I once read of a pastor who announced in a sermon on sin that there were 789 different kinds. That week in opening his mail there were 94 requests from members of his church desiring a complete listing of all 789 sins! Concerning the seven deadly sins, Norwegian Lasse Tonnesson, in 1982, somehow managed to successfully commit all seven deadly sins in a record-setting 32 minutes and 19 seconds! He earned himself not only the respect of his countrymen, but also several lucrative endorsement deals and a short-lived daytime television talk show. The seven deadly sins – where did this list originate? Seven in Scripture speaks of perfection. Does that mean a sinner is only a complete, or prefect sinner if he indulges in all seven? How deadly are these sins? Maybe another appropriate question in the light of today’s culture might be, is there really any such thing as “sin” anymore?
The phrase, “seven deadly sins,” originated centuries ago, but not necessarily from Scripture. Proverbs 6:16-19 declares: “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” However, this list is not what most people understand as the “seven deadly sins.” In Rick Ezell’s interesting book entitled, “The 7 Sins of Highly Defective People,” he states that, “The church fathers of the Middle Ages listed seven sins and called them the ‘deadly sins.’ They believed that all other sins grew out of them. They urged people to purge themselves of these sins. What the medieval church fathers knew then, social scientists are now admitting: we are defeated today by these same sins. The seven deadly sins are just as prevalent today as they were in the past. If left unchecked they will not only defeat us, they will destroy us.” 13th century theologian, Thomas Aquinas, is the one recognized as having coined the expression “seven deadly sins” as they are known today: pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and gluttony. Really, as we examine Scripture, there could be several different kinds of sin that we could put into categories of seven, but these particular seven have gained notoriety and certainly are worthy of being preached upon from our pulpits. For those of you who have read them, several years ago, one author discovered an interesting relationship between the seven deadly sins and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. He states that within this classic work, C.S. Lewis has taken these seven deadly sins and shown to us their destructive power, and set before us examples to avoid.
Are these seven deadly sins still deadly today? Not necessarily deadly to us in a physical sense but certainly deadly to us in a moral sense. Very briefly let me define them and give an example and a warning from Scripture to avoid them.
Pride – excessive self-esteem, conceit, the sin from which all others arise. Pride originated with Satan in heaven (Isa. 14:12-15) and certainly was manifested in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar who boasted of his power and kingdom but was stripped of both by God (Daniel 4). “Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall,” – Prov. 16:18. “When pride comes, then comes shame,” according to Prov. 11:2. Puritan Thomas Watson well said, “The devil never tempts us with more success than when he tempts us with the sight of our own good actions.”
Envy – resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. Would not both Joseph’s brothers (Gen. 37) and the prodigal son who stayed home (Luke 15) fit this description? Someone said it is very hard to behold our own gifts without pride, and the gifts of others without envy. God says, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is…willing to yield…without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:16-17).
Anger – an intense emotional state induced by displeasure, fury, rage. Those who stoned Stephen to death were angry (Acts 7:54-60). The Pharisees were filled with rage when the Lord Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Lk. 6:11). William Jenkyn said, “Anger should not be destroyed but sanctified.” Paul said, “Be ye angry and sin not, let not the sun do down upon your wrath.” (Eph. 4:26).
Sloth – disinclination to action or labor, spiritual apathy and inactivity. Prov. 19:24 has always intrigued me, “A lazy (slothful) man buries his hand in the bowl, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again.” This text reminds me of the lazy man’s field that was overgrown with thorns and the Lord’s warning that because of slothfulness poverty would come like a prowler and take all that he had (Prov. 24:30-34). Oh, the talents that some of God’s saints have wasted due to dormancy.
Greed – a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira fit this scenario very well in lying and retaining some proceeds from the sale of a piece of land. It cost them their lives! A great weakness today is to distinguish between our needs and our greeds! “He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house” (Prov. 15:27).
Lust – unbridled sexual desire. Solomon well said, “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned……so is he who goes into his neighbor’s wife, whoever touches her shall not be innocent” (Prov. 6:27,29). What better example than David’s lustful look recorded in II Sam. 11. Yes, “when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15).
Gluttony – excessive indulgence, consuming more than that which one requires. We are to pray, “God, give us this day our daily bread,” (Lk. 11:3), but we also are to remember Paul’s words in Phi. 3:18-19 that we are not to walk as those who are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly! If you want to chew, chew on Prov. 23:1-2 sometime!
Are the seven deadly sins still deadly? Without question, my friend. Not only should they be preached from our pulpits but may we also guard our hearts and listen carefully to the words of Puritan Thomas Watson, who had no problem at all preaching about sin:
“Let original sin make us walk with continual jealousy and watchfulness over our hearts. The sin of our nature is like a sleeping lion, the least thing that awakens it makes it rage. The sin of our nature, though it seems quiet, and lies as fire hid under the embers, yet if it be a little stirred and blown up by a temptation, how quickly may it flame forth into scandalous evils? Therefore we had need always to walk watchfully….A wandering heart needs a watchful eye.”
–Maynard H. Belt