David Jeremiah - Moral Excellence
Quality control is really, really important. I mean, if we're gonna be strong and effective people who can withstand our culture, we have to be people of quality, but the Bible has a word for this quality, and the word is "virtue". Peter said, "Add to your faith virtue," so, first of all, let's talk about what it is. What is virtue? The word occurs twice in 2 Peter 1. We're told that God has called us to virtue, and then we're told to give all of our diligence to develop virtue. There, again, is that two-pronged thing we've talked about. God has given it to us, but we're supposed to develop it. We're not supposed to just watch it and look at it. We're to open the package and develop the quality.
So virtue, really, speaks to the quality of our character, to spiritual excellence, moral excellence, morally good people. A person of virtue is a quality person, a person who's good and generous and gracious, someone who is genuinely trying to be above reproach. That used to be something that was very common in our culture. I'm old enough to remember some of those days. You didn't have to be a Christian to be that way. It was just, kind of, part of our culture. We prided our self in the fact that we're Americans, and Americans are good people.
You know, you might say something to somebody about something, and you wouldn't know very much about that person, but the person, "No, no, he's a good guy. He's a good person," and what we meant by that was he's somebody you can trust, somebody who's not gonna try to cheat you, somebody who's gonna express the value of his own life. True virtue, though, for all of us as Christians, comes from our faith. "For this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue". When you become a Christian, virtue is part of the package. Virtue has its beginning when you trust God and placing your full weight on his worthiness.
Now let's talk about how that works. First of all, if there ever was anyone who walked on this Earth who was completely virtuous, it was only the Lord Jesus Christ, and we learned earlier that if you wanna know about God you gotta know about Jesus, 'cause Jesus is God's picture to the world, so if you wanna know what virtue is you look at Jesus. And how did Jesus express his virtue? He expressed his virtue by pleasing his Father. You know, there is a part of every one of us that wants to please somebody. It's a motivating factor in business way more than I thought.
For instance, Disneyland and Disney World are built on quality control and that principle began with Walt Disney himself, who inspired deep loyalty in his employees. One of the associates of Disney was a person named Stormy Palmer, said, "Walt's inspiration and enthusiasm made overachievers out of all of us at the studio, because you wanted to please him. He was more than a boss. He was like a father". People work diligently to produce quality work because they wanna please somebody above them.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever had anybody in your life that you so respected? Maybe you worked for them or you were associated with them, and you just wanted to please them so much. There is something within us that drives us forward to please people that we respect and that we love. Well, in John 8 our Lord was having a discussion with his critics, the Pharisees, who resented the quality of his life. They didn't like Jesus because his moral excellence was way superior to theirs. And how many of you know when you live a godly life and you're around people that aren't so godly, you make them real nervous and sometimes you make 'em real mad?
And, you know, these people didn't like Jesus because of who he was and how he lived, and Jesus said to them in John 8:28 and 29, he said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father taught me, I speak these things. And he who sent me is with me. The Father has not left me alone," now listen to this, "and I always do those things that please him".
Do you wanna know how to live a life of virtue? Make it your goal to always do those things that please the Lord Jesus Christ, that please the Father. The secret to Jesus's virtue was his focus on pleasing his Father. Now, here is an interesting thing that I discovered when I was writing this project. It's not just a one-way street. When you please someone, they end up being pleased with you. You end up being pleased with them. It's a two-way street and on two different occasions, at two different phases of his earthly life, God the Father spoke out of heaven concerning his Son to say to everybody who would listen, "I'm pleased with you". It happened twice.
Lemme tell you you'll not forget this 'cause these are two important events. It happened at the beginning of Jesus's ministry when he was baptized. This is recorded for us in Matthew chapter 3, and Jesus was being baptized, and the Bible says, "And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" I always love this passage of Scripture because it's a tremendous illustration of the Trinity. God the Son is in the water of the baptismal. God the Spirit comes down in the form of a dove. Remember that? Where is God the Father? He's in heaven, and he's saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". God the Father in heaven, God the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove, and Jesus Christ being baptized. Who is that, class? That's God Almighty, the three-in-one, the Trinity, amen?
Now, not only did he say this to his Son at the beginning of his ministry, but at the middle of his ministry he did it again. "Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as a light. And, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" Peter never forgot that moment and neither would you. Peter was there when this happened. He saw it all and in 2 Peter 1:17 he mentions it.
Let me just read this verse to you. "For he received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to him from the Excellent Glory, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'" Peter mentions it in 2 Peter 'cause it was such an impressive thing. So, the moral quality of Christ is this, this is how he was virtuous: he always aimed to please God, and God was pleased with him. All right, now let's take the second step. The moral quality of Christ was that he aimed to please God and our moral quality comes when we aim to please God, as well.
