Christian Theology: Sin and Humanity

Why do you need salvation in Christ?  What will he do for you which no one else can?

The Bible diagnoses our problem: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  If you're the exception, the one person who has never lied or cheated or had an immoral thought, I'd like to meet you and learn how you did it.  The rest of us know that we've made mistakes and sinned.  So what?  "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  God cannot let my sins into his perfect heaven, or it wouldn't be heaven any longer.  My sins must be punished, my debt paid.

This is why Jesus came: to die in our place, taking our punishment on himself (see Isaiah 53:5, 12).  No one else in all of human history has done this, or could do it.  Every other person has sinned, so that they owed their own debt to God.  Only Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), so he had no debt to pay.  He could die for us, taking our place and purchasing our salvation.  He then rose from the dead to prove his divinity, and to show us that we would live after death with him in paradise (John 14:1-6). 

You need Jesus in your life so that your sins can be forgiven and you can spend eternity in heaven.  He is the only one who can give you this gift.  But every gift, even one which comes from God, must be opened.

How can you meet Jesus personally?

If you believe that Jesus is the risen Lord and his word is true, you are ready to meet him personally.  You can now open the gift of salvation he died to give you.

These are the biblical facts which make it possible for you to have a personal relationship with God:

God loves you.

He created you and wants to have a personal relationship with you now on earth and eternally in heaven (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4-5). 

Sin has separated you from God.

The Bible defines "sin" as choosing our will over God's. We have each made this mistake (Romans 3:23).  Our sins have now separated us from our holy God, and he cannot allow us into his perfect heaven.  Instead, we are each destined for an eternity separated from God in hell (Revelation 19:11-15). 

You cannot repair your broken relationship with God. 

Many people think we can be good or religious enough to earn God's forgiveness and go to heaven when we die.  But the Bible teaches that the only payment for sin is death (Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:20).  Someone must die for the sins we have committed. 

Jesus died to pay the debt owed by your sins.

Since Jesus was sinless and owed no debt to God, his death could pay for our sins.  He took our place on the cross and suffered the penalty we deserved.  His death now makes it possible for a righteous God to forgive our sins and offer us salvation (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24). 

You must receive the gift he died to give.

Now you must choose to trust in what Jesus has done for you rather than trusting in your own efforts to restore your relationship with God.  In faith, rely completely on Jesus to make you right with God.  Confess your sins and mistakes to God, and choose to live by his word and will.  Decide that you will make Jesus the Lord and Master of your life.

How can you make this decision?  Through prayer you can meet Jesus today.  There is no single prayer you must pray to become a Christian, no magic formula, but the following words are one way to trust Christ as Lord.  They are the prayer I offered to God on September 9, 1973, when I first trusted in Jesus as my Savior.  If you will pray them with the sincere commitment of your heart and life, you will join me in knowing Jesus personally and living for him as your Lord.

Dear God,

Thank you for loving me.  Thank you that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and failures.  I admit to you that I am a sinner, that I need you to save me.  I ask you to forgive me for my sins.  I turn from them now.  I invite Jesus into my life as my Savior and Lord.  I turn my life over to him.  I will live for him as long as I live.  Thank you for giving me eternal life and making me the child of God. In Jesus' name, Amen.

If you just prayed this prayer for the first time, please tell someone about your decision.  Christianity cannot be lived alone.  A coal by itself goes out—it needs the heat of other coals.  Share your new faith with someone you trust, and with a church where you can grow in your commitment to Christ.

How can you know that you're a Christian?

How can you be sure that you are God's child, that you have a personal relationship with him?  What can you do when doubts about your faith arise?

First, trust his word.

Your salvation does not depend on anything you can do, but only on what God has done for you.  If you have invited Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, his word promises that he has done what you asked him to do.  He has forgiven your failures and sins, and made you the child of God.  You have his word on it:

"Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  From the moment you "believed in him," you received eternal life.

"Whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:26).  You have eternal life, right now. You will never perish.  When you breathe your last breath here on earth, you breathe your first breath in heaven.

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28).  You are not holding onto him—he's holding onto you.

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  You are a new creation, the child of God.  It is not possible for you to return to where you were before you met Christ.

Once you have chosen to trust in Jesus, you have become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Now it is impossible for you to choose to lose your salvation.  A child cannot choose later not to be born.  You are his child, and will always be his child, just as my children will always be my children.  No matter how they feel, or what they say or do, they cannot go back and not be my sons, because they were born as my sons.  You were "born again" as the child of God, and will be his child forever.

Second, trust God, not feelings.

There will probably be times when you don't feel close to God, when you don't feel like going to worship, or reading the Bible, or praying.  But the Bible nowhere tells us how it feels to be a Christian.  Our feelings depend on many factors besides our relationship with God.  They are the caboose at the end of the train of faith, not its engine.

If you're married, there may be times when you feel closer to your spouse than others—but you're still married.  An employee's feelings about her employer don't change the fact that she has a job.  A student's feelings about his teachers don't change the fact that he's in school.  Feelings don't change facts.

Unfortunately, we still sin and fall short of the people our Father wants us to be.  Fortunately, our assurance is not based on our abilities but God's grace.  He says that we are his children.  His Son died to pay our spiritual debt so we could join his eternal family.  This is the word of the Lord.

Third, live your faith and it will become real.

It takes as much faith to believe in God now as it did when you first trusted in Jesus.  Faith is a relationship, and no relationship can be proven.  No married couple can prove to someone outside their family that they love each other.  No friends can prove their friendship to those who have not experienced it.  It's impossible to explain love to someone who has never felt it.  Relationships are self-validating—the more they are experienced, the stronger they become.

So don't wait until you feel close to God—act as though you are.  Read his word, pray, worship him personally and publicly, and get involved in the life and work of a local church.  Act on your faith, and you'll find your faith growing deeper and stronger.

