A reader wisely pointed out that I have never really talked about where the seven deadly sins come from, and I greatly appreciate his observation because it’s an important point. The seven deadly sins are not listed by Jesus or Paul, or grouped together anywhere in the Bible in a systematic way. It was the early church fathers who came up with the list, although there is ample biblical support for each one. And it is not meant to be a complete list of sins in general, but a list of sins that are pervasive and deaden our relationship with God Almighty. Of course, no sin is deadly in the eternal sense–thanks to the birth we celebrate tomorrow.
After years of teasing my niece about it, I am a Facebook convert. My resistance started to crumble one day about seven months ago, when a friend sent an invitation to join and then view pictures of her baby. I sat there for a minute and thought I’ll just click on through here so that I can lay my eyes on that baby. And I started clicking away, “yes, yes, yes, okay, yes, yes, I agree…” You know how it goes. But what I did not realize was that I had clicked “yes” to sending everyone in my address book a friend request. Since I have never cleaned out my address book, many people heard from me for the first time in ten years in a message asking to be my friend. Talk about embarrassing. Talk about feeling like you are suddenly back in the third grade. Of course, despite the humiliation it was fun to see the “friends” trickle in.
But Facebook really is pretty cool. I like knowing what’s going on in the lives of old friends, and I like how you can easily share articles. I am friends with one of my law school professors, and he’s a major news source for me now. If he posts an article on Facebook I know it is worth reading. But my initial rationale for joining is still the best thing about Facebook–seeing those babies! Two friends posted newborn pictures in the last few days and I cannot get enough of looking at those precious ones.
I have always loved babies. I remember being totally fascinated by them as a little girl–marveling at their tiny hands, their expressive little mouths, and their heavenly scent. I was the youngest in my family and there weren’t any cousins younger than me (well, Cassie, but she is only 24 days younger than me), and my parents didn’t have any friends with babies. Other than longingly peering into the nursery at church, I was never around babies.
But finally when I was nine years old, my cousin Clay was born. I can vividly picture him snuggled up in his Moses basket. I remember feeling, with a nervous finger, the soft spot on his tiny head, and the thrill of holding him in my arms. Then five years later I became an aunt to Caitlin Suzanne Staples and anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I have always been NUTS about that girl. And by the way, any twentysomething eligible bachelor out there with the last name of Lewis and a love for Jesus is entitled to a blind date with C.S. all expenses paid by yours truly.
But what is it about babies that is so special? Is it just that they are small? Is it just that they smell so good? It’s more than that, isn’t it? I believe part of it has to do with image-bearing (please see this post for a fuller discussion of image-bearing). Even though we are all born with a sin nature, youth has an undeniable innocence, most manifested in that brand new life. Our adult reflection of God Almighty is marred and dimmed by our everpresent pride, but there’s no such pretense in a newborn. They are completely helpless.
Maybe we could all be better image-bearers by admitting to that same helplessness. Jesus told us that apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15). Striving to be a better image-bearer or a better person is useless. Therapy and self-help may achieve small outward improvements, but you cannot remove your heart of stone with human effort. It is only through faith in Jesus that our hearts are purified. (Acts 15:9). But praise God, when we admit our helplessness, God doesn’t leave us there. We aren’t left flailing away in our newborn faith, instead God pours his love into hearts. (Romans 5:5).
And you know what’s even better? He never stops pouring!
But pride is the very worst of the seven. C.S. Lewis called it “the spiritual cancer,” and it was pride that caused the fall in the first place. Adam and Eve ate the apple because they wanted to be like God. They acted in self-centeredness, they itched for recognition, and even though God told them not to eat the fruit, in that moment, they believed they knew better. And why was the Tower of Babel built? Do you remember? So that the people could make a name for themselves. Pride.
Sin often has its own punishment; think of the personal destruction that gluttony and lust wreak in a person’s life. But pride is the one sin that God vows to address himself. James tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). St. John Cassian wrote about this saying that the evil of pride is so great that God himself is its adversary. How wretched a thought to have God as an adversary! Yet even in the most noble of efforts pride creeps in. We may aim to serve the needs of others, but we often retain the itch for recognition. I itch like crazy.
Denial of sin is also a paramount issue that stems from pride. We are tremendously creative beings when it comes to rationalizing why we are not responsible for our own actions, or why in this particular case, what we are doing is not actually wrong. It is pride that fuels this fire of denial. Pride causes one to chafe under the rule and sovereignty of God (William Backus), and this attitude of the heart burns its gruesome branding into everything we do.
Pride is ugly and pervasive. So what’s the cure? What is the spiritual calamine that tames the itch for recognition, that thwarts the self-satisfaction, self-seeking, drive for status, authority and control? Humility is the obvious cure, but how do we obtain it?
Jesus tells us that “whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4 (NIV). But what does this look like practically? A child is open to learning–they know they don’t have all the answers. A child is trusting and unpretentious. They have no authority and they know they are not in control. Not that a child is free of pride (at least I know mine aren’t), but certainly we can agree that children are generally more humble and more trusting.
Perhaps the best thing to do is meditate on all of the passages in the Bible that address pride and humility. When we become convinced that God hates pride, and cracking your Bible open will convince you of it, then we will take more seriously our efforts to root it out. We can pray about it and meditate on the humbling reality that no matter how sinful we are, God sent his Son to die for us. You may be so prideful that you don’t even think you need a Savior – but you know what, even that doesn’t matter. God still sent his beloved Son to die for YOU.
Merry Christmas and please check back tomorrow for a special Christmas blog.