Let me take this a step further. Just as Christ was pleasing to God, the Bible teaches Christ followers we are to make it our goal to please God, as well. And how do we please God? By living a virtuous life, a life of moral quality. Kevin DeYoung gives us a good word. He said, "When we hear the language of 'pleasing God,' some of us panic because we only relate to God as a judge. But God is also our Father, and if you think, 'I have to please God with my obedience because he's my judge,' you will undermine the good news of justification by faith alone. But you ought to reason this way: 'I've been acquitted. The Lord is my righteousness. I'm justified fully. I'm adopted into his family. I am so excited to please my Father and live for him.'"
What a different take on that, is that statement. When we know God is loving and forgiving, the quest for being virtuous becomes a joy, an adventure. We work hard just like I worked hard to try to please my professor in Christian Education. The harder we work, we want to develop virtue in our lives so that when God looks at us, he can say to us, "There is my son. There is my daughter. I'm well pleased with them". This isn't a vague proposition.
The Bible gives us really careful instructions, and I wanna take you now to a passage, just for a few moments, that kinda details some of the things that call to us to be virtuous. It's 1 Thessalonians chapter 4:1 and 2 and if you have your Bibles you can follow, but I'm gonna read them. "We urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus".
Now, Paul wrote these words to the Thessalonian believers, and he is saying to them, "You heard what we talked to you about and how you ought to walk and please God". And then, the next verse tells us some of the ways we can do that, so listen to 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 4. "This is the will of God". How do you please God? Well, here it is. "This is the will of God, your sanctification," now here it gets really hard here, "that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess your own vessel in sanctification and honor".
Ladies and gentlemen, you can't talk about the biblical quality of virtue without dealing with moral and sexual purity. When you diligently add to your faith virtue, that includes incorporating God's model for your sexual conduct. It's one of the biggest problems we have in the church today. The standards that used to mark what it meant to be Christian when it comes to sexuality have been so blurred by the culture in which we live. That a lot of Christians have found a way to justify not living according to the standards of God, and I've actually read books that actually have given permission for this under the guise that it's okay by the Bible, but it's not okay.
The Bible says God forgives all of our sins. He does, but he also goes out of his way to point out that sins against the body are especially offensive to him, and there is a lotta reasons for that that we could talk about. But rather than going into why people fail and why it happens and what's going on in your church and my church and around the world, let me just give you five things that I think might be helpful to all of us just to put down in our little notebook. Here is how you deal with this issue, which is so pressing in our culture today, and this even extends to pornography and other things that are involved in this whole discussion.
So here are my five things. Number one, fill your hearts with Jesus. Make it the greatest ambition of your life to please God. If you're inflamed with that motivation, it's much harder to fall into sin. To overcome sin and temptation fill your heart with Jesus. God made you. He loves you. He sent Christ to die for you. He wants a daily relationship with you. He wants to bless you. He has a purpose for your life, which is greater than anything you could imagine. He's built a home for you in heaven.
Why would you not wanna please him more than anything else in the world? Believe me, that motivation is your greatest path to holiness. Fall in love with Jesus so much that you'd never wanna do anything to hurt him. It's not about the do's and the don'ts, and this is not right, and that's not right. What it is, it's about your love for God. It's about your desire to do that which pleases God and brings joy to his heart so that he can look down at you and say, "This is my beloved son, and I'm well pleased in him". That doesn't mean you won't have temptation. It doesn't mean you won't have struggles, but if you fall in love with Jesus and you make him your great love, that will overcome so much of what goes on in the world today.
Number two, fill your mind with Scripture. When you take the Bible and you submerge it into your brain, it has a way of displacing other thoughts, and this pleases God. One way of accomplishing this submersion is by meditating on passages like the one in 1 Thessalonians 4. Here is what you know, if you know anything: that no two objects can occupy the same space.
So, you know, I hear people say, "Well, I'm gonna get up tomorrow, and I'm gonna start in the... I'm not gonna think these thoughts. I'm not gonna think these thoughts, I'm". You know what happens when you do that? You think 'em way more than you ever thought you would, more than you did the day before. You don't replace evil thoughts by determining not to think evil thoughts. You replace evil thoughts by filling your mind with the Scripture and as you begin to do that it pushes the evil thoughts out, and it works, but you gotta work at it. You gotta determine that that's what you're gonna do.
Here is the third thing, and this is really interesting: fill your routines with rules. People don't like rules anymore. Did you know that? But, you know, the Bible is filled with rules. Not all of them are easy to follow, but, as I said before, they're all for our good and for God's glory. Somebody will say, "Well, I don't want rules. That will make me a legalist". Hmm, but without rules no classroom could operate, no city streets would work. I'd hate to be in New York City, in Times Square, if there weren't any rules. It seems like it's that way most of the time anyway, but if you're down there and there is no lights and there is no rules and there is no policemen, can you imagine the chaos? If everything and everyone else in the world needs some rules, don't you think we might need some, too?
