The seven deadly sins do not occur as a list in scripture per se, but certainly each of these faults are demonstrated at a number of points for the evil they produce (though you can find most of them in Galatians 5:19ff (ff = more than one verse following).
Scripture does not have seven deadly sins, but rather one “deadly sin” - or rather sin itself, which is deadly - in that it corrupts what is good, destroying it like a cancer from the inside out. Scripture goes so far as to say that even if you do everything else right, any one sin will undo it all. [See James 2:10]
This puts each of us into the category of law-keeper or law-breaker, and because no one can claim to have kept all of the law and never stumbled once, aside from Christ himself, we all find ourselves in the law-breaker category.
Each of these sins begins in the mind and then leads into action. [James 1:14f]
Wrath (unjust and/or uncontrolled hatred, rage, spite or impatience)
Yes I included impatience: the aggravation that comes from being held up with my extremely important business.
Maybe what you are doing is important and urgent and time-critical, but if that is so, maybe you should allow some time for routine hold ups that are bound to happen from time to time. If you are late for work, it may be because you needed to have left ten minutes earlier. Learn from your mistake and leave earlier tomorrow. If you are over-sleeping your alarm, maybe you need to go to bed earlier. In the evening ask yourself “is what I’m doing now instead of going to bed more important than sleeping properly or arriving at work on time?” If it isn’t then maybe it is worth putting off until a better time, or perhaps giving up entirely.
There is a place for righteous anger, where some injustice is being done and nothing is being done to stop it. God has given us a capacity for anger to motivate us to put right what is wrong. Wrath is not the same thing. Wrath is anger out of control, or where there is no real injustice to put right. Jesus showed righteous anger when he went into the temple with a whip and chased out the corrupt people ripping off the worshippers. In most cases, righteous anger can be identified by the simple basis that it is focused on an injustice that is not being done to you, but rather to someone else. When something affects me directly, it is much harder to know whether I am getting angry over an actual injustice as opposed to a slight against my ego. [John 2:13-17 Matthew 5:21ff]
Sloth (laziness, negligence and apathy)
“Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” This sin is often overlooked because it doesn’t have the same allure of the others, it is much more subtle. We don’t feel that there is anything wrong with taking some time out – regardless of how much time out we have had recently. We don’t think too much of saying of something “that’s good enough” when we could do it better. And we don’t often say the words, but “I don’t really care” is the sentiment behind many excuses we use for things we know we can and should do something about.
As Christians we often remind each other to take a day off and rest, citing the old testament Sabbath as a good example, and failing to recognise that it was based on the idea that a day off should follow six days of hard work. We often fail to remind people to put in the six days of work that would necessitate a rest.
We too often let ourselves say something is “too big of a problem” and that “my contribution will not change anything”.
Maybe it will.
Maybe it will change the next person’s response.
Maybe it will be the tipping point for critical mass.
Maybe it will just be one more link in the chain.
Or maybe it will just change you.
Isn’t that worth something?
The book of Proverbs mentions laziness a lot. [Proverbs 10:4&26, 12:27, 15:19, 26:15]
Lust (improper, over indulgent and uncontrolled desire for sexual gratification)
Particularly prevalent in our time, our media pours so much effort into convincing men that a woman’s body is a tool for their sexual gratification, and convincing women that their own body’s attractiveness is a tool that they can use to get what they want from the men that didn’t need much convincing in the first place. And also the second lie that sexuality is a necessity like food and sleep, and also a primary defining factor in a person’s identity. I’ve talked about this a lot in recent times (see: here), so I’m going to leave this one there for the moment, except to add some relevant scripture references. [Matthew 5:27f, 1 Timothy 1:9ff, 1 Thessalonians 4:3ff, 1 Corinthians 6:18]
Greed (excessive pursuit of material gain or security in wealth)
Not just for rich people – the pursuit of wealth and grasping for more is a problem as much for those who have little as those who have much. This stems from an unwillingness to leave providence in the hands of our Father God who cares for us and provides our needs. [Matthew 6:19ff] This one links directly to the next…
Gluttony (unhealthy focus on experiential appetite gratification)
Not just being overweight and eating too much (although that one speaks a lot to me personally and also to our society generally). But also the hedonistic seeking out of pleasurable experiences for their own sake, and the extravagant waste which comes with taking more than you can use and not giving the rest away.
