Over the next fourteen Sundays we’ll be learning about what have been called the seven capital vices (or “deadly” sins) and the seven cardinal virtues. Why spend a summer thinking about virtue and vice?
First off, to examine the vices is to be realistic about the nature of human beings and the world. As Christians we believe that the creation groans under the weight of human beings’ disobedience to the Creator (Rom 8:19). Sin, in that sense, is a real thing – it affects individuals, families, societies – even the environment! When we ignore it, minimize it, or call it something else, we fail to see ourselves for who we really are. So to understand the common “shapes” sin takes helps us to reflect on our own lives and to understand the spiritual forces at work in the world.
Next, if we ignore the reality of our condition, we won’t seek the cure. The flip side of understanding vice is in seeing the greatness of God’s plan to love, save and redeem sinners. Sin does not have the last word! God is at work to save his people, culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection and the announcement of his kingdom. So we always view our study of the vices in light of their defeat by Jesus at the cross. We can come to understand the schemes of the enemy (2 Cor 2:11), knowing that our God already has secured our victory.
Finally, we are in the process of being transformed by the Holy Spirit into a people who are the image of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). While the vices are corruptive and destructive habits, virtues are the habits of goodness, of God’s character, that take root in us and that the Holy Spirit cultivates in us by God’s grace. When we pursue the character of Jesus, we see ourselves grow in the virtues. Virtue is not just so that we become good people, but it is part of God’s plan for his church. When we do this together, we take on the corporate character of God’s people, and become light and salt in the world, the city on the hill that stands out and points people to our good God and great Saviour.