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06.19.11 The Seven Deadly Sins and Vice and Virtue Lists, Col. 3:1-17, Sermon Summary

by on June 20, 2011

Summary Points

  • Definitions of the Seven Deadly Sins
  • How they relate to one another, at least in my life
  • Five strategies for overcoming them
  • A perspective on vice and virtue lists in the Bible

To conclude this series, I want to review what the Seven Deadly Sins are, share how they are related and how we can begin to overcome them.

First a summary of the Seven Deadly Sins (SDS). In alphabetical order, they are as follows.

  • Anger: our emotional response to wrongs, either personal or societal, either actual or perceived, whether in the past, present, or predicted.
  • Envy: dissatisfaction with our life resulting from comparison with others, especially what they have.
  • Gluttony: preoccupation with food, whether consuming too much of it or being overly scrupulous about it.
  • Greed: patterns of consumption and hoarding beyond our actual need.
  • Lust: attitudes and behaviors that reduce others to the means to our goal of pleasure.
  • Pride: rejoicing in our abilities and achievements without recognizing variables beyond us that contribute to them, especially God.
  • Sloth: despair of progress in the spiritual life leading to our giving up.

Contrary to the assertions of some, my observations of the SDS in my own life suggest that any of them can serve as the gateway to the others. For example, for me the lack of self-control in Gluttony leads to Sloth, Greed, and Lust. Pride leads to Greed. Sloth leads to Envy, and vice-versa. The more I’ve submitted to the examination of the Spirit through the matrix of the SDS, the more I’ve discovered how embedded sinful attitudes and behaviors are in my life. It has led me to grace and gratitude and new efforts to live more as God has called me to live.

I’ve also made this discovery: I can trace most of the Anger I experience throughout the day to an attitude related to one of the other SDS. I’m angry God hasn’t provided enough of what I want (Greed), or not provided for me what others have (Envy). I’m angry my physical desires, not just sexual, aren’t satisfied (Lust), and that I haven’t progressed spiritually as much as I hoped (Sloth). I’m angry God calls me to serve others and to depend on him to do so (Pride). I get angry when circumstances require me to eat bad food, and that good food takes so long to prepare (Gluttony).

But I’ve also discovered that Anger leads me to the other SDS. Anger leads me give up my spiritual practices to spite God (Sloth) or eat chocolate to spite myself (Gluttony). In ego-defense, I retreat into my accomplishments (Pride) and discount the achievements of others (Envy). Lust and Greed often follow Anger in my life.

All this leads me to conclude that, one way I can grow in my spiritual life is to attend prayerfully to the presence of Anger. What is causing it? How is it leading me away from my true calling? How can I begin to overcome it?

In overcoming the SDS, I’ve found the following to be helpful.

  • Self-control: this begins small, like abstaining from a food one day a week, or “counting to ten” before responding to someone. But it develops into a habit that helps manage the SDS.
  • Love: Jesus called us to love God, neighbor, and our enemies. Loving God by aligning with his values, loving neighbor by serving and providing for her, and loving enemies by remembering that God loves them and by praying for them goes a long way in addressing many of the SDS.
  • Prayer: Simply spending time with God, or reflecting on the presence of the SDS in our lives, then breaking the silence with a conversation with God all has helped. Or at the very least, I can pray for more self-control and love.
  • Two more practices that emerge from the vice and virtue list found in Colossians 3:1-17 help also. But first, a comment on such lists.

Vice and virtue lists, in the West, can be traced back to Plato who first identified the cardinal virtues of temperance, courage, justice, prudence. Since then philosophers and theologians have generated lists of virtues and often contrasted them with lists of vices. By the time of Jesus they were quite popular and we find twenty or so lists of vices, virtues, or both in the Newer Testament.

The items on these lists are culturally conditioned. Some of them we can easily apply today, others we cannot. I look to such lists for the principles underlying the particulars; for the enduring and universal truths that generated the specific items on the lists.

One such foundational truth from Colossians 3 is that our lives are hidden in Christ. Jesus’ ascension to heaven, whenever and however it actually occurred, teaches us that Christ is with God. But the messengers tell his disciples that he will appear again as they saw him depart. In other words, we are to “look up” to find Christ. Colossians asserts that since we are in Christ, our true selves are also “up” with God. It seems hidden to us now, just as Christ remains hidden, but when Christ appears, we will appear with him. So keep “looking up” Luke and Colossians tells us, because our true lives are hidden there, and our responsibility is to seek and find them with God in Christ. As we do this, the Spirit will generate a personalized list of vices and virtues we are to work on in our lives.

Colossians grounds this foundational but hidden truth about our lives in the sacrament of baptism. It urges us not to “deceive one another.” The truth is that our lives are hidden with God in Christ. But too often we live as if this weren’t true; we live according to a lie. But when Colossians exhorts us to “put on Christ” it refers to baptism, when the old and false self is drowned in the water and the new and true self is resurrected with Christ. Ancient baptismal rites included a change of clothes. Remembering our baptism, putting on Christ, is a helpful strategy for dealing with the SDS.

Colossians 3 ends with a three-fold reference to thanksgiving. Because we are one body (made so in baptism), we are to have peace with one another, a peace founded on an attitude of thanksgiving. We are to encourage one another in worship (the reference to the word and song) with thanksgiving. And the chapter dismisses us from worship to “do everything in the name of the Lord, with thanksgiving.”

It’s easy to recognize the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in these verses. With Bread and Cup in hand, Augustine said to his congregation, “Behold what you are, become what you receive.” Jesus commanded us to “do this in remembrance” of him. And Paul says we do so “until he comes again.” Like Luke and Colossians, our gaze is directed to Christ, his coming into our lives again, and our finding our lives in him. So the second help from this passage in dealing with the SDS (and our own vice and virtue lists), is celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

To live as a child of God, and not a deadly sinner, Colossians adds to self-control, love, and prayer, the call to remember our baptism and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

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