Andrea Schwartz has written a helpful “how to” piece, published in the current (March/April 2013) issue of Chalcedon’s Faith for All of Life, called “The Virtue of Deliberate Christianity.”
Two key words in the title: virtue and deliberate. Problem: American Christians, by and large, I think, are not known for being either “virtuous” or “deliberate” in their faith. Whether it’s “living out” their faith, “sharing” their faith, or (heaven forbid) strongly and positively proclaiming and fearlessly defending their faith, those who do so on any consistent basis are usually branded as “extremists” (or radical) and considered “outside the mainstream” of evangelical Christianity.
Problem: God calls us to be virtuous and deliberate in our faith.
Solution: Become virtuous and deliberate Christians!
How do we do that?
Andrea says that, first, we need to understand how the Bible defines virtue. (Hint: it has to do with a lot more than just sexual purity and moral uprightness.) Virtue, in ancient times, meant “strength, courage and excellence.” Biblically, the word means force, strength of mind or body, and power. And, as spoken of in Proverbs 31, virtue means strength of character, “the wise use of abilities” and a demonstrated competence in one’s exercise of those abilities.
Second, because biblical virtue is “deliberate,” we need to be deliberate about exercising our faith. (Intentional would be another, currently popular, way of putting it.) This is not just “a good idea” –Andrea says it is our DUTY as Christians!
In a family setting,
“The goal is to advance a mindset of keeping the law-word of God and functioning within its guidelines as the way we demonstrate our love for Christ.”
We need to be straightforward about our faith, not subtle. We need to be deliberate about passing on a distinctively Christian world-and-life-view to our children. And we need to “instill a purposeful Christianity” in them in a thoughtful, loving, scripturally-sound way. Andrea relates how she and her husband dealt with a beloved family pet that had suddenly become a menace and a threat to the safety of everyone around, and how they applied the law of God to help them decide the right way to handle that situation–and then used that as a “teachable moment” for their children. Godly instruction in action!
There is power in virtuous, “purpose-driven” Christianity — driven by God’s law-word and by God’s purposeful covenant of grace.
Read further for more practical wisdom…
The Virtue of Deliberate Christianity
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. (Prov. 31:10)
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. (Prov. 31:29)
When we speak of a virtuous woman, we often limit the meaning to sexual purity or the absence of sinful actions in her life. However, as R. J. Rushdoony points out, there is a much more positive connotation attached to the word “virtue”:
The word “virtue” comes from the Latin and meant originally “strength, courage, and excellence.” In the Old and New Testaments, the words in Hebrew and Greek translated as “virtue” mean in the original languages “force, strength of mind or body, and power.” The meaning of “power” as virtue is clear in Luke 6:19 and 8:46.
In Proverbs 31:10 and 29, the virtuous woman is a strong woman, strong in character and in her abilities. In Proverbs 12:4, we read, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” Because a virtuous woman is morally and in every other way strong and capable, she adds so greatly to her husband’s calling that she enables him to be a ruler or king in his realm, whereas a morally weak and incompetent wife is a source of shame and weakness, “as rottenness in his bones.” A husband lacking virtue is fully as disastrous as his wife, if not more so.
Virtue thus in its Biblical meaning is strength, moral strength, the wise use of abilities, and a general competence.1
The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 can best be described as deliberate in her actions and duties. Her decisions and undertakings are purposefully in line with her calling, resulting in such a well-run family that her husband’s ability to carry out his dominion role is enhanced. Additionally, as her children mature, they praise their mother for her investment in them because they see the fruits of her efforts in their lives.
How does a young girl arrive at the place in life with the ability to step into the shoes of the immense calling described in this last chapter of Proverbs? Rushdoony points out that this comes through training from a very early age.
A boy or girl reared without the discipline of work, self-government, and moral force thus lacks virtue in the Biblical sense …
Virtue is the strong and positive faithfulness to every word of God, and a courageous stand for the Lord in every area of life and thought. Virtue in the Bible means power. Today, as always, true virtue is God’s power at work in this world through men.2
Thus, it is the duty of every family to establish a deliberate Christianity as the norm for the household. The mother’s day-to-day interaction with her children is especially important in this pursuit. The goal is to advance a mindset of keeping the law-word of God and functioning within its guidelines as the way we demonstrate our love for Christ.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines the adjective deliberate:
1. Weighing facts and arguments with a view to a choice or decision; carefully considering the probable consequences of a step; circumspect; slow in determining; applies to persons; as a deliberate judge or counselor.