Mahatma Ghandi is often quoted as having said “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed”. Francis Chan suggested that just maybe the reason one person out there doesn’t have a winter coat is because you have two. He considered owning two coats when another person has none the same thing as having stolen the other person’s coat. His reasoning is that God promised to supply our needs, but he gives to us so that we can be generous, and our failure to be generous robs the other person of the blessing God meant them to have. It’s just a theory, but it is a challenging one. [2 Corinthians 9]
Envy (discontented resentment at another person’s apparent better fortune)
They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; this is truer than many folks realise. There is an optical effect in play that is easily observable, that from a distance, a grassy field actually looks greener than it does from close up. The inconsistencies are less apparent. And the green becomes more concentrated.
This is true of many things. Have you ever noticed that lots of people with curly hair wish their hair was straight, and lots of straight-haired people wish they had natural curls? Lots of people wish they had been born into a different place or time, or a different family.
The reason is that we imagine that our problems and struggles (the big ones and the little ones) are much harder than those of other people. Other people’s lives seem easier because the hard parts of their lives are largely hidden from our view. We see all-too-plainly the difficulties we must face, would rather not have to deal with them, but we often do not objectively see the struggles of the other person, or difficulties that come with being in their position. We don’t imagine for a second that the other person might be envious of us, or if we do we know right away it is because they just don’t understand how hard it is. It’s funny how this is so much more apparent when applied in the reverse.
[Proverbs 14:30, James 3:16 & 4:2f, Philippians 4:11ff]
Pride (selfishness, narcissism, vanity or hubris)
The one sin, the cardinal vice from which all others come is selfishness.
Think about it – Lust, Greed, Gluttony and Envy are all essentially about gratifying my own desires, obtaining for myself what I feel I need, want, or deserve [1John 2:16]. Sloth is me not caring about things that I ought to, and Wrath is me caring too much about things that I ought not. They are all about me and what I want. Is there really any other motivation for any of these “deadly sins” than my own self-interest? They are all about my belief that what I feel and what I want and how I choose to spend my time are more significant that anything else.
It is certainly true that how I choose to behave is the only thing I can have control over, and therefore have real responsibility for, but when I talk about how I choose to behave, there are actually several things in play in my decision-making of which I may or may not be aware. Scripture teaches that each one of us is born with the capacity to sin, and with that capacity comes the desire and proclivity to follow through on it. We are not born free to choose, but rather unknowingly influences to choose poorly and to side with self-interest over doing what is right. Often doing what appears right out of self-interest, which just feeds our self-deception that we are actually essentially good and inherently do the right thing.
Doing the right thing (or choosing not to do wrong) on the basis of self-interest is no more or less selfish than doing what is wrong or failing to do what is right for the same reason. Doing what is right counts when you do it for its own sake and to glorify God who is the author of justice, regardless of or despite what would be beneficial to yourself.
Pride is so frequently an issue in scripture that it is hard to pick just one good example. But it was pride that was Satan’s downfall, [Isaiah 14:12-15] that was at the heart of the building of the Tower of Babel [Genesis 11], and pride that took down many of the ancient kings of Israel. [1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles.
So, what’s the answer?
I’ve hinted a little at it already.
Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:21 - Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As we are in Christ [submitted to him as our king] he gives us his standing as a law-keeper and makes us free to choose to obey him [or not] (as opposed to being always bound by the desire to sin colouring all of our choices) and the Holy Spirit in us gives us the prompting to do what we know is right, rather than to gratify our desires at every opportunity. The freedom to disobey comes with the freedom to obey, but as we focus on him and listen to the Spirit’s leading, our mind is renewed and we are transformed: our desire to do good should grow to outweigh our desire to gratify our old sinful nature.
Paul describes how he struggled through this in his own life in Romans 7 from verse 14 on.
This takes time and practice.
This takes constant time in prayer and meditating on scripture.
This involves a lot of failing down and getting back up to try again.
This requires a lot of confessing our failures and not letting them hold us down from moving forward.
This requires actively doing things that are contrary to our old ways.
The pattern is set out in scripture for us.
Ephesians 4:28 - Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Change greed into generosity – provide sacrificially for others and trust your needs to God.
Change wrath into patience – be slow to get angry and save your anger for when it matters.
Change sloth into diligence – develop a passion for the responsibility of making things better.
Change lust into chastity – delay your gratification and save your passion for pure lovemaking.
Change gluttony into extravagance – take pleasure in the blessings you can bestow on others.
Change envy into contentment – face the life God has given you to grow you with courage.
Change pride into humility – allow other people to be more important than you: honour them.