The Not-So-Magnificent Seven

October 5th, 2009

Lately I’ve found myself developing a greater desire to understand church history in a new and real way. The early church fathers had a perspective on Christian living that we tend to lack in a fast-paced, capitalistic, information-age culture. They painfully examined their relationship with God. Their actions and writings were Christologically-centered, yet soul-focused. This great cloud of witnesses can craft a renovatus for our souls.

Over the next several columns, I want to unfold a perspective on the Seven Deadly Sins or Cardinal Sins ascribed by the early church. These are often ignored and deemed less applicable to people who are in ministry—especially youth ministry. Yet these sins become consuming and destructive to the soul of the believer. They erode the fulfillment, vitality, and life from the person who allows them to root within.

The interesting thing about these sins is that nobody would ever know that we struggle with them, because they’re often masked in the guise of spirituality. For example, we can look at avarice (greed: the desire to have more than we need) as justified under the cloak of “God pouring material blessing on us.” These sins have a stealth effect, deceiving even our own hearts and minds. They slowly creep into the fabric of the soul and extinguish it. That’s why they’re known as deadly sins.

But a gracious, loving God has always provided remedy. I want to challenge youth workers to look seriously at these issues and prepare to battle them as an act of loving God with our souls.

Sins and Virtues

The early church fathers recognized the fatal effect that these sins had on the soul of the believer. It was the monastic theologian Evagrius who first introduced eight destructive wicked human passions. Later the third-century “desert father” John Cassian developed a deeper understanding of these principal faults. During the 6th century, Gregory the Great redefined the list to seven capital sins.

The seven deadly sins became known as cardinal or capital sins, because other sins generate from these primary sins. It’s as if these are the primary colors in a sin color wheel: every sinful thought or behavior can be traced back to one or more of these seven. A greater theological development of these sins and the virtues that combat them came through Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

All agreed that the sins of envy, gluttony, wrath, avarice (greed), acedia (sloth or apathy), lust, and pride have a great destructive effect on the soul. The virtues that brought restoration to one’s soul and served as combatants to these sins were love, temperance, patience, generosity, diligence, chastity, and humility. Many other virtues like those listed as the fruit of the Spirit are also critical in the restoring effect on the soul.


In preparation for this series on sins and virtues, I’d ask you to do three things: 1) Ask the Holy Spirit to make you see how these play out in your life and ministry, because they’re there! The sin that so easily entangles us can become defeating, especially when we don’t see that it’s starting to entangle us.

2) Look at this as a great challenge of refreshment to your soul. Often we think we need to be on a quest to eliminate the sin in our lives; we believe this makes us godly. But it’s not actually the elimination we’re after. The truth is that we’re to battle sin in our lives; we need to struggle with it. This allows us to trust in the redeeming grace and power of God. It makes us need God more. When we need God more, God restores our souls. Realize that you aren’t godly when you’ve eliminated sin from your life but when you’re actively dealing with sin in your life through the power of the Spirit.

3) Pray expectantly that God will give you the wonderful fruit of the Spirit. This isn’t going to be a self-abasing mission. It’s going to be an adventure of soul refreshment.


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