The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

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.

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.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

So a bit of blogkeeping: we’re in the final stretch here on the deadly sins. I’m going to finish up with the sin of pride before Christmas, and then I plan to do a special post on Christmas Day, which I hope you will check out. Also, I have a Christmas offer for my readers. Thanks to the C.S. Lewis Institute, a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to purchase Mere Christianity at a greatly reduced price. I have now moved a case of Mere Christianity from Virginia to Florida and back. I haven’t been giving away Lewis as quickly as I intended, so I would be very honored to mail you a copy if you’ve never read it. To say that Mere Christianity is a life-transforming, amazing articulation of the Christian faith is a grave injustice. So own your copy today, while supplies last, and Merry Christmas! (email me your address: lewis.offer@yahoo.com)

Now, back to the deadly sins. Lust is hard to write about for two reasons. First, this is the one deadly sin I don’t really struggle with (see definition below), and secondly, it’s the one I am most inclined to be judgmental about. I wouldn’t be so silly as to claim I’ve never had a lustful thought, but physical attraction for me is a secondary issue. I needed a man that was smart, funny, driven, and disciplined. I needed a man that knew God. I needed a man that would spur me on despite my sloth. So it is just a testament to God’s abundant provision that Will Jackson meets all these needs and is sexy to boot!
Many commentators claim that lust is not merely about sex–that it can involve a preoccupation with things in general, but usually those cravings fall under other sins like envy or greed. Not that the classification should be legalistic, but in my opinion, lust primarily revolves around sex. And there’s so much to talk about even when we limit lust to its sexual manifestations, that in this posting that’s what I’m going to do.
Our culture is obsessed with sex. Would anyone dispute that? But one of the problems with the bombardment of imagery that we face everyday is that it blurs the distinction between loving sex, i.e., sex within marriage between a man and a woman, and lust, i.e., the longings and actions which treats others as objects for sexual pleasure. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. It might be fun. It might pleasurable in the moment, but ultimately it’s degrading. Our culture scoffs at this truth, in fact, some readers might scoff at this post. But it’s the truth anyway. We might try to merge love and lust. We might cling to the idea that lust leads to love. But it doesn’t. Physical attraction is important, but that’s not lust. Lust is when you look at another person and think how they could give you pleasure. And this is just not something that I do.
But I know most men seriously struggle with lust. They are visual beings and our culture feeds those eyes of theirs in every way possible. As a wife and mother of three boys this reality gives me a sick and helpless feeling. I’ve dreaded writing about it, because I don’t even like thinking about it.
But refusing to think about it, doesn’t make it go away. In fact, acknowledgment and accountability are two things that could help. For those who struggle with internet pornography, I know there are ways to sign up to have your computer tracked. One site that looks good is www.xxxchurch.com, and there are lots of churches that have support groups as well. Like everything else in life, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
One other thing that really bothers me about lust is the defeatism that is often conveyed. Boys may be boys, God may have created males with different drives, and they may be more visual, but Philippians 4:13 is still true. If you know Christ, then you should be telling yourselves, even in the most tempting of situations, that you can overcome lust. Just like me with my slothful inclination, tell yourself that through Christ, “I know I can. I know I can. I know I can.”

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

Isn’t it interesting how some of these deadly sins aren’t really even part of our vocabulary anymore? We rarely hear the word glutton except in the phrase “glutton for punishment.” Yet many of us eat too much, shop too much, and all-around consume too much. We let ourselves off easy by playing a comparison game. If we aren’t morbidly obese or an outright alcoholic then is it really gluttony?