2. Formed with deliberation; well advised or considered; not sudden or rash; as a deliberate opinion; a deliberate measure, or result.
From a very early age, children must be taught the standard of behavior that conforms to the commandments of God. Only with this standard can infractions and disobediences be properly understood and dealt with. Children need to comprehend that every sin is an offense against God, whether or not there has been damage done to another person. With grace, young ones will grow and mature in obedience knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” All things that we think, do, or say must be analyzed by the Word of God looking to Jesus as the embodiment of that Word in the flesh. That is a tall order. It involves a number of things:
- Knowing the Word sufficiently to “weigh” one’s thoughts, words, and actions to determine if they are in conformity to God’s standards.
- Understanding the application(s) in day-to-day life
- Having the conviction to remain within the parameters the Bible prescribes.
The Bible makes clear in numerous places that we accomplish this by being straightforward and deliberate in our witness of our new life in Christ:
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)
He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad (Matthew 12:30).
Straightforward vs. Subtle
Because the Great Commission given by Jesus before His ascension is a mandate rather than a suggestion, impacting the culture for Christ is not an optional activity for the Christian. In a time when Christianity is derided and belittled, many believers decide the best way to “win” people to Christ is by subtlety. Their concern is that being direct with people will “turn them off” and they, all too often, are so subtle that their intended audience misses their point entirely.
If we look at the early church and its confrontations with the culture of its day, we note that subtlety was not the preferred weapon used to combat the prevailing pagan ideology. In fact, we see disciples being beaten, jailed, and killed because of their out-in-the-open, unswerving adherence to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords and His law-word.
In contrast to much of what passes as Christianity in our day, a study of the saints in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs shows that they were deliberate in aligning themselves with the Savior and lost their lives as a result. The virtue (power) of their stance may have cost them their lives, but it encouraged greater numbers to see their light and become followers of Christ.3
In America, if we are deliberate in proclaiming the need for repentance and Christ as the solution to our guilt and sin, we may avoid being beaten, or fired, or jailed for our identification as Christians. But this is not true for our brothers and sisters in Africa, China, or the Middle East. In many parts of the world, deliberate Christianity is a challenge to those who rail at Christ, and believers pay a huge price. However, like Christians through the centuries, they consider their sufferings small compared to the sufferings of Christ who redeemed them and restored them to fellowship with the Father. Sometime in America, we may face the same persecution for our deliberate Christianity.
Many believe that if they model Christianity rather than explicitly share it (“Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”), they will win souls. St. Paul appears to disagree
13. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
15. And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
16. But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17, ESV)
A deliberate Christian education is a MUST for any professing/confessing family because allowing anti-Christian worldviews and practices to be presented to children as fact produces a schizophrenic/conflicted mindset. When the Bible’s absolutes are challenged without resistance on a daily basis, is it any wonder that so many children from Christian homes abandon the faith after graduating from statist schools? The absence of a deliberate Christianity permits the humanistic/materialistic/secularist worldview to win the day.
Getting into Shape
When my children were younger and I coached them in preparation for a performance, whether it was a piano recital, a speech, or a drama, I emphasized that all their actions and words should be delivered in a deliberate fashion. I stressed that in order to convey to an audience that they were confident in what they were communicating, it was necessary to be aware of everything that they were doing. I had many examples to point to. Among them were world-class gymnasts and figure skaters. It was always easy to see those who were coached very well and had embraced the particulars of their sport. If you’ve ever seen stop-action photography of these athletes, you can see that they are being deliberate right down to the tips of their fingers and toes. No movement is unpracticed or unrehearsed, and the smoother and more effortless it looks, the more time and effort were put in to achieving it. No gymnast or skater accidentally delivers an excellent performance.
Why don’t believers put the same emphasis on deliberate Christianity? The command to be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is within us is a directive to demonstrate in our thinking, conversation, and actions that what we do is predicated on living our life according to God’s law-word.
When do you instill a purposeful Christianity? First of all, you can’t instill something you don’t possess. The first step is to make this a priority in your own life. Do your children witness you making your decisions in a deliberately Biblical way? Do you consider any decision beyond the scope of Scripture? The young ones who look to you for guidance should be able to conclude that you live your life in accordance with the declarative statement,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Tim. 3:16-17)
I believe many sincere Christians hold back on giving testimony to their faith because they are concerned they will do a poor job of giving a Biblical answer to questions that may be raised. Being ready to give an answer for the hope that is within (a command rather than a suggestion) will follow from living out a deliberate Christianity. Being salt and light arebyproducts of a deliberate Christianity. As a result, providing an explanation should be as natural as reciting our residence address, phone number, or email address. We are ready with an answer because we have done what we’ve done intentionally.