You were made by God to know Jesus and make him known.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the only piece that will fit the hole in your spiritual jigsaw puzzle.  He is the hub into which all the spokes of your life fit, the "true north" on your compass.  If you haven't entered a personal relationship with Jesus yet, I sincerely hope you'll pray to meet him today.  If you know him, I hope that you'll help someone else know him.  Helping people follow Jesus is the greatest joy in life.

Is it possible to lose your salvation?

On the Sunday morning I asked Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and become my Savior and Lord, when I finished praying, nothing happened.  I saw no lights, I felt no weight lift from my shoulders.  My first thought was, "Is that all there is to it?"  And my intellectual questions about God didn't evaporate.  I still wondered about creation and science, world religions, why God allows evil and suffering.  And so I doubted for many months whether my salvation and faith were real.

Was I alone?  The renowned historian Will Durant mailed questionnaires about the meaning of life to a number of famous people.  After reading their answers, he published them in a chapter he titled, "An Anthology of Doubt."  Who hasn't contributed to that topic?

What do we do when we doubt our salvation or our faith or our God?  How can we help someone else deal with their doubts?

Know what you can know

Start with his promise: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 Jn 5:13).  A literal translation would be, "We can actually and with full assurance know intellectually and personally that we have eternal life."  This phrase does not mean that we gradually grow into assurance, but that we can possess here and now a present certainty of the life we have already received in Jesus.

But here's the catch: first we must "believe in the name of the Son of God."  "Believe" means more than intellectual assent—it is the biblical word for personal trust and commitment.  I can assent to the fact that an airplane will fly me from Dallas to Atlanta, but I must get on board before it can.  No surgeon can operate on the basis of intellectual assent—we must submit to the procedure.

If you have, you can claim the biblical fact that you "have eternal life," present tense, right now.  You are already immortal.  Jesus promised, "whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn 11:26).  We simply step from time into eternity (see question #25), from this life to the next.

Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to become the child of God, because our feelings can depend on the pizza we had for supper or the weather outside the window.  No circumstances or events can guarantee our salvation.  It takes as much faith to believe I am a Christian today as it did to become one more than thirty years ago.  I still haven't seen God, or proven my salvation in a test tube.  If I had, I could question the reality and veracity of what I saw or thought.  So could you.

Either the Bible is true or it is false.  Either God keeps his word or he does not.  He promises that if you "believe in the name of the Son of God," you "have eternal life"  This moment.  You cannot lose your salvation, for you are already the immortal child of God.  This is the fact of God's word.

What about "falling from grace"?

Those who believe that it is possible to trust in Christ and then choose to lose our salvation are quick to quote Hebrews 6:4-6.  These interpreters assume that the text speaks of people who have experienced a genuine conversion, then "fall away" (v. 6).  They typically believe that such a person needs another salvation experience.  But others disagree.

Some believe that the writer is stating a hypothetical case: if genuine Christians "fall away," then "it is impossible" for them "to be brought back to repentance" (vs. 4, 6).  Not that they can in fact fall from salvation, but if they could, they could not be saved again.  Note that if the text deals with a Christian who actually falls from faith, it teaches that the person has no chance to be saved again.

Others (myself among them) believe that the writer is speaking not of a Christian but of someone who considers the faith, perhaps even joining a church, but then rejects Christ.  If such a person persists in unbelief, he cannot then be saved.  If a person claims that he once trusted Christ but does so no more, I would believe that he was never a genuine Christian.

The biblical teaching that a genuine Christian is forever the child of God (cf. Jn 3:16; 2 Cor 5:17) seems too clear for me to allow this difficult text to convince me otherwise.  But the practical consequence is the same: some say the person has fallen from the faith; I think he was never a believer; we both want him to come to Christ.

Conclusion

Expect to face doubts about your salvation.  The stronger your faith, the more likely you will be subjected to such attacks, intended by the enemy to paralyze and cripple your faith and prevent your service to God.  The stronger your faith, the greater a threat you are to the enemy.  Doubts sometimes come not because our faith is weak, but because it is strong.

If you know you have made Christ your Lord but still face doubts about your salvation, try my favorite prayer in the Bible.  After a father pleads with Jesus to heal his demon-possessed boy, Jesus says, "Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mk 9:23).  And the father exclaims, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (v. 24).  You can pray that prayer today, and Jesus will hear you and help you.

Remember that you are God's child.  My sons will always be my sons, no matter how they feel or what they do, because they were born that way.  Have you been born again?

What is the "unpardonable sin"?

Jesus has just healed a demon-possessed man.  The amazed crowds began to speculate that he might be the Messiah.  His enemies retort that he drives out demons because he is in league with the devil himself.  Our Lord responds with the most severe warning in the gospels: "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mark 3:29).  What did he mean?  What is this "unpardonable" sin?

What does the Bible teach?

Christians cannot commit this sin.  1 John 1:9 is clear: "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  "All" means all.  No sin is unpardonable for a Christian.

From Mark 3 we know that this sin relates to the work of the Holy Spirit with regard to unbelievers.  Jesus is warning the Pharisees who rejected him that they are in danger of this sin.  So what does the Spirit do with non-Christians?

He convicts them of their sin and need for salvation (Jn 16:8-9).  He tells them about Christ their Savior (Jn 15:26).  He explains salvation (1 Cor 2:14).  When they confess their sins and turn to Christ, the Spirit makes them God's children (Ro 8:9, 11).  In short, the Holy Spirit leads lost people to salvation.  So we know that it is the "unpardonable sin" to refuse this salvation.  To be convicted of our sin and need for a savior, but refuse to admit it.  To be presented the gospel but reject it.

