Mark Galli – Blessed Are the Poor in Virtue

Those who read regularly this blog know already the deep interest I have in the writings of Mark Galli, from Christianity Today. They have also seen my previous skeptical post on the spiritual value new year resolutions (you may also find HERE a post I have published about a year ago, about the origin of this spiritual practice). I have found my intuition confirmed in the latest text that Galli published on the CT website. Here are just a few quotes, to wet your appetite.

* * *

During an evening prayer service on New Year’s Day, a friend described his spiritual journey the previous year. He lamented that his plans to become more regular and disciplined in prayer and Bible study had come to naught. And yet, he said, he found he grew spiritually more than ever.

This is precisely how the spiritual life has worked for me. The more I strive to be a “good Christian”—more prayerful, patient, giving, sacrificial, whatever—the more I find myself anxious, irritated, guilty, resentful, and self-righteous. When I simply accept that I’m a sinner, really, I find that I pray more, am more patient, more giving, more humble, and more loving.

This is understandably a frightening thought for some: “I can barely live a decent life when I try so hard. If I give up striving, won’t I just melt into a puddle of immorality?” Or, “If I don’t set new goals every so often, won’t I stagnate?”

That is always a possibility, of course. We human beings have a way of turning profound truths into justifications for all manner of behavior. But then we have people like Jesus telling us that the way to the kingdom of heaven—the fully realized life in God—runs through the crossroads of spiritual poverty.

In Christ, God tells us that we don’t have to do or be anything anymore. God so loves the world. We are the object of God’s favor just as we are. We can add nothing to that reality or take nothing away from it. There really is no point in trying to do or be anything but a sinner. (One reason that is freeing is because we’re pretty good at it already!)

What happens, though, when we live as if we are moral failures, when we refuse to become anxious and guilty and shamed by our behavior, and just acknowledge how spiritually poor we are? For many, it works like this: For the first time they are able to ask a simple but crucial question: “What do I want to do?” Doing the good or avoiding the bad changes nothing in the universe, certainly nothing in our relationship with God. That whole discussion is off the table. We’re loved whether we do the good or not. We’re loved whether we sin or not. The only thing left to determine our behavior is “What do I want?” How do I want to live? What type of person do I want to be?

So how might we understand Paul’s notion of “putting on” various virtues in light of this reality? I don’t believe it is a pressured striving he’s exhorting us to—that would be the way of law that he consistently condemns. I think of it like this: I’m in a clothing store, eyeing a rack of sports coats. Along comes a clerk, who says, “Why not put on the blue one.” Then he takes the coat off the hanger and holds it open for me to put my arms through the sleeves. Then he hoists it onto my shoulders, buttons the front, smoothes it out, and tells me to look in the mirror. I’ve put on the coat, but really, the clerk has put it on me. Work out your salvation, says Paul, and in the next breath adds, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13).

Enjoy reading the whole text HERE.

 

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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