Early in his ministry, after seeing a number of prominent evangelists fall into sexual sin, Dr. Billy Graham decided he would never be left alone with a woman who was not his wife. The decision became known as the Billy Graham Rule. It's true. He was not only protecting himself against temptation. He was protecting himself against the possibility of untrue statements or slanderous accusations. You say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, that is so old and stale, and it's certainly not the way the world works today". You know what? I don't care. If we're going to be godly people, we're gonna have to put some fences around our lives.
You say, "Well, I'm never gonna be tempted by that". Well, lemme tell you what, if you don't ever do it, you'll never be tempted, right? Don't put yourself in the way of presumption. How much do you really care about your own virtue? If you care about your virtue there are gonna be some things you don't do, some places you don't go, some situations you don't put yourself in, so I'm just here to tell you if you wanna be a virtuous person you gotta be some rules, some routines. Fill your heart with Jesus, fill your mind with Scripture, fill your routines with rules, and fill your friendships with accountability.
In the Bible we are told that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness, and it's a wonderful thing when you see this in our churches. At Shadow Mountain now we have a huge network of small groups, and I was a little bit resistant to small groups when they first became popular, but I realize now, you know, if you have a big church you gotta grow small, and the way you grow small is through small groups. And the other thing about small groups, however, is they can hold you accountable. You can talk to each other. You can share the challenges you have. You can ask for prayer, you can ask for help, and so if you have a close friend you trust make a pact with that friend. Hold each other accountable to live your life in a holy way. Fill your heart with Jesus, fill your mind with Scripture, fill your routines with rules, fill your friendships with accountability, and fill your soul with resolve.
Let me leave you with this general suggestion. Do whatever it takes. The magnetic lure of temptation is hitting all of us, including our children. It's harder than any other time in history because of the combination of sexual freedom and electronic access, but let me remind you there was a young man once whose name was Daniel, who purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself. And there was another young man named Joseph, who ran out of Potiphar's house, even as she was trying to snatch the clothes off of his body, because he knew he was better off without his coat than without his character. And Joseph went to prison for that, but God honored him.
If you think Paul and Peter and these other people are hard on sexual sin, you wanna hear what Jesus's take on this is? Here you go. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you". You say, "Did Jesus say that"? He did. "Did he mean it"? Well, probably not exactly like it was read, but what he was saying was that don't let anything get in the way of your being the person God wants you to be. Take whatever action you have to take, but be resolved by the grace of God, "I am not gonna be a victim. I am a victor in Jesus Christ, and I'm gonna live that way". And then, we learn also in these passages that the other thing we gotta do is love our faith family.
You know, it's so interesting to me that when I was growing up my father was a pastor. Everybody just had the attitude that when Sunday comes you go to church. I mean, that's what you do. You go to church. Church used to be a priority for all of us. We used to believe that if you missed church you're putting yourself at risk and church now is like... you know what? In California, people go to church two out of five Sundays. Even good, godly people, they go to church two out of five Sundays.
When I was growing up, we went to church every week. We never missed, and it wasn't just Sunday morning. It was Sunday night and Wednesday night, too, and anything else they wanted to throw in there. I tell everybody I had a drug problem when I was growing up. I was dragged to church every time the door opened, but that's the way it was, and now we've gone clear to the other extreme. Church is, sort of, optional, and we're missing the blessing of the church, and it's having a terrible effect upon our culture. The church was meant to be God's place of encouragement for his people, where you heard the Word of God and where you were strengthened in the things of the Lord.
Well, that's what I wanted to tell you about virtue. That's what I want us all to learn today. The Bible says, "And add to your faith virtue". There is something for us to do about that. That's not gonna just happen to us automatically. When you become a Christian, you don't automatically become a virtuous person. God gives you everything you need to be virtuous, but he expects you to take what he gives you and put it into practice and all of us have assignments when it comes to that, so let me just leave this discussion with us all today.
I don't know what church you go to. I hope you go to church. If you listen to "Turning Point," you know I believe this passionately. Every Friday I say to everybody, "Make sure you go to church on Sunday". Don't use "Turning Point" radio and television as an excuse to stay home. We are not your church. We can never be your church. When we go to rallies and we take an offering, I often say this, "If you belong to a local church, that's where your tithe goes. Don't give us your tithe. We don't want that. It doesn't belong to us". And we have to keep our priorities straight.
The church is God's priority. If we got the church strong again it would help all of us deal with the issues of virtue that we fight with every single week and that's the message of the Word of God. This is possible for all of us. You know how I know that? God would never ask us to do it if it weren't possible. It's not possible in our own strength, but we have the Spirit of God who lives within us. You know what his first name is? His first name is holy. The Spirit of God's first name is holy and if we allow him full reign in our lives, guess what? We'll be holy, too. Hallelujah. Amen.