Summary: The first of the seven ’Christian Graces’ is moral excellence. In an age of secular moral relativism, the Christian can make a major impact in the Church and Society by boldly adhering to and promoting the Moral Code found in the New Testament Scriptures.
Christian Graces: Moral Excellence
Peter delivers to us a set of seven virtues or graces that Christians are to add to their life of faith. He informs us that these traits will render us useful to the Lord, will enable us to bear much fruit and will guarantee us an entrance to the eternal kingdom.
The first of these graces is MORAL EXCELLENCE.
I. Defining "Moral Excellence".
The term rendered "virtue" in the KJV is the Greek arete. This word is not used but a few times in Scripture but it has a fascinating background.
In Classical times, it meant ’that quality given by the gods which enabled mere mortal men to perform heroic deeds.’ It came to mean the quality in a person’s life which made them stand-out as excellent. It is a term of moral heroism, moral courage, moral excellence.
We understand that morality is the defining of what is right and wrong. Arete is the courageous and, oft times, heroic decision to always do what is right. It is both to keep one’s self pure from wickedness and depravity AND to perform acts of righteousness.
If there was ever a time that was in need of moral heroes, this would be the time. Our generation is very much like those described in the book of Judges where it says that "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25)
As soon as morality is mentioned, there are those who object on the grounds that each person’s opinion is his or her own and equal to that of anyone else. For some, there can be no objective and commonly agreed upon moral norm. For such persons, morality is an illusion.
How many times have we heard that morality is a completely personal and subjective choice? This position is probably the most widespread and pernicious challenge to morality that our society has ever faced.
As Christians we recognize that there is more to life and human action than fleeting personal preference. Human existence is not a meaningless show of smoke and mirrors. Surely each one of us knows deep down at the very core of our being that there is such a thing as right and wrong. While individually we may not know the answer to every moral question, we are aware that there are answers - answers that oblige all of us.
There is a standard of morality for Mankind. It is that which has been demonstrated and delivered to us by God. Paul reminded young Timothy the importance of the Scriptures, in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for re-proof, for correction, for TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."
Thus, the Christian has a moral code by which we make our decisions in life. The example and teachings of God revealed by Christ Jesus granted to us in the Holy Scriptures is to be the universal standard of morality. We all, one day, will be judged by that Code.
II. The Challenge to Exhibit Moral Excellence.
When we decided to become Christians, we sought the cleansing and purification from our sins promised by the Gospel. 1 Peter 1:22 says "you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls". Hebrews 9:14 states that the application of Christ’s blood did "cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."
The great challenge and duty for Christians is to, once purified, keep ourselves (James 1:27) "unstained by the world."
Jesus says, in John 15:19, "You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world." Titus 2:13-14 expands on that thought, saying, "Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." Thus, 1 Peter 2:9, reminds us, "you are a chosen Race, a royal priesthood, a HOLY NATION, a People for God’s own possession."
The concept that we are God’s own possession makes me reflect on the fact that, living under the New Covenant, I am a Temple of God. 1 Cor. 3:16-17, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." 1 Cor. 6:19-20, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s." And, 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1, "...ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."