Why is this sin unpardonable?  Because accepting salvation through Christ is the only means by which our sins can be pardoned.  It is "unpardonable" to reject the only surgery which can save your life, or the only chemotherapy which can cure your cancer.  Not because the doctor doesn't want to heal you, but because he cannot.  You won't let him.  You have rejected the only means of health and salvation.

The unpardonable sin is rejecting the Holy Spirit's offer of salvation, and dying in such a state of rejection.  Then you have refused the only pardon God is able to give you.  Don't do that.  Be sure you have made Christ your Lord, today.

What about suicide?

Many people mistakenly believe that suicide is the unpardonable sin.  What does the Bible teach about this tragic subject?

God's word consistently warns us that suicide is always wrong.  Deuteronomy 30:19 is God's command, "Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."  Job knew that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, that life and death are with God and not us (Job 1:21).  Paul teaches us, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Cor 6:19-20).  And the sixth commandment is clear: "You shall not murder" (Ex 20:13).  God gives us life and he alone has the right to take it.  It is always too soon to give up on life.  God can always intervene, and often does.  You're not done until God says you're done.

That said, why is suicide so often thought to be the "unpardonable sin"?  Not because the Bible ever teaches this connection.  Here's the story in brief.

In the first era of Christian history, the Church came to separate "mortal" from "venial" sins.  "Mortal" sins would condemn a person to hell, "venial" to Purgatory.  Only by confessing a mortal sin could a person avoid hell.  Murder, including self-murder, was one of these mortal sins.  And of course a person could not confess this sin after committing it.  So by logic, suicide was defined as the unpardonable sin.  But nowhere does the Bible teach that this is so.

Suicide is always wrong, always a sin, and always a tragedy.  It places far more grief and pain on family and friends than choosing life would have.  It takes into human hands a decision which is God's alone.  It leads to judgment and loss of reward by God in eternity.  But it is not the unpardonable sin.  Those you care about who committed suicide are not in hell for having done so.  Rejecting Christ is the only unpardonable sin.

What about doubt?

Don't doubt your salvation, if you've trusted in Christ as your Lord.  You cannot commit the "unpardonable sin," no matter what else you've done.  And yet so many of us worry and wonder about the security of our salvation.

Why?  We don't always "feel" saved.  But nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to be a Christian.  My sons are my sons even when they don't feel like it, because they were born that way.  A Christian has been "born again" as God's child, whether we feel like today or not.  Additionally, when we sin we can think that we may not be true Christians.  But 1 John 1:8 states clearly, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."  The bumper stick is right: "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."

Most of us have doubts and questions about our faith.  Even Jesus on the cross cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46).  It takes as much faith to believe you're saved as it did to accept your salvation.  You still haven't seen God or proven him beyond question.  Doubts are normal.  And they are not unpardonable.

A parish priest heard confession from a woman who claimed to speak directly with God.  Skeptical, the priest told her to ask the Lord about a sin the priest had committed while in seminary, a moral failure which had plagued him even though he had confessed it to his Lord.  The next week the woman returned.  The priest inquired if she had asked God about his sin.  She said she did.  The priest asked, "And what was his response?"  "He said, 'I don't remember.'"  Neither should we.

Meet the "seven deadly sins"

The Church has warned us about the seven worst or "deadly" sins since at least the time of Pope Gregory the Great and St. John Cassian, in the sixth century A.D.  Their list and exposition were made a part of the official teachings of the Catholic Church in the 13th century.

Here's the list:

Pride

Avarice (or greed)

Envy

Wrath (or anger)

Lust

Gluttony

Sloth

Does the list surprise you?  Why is there nothing here about murder, adultery, theft or lying?   For the simple reason that they result from the sins on the list.  If we dealt with anger and lust, we'd have no murder or adultery.  Any of the seven can motivate us to lie, or to commit nearly any other sin.  These are the "root sins" of all human experience.

Why do we commit these sins or any others?  God's word is clear:

When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.'  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1.13-15).

We inherit a tendency to sin from Adam and Eve (Ro. 5.12-14).  But we choose to act on this tendency.  This deliberate choice to refuse the word and will of God is sin.

The Seven Deadly Sins are at the root of all others.  If we can learn to identify and refuse them, we will live in ways which honor God and lead others to him.

Pride

Pride is always listed at the top of the "seven deadly sins."  Thus we will begin our study of these sins at this place.  Not that any of us need such a study; Humility and how I perfected it is the book we each could have written.  But what does the Bible say to the rest of the race, prideful as it is.

What is pride?

The Bible uses several words for the first deadly sin.  Gea (Hebrew) means "haughty" ("I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech," Prov 8.13).  Huperephania (Greek) means "arrogant," literally "being lifted up" (cf. Mk 7.22).  The various Hebrew and Greek words point to the root of pride: being lifted up high.  The high waves of the sea are said to be "proud" (Job 38.11).  When attributed to humans, this exaltation can be either positive or negative.  The question is whether the height is attributed to God or to us.

There is such a thing as "good" pride: "I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God" (Ro 15.17, using the Greek word for being lifted up).  But why?  "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit" (vs. 18-19).

"Bad" pride is exaltation we attribute to ourselves.  An example: "You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'  But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit" (Is 14.13-15).

Another example: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, 'What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.'  Then he said, 'This is what I'll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'  But God said to him, 'You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Lk 12.16-21).

The sin of pride is the sin of self-reliance and self-exaltation.  It is trusting ourselves, and promoting ourselves.  Why do we commit it so frequently?

Why do we commit the sin of self-reliant pride?

Friedrich Nietzsche said that the "will to power" is the basic drive in human nature.  He was right.

We find it in the Garden of Eden, where Satan said to Eve, "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3.5).  And she saw that the fruit was "desirable for gaining wisdom," and ate it.  She gave it to Adam as well, and he ate it (v. 6).  And we're still eating it.

