THE NATURE OF VICE AND VIRTUE
There are two basic orientations to how we live our lives: to choose a life of vice (bad character which leads to an immoral way of life) or to choose a life of virtue (good character which leads to a moral way of life). They dispose us to do either evil or good. They are opposed to one another.
"Habits of the Heart"
Virtues and vices are settled dispositions or inclinations to act in particular ways.16 They are good or bad character traits. They are acquired through repeated acts of deliberate decision, and as such become "habits of the heart".17 A chief characteristic of both vice and virtue is an established tendency to act from deliberate decision. Thus, vice is a bad character trait or habit of the heart which leads one into sin. It is a settled disposition or inclination to do what is morally wrong or sinful. It is usually a habit of character acquired through repeated acts of deliberate decision.
The word virtue comes from the Latin word "vir" for man. It denotes "strength of character leading to courageous deeds". It signifies manliness or courage. Augustine says that "virtue is a good habit consonant with our nature". The virtues are dispositions or habits of character that lead us to do good. Virtues are good character traits or habits of the heart. Augustine further defined virtue as "a good quality of the mind by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use."18 The virtues dispose us to an orientation of life opposite that of the vices.19
Modem people tend to call vice and sin behavioral
problems; guilt is labeled as emotional distress. The language of sin has
been replaced by the language of symptoms'" People rarely talk about vice
or virtue anymore. We need the virtues today to counter the vices as much
as Christians have needed them in the past.
In summary, virtues and vices are acquired habits of character, by which we are either perfected (i.e. mature and complete, attaining moral vision and good character) or degraded (i.e. immoral vision and bad character).
The Source of Virtue and Vice
Christian virtue has its origin in God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit which transforms us into the image of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul states that "we are being changed into his (God's) likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."
Christian virtue consists in a living relationship with God, in conformity with his words, in obedience to his will, and in a profound and lasting turning towards him. Faithfulness in following the Lord's way is the fundamental virtue for walking with God. It's also a condition for keeping God's Covenant (Exodus 19:5). On the other hand, the fundamental vice is to follow some god other than the true God and to be unfaithful to the Covenant by departing from God's way. The virtuous person takes pleasure in God's ways (Psalm 1).
"You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (Psalm 15:11).Jesus describes the perfect disciple in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5/Luke 6). His heart is free from every evil desire and full of merciful love extending even to his enemies.
The vices have their source in sinful attitudes. They become dispositional and thus relatively permament features of one's orientation to life. The vices and the sins they breed are forms of behavior resulting from sinful intent or neglect. It is behavior dictated by wrong attitudes, in habits of the heart, that make the heart hard, cold, and evil.
"What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly" (Mark 7:20-22).When we separate ourselves through sin from God we become incapable of controlling our evil desires and of remaining master of ourselves (I John 2:16). In such a condition we cannot find in ourselves the strength to resist the weight of our passions and to become clean and whole again. When we are united with God we discover the strength or capacity to live virtuous lives. It is the strength of the Lord that is our strength. Without it we remain fainthearted and listless.
"For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Peter 5-8)
[Go to "Vices with Virtues in the Scriptures"]