Develop Virtue by Being Rather than Doing
By: Nancy Leigh DeMoss from Revive Our Hearts
Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says true virtue starts on the inside where no one else can see.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you have virtuous behavior without having a virtuous heart, do you know what you will turn out to be? A self-righteous Pharisee.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, August 11.
Virtue—it sounds like an out-dated word that gets overused in religious circles. Nancy Leigh DeMoss is about to challenge the definition of virtue for women both in and out of the church.
Nancy: I’m so glad you’re walking with us through the True Woman Manifesto as we’ve been unpacking it over the past several months. If you’ve missed any of those sessions and you’d like to go back, you can do that. You can listen to them; you can read the transcripts at ReviveOurHearts.com; you can print off a pdf of the True Woman Manifesto.
You can order a copy of the brochure that I’m holding in my hand. You can order packs of those brochures to share with people in your church. Our hope is that tens of thousands, hundred thousands of hungry-hearted women across this country and around the world will read this Manifesto prayerfully and carefully and will say, “This expresses my heart’s desire—not that I’ve arrived or even close—but this is the kind of woman I want to be.” Women who will sign it expressing that intent, and then will, by God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit, be committed to living it out and sharing it with others.
This month and next we’re looking at the final section of the True Woman Manifesto, which is a series of fifteen “We will” statements. In fact, if you’re planning to be with us at one of the True Woman conferences this fall in Indianapolis or Fort Worth, we will have a special ceremony at the end of that conference, Saturday morning, where we together affirm this Manifesto. It’s a real sweet time when we did this before, and to realize there are thousands of other women, sisters in Christ, who are joining in affirming this message, and together, by God’s grace, want to live it out.
Today we come to the sixth “We will” statement. It says:
We will seek to glorify God by cultivating such virtues as
purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love.
Now sometimes when I’m preparing to teach, I will get together with a small group of women. This time we did it by means of a conference call. I try to get women from different seasons of life, and I walk through what I’m going to be teaching, the topics, and I ask these women for input.
On this particular call when we were discussing this statement in the Manifesto, we had a 20-something single woman and a number of other women as well. When I read these words: “We will seek to glorify God by cultivating such virtues as purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love,” these women said to me: “Do you realize how scary those words are to a lot of women are today, and especially for younger women?”
The 20-something woman on our call said, “Those words have a negative connotation.”
Now, I was reading this, and I’m thinking, “These are beautiful words. This is precious. This is powerful.”
You don’t understand. With women my age, this is a negative connotation. When I was in high school [she’s now a college graduate], if you would have talked this way, I would have had in my mind a woman with a tent-like dress and way too long hair.
All I wanted then was to fit in. I hated being different. So why would I embrace this way of thinking that is so very different than the way the rest of the world is going? When the world tells me I can get anything I want if I go for it, why should I choose to be pure and modest?
So in many women today, because of the fact that they have listened to the siren of the world, there’s an aversion to these words. The women on this call assured me that most women today do not long to pursue such virtue as purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love. I think sometimes that’s because we have a stereotypical picture of this kind of woman that is not the kind of picture we should have.
There’s a legalistic connotation of these words that is defective and dangerous. My goal through, not just today’s program but through Revive Our Hearts, is to help change your mindset about these words, to help you see that these concepts are not narrow and legalistic. They’re beautiful. They’re rich. They’re precious.
Now, let’s back up and start with the beginning of this sentence: “We will seek to glorify God by cultivating these virtues.”
We have to remember that the supreme goal of true womanhood is living out these “We will” statements, these Manifesto statements. The supreme goal is to glorify God. It’s to fill the whole earth with the glory of God.
If you are living for anything less than that, anything else than that, you’ll find that these virtues—purity, modesty, submission, meekness, love—they are burdensome. They are undesirable. They are too hard. You’re not going to want to cultivate these virtues if you’re living for something other than the glory of God.
