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Reflection January 17, 2016
Seven Deadly Sins
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This coming Sunday, January 17, I will begin a new preaching series focused on the Seven Deadly Sins. This series will open with an exploration of pride. I believe it’s vitally important for every Christian to explore what sin is and how sin impacts the life of every believer.
The Seven Deadly Sins have been pondered over many hundreds of years in our Christian tradition. Just in case anyone is uncertain of these “Big Seven” sins, they are: PRIDE, ENVY, ANGER, SLOTH, AVARICE, GLUTTONY and LUST.
The seven deadly sins were listed in this order for a reason. Pride, for instance, was seen as being more deadly than the other six sins. Envy was recognized as being more damaging than anger and so on. The seven deadly sins could each bring death to the soul but the extent of their considerable poison was evident in the order in which they were listed.
Henry Fairlie in The Seven Deadly Sins Today cautions us with the following: “When we say that someone is a ‘good man’ or a ‘good woman’, we do not mean that they are people from whom the inclination to evil is absent, but that they are people who have wrestled with sin and still wrestle with it. We can say that they are people of character because they have formed their characters in the wrestling.”
What I hope to do in this up-coming series of sermons is to help us all in our “wrestling.” How can we adequately develop our character if we don’t have a good idea of the enemies we encounter in our journey of life? Sin and evil are always realities for us believers.
As we are reminded in John’s 1st Letter: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John:1: 8-10)
These words make it clear that we need to “confess” our sins so we might be cleansed from them. But, I fear, the notion of sin seems almost absent from our national consciousness. When and where do we hear about sin? When and where do we learn how pernicious and all-pervasive sin is?
In 1978, I taught an Ethics course at Marion College in Indianapolis. The text I choose was Dr. Karl Menninger’s Whatever Became of Sin? This provocative title still echoes in our collective psyche. Why do we not hear much any more about the nature and danger of sin?
Every pastor would do well to be an expert on sin. Naturally I don’t mean that every pastor should fall victim to every form of sin! What I mean is that human nature, being what it is, is always prone to the dangers and allure of sin.
Again from Fairley: “To say we are inclined to do evil is very different from saying we are doomed to do evil. The first is a doctrine of hope and choice, the second a doctrine of despair and abdication.” If we, as Christians, do not occasionally examine the nature of sin and evil, how can we courageously confront and battle these ancient enemies?
We should be careful, however, approaching the topic of sin. We would do well to examine our own sinfulness with a certain humility. We have been saved in Christ but that does not mean that sin is absent within us and among us.
When it comes to sinfulness, we can easily fall into two pernicious pits. We can imagine ourselves to be such terrible sinners that there isn’t much hope for us and we, therefore, abdicate the struggle. Or we may hold such an exalted opinion of our own perfection, often hidden under the shadow of self righteousness, that we believe ourselves impervious to sin’s poison.
Are we all sinners? Yes, we are! But we are sinners who have been loved and redeemed by the power of the cross and the resurrection. We are never sinners in the hands of an angry God. We are sinners in the hands of an all-merciful, loving God. But this does not mean we should disregard our sins and presume God’s mercy will overlook our sins and personal evil.
Our Sunday exploration of the seven deadly sins will take us much of the way through Lent. It is my hope to finish our exploration with a special anointing and healing service to communally confess that we are sinners and communally pray for one another. We know God’s grace abounds but we also know, from experience, that sin and evil abound as well!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor