The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, is a classification of vices (part of Christian ethics) that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct Christians concerning fallen humanity's tendency to sin. In the currently recognized version, the sins are usually given as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.
The Catholic Church divides sin into two categories: venial sins, in which culpability is somewhat small, and the more severe mortal sins.
Now, I am not a Catholic, but I do think the classification of certain sins as “deadly” is appropriate. I’ve given this topic deep reflection over the years. I’ve come to realize that the 7 deadly sins aren’t *sins* in the usual sense of the world. Usually when we talk of sin, we’re talking about some action which is prohibited by both our consciences (Romans 2:14-15) and by God’s written commands to us (e.g The Ten Commandments). The seven deadly sins are more like personality flaws. They’re character defects. They stem from the sin nature that we’ve inherited from Adam and Eve (see Romans 5). Not everyone struggles with all of these character defects. Some struggle with few if any. Some struggle with only one, some struggle with one or two. I’d hate to meet the depraved wretch who has all 7! ;-)
But how are they character defects and why are they deadly? Don’t all sins lead to death? Aren’t the wages of sin death (Romans 6:23)? How are these “sins” any worse than any other? I’ll unpack my reasons for agreeing with the Catholic church on the seven deadly sins. I’ll do that by explaining what each of these sins are.
The deadly sin of lust is especially prevalent today. With the introduction of condoms and birth control pills a long time ago, the threat of pregnancy from having sex declined greatly. That which would have acted as a deterrent (i.e getting a woman pregnant) was removed by the introduction of contraception. Now, I’m not at all saying that there’s anything wrong with using condoms. There’s nothing in scripture which prohibits the use of them. But it’s undeniable that sex out of wedlock was curtailed in the past by the presence of the danger of getting a woman pregnant. Of course, I’m talking about acting on their lusts, not the lust itself. The lust itself is the biggest issue. Just like with wrath, envy, vanity, etc. The presence of one these deadly sins produces sinful actions. The character trait produces (not necessarily given human free will), but it does contribute as a great influential factor to certain actions prohibited in scripture. The presence of a massive amount of sexual lust in a person’s heart produces such sins such as fornication (i.e sex out of wedlock), adultery, and in the most extreme cases, orgies (multiple partner sex). Perhaps the biggest contribution to this deadly sin is the easy access to pornography.
Jesus knew the dangers of this deadly sin when He said “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." - Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus also said "For out of the heart come evil thoughts--murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them." - Matthew 5:19-20
Evil always starts in the heart and then flows out from the heart through a person’s actions. Lust starts in the heart and then manifests itself in the physical world through the aforementioned actions. By the way, Jesus said that the mere presence of evil in your heart has defiled you even if you haven’t acted on those evil thoughts yet and even if you don’t intend to. God cares not only about what we DO, but what we ARE. And He knows what we are because He can read what’s in our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7, Deuteronomy 31:21, Psalm 44:21, Psalm 139:2, Proverbs 15:11). God wants people who have pure hearts as well as clean hands. And fortunately for us, He can clean both of them.
First let me explain the 3 types of anger that exist. Two of which are sinful and lead to either physical harm to someone else, or at the very least the corruption of someone’s heart. Wrath (or Anger) comes in 4 types. One type is righteous anger. God gave us the ability to anger because He feels anger. We’re supposed to get angry at evil and unrigheousness in the world. This is a good type of anger. It’s a godly type of anger. It’s the type of anger that Jesus felt when he drove out the money changers in the temple (in Mark 11:15–19, 11:27–33, Matthew 21:12–17, 21:23–27 and Luke 19:45–48, 20:1–8).
By contrast, there are three types of anger that can get a person in trouble. Either with the law or with the Lord or both.
1: Violent Anger
This type of anger comes from a lack of self control. We’ve all heard of “crime of passions”, for example, when a man comes home to find his wife in bed with another man (a result of the deadly sin mentioned above), he’s so overcome with hurt and anger that he murders both of them. When he calms down, he comes to his senses and comes to the horrible realization of what he has just done. What he never would have done in a million years, he has done in a matter of minutes, all because his rage controlled him. This may be why Jesus said "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." - Matthew 5:21-22
Again, God cares about not only what we do, but what’s in our hearts. Now, Jesus doesn’t consider all forms of anger sinful. Remember the aforementioned passages where He Himself got angry. Anger is not intrinsically wrong. Righteous anger is permitted by God as God Himself feels righteous anger. However, this type of rage and the type of anger I’m about to describe next are what Jesus spoke out against. This first type of anger is a desire to cause harm to someone who’s done you wrong.