So we have to keep stepping back and saying, “Why am I living? Why do I get out of bed in the morning? Why do I exist? Is my mission in life to bring God glory?” If it is, then I will find that to cultivate such virtues as purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love is a joy. It’s a blessing because it furthers my goal, which is to bring God glory.
The word virtue is not a word we use a lot or enough today. The Greek word that is translated into the English word virtue is found only four times in the New Testament. Some of your versions will translate that word as "moral excellence"—same word—"moral excellence or goodness."
You’ll find that the virtues in God’s kingdom are often precisely the opposite of what the world considers virtues. For example, in the New Testament era, in Greek and Roman times, humility that Jesus talked about, being a servant, having a humble heart, that was not considered a virtue at all. It was considered a virtue to be assertive, to be on top, to be the top dog. When Jesus came talking as the Lord and Messiah, the Son of God about humbling yourself and washing feet and laying down your life, people thought that was nuts. He turned the value system of this world upside down and inside down by saying, “These are the true virtues of My kingdom.”
Now, I want to take a little rabbit trail here for just a few minutes and think about this matter of virtue. I'll remind you that virtue is not primarily or just about rules or doing our duty. It is more about being a certain kind of person, about having a right disposition, a right heart attitude, which will motivate us to do what is right.
God cares first and foremost about who we are, about us having a heart like Christ, and when we do, that will inevitably result in a certain kind of behavior and certain kind of attitudes that are godly behaviors and attitudes. But so many of us start with the behaviors; we start with the things you’re supposed to do if you’re a true woman, and we totally miss who you’re supposed to be as a true woman, out of which flows that kind of godly behavior.
Now pious practices, godly practices, can be good, but they can never substitute for true-heart righteousness. If you have virtuous behavior without having a virtuous heart, do you know what you will turn out to be? A self-righteous Pharisee.
In fact, let me take a moment and contrast the difference between focusing on duty and rules—external behavior—and focusing on true virtue. Just think about the difference.
If you focus on duty and rules, that fosters pride and self-righteousness like the Pharisees. If you focus on true virtue, that brings about humility, a humble heart.
If you focus on duty and rules, that will create barriers between you and others because they’ll feel like, “I could never measure up to her.” But if you focus on true virtue, that will make you approachable. People will be drawn to the Christ that they see in you.
When you focus on duty and rules—just external behavior—that will repel other people, even members of your own family, because they’re not drawn to your list of rules. They don’t necessarily want that list for themselves. But if you focus on having true Christ-like virtue in your life, you will be a winsome, attractive woman who will draw others to Christ. Your family, your children, people around you will be drawn to follow Christ as they see that heart in you.
A focus on duty and rules can be hypocritical because you can have impressive outward performance by conforming to a list of rules while having a heart that is totally far from God. There can be a disconnect between your behavior and your heart. But if you focus on true virtue, you will have integrity. Do you know what integrity is? It’s having your heart and your actions united—no difference between your heart and your behavior.
If you focus on duty and rules, your tendency will be to want others to look at you. But if you focus on true virtue, you will want to point others to Christ.
If you focus on duty and rules, you will be dependent on your own self-effort, and you may die in the attempt to become a true woman. But if you focus on true virtue, you will recognize your dependence upon the grace of God. This is not you becoming a true woman. This is Christ living His life in and through you.
When you focus on duty and rules—and I say this because I know there are a lot of people who listen to this program and who like my books who tend to be list-makers and rule-keepers. A lot of you are firstborns, and I am, too. It takes one to know one. Some of you are checking off your list, and what happens in some cases when you focus on duty and rules, you will end up putting the people around you in bondage because you will be calling them to keep the law as you define the law. Some of your children . . . Now, listen to me carefully. I’m not saying this is the only reason at all for prodigal children, but some of your children are prodigals because they have seen in you an over-attention to duty and rules that has put them in bondage.
Now, again, hear me carefully. That is not the only reason that children rebel, but ask yourself: “Are my husband, my children, my friends, people in my work place, are they seeing the kind of emphasis on duty and rules that puts people in bondage? Or are they seeing true virtue that sets people free, that sends people to grace?”
