Friday, March 11, 2022

Formed By the Word Week 9: Virtue


Week 9: Virtue

I came across a quote recently that I have been mulling over.
"The way to get rid of the defects is to cultivate the virtues." ~Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones was a Welsh minister of the Westmintster Chapel in London. He was also an author of  many Bible commentaries, and is one of my pastor's favorite authors. The quote above comes from a larger quote:

"Indeed, as I have already said, you cannot truly deal with the negative unless you are at the same time doing the positive. The way to get rid of the defects is to cultivate the virtues. To use a well-known phrase of Thomas Chambers, what we need is to apply the :Expulsive power of a new affection". I use a simple illustration. The way the dead lives of winter are removed from some trees is not that people go around plucking them off; no, it is the new life, the shoot that comes and pushes off the dead in order to make room for itself. In the same way the Christian gets rid of all such things as bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil speaking and all malice. The new qualities develop and the others simply have no room; they are pushed out and they are pushed off."

The trees Dr. Lloyd-Jones mentions are some varieties of Beech and Oak trees. Our neighbors behind us have a huge Oak tree that holds onto its brown, dead leaves all winter. It always seems strange to me to see those leaves still attached to the branches. I like this analogy he uses for spiritual growth. If we simply focus all of our energy on trying hard to eliminate the negative things in our lives, it is simply that, us trying hard in our own strength. This usually does not produce much change. But it does produce much frustration and ultimately leads to feelings of failure and hopelessness.

On the other hand, putting our energy into cultivating the virtues requires that we grow in our knowledge of God, and as we do so, He provides the power in us to develop the virtues He desires. It requires action on our part and Divine power on God's part. We see this throughout the scriptures.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:3-11

Here in 2 Peter is the "formula" to living out the virtues of God. God has given us "His divine power". For what purpose? To live a godly life. How do we live this godly life? Through our knowledge of God, "him who called us by his own glory and goodness". Through God's glory and goodness he has given us great and precious promises which enable us to participate with God through his Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are called to make every effort - work to participate with God - to grow or cultivate the virtues that please God: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. Why? Because growing in these virtues leads us to growing in Christlikeness and living a godly life.

Some other passages to ponder:

"So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.: Galatians 5:16-17

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8-9

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  Ephesians 4:22-24

This is not about just using "positive thinking". A line from an old Bing Crosby song comes to mind here, "You got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative...". Positive thinking alone will not take us very far in removing our vices and negative thinking. We need to act in conjunction with the power of God that comes to us through our union with Jesus Christ. Without that Divine power, it is simply positvie thinking. Eventually the negative creeps back in and no true change in behavior and lifestyle results. To cultivate virtues we need to grow in our knowledge of jnjnGod through His Word, which in turn enables us to partner with His Holy Spirit in getting rid of the defects (vices) and living a godly life.

I would love to have you to join me in being formed by the Word this year. After reading the above post, do some study on your own. Dig deeper into the verses and passages mentioned and then respond creatively. Share your thoughts and creative responses in the comment section below or on social media with #formedby theword and #wordsartandfaithgroup, and in our private Facebook group for words challenges the Words Art and Faith group.


  1. Yes, we need the Holy Spirit to live out a virtuous life. A recent conversation with a friend and mentor brought out the same idea as it relates to fruit of the Spirit. Yes, as believers we want more love, joy, peace, etc but just trying to be more loving only goes so far, what we need is more of the Holy Spirit. God is relational and created our minds to thrive in securely attached relationship (neuroscience supports this). When we, through Bible reading, prayer, Christan community, being with God in nature, journalinging, meditating on God's truths, we are relational with God and the byproduct is His fruit! Thanks for posting your thoughts and reflections on virtue. I look forward to thinking more deeply on it with God.

    1. You are so right, Stefanie. The whole key is to constantly strive for more of the Spirit in our lives. I love your thought process here. Thank you so much for sharing it!!!