How to train oneself in Christian virtue

Why does God allow suffering?

Here is one possible reason.

In one of his letters the early Christian leader Paul gives a list of what he calls “fruit of the spirit”:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

What is a “fruit of the spirit”?

It’s a behaviour or attitude which should be manifested in your life if you are a Christian, and which serves as evidence that you have truly been converted by faith in God.

There are many, many people in the world who identify as Christians, but only those who consistently display these behaviours and attitudes have genuinely been transformed by an encounter with God’s word and Jesus’ example.

How is it possible that some Christians do not display these qualities?

The answer is that these qualities must be learned. They are not automatically generated when a person decides they want to become a Christian.

How are they learned?

The answer is through suffering.

That may seem counter-intuitive. Many people think that positive and pleasurable life experiences develop positive character traits in human beings, whereas suffering and being mistreated have the opposite effect.

But that is not what Jesus taught.

While we can learn about these qualities by reading about them or by witnessing them in the lives of others, the only way to train ourselves to display them consistently in our own lives is through experiences of suffering.

For example, the only way to train yourself in patience is to experience setbacks in life that make you feel impatient.

The only way to train yourself in kindness is to witness firsthand the suffering of other people.

The only way to train yourself in self-control is to undergo experiences that make you want to lose your temper and scream or lash out.

Notice that in each of these scenarios you need to make a choice. This training does not happen automatically. A footballer or an athlete can turn up for training but they won’t improve their chances of winning unless they actually get out on the field and start making an effort.

The same is true for Christian virtue.

You will only learn patience if you make the choice to endure a setback and carry on regardless.

You will only learn kindness if you make the choice to help a person in pain or in need.

You will only learn self-control if you make the choice to keep your temper and remain calm in the face of an infuriating encounter.

The same applies to all of the fruits of the spirit – you can only train yourself to make them part of your life if you consistently make the right choice.

When suffering comes or we face situations that haven’t gone according to plan, we might be tempted to ask God why he allowed this to happen. One possible reason is that these are our opportunities for training as Christians.

It’s only in times of difficulty and hardship that we learn and grow. When life is easy and comfortable we tend to stay still and stagnate.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, wrote:

Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Jesus brought hope to all Christians through a life of hardship and suffering. We must follow in the same path if we wish to reach the same destination.

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