But once again it’s not solely about outward behaviors. St Thomas Aquinas summarized gluttony as eating “too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, or with too much finicky fussing.” I’ve done all of these things. In fact, I do all of these things.
Years ago, before we started having babies, Will and I had a favorite Indian restaurant. We ate there about once a week, and we knew all the staff. The host would greet us at the door, “Jackson,” he would say, smiling brightly and showing us to our table. We always ordered the same delicious entrees with onion nan and mixed raita, and when they served the food it was as if the aroma somehow overpowered our manners, we became Kobayashi and Chestnutt wolfing down hot dogs. We laughed about it at the time, but now I see it for the picture of gluttony that it was. “Too eagerly” is a bit of an understatement.
So does this mean enjoying food is a sin? Of course not. Think about Jesus. There’s something almost magical about sitting down to dinner with friends, especially in someone’s home, like Jesus often did. Sharing a meal can be a great way to bond, to get to know someone, or to just leisurely learn something new about someone you’ve known a long time. But that doesn’t happen if your focus is on the food instead of the people.
I don’t know if I focus too much on food in social situations, sometimes I think I probably do, but I know that gluttony is a problem for me. I think about food too much and I eat too much. The solution is obviously self-discipline. After all I can direct my thoughts (see last week’s post), and I can intentionally place myself in situations where gluttonous overeating is not even an option. But another important component for the follower of Christ is to have a regular time of fasting. Dunnam and Reisman argue that “fasting is a means of practicing the fact that we cannot feed the spirit with the body’s food.” I’ve long had a ready list of why I do not, can not fast, but I’m feeling convicted about this. So I’m going to start.
How about you? Do you fast? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Outside of Nickelodeon’s Go, Diego, Go! which features a talking, three-toed variety, you really don’t hear the word sloth very often. In its simplest form sloth is really just plain laziness. So would you consider yourself lazy?

It is easy for me to think about all the stuff I do as a mother of three boys, and quickly conclude that laziness is not currently an issue in my life. I do not watch television (except sports on weekends with my family) and some days I barely get to sit down. But once again my interpretation has been a bit too convenient, because it’s really not about what you do as much as the attitude of your heart.

One of the books that I’ve been reading talks about how depression is linked to the sin of sloth. (What Your Counselor Never Told You, William Backus). Dr. Backus didn’t use Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh as an example, but really he could have. He so fits the description of the person who readily listens to that negative inner voice. Certainly clinical depression oftentimes has a chemical component, but can’t you just picture someone like Eeyore in a downward spiral emotionally, believing they cannot do this and they cannot do that. Assuming that person doesn’t like them, and that nothing really matters. I think we all have those voices, and I think anyone would end up like poor little Eeyore if they listened to them.

I am currently vacationing in beautiful Park City, Utah. The last few years I’ve had this intense desire to snowboard. I am six feet tall which means I have a long way to fall. And I can ski pretty well, so I really do not understand why, at thirty-six, I have this thirst to ride. But I do, so today Will and I took a break from the dreaded ski boots and enrolled in our second riding lesson. After a nasty wipe-out, which is currently memorialized by a giant and throbbing left knee, we took our lunch break. I sat there feeling pretty sorry for myself, thinking about how complicated life would be if I tore something or broke something, thinking about how bummed I’d be if I didn’t get to ski with my little boys any more this week.

But then it hit me. I’ve been studying about sloth, about how it is an attitude of the heart, how at its core it’s a denial of Philippians 4:13 which says that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (NIV). And as truth often does, that changed my whole perspective. I may have torn cartilage in my knee, I may have broken my coccyx too (although I really don’t think I did either), but I need not worry. I need not be like Eeyore or the tired little engine in the The Little Engine That Could. I may have a voice in my head that says, “I cannot. I cannot. I cannot.” But the great news is I don’t have to listen to it!

The message of the Bible is the exact opposite of nay saying Eeyore, and is even better than that of the noble little blue engine. The Bible says that I should always be telling myself that, through Christ, “I know I can. I know I can. I know I can.”

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

If you aren’t the proud owner of a twenty-pound unabridged dictionary, let me remind you that Christmas is just around the corner. The dictionary is capable of doubling as a weapon and I can assure you that the definitions in my unabridged are much more enlightening than online dictionaries. Take, for example, the simple word greed. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.com use the following definitions: “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions” and “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.” But my unabridged adds “an excessive, extreme desire for something, often more than one’s proper share,” and lists seven synonyms.