“For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” – James 1:20
2: Stored Anger (resentfulness)
This type of anger comes in the form of unforgiveness. It’s when you carry a grudge against someone. While this type of anger has the potential of harming someone else (i.e if you look for revenge). At most, if you don’t act on it, it’ll only harm yourself. I need not go into great explanation why. I only need to once again quote The Bible.
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." - Matthew 18:23-35
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." - Matthew 5:38-44
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." - Matthew 6:14-15
The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant as well as Matthew 6:14-15 are pretty clear; if we hold onto bitterness and grudges, if we absolutely refuse to forgive people their sins against us, God will not forgive us for our sins against Him and others. If you want to be forgiven, you must forgive. If you die holding onto grudges, it will not bode well for you when you stand before God.
Hatred is also very deadly to your immortal soul. The Bible is emphatic that those who have hatred in their hearts are Hell bound.
“The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” – 1 John 2:10-11
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” – 1 John 3:15
For these reasons, wrath is a very deadly sin indeed. So, love, do not hate. Forgive your trespassers. If you don’t, you won’t make it into Heaven.
This deadly sin produces pretty obvious effects. It can start off as selfishness but end up in a person stealing things. This character trait can lead to a person committing, theft, which is against one of the 10 commandments. I can easily conceive how this can be “deadly” (both in the physical sense and the spiritual sense). It’s deadly because there can be situations in a bank robbery where the robber shoots the bank teller and then the thief then gets shot by police. If he dies from that gun shot wound, he’ll likely be on his way to Hell. So, yes, this too, is a very deadly sin.
I can see how this would obviously have terrible consequences.
"A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich." - Proverbs 10:4
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied." – Proverbs 13:4
“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!" – Proverbs 14:23
“He who works his land will have abundant food.” - Proverbs 28:19
Just from these 4 verses from the book of Proverbs alone we can see that those who work hard are more likely to succeed financially than those who are lazy and don’t work hard. This obviously isn’t always the case. Obviously, there are people who work their butts off and are still struggling with their finances, but The Bible promises that if don’t at least try, you’re guaranteed to fail. Slackers never get rich except by winning the lottery (and how probable is that, really?). Once again, we see that this deadly sin isn’t an action, it’s a character flaw. Laziness isn’t actually an action. If it were, those who are lazy probably wouldn’t do it. ;-) ;-)
Gluttony, or over indulgence, doesn’t necessarily have to do with eating too much food (though it can in many cases). Basically, it’s just over indulging in anything. It could be alchohol, smoking, even things like video games, or work. The Bible says that there is a season for everything. Don’t let anything you indulge in take up more than it’s appropriate time.
C.S Lewis wrote
"Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons--—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning."
Moreover, if you give anything more of your time than you give to God, you’re committing idolatry. The thing that is most important to you has become your God.
This deadly is actually explicitly prohibited in The Ten Commandments. God said “Thou Shalt Not Covet”. Coveting, according to Dictionary.com is “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others:"
How this sin is deadly is pretty obvious. This sin can not only lead to theft (if one covets material possessions one has) but it also can lead to murder (if a person covets someone’s spouse, as we’ve seen occur in novels and movies and plays). Once again, a deadly sin (i.e character traits) can beget other sins (immoral actions). What’s in the heart becomes manifested in the physical world in the form of actions.
Now, I want to make clear that there’s a difference between coveting and innocently wishing you had an item like the one your neighbor has. There’s a difference between saying “I like that car of yours. I wish I had one.” And spending all of your time becoming bitter towards your neighbor because of his awesome car, and pining for it every time you look across the street. Liking what your neighbor has and planning on getting one just like it when you have the chance is much different from being jealous towards your neighbor for having something nicer than you.
This is the sin that Lucifer had in Heaven. My fingers are starting to hurt from all the typing I’ve been doing, so I’ll just let C.S Lewis do the talking for me. He wrote about the sin of pride in his famous book “Mere Christianity”.
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” – C.S Lewis
“It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began . . . Pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.
In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
That raises a terrible question. How is it that a people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves so religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Screwtape also had something to say on pride and humilty in The Screwtape Letters
Well, there you have it. My blog post on the 7 deadly sins. I’ve been meaning to type this for a long time now. I’ve been reflecting on these deadly vices ever since I first came to Christ. Now I’ve finally been able to unleash my thoughts into the form of type.