Very little that we strive to possess and achieve possesses intrinsic merit worthy of the sacrifices it requires from it.  Money is just green paper.  A $100,000 vehicle is not so much more efficient than a $20,000 car.  Most of us could live in half the house we occupy, and get by.  At issue is the will to power.  The more we do and own, the more powerful we feel we are.  Pride is the basic motive of all fallen humanity.

Conversely, pride covers our self-perceived inadequacies.  We were each made by a perfect God, for perfect relationship with him.  Though we have fallen into sin, we "remember" the way things should be, and wish they were that way still.

So we know our failures and weaknesses.  Rather than admit them, we compensate for them.  Our prideful actions cover our self-esteem issues and inadequacies.  We act in prideful ways, to convince others that we are what we pretend to be.  Consider this psychological truism: "I am not what I think I am, or what you think I am.  I am what I think that you think I am."

In addition, pride is the expectation of our culture.  How does our society define success?  Performance, achievement, drive, initiative.  The "self-made man."  Jon Gruden, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, arrives at his office at 3:58 every morning.  He is so driven that during the season he rarely sees his wife and children.  His voice is constantly strained with all the talking and yelling of his job.  The world celebrates his success.  When last was a truly humble person elevated as a role model for our culture?  We are to be driven, perfectionistic, prideful, or we are not a success.

Finally, pride is the basic strategy of the enemy.  Jesus' temptations were each to self-reliant pride.  Turn the stone to bread yourself; jump from the temple and impress the people; worship me and I'll give you the kingdoms of the world.  Satan knows that this is where the spiritual battle is won or lost.  So he works on us here if nowhere else.

Who is susceptible to such pride?

Religious leaders: "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector'" (Lk 18.11).

Religious people: Job said "I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt" (Job 33.9).  This from a man described as "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1.1).

Followers of Jesus: "Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you" (1 Cor 4.18).

Churches: "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev 3.17).

Ultimately, anyone who believes that he or she is not.

What is wrong with sinful pride?

First, it rejects the Lord: "Pharaoh said, 'Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?  I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go" (Ex 5.2).  This is the sin of self-idolatry.

Second, it uses others: "In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises" (Ps 10.2); "Pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence" (Ps 73.6).  When we come first, everything else comes second and is a means to our end.

Third, pride is destructive: "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom" (Pr 11.2); "When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged" (Est 3.5); "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Pr 16.18).  Self-reliance always leads to failure, for we are failed human beings.

Fourth, pride leads to the judgment and punishment of God: "After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.  He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord his God to burn incense on the altar of incense" (2 Chr 26.16); "Hezekiah's heart was proud and did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord's wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem" (2 Chr 32.25).

God said to Belshazzar, "You have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them.  You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand.  But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways" (Dan 5.23).

God must judge and punish anything which robs his glory and harms his created children.  And so the Bible concludes: "Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!" (Pr 21.4).

What is the answer to sinful pride?

First, refuse self-exaltation: "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil" (Pr 3.7); "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Pr 26.12); "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (Is 5.21); "The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know" (1 Cor 8.2).

Everything which tempts you to self-exaltation is the sin of pride.  When you are tempted in this way, turn it into humility.  Erasmus: "If Satan tempts you toward boasting, double your efforts to be humble in all things.  If Satan tempts you to withhold your prayers, increase them.  If your inclinations are to be greedy and selfish, increase your donations to charity.  This way you can find in temptation renewed provocation to increased piety.  This procedure galls Satan the most.  It makes him afraid to tempt you because nothing is more hateful to the Evil One than that he should be responsible for some good."

Second, admit your need for God: "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Pr 27.1).  When you are tempted to boast, think of all the ways God has blessed you, and of your utter dependence on these blessings.

Third, seeyourself as the valuable child of God: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. . . . If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3.26, 29).  Everything which tempts you to self-rejection will lead to pride as compensation.  When you are tempted to self-loathing, remember that you have been "died for."  Much of our external pridefulness compensates for such self-deprecation, which is not biblical humility at all.

Fourth, value humility as the path to the power of God: "Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth" (Num 12.3).  His pride, however, kept him from the Promised Land.  When Daniel was asked to explain the king's dream, he replied, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries" (Dan 2.27-28).  His humility enabled God to use him.

Jesus was clear: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing" (Jn 5.19).  Martin Luther asserted: "God creates out of nothing.  Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him."

Last, seek the help of God: Every day of his life, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones prayed the same prayer, "Lord, keep me from pride."  When last did you make this your prayer?

Avarice/greed

Webster defines "greed" as "excessive desire for getting or having, esp. wealth; desire for more than one needs or deserves."  What does the Bible say about it?  Why is it wrong?  Who is susceptible?  What is the cure for greed?

What is greed?

First, greed is choosing to sin for material gain: "A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live" (Pr 15.27).  Note the Hebrew parallelism: greed = bribery.  We are greedy when we will commit illegal or immoral acts to get more.  Scripture warns us, "Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means" (Jer 17.11a).  Greed is at the heart of every sin for material gain.

Second, greed is needing more than we need: "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless" (Eccl 5.10)

What is wrong with greed?

First, it harms the innocent: "A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live" (Pr 15.27).  Note the sin of Achan (Jos 7), to be described below—it cost his life, but that of his family as well.  Acts records: "When the owners of the slave girl [in Philippi] realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities" (Ac 16.19).  Paul suffered because of greed: "At the same time [Felix] was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him" (Ac 24.26).  Thus Paul was kept in prison in Caesarea for two years.

Second, greed harms the greedy: "We will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder" (Pr 1.13).  But with this result: "their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood.  How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds!  These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves!  Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it" (vs. 16-19).  James warned us: "Your gold and silver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.  You have hoarded wealth in the last days" (Jas 5.3).

