“To flee vice is the beginning of virtue.”  Horace

As we begin this year’s 40-Day Spiritual Adventure (also known as Lent), I want to reflect with you how it is that we grow in virtue. Unlike our genes, which we inherit from our parents, virtues and vices are moral qualities that we gradually acquire through choices and habits. We can cultivate good habits or break bad ones over time through our repeated actions.

Acquiring virtues (or vices for that matter) is like what happens at a winter sledding party. When we used to go sledding in Big Bear, we would first look for the perfect run, a hilly descent without too many trees or protruding boulders. We would then take our sleds and tubes and trudge up the hill to start making our runs. The first several times down the hill, the snow was unpacked and the ride was slow. But after several runs down the same path, the snow would compact, allowing for speedier descents. The ruts we gradually created also helped “steer” our sleds down the packed trail. After half a day of sledding, our runs would create a well-worn groove and we could fly down the mountain!

Something similar happens with our character traits. Godly behaviors that initially seem difficult become, with repetition, more fluid and instinctive. Christ-like attitudes that feel unnatural can, with practice, become second nature for us. Vices develop similarly. What is the difference between a vice and a sin? A sin typically describes a single or one-time event. A vice describes a well-worn groove of habitual sin, one that becomes progressively easier to repeat and progressively more difficult to avoid because of the power of human habits. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung describes virtues and vices as follows: “Virtues are ‘excellences’ of character, habits or dispositions of character that help us live well as human beings … virtue helps us both to live and act well and to be good people. … Vices are corruptive and destructive habits. They undermine both our goodness of character and our living and acting well.”

Which brings us to our 40-Day theme: “Glittering Vices, Glorious Virtues.” The New Testament speaks in many places about the avoidance of vices and the cultivation of virtues. In Galatians 5, Paul warns against the “works of the flesh” but commends the “fruit of the Spirit.” In Colossians 3, he speaks of removing old habits and behaviors and being clothed with qualities such as compassion, humility, and patience. In Ephesians 4, he reminds his readers how they were taught to put away their former way of life and to put on the new self. In 2 Peter 1, the author describes a process of gradually adding to and strengthening the qualities of goodness, self-control, endurance, and love.

During this season, I want to pace before us what have been called the seven capital vices. These are not the seven worst possible sins, even though they are sometimes called the “seven deadly sins.” But, in the seasoned wisdom of the historic Church, these seven sins have the most potential to lead us into even greater and more destructive sins when allowed to wear a habitual rut in our behaviors.

Paired with these vices are seven “glorious” virtues, which are holy habits that serve as building blocks for the Christian life. For the next seven weeks, I invite you to ponder how you are intentionally cultivating holy habits in your own life.

The project of becoming more like Christ is our life’s most important task.

Andy Wall
Author: Andy Wall