The Christian life is a struggle, a wrestling match of putting off bad behavior, and putting on good behavior. Like a set of dirty clothes, we take them off and put on new clothes (Ephesians 4:14-5:20). We must do both, putting off and putting on. It does no good to take off dirty clothes and stand there naked. Neither does it make any sense to just put clean clothes on over your dirty ones.
The seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are bad habits of vice which darken the heart. From them springs the evil behavior of the world. We must put them aside. In their place we are to put on the seven heavenly virtues of purity, self-control, generosity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, and humility.
The insatiable habit of committing mental adultery needs to be replaced with purity of heart. The pure of heart seek to better themselves through confession, repentance, and accountability. One reason many people do not experience victory over their lust is that they confess and repent without allowing themselves to be held accountable by a wise spiritual mentor or a safe small group of people.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, NIV)
“Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)
The glutton overindulges to the point of addiction. He needs self-control. Self-control is to engage in the good things of life in moderation, learning to say “no” before it’s too late. Notice this is self-control, not others-control. The way to gain mastery over yourself is not through controlling other people. It’s tempting to blame others for our gluttony, but the path forward is through taking small steps of personal courage and faith. Lent is the perfect season to intentionally plan to put aside one vice or besetting sin in your life.
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NIV)
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
“Control yourselves and be careful! The devil, your enemy, goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat.” (1 Peter 5:8, NCV)
The greedy person only thinks about money and how to get more. Greed can only be overcome with generosity toward others. Not only are we to liberally give money away to those in need, we are to be generous with encouraging words, go out of our way to do humble service, and be effusive in spending time with those who need it.
“But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, NLT)
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17, ESV)
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18, NIV)
A lazy and indifferent attitude doesn’t want to get involved. It needs to be replaced with a diligent hard-working spirit. Diligent people seek to make a difference in the world. They roll their sleeves up, jump-in and get to work on the great problems of the day.
“The lazy have strong desires but receive nothing; the appetite of the diligent is satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4, CEB)
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, ESV)
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV)
“Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23, AMP)
Maybe it goes without saying that anger and forgiveness are mutually exclusive terms. An angry person doesn’t forgive – she just wants to get even. Putting off those angry clothes means putting on the clean clothes of extending forgiveness. Forgiveness is neither cheap, nor easy. It can’t be done quickly or hastily. It’s the difference between throwing on a few sweats – and getting dressed up in a tuxedo. Forgiveness takes care and time.
“Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, CEB)
“As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. Put up with each other and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13, GW)
Envy is the evil rot that separates people. The antidote is kindness. To be kind is to celebrate what another has achieved that you haven’t. Kindness extends friendship instead of trying to knock another person down a peg so that you can try and have what they have. Kindness creates connection and heals division.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)
“And to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.” (2 Peter 1:7, NCV)
If pride is the root from which all other sinful attitudes break ground, humility is the herbicide that kills that root. To be humble is to know that others have a valuable contribution to give. Humility listens because it doesn’t think it has all the answers. The humble among us quietly serve others without caring if it draws attention to themselves.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NKJV)
“God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB)
Developing Christian character is more than identifying the vices and bad habits of life; it is replacing them with these seven virtues. Cultivating true Christian virtue is in the struggle to be better, and not in the notion that one can achieve perfection. It is the continual wrestling with one’s own shadow-self that allows the virtues to gain a foothold in the soul.
Therefore, church ministry needs to be a place where people are free to struggle, doubt, and wrestle with their inner demons. Genuine ministry is a hospital for the soul, resembling more of the messy triage work of the emergency room, than the sanitized antiseptic room on the top floor who hasn’t seen a patient in days.
Try using these Christian virtues as a way of having a conversation about the nature, direction, and goals of your ministry. Are these virtues evident in your context? Why, or why not? Which one needs the most attention? How will you address it?