Third, greed is incessant: "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (Eccl. 5.10).  Someone asked one of the Rockefellers how much money was enough.  He replied and said, "Just a little more."  Wealth alone will fail us: "When [a greedy man's] life is half gone, [riches] will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool" (Jer 17.11b).

Fourth, greed will lead us from the faith: "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Tim 6.10).  Judas asked, "'What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?'  So they counted out for him thirty silver coins.  From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over" (Mt 26.15-16).  Peter warned us about those who "have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness" (2 Pt 2.15).

Fifth, greed will bring the judgment of God.  The sin of Achan: "When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.  They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath" (Jos 7.21).  With this result: "Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned [his family], they burned them.  Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day.  Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger.  Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since" (vs. 25-26).

This was one of the sins of the Jews, for which they were brought to disaster by God: "They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed" (Am 2.7).

Who is susceptible to greed?

Religious leaders: "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep.  They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough.  They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain.  'Come,' each one cries, 'let me get wine!  Let us drink our fill of beer!  And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better'" (Is 56.10-12); "[Israel's] leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money" (Mic 3.11).

Religious children: "[Samuel's] sons did not walk in his ways.  They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice" (1 Sam 8.3).

The wealthy.  A study of 26 Wall Street account executives reports that NYC stockbrokers pulling down the biggest paychecks were also those suffering higher levels of depression, burnout and other afflictions.  "In essence, these . . . brokers appear to be paying for financial success with their mental health and quality of life," report the researchers (Casualties of Wall Street: An Assessment of the Walking Wounded by Alden M. Cass, John Lewis and Ed Simco; internet data).

The poor: wanting what we don't have can lead to sin as easily as wanting more of it.

The cure for greed

First, don't confuse wealth with worth (1 Tim 6.6).  Money must be combined with godliness, to be gain with God.

Wealth doesn't disqualify us from godliness.  Many wealthy men in the Bible were also used greatly by the Lord:

"Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold" (Gen 13.2).

"Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.  The man became very rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy" (Gen 26.12-13).

"[Jacob] grew exceedingly prosperous and came to his own large flocks, and maidservants and manservants, and camels and donkeys" (Gen 30.43).

"[David] died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor" (1 Chr 29.28).

"[Solomon] made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills" (2 Chr 1.15); "King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth" (9.22).

"[Job] owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys, and a large number of servants.  He was the greatest man among all the people of the East" (Job 1.3).

"As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.  Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him.  Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock" (Mt 27.57-60).

But wealth doesn't guarantee worth, either.  The old Jewish theology held that wealth proves righteousness.  God always rewards the righteous with prosperity and punishes the wicked with poverty.  If you're wealthy, you must be right with God.  If you're poor, you're being punished.

If this is true, why did Jesus have no place to lay his head?  Why were his disciples itinerant in their ministries?  Why were most of the early church the common people, many of them slaves in the Empire?  Because there is no direct correlation between wealth and godliness.

Dallas lives largely by that old Jewish theology today.  Status in our community is mainly the result of possessions.  Don't be fooled—it's not so with God.  Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.

Don't let your possessions make you spiritual complacent.  And don't identify your worth with your wealth, or you'll always need more.  You'll sin for material gain, and need more than you need.

Second, trust God, not gain.  Money is always an unstable foundation for life.  You can take nothing with you when you die.  So don't build on this foundation.  Don't trust gain but God.  Money is unstable.

Proverbs 27.24 warns, "Riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations."  I've never seen a U-haul attached to a hearse.  The Spanish have a proverb: a burial shroud has no pockets.  When we bury our deceased, we put nothing in their pockets.

An American tourist was visiting in Israel when he met a famous rabbi.  The man's home was very simple: a bed, a change of clothes, a towel and blanket.  No television, radio, or computer.  "Why do you live so simply?" the tourist asked.  "Well, you have only enough things to fill a suitcase.  Why do you live so simply?" the rabbi replied.  "But I'm just a tourist.  I'm only passing through," the man responded.  "So am I," smiled the rabbi.

We are tempted to greed when we think that gain is a solid foundation for life.  Thus we sin for material gain, and need more than we need.  But having things today is no guarantee that we will have them tomorrow.

Third, refuse the love of money.  God's word does not condemn money as evil, but it does condemn the "love of money."  When our work for material provision leads us to sin, it is greed.  And this is a deadly sin, indeed.

When we love money, we compromise our integrity: "One eager to get rich will not go unpunished.  To show partiality is not good—yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread.  A stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him" (Prov 28.20-22).  When we love money, we'll use people to get it.  We'll compromise our integrity and character.  We can have wealth and integrity—but we cannot love both.  One will always serve the other.

When we love money, it's hard to love God: "The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Mk 4.19).  When we're serving money, it's hard to serve God: "You cannot serve God and money" (Mt 6.24).

When we love money, it's easy to forget God: "When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deut 6. 10-12).

A wise man prayed, "Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?'" (Prov 30.7-9).  When we are greedy we become self-sufficient rather than Christ-dependent.

So refuse the love of money, or it will lead you to the deadly sin of greed.  Remember: the most important things in life are not things.

Envy

Webster defines "envy" as "(1) a feeling of discontent and ill will because of another's advantages, possessions, etc; resentful dislike of another who has something that one desires (2) desire for some advantage, quality, etc. that another has."  Envy is the byproduct of greed.  It is wanting what someone has enough to resent them for having it.

Why does our culture value envy?  Because envy promotes materialistic greed.  If I envy what you own, I'll try to buy it.  And we live in a world which measures success by possessions.  And because envy promotes self-reliant achievement.  If I envy what you have done, I'll try to do it.  And we live in a world which measures success by performance.

