Honesty. Truthfulness. Purity. Kindness. Forgiveness. Courage. Humility. Obedience. Integrity. Faithfulness. Trustworthiness. Peace. Mercy. Compassion. Perseverance. Love. Hope. Moderation. Generosity. Wisdom. Patience. Common Sense. Diligence. Forgiveness. Endurance. Cheerfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Serenity. Loyalty. Contentment. Strength. Joy. Purity. Unity. Faith. Respect. Dignity. Honor. Justice. Chastity. Flexibility. Creativity. Graciousness. Gratitude. Modesty. Fairness. Responsibility. Commitment. Resilience. Sincerity. Self-discipline. Courtesy. Thoughtfulness. Discretion. Good Judgement. Innocence. Tact. Zeal.
This is a list of what we refer to as virtues—that is, qualities that are good, desirable, and beautiful in people. Some of these virtues come from lists in the Bible. Others come from classical antiquity, or from cultures around the world. It doesn’t really matter—the human race seems to have general agreement on what it means to be truly good—to be the way God meant us to be.
These virtues are goals we aspire to—things we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. And they shine all the more brightly in the world we live in now—a world where so many powerful leaders openly lie, cheat, steal, and grab for what they want, with no concern for the needs of those weaker than themselves. And they have many imitators—possibly including a boss, a neighbor, or even a family member you have to live with. In a dark time, the virtues shine brightly. They attract us to themselves.
The Bible understands this desire. The prophet Micah references the virtues when he says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) If we could actually do this—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without messing up—actually living as the whole, healthy people God means us to be—how awesome that would be? It would be wonderful.
But of course, we don’t manage it—not all the time, and not whole-heartedly. Which is why Micah was talking about it in the first place—he was talking to people who lived in a society just as messed up as ours is. They abused the poor and grabbed for money; they lived lives of excess and conspicuous consumption. Amos described them as people who “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (Amos 2:6-7). Jesus described them as people “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Luke 20:47). The details may have changed a bit, but the basic behavior remains—and not only in our leaders, but even at times in ourselves. Which of us does the right thing consistently—or even tries?
We need help. The virtues exist; we see them shining, sometimes, in people we admire, even in people we love and live with. We want to see them in ourselves. And for that, the Bible tells us, we need God’s help. Trying harder can only take you so far. To really reach the goal God created us for—to be the people he means us to be—it takes God living in us, the Holy Spirit. As early Christian leader Paul says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the good things that God grows in everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. It may take a long time—years, even a lifetime, as you doubtless know from watching Christians fail! But the virtues come in the end, because God is recreating people through his power so that they have a family resemblance to Jesus himself. God will do this for anybody—anybody who really wants it and asks for it.