Jesus’s Recipe for Virtue

October 25, 2019

My first encounter with recipes was in high school. I had a required course called “Family Living.” It was a course designed to teach us necessary life skills. One assignment was to cook a meal at home for our family.

The first dinner I cooked following recipes was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Okay, I just heated the green beans, but the mashed potatoes were from real potatoes. I learned that following a recipe leads to a particular dish. When you follow the recipe for fried chicken you do not end up with meatloaf. Following a recipe also leads to a particular dish with consistency. All things being equal, if you or anyone else follows the recipe, the same results will occur every time.

I believe that Jesus has a recipe for virtue. What do I mean by virtue? Virtue has to do with moral living and goodness. If we follow Jesus’s recipe, we will develop into people of good character. For the goal is to be like him, conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29). And this recipe will work for everyone who tries it. There is consistency in results following Jesus’s instructions.

Jesus instructs us, “Follow me” (Mark 8:34). Jesus says this twenty times in the gospels. Following Jesus excludes other recipes for virtue or the good life, and competing recipes exist. Historically, the people of God have not always been good at following the Lord’s instructions. They have frequently borrowed from other recipes spoiling the dish. Following Jesus acknowledges him as the living, risen Lord. And this path to virtue requires a relationship with him.

Jesus also instructs us, “Deny yourself and take up your cross” (Mark 8:34). Luke helpfully notes that taking up your cross is a daily task (Luke 9:23). The cross was an instrument of execution, so Jesus’s words were shocking. But speaking of death appears to be a death to self, which compliments the command to deny yourself. Self-denial is certainly counter-cultural. Self-denial is putting Jesus and God first in our lives. Self-denial and dying to self is also putting sin out of our lives and filling ourselves with the things of God.

This is the basic recipe. Yes, there are other commands. But these instructions prepare us to follow Jesus anywhere he leads and do anything he commands. Following Jesus will lead to the virtuous and good life. If we are going to find the life that pleases God, we need Jesus’s recipe for virtue.

— Russ Holdern