Christ-like virtue, true virtue, does not come naturally. Those virtues we’re talking about— purity, modesty, submission, meekness, love, others—they’re not going to grow on their own. They have to be cultivated; they have to be nurtured. That takes time and effort and being intentional. It’s easy to get defeated.
When I study to teach a session like this, I can get really defeated thinking how far my life is from some of these very things I’m teaching others. There are days leading up to recording sessions when I’m thinking, “I cannot even teach that session,” because I’ll see myself being just the opposite of what I’m getting ready to teach who you need to be.
It’s easy to get defeated when I put myself under the law. That’s when I need to run to Calvary, run to the grace of God and say, “I cannot do this. Lord, I need You to be virtuous in me.”
I love that passage in 2 Peter 1 that talks about how
[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue (verses 3-5).
So who is it? Is it God doing it or me doing it? Well, it’s me looking to God and His virtue and His promises to produce that hunger, that desire, that virtue in my life. It’s also me, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, making every effort, as 2 Peter 1 says, to add virtue to my faith. Not that I could ever do it on my own apart from Christ, but He is not going to do it in my life apart from my being intentional and committed to that process of developing those virtues.
So how can we become virtuous women, women who display those virtues of purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love? Well, we do it through cooperation with His Spirit and His grace that works in our lives. One means of grace, one important means of grace that God uses in this process is to provide role models for us, examples of those virtues. We learn how to live as true women in this world by following examples of others who do that.
You say, “What do I do if I don’t have any of those role models in my life?” Well, thankfully God has given to us the ultimate moral example in Christ who perfectly lived out every virtue that He calls us to display. Those virtues in our lives are cultivated as we look to Him.
That’s why it’s so important what you feed into your mind and your heart, the entertainment choices, the things that you read, that you listen to, that you focus on. If you fill your mind with the world’s way of thinking, you’re going to take on what it calls virtues. But if you look to Christ, you will become like Him. He will begin to fill you with His virtues, with His ways of thinking and responding, reacting to pressure.
Christian virtues are cultivated by looking to Christ and then by looking to other women in our lives who are like Him and who are living out this message. I thank God that I do have a number of those kinds of women in my life, but it’s first looking to Christ.
Second Corinthians chapter 3, verse 18, talks about how we, with unveiled faces, behold, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, and how then we are transfigured into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. As we fix our eyes on Him, as we behold Him steadfastly, we become like Him.
You become like the people you spend time around. They say that these older married couples start to look like each other. Some of you, that makes you a little nervous. (Laughter) But it’s true, isn’t it? These three women in this room have been married for 50 years or more, haven’t you taken on characteristics of your mate just by spending a lot of time together over the years?
You spend a lot of time with Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and you will find you are becoming transformed, transfigured into His likeness.
First John chapter 3, verse 2, tells us: We are not what we will be. One day we will see Him face to face, and then we will be like Him. We will be as He is when we see Him. Well, we need to start beholding Him now so that in this life we are being conformed into His image.
Ladies, that’s a whole different model than the way many so-called Christians live, which is trying to be moral, trying to be good, trying to put all these virtues into their lives. It’s like trying to stick lemons on a thorn bush and calling it a lemon tree. That’s not how you make a lemon tree.
The fruit that is born from a tree reveals what’s at the root of that tree, and the virtues, the characteristics, the qualities that come out of my life reveal what is at the heart of my life, and if the heart of my life is Christ, and my obsession is with Him, then what will come out in time are those virtues of Christ-likeness.
I want to close by reading a couple of quotes to you, again, from figures from the past. My favorite authors are dead people. (Laughter) They just don’t say it quite the same way today.
John Angell James, I quoted from him in the last session, says,
Every woman, whether rich or poor, married or single, has a circle of influence, within which, according to her character [or her virtue], she is exerting a certain amount of power for good or harm. Everyone, by her virtue or her vice: by her folly or her wisdom; by her levity or her dignity, [every woman] is adding something to our national elevation or degradation.