Envy is one of the devil's most effective weapons.  No matter who we are.  Once there was a monk who lived in a cave in the wilderness.  He had a great reputation for holiness.  His reputation reached Hell itself, whereupon the devil took three of his key demons with him to tempt the monk out of his sanctity.

When they reached the wilderness, they found the monk sitting at the mouth of the cave with a serene look on his face.  The first demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great power, with visions of kingdoms and their glory.  But the face of the monk remained serene.  The second demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of great wealth, with visions of silver and gold and all that money can buy.  But the face of the monk remained serene.  The third demon walked up to the monk and planted in his mind the temptation of sensuous pleasure, with visions of dancing girls.  But the face of the monk remained serene.

Annoyed, the devil barked, "Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed."  The devil strolled up beside the monk, leaned over and whispered, "Have you heard the news?  Your classmate Makarios has just been named bishop of Alexandria."  And the face of the monk scowled.

What makes you envious today?  Someone else's possession?  Position?  Status?  Family?  Happiness?  Health?  Where is the enemy using this deadly sin against you?

What is wrong with envy?

First, envy is forbidden by God: "Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong" (Ps 37:1); "Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways" (Prov. 3:31); "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord" (Prov 23:17); "Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble" (Prov 24:1); "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy" (Ro 13:13); "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud" (1 Cor 13:4); "Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another" (Ja. 3:14).

Second, envy destroys souls: "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones" (Prov 14:30).  When we envy what others have, we will never have enough.  We are never done.  And the cancer grows until it consumes us.  Remember the story of Cain and Abel: "The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast" (Gen 4:4-5).  The Psalmist wrote, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps 73.1-2).

Third, envy keeps us from God: "On the next Sabbath almost the whole city [of Pisidian Antioch] gathered to hear the word of the Lord.  When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.  Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'" (Ac. 13:44-46).

Fourth, envy destroys relationships: Isaac "had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.  So all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth" (Gen 26:14-15).  Joseph's "brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind" (Gen 37:11).

Fifth, envy destroys lives.  Remember wicked Haman: "I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave.  And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow.  But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's table.  His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, 'Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it.  Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.'  This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built" (Esth. 5:12-14).  On them he was himself hanged.

Envy harms the innocent as well.  Daniel: "The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so.  They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.  Finally these men said, 'We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God'" (Dan. 6:4-5).

Envy crucified Jesus: "When the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?'  For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him" (Matt. 27:17-18).

The cure for envy

First, remember what happens to the wicked we envy.  Learn from Haman and Daniel's accusers, lest you repeat their story.

Second, choose to serve.  Jesus told us that service is our witness to the world (John 13.35).  T. S. Eliot was right: "most of the trouble in the world is caused by people who want to be important."  Chuck Colson, a member of the Nixon administration and Watergate convict: "The lure of power can separate the most resolute of Christians from the true nature of Christian leadership, which is service to others.  It is difficult to stand on a pedestal and wash the feet of those below."

Lao Tzu advised:

    Fail to honor people,

    They fail to honor you.

    But of a good leader, who talks little,

    When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

    They will all say, 'We did this ourselves.'

When you envy what a person has or is, pray for that person.  Seek a way to serve their success.  And your envy will change into love, and glorify your Father in heaven.

Third, want what you have.  Paul told his Philippian friends, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4.11-13).

Fourth, stay focused on God's call on your life.  Paul's commitment to the "one thing" of God's will led to contentment and great peace (Phil. 3.4-10).  Peter Marshall at age 47, three weeks before his death, prayed on the floor of the U.S. Senate, "Our Father in heaven, give us the long view of our work and our world.  Help us to see that it is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail."

Fifth, remember the source of your personal worth.  You are loved unconditionally and absolutely by God (Rom. 8.35-39).  This is the one unchanging fact about you, and the basis for your value and significance in life.  Francis of Assisi: "Blessed is the servant who does not esteem himself as better when he is praised and promoted by men than when they look on him as vile, stupid and contemptible; for whatever a man is in the sight of God, that he is, and no more."

Corrie ten Boom was asked if it was difficult for her to remain humble.  Her simple reply: "When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?  If I can be that donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in his glory, I give Him all the praise and honor.

Michelangelo used to keep a candle stuck on his forehead in a pasteboard cap, so as to prevent casting his own shadow upon his work while he was carving out his statues.  Whose shadow do you cast?

Anger/wrath

Anger is a problem in our culture today.  81% of students said they had bullied classmates during the last month, according to a recent survey done in an Indianapolis middle school.  75% of the bullies said they'd been taunted themselves.  More than 80% of computer network managers report that users have become abusive—smashing monitors, breaking keyboards, or kicking hard drives.  Women are far more likely to suppress, repress and deny anger, leading to higher rates of depression. 

Frederick Buechner's description of "anger" is my favorite single theological definition: "Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun.  To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.  The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.  The skeleton at the feast is you" (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC) 2.

Define "anger" biblically

Webster says that "anger" is "a feeling of displeasure resulting from injury, mistreatment, opposition, etc., and usually showing itself in a desire to fight back at the supposed cause of this feeling."  Biblical terms are much more specific:

Ap in Hebrew, denoting either divine or human anger; the term means "nostril," which was considered the locale of anger.

The verb hara means "burn": Balaam "was angry and beat [his donkey] with his staff" (Numb. 22.27).

Za'am means "indignation" or "enraged"; ebra means "boiling rage" (used of Haman vs. Mordecai, Est. 1.12).

Thymos—associated with the Greek word for "burning," means passionate longing to injure.

Orge—human emotion caused by jealousy or other harm.

"Anger" is the emotion of being displeased or upset with something done to us.  This by itself is normal and human; as we will see, God feels "anger" against sinful actions.  "Anger" becomes sinful when it leads to sinful actions; when it causes us to hurt those who hurt us, leading us to wrath, vengeance and revenge.  It is thus a "deadly" sin because it leads to murder, injury, and vengeance.

