This post is by Jared Wilson. Wilson currently serves as the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. Wilson is the author of several books and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church.
- You can purchase The Gospel Project study on The God Who Saves here.
- You can see the entire blog series on The Seven Daily Sins here.
Have you ever noticed how many lists are in the Bible? The writers of Scripture (and the Author inspiring them) seem to love lists. We get lists of names, lists of places, lists of measurements, lists of things to do, and lists of things not to do.
God knows we like bullet points. Having been a blogger for more than 10 years, I’ve discovered that my most popular blog posts are ones that include numbered lists. Why? We love lists because we like to compartmentalize. A list says: Here are the main points; now take action. When my wife sends me to the grocery store, she doesn’t send me with an essay on why Downy fabric softener is better than Snuggle. She simply writes down “fabric softener.” The grocery list is designed to be concise, clear, and easily actionable.
Doing and Being
We run into a problem with some of the lists in the Bible, particularly when we try to make them actionable. For example, look at what Paul wrote in Galatians 5:19-21:
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
I don’t know about you, but this list scares the living daylights out of me. The sorcery stuff I feel pretty safe on. But moral impurity? Outbursts of anger? Envy? And just in case you think you’ve found a loophole, Paul closed it up by forbidding “anything similar.” Paul’s list is concise and clear. It says: Don’t do these things if you want to inherit the kingdom of God. But it’s not easily actionable. How do you stop sinning? Ever tried to just stop being jealous? How did that work out for you?
This list is important; it’s Scripture. But apart from the context of the rest of Galatians, it can be despair-inducing. Thankfully, Paul offered another list shortly after the first:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
The most important thing I notice about this list is that it doesn’t emphasize actions. It emphasizes qualities. The first list shows us things to do (or not do); this list shows us that the antidote to our sin—to the bad things we do—is good things we can be.
This is the most important lesson in the Christian’s handling of sin: for the believer to “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), we must get beneath the surface of “dos and don’ts” and get right to those passions and desires. This means hearing and understanding the Bible’s teaching on what sin is and where it comes from. Trying to remedy sin as we would complete a to-do list amounts to merely managing sin, not killing it. It’s like mowing over the weeds in the yard rather than rooting them out.
Inside and Outside
Jesus highlighted this change of perspective in response to the Pharisees’ complaints that His disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating (Matthew 15:2). The Pharisees weren’t concerned about hygiene. They were worried about the “traditions of the elders,” which was a concern for ritual cleanliness. For the Pharisees, this was a concern about the appearance of religious propriety—about obeying rules. But for Jesus, “doing the right things” doesn’t make somebody a right person. Obeying rules doesn’t get rid of sin. So the practice of washing hands, in His theology, doesn’t give somebody a clean heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:11:
“It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Jesus relocated the source of uncleanness from “out there” to “in here.” The truth is that you don’t become sinful through outside influences. You don’t catch sin as you do a cold. You carry it around with you.
I once had a young lady tell me she wished she could get away from the negative influences and sinful temptations in our culture by moving to a deserted island all by herself. I told her not to go because she’d mess it up.
There are plenty of temptations in the world and lots of sins to be discovered, but the reason these are so dangerous is located right here in our own hearts. We can put as much sanitizer on our hands as we like, but we all carry the virus inside. That’s why Jesus calledbthe Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27)—because they looked great on the outside, but on the inside they were putrid, rotting death.
And this is why Jesus constantly relocated the source of goodness away from things to do and toward things to be. See, for instance, how the Beatitudes precede the practical matters of the Sermon on the Mount. And hear His words in Matthew 7:17: “In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.”
We must get at the root of our trees. If we want to produce good outer fruit for the kingdom of God, we must address our bad inner condition. And only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to do that.
Deadly and Daily
One list we don’t find in the pages of Scripture is what has traditionally been called “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Historically attributed to Pope Gregory at the end of the sixth century, this categorization of the worst of “don’ts” has captured our creative imagination ever since. From Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Inferno to Brad Pitt’s Se7en, the Seven Deadly Sins—pride, lust, gluttony, greed, envy, sloth, and wrath—have become our culture’s most commonly accepted definitive list of bad behaviors.
If you’re a genuine follower of Jesus, you’re genuinely concerned about your sin. You’ve discovered you can’t stop sinning altogether, and apart from the power of God, there are specific areas of sin in your life you can’t seem to kill—but you know you ought to, and you want to. You’ve likely learned that even when you stop doing bad things, you have trouble squelching bad thoughts or impure motives. Here’s the bad news: We all carry these Seven Deadly Sins in our hearts 24 hours a day. They’re always lurking in us. We must be clear about what sin really is and where it comes from if we truly desire to crucify it.
Here’s the good news: While our running the performance treadmill of moralism and our attempts at behavior management don’t work, the power of Christ’s perfect obedience, sinless sacrifice, and glorified resurrection do. And in Jesus and the power of His Spirit we find the freedom to confidently diagnose the root of our sins, boldly kill those sins through gospel-fueled repentance, and joyfully walk in newness of life.
That’s what Seven Daily Sins is all about.