Passing the Torch
How can parents teach their children this purposeful Christianity? Initially it comes by way of example. Children should regularly witness their parents making lifestyle choices (where to live, how to educate, where to work, where to worship, where to shop) based on conformity to God’s Word. God’s Word does not always mandate the details, but provides the guidelines and parameters for our decisions.
I recall an incident that involved one of our pets. Our English Springer Spaniel had been attacked by another dog and almost lost his life. Although he recovered from his injury after surgery for a punctured lung, our dog was never the same. We were no longer able to take him out to run on an adjacent field or for walks in the neighborhood; he was skittish of other animals and would respond aggressively. We had to keep him away from visitors because he would often growl. Eventually he became unpredictable even around my children. One evening my daughter dropped a paper towel and the dog began to eat it. She reached down to get it from him. The dog growled, lunged at her, and made an effort to bite her. Although he didn’t succeed, I became convinced that it was no longer appropriate to have this animal as a pet.
My husband and I went to the Scriptures to determine our course of action. We knew that the dog had serious issues and felt it would be dishonest to give the dog to another family or even the pound for adoption. We knew that providentially we had avoided a trip to the emergency room for our daughter. We went to God’s Word for guidance.
When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. (Ex. 21:28-29)
Because we had both been students of Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, we also knew to look at his chapter on The Sixth Commandment for instruction. In the section “Restitution or Restoration,” he discusses injuries to persons by animals.
[I]f an animal owned by a man were guilty of the injury; if the animal had no previous record of violence to man, then the animal died (and of course the injured person was cared for and compensated). But if the animal had a previous record of violence, the owner now became liable to the death penalty for murder. (Ex. 21:28-29).4
It became a clear-cut decision that we needed to put the dog down, that we couldn’t risk another incident. Having a Biblical law that said I would be liable for the death penalty got my attention. However, I had children who loved this dog, and my daughter was convinced this was all her fault. I knew I needed to explain that God’s law required me to act and that sentimentality, emotion, and our love for the animal were not good reasons to violate it.
The next day, my daughter and I brought the dog to the pound and remained with him throughout the procedure until it was completed. For days, amidst the tears and sorrow over losing an animal that we had loved for eight years, we discussed the wisdom of God’s law and the need to follow it even when it hurts.
Power in our Testimony
The very purpose of being ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ in our everyday lives is to manifest His grace as we follow His law. We don’t want to be guilty of having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5), since St. Paul warns us to turn away from such people. God’s claims are total and we should abandon the practice of being “subtle” in carrying out the Great Commission.5 Rather we should be deliberate as we inject commentary, opinions, decisions, and ideas with the highest priority being that are we being faithful. As Rushdoony points out,
Our God makes a total claim on our lives, and on our money, too; He requires that our children be given to Him also. How do we respond to Him? Are we rich toward ourselves and poor towards God? Do we have time for everything except His Word? Do we want Him only when we need Him?
If we do not have the power of God in our lives, it is because we are denying it; it may well be that we do not want God to interfere too much with our lifestyle. The mere “form of godliness” will get us no further with the Lord than an imitation airline ticket will get us a flight.
Serve the Lord with all your heart, mind, and being with your life, your money, and your family. Go for the power!6
1. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 15.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 15-16. Of course the term “men” here refers to both men and women.
3. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is available in many formats and should be incorporated into family devotions and the study of church history. Peter Hammond of Frontline Fellowship has an excellent audio CD, Heroes of the Faith, in which he shares many stories of deliberate Christianity.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law Vol. 1 (The Craig Press, 1973), 274.
5. In no way is the call to deliberate Christianity a call to arrogance, pride, or insults. The message of the Cross is offensive; we are not commanded to be offensive.
6. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 37-38.
Andrea Schwartz is the Chalcedon Foundation’s active proponent of Christian education and matters relating to the family. She’s the author of six books dealing with homeschooling and the family. Her latest books are Woman of the House and Family Matters. She oversees the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute (www.ctti.org) and continues to mentor, lecture, and teach. Visit her website www.WordsFromAndrea.com. She lives in San Jose with her husband of 37 years. She can be reached by email at WordsFromAndrea@gmail.com.
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