The Seven (by Jonathan Storment)

The Seven (by Jonathan Storment) October 21, 2015

Jonathan SA few months ago, I had just finished reading Rebecca DeYoung’s wonderful book Glittering Vices and at the same time I was listening to a sermon podcast of a preacher mentor of mine on the topic of freedom.

After listening to a few sermons, I gave my friend a call and asked him if he was doing a series on the seven deadly sins, and he told me he wasn’t.  They had actually done a church-wide survey asking everyone where they needed freedom in their life.  Every sermon he was doing was addressing the most common topics of bondage the church family found in their lives.

The reason I asked this question, and the reason that I found this interesting is that these are the topics the church was struggling with:  Envy, Pride, Lust, Greed, Anger….You can probably see where this is going.  I find it fascinating that across very different streams of Christian tradition, over a thousand years separating us, and incredibly different cultures, the human heart has not changed.

Think about this, 1,600 years ago some monks decided to go to the desert to be alone with God and work on becoming more like Jesus.  They were trying to leave the problems of the world behind, but discovered after much silence and solitude that they had brought the problems with them.  There is a great irony in the fact that these guys went to the desert to have a great vision of God.  They created communities to become pure and it was only then that they discovered their own sin.

In the words of C.S. Lewis:

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.  After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in.  You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness – they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it:  and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.

In many ways, that is exactly what the desert Fathers were, realists.  They were the first Christian psychologists.  The only main difference was that their work came by self-examination on their own soul.  And while the Desert Fathers left the world, eventually the world came to see them, because they discovered that there are certain things that only those who do the hard work of Christian repentance and self-examination can really know.  For a thousand years after their discovery of the nature of the human heart, Christians used the work of these Desert Fathers as a spiritual tool for confessing, and repentance, and becoming more like the people God intended for us to be.  As a preacher who cares a lot about discipleship in a local church, and about being a better disciple myself, I think it is time we started learning from them again.

N.T. Wright once said that

Christians seem to me to divide into two groups nowadays:  the first lot don’t think that sin matters very much anyway, and the second know perfectly well that it does, but still can’t kick the habit.

I think that is right.  We don’t get discipleship these days because we have such a shallow view of sin, and a pretty pessimistic view of how we can actually not be captured by it.

Think about how helpful and hopeful this view of sin is.  The language vice is apt, because each one of these sins slowly takes away your freedom to do anything else.  Each one has a tightening grip that slowly squeezes away our ability to live.

But it is also hopeful because in the words of Rebecca DeYoung,

Our confession can be fine-tuned.  Rather than praying in general for forgiveness of sin, or reducing all our sin to pride or generic selfishness, we can lay specific sins before God, ask for the grace to root them out, and engage in daily disciplines – both individually and communally – that help us target them.  Naming our sins is the confessional counterpart to counting our blessings.

I have found that having some familiarity with these capital vices is incredibly helpful pastorally.  Because so often the symptom that brings someone to see me is not the biggest problem that they actually have, and they (I) often are unaware of what that bigger problem is, or how to go about addressing it for a chance at actual change.

Evagarius, one of the Desert Fathers, knew this.  His concern was a practical one to describe the guises of demons.

To expose the camouflage of demons…I like that.

For example, if it weren’t for the Desert Fathers, I never would have considered suggesting to a young man struggling with pornography to consider fasting from food, but over the past few months I have, and for surprising reasons we found that it helped!

Without the Desert Fathers I wouldn’t have realized that the root sin behind workaholism is often sloth, or that gluttons can often be very thin. Sins don’t look like the parodies we’ve made of them.

And so, to expose the camouflage of demons, for the next few weeks, I would like to talk about the seven deadly sins, and why, as pastors, we need to have some familiarity with what they are and how they work.  I am going to be borrowing from several different resources:  Will Willimon’s Sinning Like a Christian; Dennis Okham’s Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins; Seven by Jeff Cook; Vainglory, and Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung; and Broken Gods byGregory Popcak

Until then, is anyone else seeing what I am seeing?  Have you found the seven deadly sins helpful as a way of talking to people about the nature of sin?





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