I just finished NT Wright’s excellent book on character and virtue: After You Believe. In it he argues winsomely to wrap up the quest for Christian character inside the ideas of worship and mission. They all go together. We pursue virtue and character as an act of worship and to help us in our mission.
He writes that the 4 big virtues are humility, patience, chastity, and charity. These four big words contain a bunch of other ideas (i.e. faith, hope, and love, the fruits of the spirit, etc). This section comes from his thoughts on chastity, but I would argue they really capture the essence of the book:
“Christians have always insisted that self-control is one of the nine fold varieties of Spirit’s fruit. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, you have to work at it and discover why certain temptations, at certain times and places, are hard to resist.
“That because chastity is a virtue: it’s not first and foremost a rule which you decide either to keep or to break; it’s certainly not something you can calculate according to a principle, such as the greatest happiness for the greatest number; and in particular, as Jesus himself indicated, it won’t be generated by going with the flow of what comes naturally.
“This is where the genuinely celibate, like Jesus himself…have discovered the joy of a ‘second nature’ self-control which much of our culture, like most of the ancient world, never even imagines.
“By contrast, as those of us who care pastorally, or in families, for people who have embraced the present habits of society will know, the bruises and wounds caused by those habits are deep, long-lasting, and life-decaying. The church is often called a killjoy for protesting against sexual license. But the real killing of joy comes with the grabbing of pleasure…the price tag is hidden at the start, but the physical and emotional debt incurred will take a long time to pay off.
“Here Patience and Humility come into play once more. The frantic urge toward sexual intimacy is part of the drive to express yourself, to push yourself forward, to insist that this is who you are and this is how you intend to behave.
“No, says Humility; you don’t discover your true self that way. You find it by giving yourself away. Precisely, agrees Patience: taking the waiting out of wanting is short-changing yourself and everybody else. The virtues are linked together…if you want one of them, you better practice them all.”