landing resulted in a crash. When the world holds us to account in response to these crashes, some of us believers would say of our own conduct, “I am not perfect, just forgiven!” When we are rebuked by the brethren, we counter with, “Judge not, lest ye be not judged” ─ the mantra of those who use Grace to self-justify a careless life.
It was no accident that the Apostle Paul called upon us to, "clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light" (Romans 13:12b NLT1996). Perhaps said another way, the word used could be “virtue.” Virtuous living is no accident; it is a volitional choice that is based upon right experience. Right experience leads to right expectation, and right expectation leads to right prejudice.
But where does the right experience come from? Answer: “The Light!” The Light has a Name, “Jesus.” In Him there is no darkness at all! Therein lies the whole answer to the whole question. The near context of the verse quoted is:
Sound familiar? It should! Let us render this in a more literal update of this same translation:
Paul says in Ephesians:
We are tested every day, all day, even while we sleep! We are only as good as our last landing! Collisions occur with the world and with the brethren. They are caused by expectations that are corrupted by lust and deception! This causes us to trip! And when we trip, we should know that it was Jesus, the “Chief Cornerstone,” over whom we stumbled. Another landing failed!
Virtue or vice, the choice is ours, and the fault of our failures lies within.
The final questions (plural) remain. How are you doing? Even more importantly, how are we (the Body of Christ) doing? Answer: Abysmally! Don't believe me, just ask your neighbor! Read the newspaper. Jesus changed the world with twelve unaccomplished men. Yet we live in a time when “mega-churches abound” and sin super-abounds. If the law of proportion applies, then a mega-church should change the universe. What was that thing that happened in 1740? An awakening? Who was that guy who was preaching then? What was that phrase we just passed over? “Wake up, for the coming of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
One does not posses temperance, nor does it develop in a vacuum. We should be cognizant of the fact that we are exercising more than just natural skills or traits but rather spiritual character whose source is Christ and whose purpose is His service! It would be impossible to become all things to all men that we might win some without temperance lest we assimilate the culture we seek to serve and thus have no message. Nor should we cause our brother to stumble because of our liberty. Our reserve ought to be a demonstration of our love for others and concern for their greater good.
Thomas Aquinas considered "prudence" as the cause, measure and form of all virtues (Catholic Encyclopedia). Sometimes it is represented as such in the Latin, "auriga virtutum" the charioteer (though being a sailor, I prefer helmsman) of virtue. "It seems clear that virtues are, in some general way, beneficial. Human beings do not get on well with out them" (Philippi Foot, Prof. Emeritus, UCLA, Virtue and Vices). If we were to frame this contemporaneously, "I am positive that personal finance is 80 percent behavior and only 20 percent head knowledge" (Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover). It is the absence of prudence and its demonstration in behavior that has lead America to the precipice and its counterfeit may well lead us over the edge. If virtue in general and prudence in particular is "the practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion" (Noah Webster) then the absence of shame in our day has made virtue extinct! It must then be a undisputed fact that morality cannot be legislated because there is no regard for reputation that would compel moral duties. Certainly we wish this were not the case because "virtues have moral implications beyond the individual" and "corruption in organizational leaders impacts stakeholders within and beyond the boundaries of the organization" and thus create an "impact of organizational corruption on economic systems" (Justin A. Irving, M.Div.,Ph.D., Bethel University, Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in a Proposed Virtues Framework, 2007).
However, the partakers of the Divine and Glorious Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ have the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit invigorating virtue as an integral part of the newness of life. Therefore, in this instance virtue becomes "the practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws" (Noah Webster). So in the tradition of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, we are what we worship. If we say to the Lord of Hosts, Thy will be done, then we are blessed. If the Lord of Hosts says to us, thy will be done, then we are accursed — having been abandoned to a reprobate mind while the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness and all ungodliness! And the oracle said to the Dow, "How low can you go?"
Virtue — Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws, is virtue and religion. In this sense it is true, that virtue only makes our bliss below. Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth. (Noah Webster)
The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called "a gentleman" you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not "a gentlemen" you were not insulting him , but giving information….A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentlemen is now a useless word." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Today we could have the same discussion over the word Christian. Over the past 2,000 years the meaning of this word has been so changed and distorted to the point that its definition would depend upon whom you ask. There are those whose lives exemplify the word Christian. Names that come to mind are Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea (Bev who just celebrated his 100th birthday). Then there are others who would exemplify what it is like to be deceived and fall into the fire stoked by one's own sin. Virtue, though, is something that appears to transcend religion because there are such things discussed as "Cardinal Virtues" (prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude). The cardinal virtues are recognized by all of civilization. They are recognized by their appearance within the inhabitance of the culture. The same would be true of the Christian. We are recognized by the doing! If that doing includes act of virtue, then Christians may be considered virtuous. But if these acts emanate from duty then they be but empty. If they emanate from a heart sung full of the love of Christ, then they may be works of bliss. Duty or blessing, the heart must decide.
There is good reason for the Lord Himself to have warned us about the eyes being the lamp that lights our body and that we ought to make sure the light we see isn't really darkness. Isaiah told us of a highway called holiness upon which the redeemed would trod. Jeremiah told us of the ancient way and warned us not to get lost on the byways of life. Jesus said that He was the Way. Roy Hession, in Calvary Road, reminded us that there is no way to "The Way" because Jesus Himself is "The Way." So the road which we walk upon and follow is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If we loose sight of this "Way" we will begin to drift of the true course illuminated by the true light. This is an impossible task considering our fallen nature. But with God, all things are possible. Our Faith must be fed! So be careful what you eat!
It would be hard to see the origin of bliss as the begrudging act of moral duty or the abstaining from vice out of compulsion. Is that not the daily burden of those in the public arena of today? A place where reputation may be besmirched by one offhanded comment caught on camera.
If we, as believers, are conforming our lives to a cultural standard of morals, as opposed to being conformed to the image of the Son, then we could be considered greased rather than anointed! We attempt to relieve the friction between our true selves and the persona we desire for public view by a self-imposed restraint upon the gorgon. This is not heaven but hell!
The virtues that flow from the Holy One of Israel have no friction but rather emanate from the threshold of the temple and course passed the right-hand of the altar and then out the eastern gate until, out of the fullness of the Creator's love, a mighty river of blessing flows through the desert of life healing everything it touches. The heavenly virtues then are by nature experiential! You have the experience of this river or you don't. No amount of hoping will move you from parched sand to abundant buoyancy. Only Him who owns the river may give leave for its travel. Only Him who died and rose again for the redemption of the world can give life to a valley of dry bones. This "highest degree of happiness," or virtue, has a name, Messiah, Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Jesus (I AM your salvation). From where does this "sincere love to God" come? Not from self, but from the river! Is felicity in your life in enough grand abundance to float your boat?
Why is it that we let our culture redefine these terms? Because we wish to neutralize them so we can show the world around us that we are not so bad! We can compare ourselves to others and say I'm better than that!
However, we can puree the words until they resemble Gerber baby food and not erase the human conditions they describe. We are thus left without a means to describe powerful and genuine estates of good and evil.