A couple months back I blogged about Best Buy’s marketing slogan: You, Happier. I visited Best Buy again a couple of weeks ago in search of a VCR (lots of VHS tapes and a broken player) but they don’t have them anymore. They didn’t have the You, Happier. banners either, which I initially thought was kind of cool, but then the employee I was chatting with pointed up to the Happier, Holidays. banner. Ugghh. Best Buy’s unabashed appeal to greed promotes the pervasive idea that more and better stuff leads to happiness. But consider our own grandparents: we have more possessions than they dreamed possible, and yet we seem to be less content. We can think of and have lived many examples of how more is not better or how that thing we just knew would make us happy did not. But we can’t seem to accept that the formula always fails. Instead we believe that we just haven’t yet acquired the right stuff.
Jesus tells us in the Bible that He came so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), but He warned us to be on “guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). So obviously an abundant life is not a function of stuff. So why are we so inclined to this excessive, rapacious, extreme desire? Given how rich our society is as a whole, greed is even hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it’s manifested personally as tightfistedness or an unquenchable thirst for more, but sometimes it’s more social in nature, wanting to have more than others or wanting what belongs to others. Greed is not knowing what is enough, it’s not living the virtue of temperance, and at its core it’s a disposition of the heart about stuff. So really only you know how greedy you are. Well, you and your Maker.
So what’s the cure for greed. It’s actually quite simple. I found it right there in my beloved unabridged. The antonym for greed and its cure is generosity. I said it was simple, not easy!
Think of the most generous person you know. Don’t you just love and admire that person? Now, think of the most generous person that ever lived? And I’m not talking about Bill or Melinda Gates. Although it’s truly incredible how much their foundation has given, the biblical view on giving is proportionality and so they haven’t given as much as the impoverished woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21). And the most generous person who ever lived was Jesus Christ. He wasn’t generous in terms of giving away great wealth (there’s no evidence that he ever had much), but He loved people. He took time for people. He asked for the little children to be brought to Him. And ultimately He died a brutal death for the scoffers who spit at him. Now that’s generosity.
We are called to emulate His loving and generous spirit. (John 13). It is a high standard — one that we can only hope to work toward.
Let me close with a thought-provoking and convicting question: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3: 17)

The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

So my sweet friend Melissa was the sole commenter on my last blog–further evidence of the widespread denial of sin! Actually, I’m kidding. I know this is a really tough subject and one people are reluctant to talk about. You might have noticed that I didn’t specify or even hint at how I envy. I’d be embarrassed to reveal just how shallow I can be.

But I will give you a personal example for our next deadly sin: anger. On Saturday we took the boys to their first college football game. It was thirty-five degrees, but other than Sam’s refusal to wear his mittens, we all had a blast. Sam danced to every ditty of the marching band, and the older boys screamed and cheered for every first down. It was just a very, very fun day. We bought the boys foam cavaliers and hats and t-shirts. We ate stadium food and sipped hot chocolate. I mean it was an all-out good time. But later when I was putting the boys to bed, our oldest son, Will, was unhappy. Really unhappy. He complained that he wasn’t tired. He complained that it wasn’t fair. I was sort of taken aback my his ingratitude but reminded myself that despite his stature, he is only seven years old. But then as he was brushing his teeth, and I was sitting on the floor, putting Sammy in his pajamas, Will called over to me with a deadly serious look on his face, utilizing a condescending and emphatic tone.
“Let me be clear!” he said.
I was instantaneously livid, and I imagine many of you can sympathize. Since “it is not the impulse of anger but the way we handle it that turns into sin,” you might want to know how I handled it? (Dunnam and Reisman).
“Get over here,” I snapped, using an even angrier voice than Will had used. Then I cupped his little face in my hand and said, “Don’t you EVER, EVER talk to me that way again. Do you understand?”
So whatever it was that he wanted to be clear about is yet a mystery! But here are some of the problems with how I handled this situation: (1) I raised my voice; and (2) I was acting more out of personal hurt and wounded pride than I was acting to teach my son an important lesson about respect and gratitude. And that’s really one of the major problems with anger. As much as we may think our anger is justified, our motives are never pure–our own self-interest is always there to mar the righteousness of our indignation.
But consider Jesus and how He cleared the moneygrubbers out of the temple. He didn’t use his disciples as a swat team and He didn’t use his power as Creator of the Universe. Isn’t it kind of amazing that He was able to send them running with a whip of cords? Dunnam and Reisman observed that, “It was not his physical strength, but his moral power. The moral force of Jesus’ anger against their wrongdoing sent them scrambling from the temple.” But that doesn’t work for us mere mortals because we cannot attain the moral authority. Nearly all of our anger is tainted by our own self-interest. Jesus was angry because his Father’s house was being defiled. If we want to emulate Jesus we will be angry about things which violate God’s law, but aren’t harmful to us personally. We can be righteously indignant about the mistreatment of others: about human trafficking, slavery and child prostitution, and I hope you are. (One great organization to give to on this is The International Justice Mission www.ijm.org). And certainly there are examples closer to home as well, but my main point is that we try to justify our own outbursts as righteous anger, but really we are kidding ourselves.
Instead the Bible issues many warnings about anger. A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11). An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22). Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22: 24-25) [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)
So even though I’m not usually much of a hothead, I now realize I’ve been misconstruing the real issue. If we look at ourselves honestly and with the right standard — provided by Jesus himself — I think we all have some tendency toward anger. So what’s the cure? C.S. Lewis said, “The surest means of disarming an anger…[is to] start examining the passion itself,” and Dunnam and Reisman suggest exploring what your feelings of anger really tell you about yourself. These are good starting points. You can also meditate on the verses above, and like everything else in life, you can pray about it.
In closing, here is a great thought to consider: “The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry.” (author unknown).
I hope that you are spurred, as I am, to make sure that thing is not small.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