Every woman is affecting the moral climate of this country. The he said,
As long as female virtue is prevalent . . . a nation cannot sink very low . . . by plunging into the depths of vice. To a certain extent, woman is the preserver of her nation’s welfare. Her virtue, if firm and uncorrupted, will stand sentinel over that of the empire.1
Then I just have to read to you this one quote from John Adams, the second President of the United States, where he said,
From all that I have read of history and government of human life and manners, I have drawn this conclusion, that the manners of women [and by this he doesn’t mean table manners or etiquette. He means the lifestyle, the demeanor of women] were the most infallible barometer to ascertain the degree of morality and virtue of a nation. The Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Swiss, the Dutch all lost their public spirit and their republican forms of government [as in their representative forms of government] when they lost the modesty and domestic virtues of their women.
So ladies, if we see a nation today that has sunk low in vice, don’t we have to take at least some responsibility for that and say, “Have we failed to be the preservers of a national heart for morality and virtue?”?
Listen, women of God are the only women who really can exhibit the kind of virtue that makes great homes, great churches, and great nations.
Now, the redemptive story is that, though we are all lacking in virtue, though we are all fallen ourselves as women, we have in Christ a redeemer who makes all things new and can give to women who have lost their virtue, or never had it, a heart of virtue. He can restore beauty and fruitfulness, cleanse away the filth of our sins, give us a heart for holiness, and make us virtuous women.
I received an email not long ago from a man who said,
Whenever I hear Revive Our Hearts, it encourages me to hear you delivering a message that has been forgotten or just plain discarded and is so sorely needed in this crazy upside-down society in which we live. You see, I am a single 47-year-old man, the result of an unfortunate divorce 20 years ago, who knows firsthand what society has done to women’s thinking.
What you are teaching is "music to the ears" of this man, and I think that most men would want to love, honor, and cherish women like that. I also believe that it brings glory to the Lord to see the qualities that come out of these things, transforming the women in the church today and thus transforming the church and society.
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be back to pray.
She had more to say that we didn’t have time to air. So you’ll hear some additional content from Nancy when you order that message on CD. It comes as part of a series called Declarations of the True Woman Manifesto, Part 1. I hope you’ll order the CDs along with your own copy of the True woman Manifesto. Each is available at ReviveOurHearts.com.
What does it mean to develop true beauty that won’t fade? Are you investing in younger women who need your influence? Do you have a close relationship with God like a father to a daughter? Answer all these questions with the help of a book Nancy edited. It’s called Becoming God’s True Woman. Contributors include Carolyn Mahaney, Mary Kassian, Bunny Wilson, and Susan Hunt. They’ll show you how to glorify God as a woman in a variety of practical ways today.
When you make a donation of any size, our thank-you gift this week is Becoming God’s True Woman. Ask for it when you donate by phone at 1-800-569-5959, or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com and indicate that you’d like the book.
Well, is your home a welcoming environment? Nancy discusses that tomorrow.
Nancy: Think about what it’s like when you and your husband re-enter the house at the end of the day. Do you make re-entry for him a joy? Or do you make it a burden? Do you make him wish he’d stayed at work?
Leslie: Please join us for the next Revive Our Hearts.
Now, let’s close in prayer.
Nancy: Oh God, how I pray that You’d do such a work of grace in our hearts that men like this one and others, men and women around us, will see Your virtue, Your heart, Your beauty in us and would want to know You and to be redeemed by You and to let You make them into men and women of virtue.
Oh Lord, transform our culture. We need it so desperately. We need revival. We need revival in this country. We need revival in our churches. We need revival in our homes. I pray You would do a great work of grace in our lives as women—young women, older women, wives, moms, single women, empty nesters—every season of life—teenage girls—make us women of virtue so that the world can see reflected through us the beauty and wonder of Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.
Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
1 John Angell James, Female Piety, p. 72-73.