And it is a revelatory moment.  Anger is a mirror, showing us what is inside.  When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, you find out its content.  And you can never put them back.  You cannot unring a bell.

Know when anger is leading to sin

God is often "angry" in the Bible, yet he cannot sin (Ja. 1.13):

"Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us" (2 K 22.13).

"Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him" (Ps 2.12).

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (Jn 3.36).

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Ro 1.18).

"For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger" (Ro 2.8).

"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (Eph 5.6).

"They always heap up their sins to the limit.  The wrath of God has come upon them at last" (1 Thes. 2.16).

"Anger," the feeling of displeasure at the actions of another, cannot in itself be sinful.  Anger is sinful when it leads us to sin.  Not the emotion, but our response, is the issue.  When is anger leading to sin?

First, when it tempts us to hurt someone: "On Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast" (Gen. 4.5).  When your anger causes you to wish another person pain, you are on the road to sin.

Second, when it leads to jealousy: "Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. . . . And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David" (1 Sam. 18.8-9).  Jealousy and envy are typical and frequent causes of anger and sinful consequences.

Third, when anger leads to spiritual transference, blaming others for our mistakes and problems.  For instance, Asa had been a good king in Judah, until he relied on a treaty with Aram more than on God.  Hanani the prophet said to him, "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war" (2 Chr. 16:9).

With this response: "Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison" (v. 10a).  And things only got worse: "At the same time Asa brutally oppressed some of the people" (v. 10b).  Finally he died tragically from a disease of the feet; "even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord" (v. 12).  Asa refused to take responsibility for his own sin, and instead became angry at the one who exposed it.  He "shot the messenger."  Have you done the same thing lately?

Fourth, anger leads to sin when it is motivated by pride: "When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged" (Est. 3.5).  And we know what happened to him.

Fifth, anger leads to sin when it causes us to reject Jesus: "All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard [Jesus].  They got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.  But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (Lk 4.28-30).

After Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, "they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus" (Lk 6.11).  When Paul was preaching in Ephesus, the crowds "were furious and began shouting: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'" (Ac. 19.28).  If your anger is leading you to do what you know rejects God's word and will, you're in danger.

Deal constructively with anger

First, expect to feel angry when you are treated unfairly.  Martin Luther was right: "You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair."  The feeling of anger is not the problem, but what we do with it.  Nuclear power can light a city or destroy it.  The Bible warns us, "In your anger do not sin" (Eph. 4.26).

Second, own your anger.  Admit it.  State it specifically.  See if there is a pattern in your family history of hurtful anger.  Don't ignore your anger.  There is a wise Buddhist saying: "The body weeps the tears the eyes refuse to shed."

Third, determine the source of your anger.  Be specific and honest.  If there are patterns, identify them.

Fourth, choose not to respond in kind: "Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil" (Ps 37.8); "A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated" (Pr. 14.17); "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense" (Pr 19.11); "Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools" (Eccl. 7.9); "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (Ja. 1.19-21).

Fifth, be proactive, quickly: "I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. . . . Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5.22, 23-24); "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph. 4.26-27).  Anger is never to outlast the day.  Otherwise, it gives the devil a foothold in our souls and relationships.

Sixth, pray for the person who angered you: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head" (Ro. 12.20, quoting Prov. 25.21, 22).

Last, choose to pardon.  Biblical forgiveness is to pardon, choosing not to punish.  When a governor pardons a criminal, he or she does not excuse the criminal's behavior or pretend it didn't happen.  Rather, the governor determines not to punish the criminal as the law permits.  Decide you will not punish the person who angered you, and you will end the cycle of pain.  Otherwise it goes on.

Lust

The dictionary defines "lust" as "1. strong desire. Ex. lust for power, lust for gold. 2. desire for indulgence of sex, especially excessive sexual desire. 3. bad desire or appetite."

We can "lust" for nearly anything.  Oswald Chambers is right: lust is saying, "I must have it now."  We can "lust" for more money, for more power, for a new car.  But the Bible typically speaks of "lust" in relation to sexual desire.  In this sense, Frederick Buechner defines "lust" as the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.  We'll define "lust" as the sin of desiring a sexual relationship outside the will of God.  

One point must be made at the very beginning of our study: sexual attraction is not lust.  God made us to be attracted to the opposite sex.  It is not a sin to notice a beautiful woman or attractive man.  It is only sin if we take that attraction to the next step.  The sin is not the first look, but the second.

Now let's learn how not to take that second look.

When is sex not sin?  When it is obedient to the will of God.  He created genders: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 2.27).  And he called the first couple to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (v. 28).

And when it is practiced within marriage: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2.24).  In this context, God wants us to celebrate married love (see Song of Songs 4.1-5; 5.10-16; 7.1-9).

When is sex sin?

Before marriage (Deut 22.13-21; Ex 22.16).

Outside of marriage: "You shall not commit adultery" (Ex 20.14).

When with another man's wife: "If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.  You must purge the evil from Israel" (Deut 22.22).

When motivated by lust: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5.27-28).

How to avoid sexual sin: the book of Proverbs

First, be warned: "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?  Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?  So is he who sleeps with another man's wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished" (6.27-29).

Second, refuse deception.  The person who tempts to sexual sin may be "religious": "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I have fulfilled my vows.  So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you" (7.14-15).  Such a person is enticing: "the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword" (5.3-4).  He or she promises pleasure: "I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt.  I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.  Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love!" (7.16-18).

The person tempting you promises secrecy: "My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.  He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon" (7.19-20).  And he or she claims innocence: "This is the way of an adulteress: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I've done nothing wrong'" (30.20).

Third, know the results of sexual sin:

Financial ruin: "Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house" (5.8-10); "A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth" (29.3).