In my last blog I told you that I am studying the seven deadly sins as part of the C.S. Lewis Institute fellows program. Even though I’ve gone to church my whole life, and spent the last ten years seriously pursuing a relationship with my Lord and Savior, I have never before taken a hard look at the seven deadly sins. And yet I am more and more convinced that talk of love and grace without acknowledgment of our own sin trivializes the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. As one scholar rightly asks, “What had we thought the ripping and writhing on Golgotha were all about?” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be). His observation that the local church often ignores “the lethal reality of sin” resonates with me; he says the “sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.”
And I have to say, I am finding the study of the seven deadly sins to be a very fruitful endeavor. It is altering the way I look at myself, and the way I look at society as a whole. There is so much sorrow in this world. We rightly attribute much of our pain to natural causes, but we also allow individuals to escape blame for the most heinous of crimes. We reason that people with horrific backgrounds of abuse, neglect or other injustice cannot possibly be held accountable for their actions. But I believe this is a mistake. Let me be clear: I am not saying that experiences do not affect our behavior, they do. But even though we are uncomfortable with the topic, even though it’s taboo in our politically correct culture, we cannot ignore that sin also plays a role. Sin is real and we are all masters at denying it. As we start to be more aware of its reality, we begin to see it as a major component of the sorrow all around us.
Although the sin of pride is usually listed first among the deadly sins, I’m going to close these seven blogs with pride and start with envy. There are many facets to envy, my Webster’s Unabridged has three full paragraphs describing it, but simply put, to envy is “to feel resentful and unhappy because someone else possesses, or has achieved, what one wishes oneself to possess or to have achieved.”
Have you ever felt that way? Of course you have, and so have I. It’s a terrible feeling, and even though we don’t go around admitting it (you hear people say they struggle with lust, with greed, with overeating, but when’s the last time you heard someone say they struggle with envy?), but we are all guilty of it, some more than others. And all sins have built-in punishments, but the terrible thing about envy is that there is no pleasure in it, and yet it is insatiable. Even if you obtain the possession or the status that you envy, that is no cure–you’ll just envy the next thing.
As Frederick Buechner says, “Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else as unsuccessful as you are.” But not only is envy consuming, it can lead to all kinds of other sins. Remember how King Saul envied David or how envious Joseph’s brothers were of his special status in the eyes of Jacob? Where did their envy lead them? Not exactly to the paths of righteousness, right? So we’re fooling ourselves if we think envy isn’t a big deal. Envy impedes our ability to recognize the blessings that God has graciously bestowed upon us, and envy also keeps us from rejoicing in the blessings of others.
So what’s the cure? Well, naming it is step one, but beyond that I’m certainly no expert. I just started studying this myself, remember? But from what I’ve read, here are some ideas:
  1. Take an honest look at your life, ask God to reveal to you where you have issues with envy;
  2. Then pray for confidence in God’s Word, that in your heart of hearts you will rest in the fact that you are His unique creation and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made;
  3. Pray for the person you envy;
  4. Meditate on God’s love;
  5. Know that love and envy are incompatible (“We cannot deeply love and at the same time envy, for in love we wish the very best for others.” Dr. William Backus).