All will see your sin: "I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly'" (5.14).

Her husband will seek revenge without mercy (6.30-35).

You will repent when it is too late: "At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.  You will say, 'How I hated discipline!  How my heart spurned correction!  I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors" (5.11-13).

You may die: One lured by her is "like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. . . . Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.  Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death" (7.22-23, 26-27).

Fourth, refuse sexual temptation when it first appears: "Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes" (6.25); "Keep to a path far from her; do not go near her door" (5.8;); do not even go in the direction of her house (7.6-9).

Fifth, if you are married, stay in love with your spouse.

Choose her: "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.  Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?  Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers" (5.15-17).

Rejoice in her: "May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.  A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.  Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?  Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?" (5.18-20).

Meet her needs: "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: / a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, / an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress" (30.21-23).

Sixth, fear the punishment of God: "A man's ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his ways.  The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.  He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly" (5.21-23).

10 steps to defeating sexual sin

First, say no, now: "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.'  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (Ja 1.13-15).

Second, refuse tempting situations: "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22); "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Pt. 2:11-12).    

Third, see the end from the beginning.  Your sin will trap you: "You may be sure that your sin will find you out" (Numb 32.23).  Others will know: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known" (Lk 12.2).  Sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.

Fourth, pray about the temptation immediately:  "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb 4.15-16).

Fifth, transform your mind through time with God: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Ro 12.2); "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want" (Gal 5:16-17).

Sixth, exercise self-discipline.  Control your body: "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Cor 9.27); It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God" (1 Th. 4:3-5).  And control your mind: "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Ro 13.12-14).

Seventh, ask others to help you: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (Ja 5.16).  Accountability relationships are crucial in this area of life.

Eighth, know that you can defeat any temptation God permits: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Cor 10.13).

Ninth, confess sin immediately to God: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1.9).  It may also help you to tell someone you trust: "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (Prov 28.13).

Tenth, refuse guilt after confessing sin:  "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6.9-11).  Guilt is not of God.

Gluttony

The dictionary defines this term simply as "excess in eating."  But how much is excess?

Eating is not a sin

Here is the key text we'll seek to learn and obey: "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor 10.31).  Let's begin with this fact: eating is not sinful:

"I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot" (Eccl. 5.18).

"I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun" (Eccl. 8.15).

"Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim 4.4).

Jesus often ate with his disciples.  His Last Supper was taken with them.  After his resurrection, he fixed breakfast for them to share (Jn 21.12-13).  He could not have eaten and remained sinless, if eating was sinful.

The anorexic rejection of the pleasure of eating comes from the Greek rejection of the body.  It is nowhere found in the holistic world view of Scripture.

Why is excess eating a sin?

It is presumptive: "'Come,' each one cries, 'let me get wine!  Let us drink our fill of beer!  And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better" (Is 56.12); "I'll say to myself: 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry'" (Lk 12.19).  When we presume on tomorrow and God, we sin against both.

It is never enough: "All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied" (Eccl. 6.7).

It leads to poverty: "Drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags" (Prov 23.21); "He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich" (Prov 21.17).

It leads to spiritual immaturity: "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature" (Lk 8.14).

It harms our witness: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple" (1 Cor 3.16-17); "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Cor 6.19-20).

It leads to destruction: "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things" (Phil. 3.19); "They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done.  Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight.  They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you" (2 Pt 2.13); "You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches.  You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves" (Amos 6.4).

What is the solution to the sin of gluttony?

Pray before eating.  Seek the help of God before the tempter attacks.

Be disciplined: "When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.  Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive" (Prov 23.1-3).

Consider the discipline of fasting.  And get the help of others.  Ask believers to pray for you.  Seek professional help if necessary; err on the side of seeking more help than you may need.

Sloth

The dictionary defines a "sloth": a very slow-moving mammal of South and Central America that lives in trees. Sloths hang upside down from tree branches. There are two principal kinds in the sloth family. One kind has three toes on the forefeet and another has two.

Unfortunately, "sloths" don't just live in trees.  Here's the dictionary's second attempt: "unwillingness to work or exert oneself; laziness; idleness."

It is not "sloth" to rest regularly:

"Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed" (Ex 23.12).

The Lord is serious about the Sabbath: "For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord.  Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death" (Ex 31.15).

No matter the circumstances: "Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest"(Ex 34.21).

Commanded by Jesus: "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place" (Mk 6.30-32).

But it is "sloth" to be lazy about the things that matter.  That is the sin of sloth.

Why is sloth a "deadly" sin?

Obviously, it leads to hunger and poverty: "Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry" (Prov 19.15); "How long will you lie there, you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man" (Prov 6.9-11); "The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied" (Prov 13.4); "A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing" (Prov 20.4).

It frustrates us: "The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway" (Prov 15.19).

Worse, it leads to self-deception: "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly" (Prov 26.16).

Still worse, it leads to ruin: "I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins" (Pr 24.30-31); "If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks" (Eccl 10.18).

It leads to judgment and destruction: When a man refused to multiply his talent, "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! . . . Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents'" (Mt 25.26, 28); "One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys" (Prov 18.9); "The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.  All day long he craves for more" (Prov 21.25-26).

So sloth is forbidden by God: "We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies" (2 Thes 3.11); "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (Heb 6.12); "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord" (Ro 12.11).

Work with God

First, surrender daily to God's purpose for that day: "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his god, pleasing and perfect will" (Ro. 12.1-2).  God has a will for our lives every day.  We must seek it and surrender to it daily.

Second, ask God to empower you to fulfill his purpose for your life: "To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Col. 1.29).  God's will never leads where his power cannot sustain: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (Jn 15.16).

Are you surrendered to the purpose and power of God today?