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What are the Seven Deadly Sins? A Biblical Guide

While many of us can name the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth, and greed), we may not understand why they are considered deadly. What does the Bible tell us about these particular sins?

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 07, 2024
What are the Seven Deadly Sins? A Biblical Guide

The concept of the "Seven Deadly Sins" has its origins in Christian theology and tradition. These sins are considered particularly severe and are associated with moral transgressions that can lead to damnation if not repented. The list of the Seven Deadly Sins developed over time, but Pope Gregory I most famously formalized it in the 6th century.

The Seven Deadly Sins

  1. Lust: Excessive desire for sexual gratification.
  2. Gluttony: Overindulgence or overconsumption of food or drink.
  3. Greed: Excessive desire for material wealth or possessions.
  4. Sloth: Laziness, avoidance of work or duty.
  5. Wrath: Intense and uncontrolled anger or hatred.
  6. Envy: Jealousy or resentment towards others' success or possessions.
  7. Pride: Excessive belief in one's abilities or qualities; it is often considered the root of all other sins.

These sins are seen as particularly destructive to the soul and are called "deadly" because they can lead to spiritual death if not repented and forgiven. The concept of the Seven Deadly Sins has been influential in Christian teaching, literature, and art, serving as a moral framework to guide believers in leading virtuous lives.

Meaning of the Seven Deadly Sins

Know the meaning of each deadly sin with Bible references:

1. Lust

Lust is inappropriate or excessive sexual desire. In the Bible, several passages caution against lustful behavior and emphasize the importance of self-control and purity. For example, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said:

"But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28, ESV)

This verse highlights the importance of not just external actions but also internal thoughts and desires. The Bible also emphasizes the need for self-control and avoiding behaviors that lead to temptation.

Additionally, there are verses in the Bible that speak about the virtues of purity and avoiding immoral behavior. For instance, the Apostle Paul wrote:

"Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18, ESV)

2. Gluttony

Gluttony is excessive or unrestrained consumption of food or drink, often to the detriment of one's health or well-being. In the Bible, there are several verses that caution against overindulgence and emphasize the importance of moderation and self-control.

"Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags." Proverbs 23:20-21 (ESV)

This verse warns against the consequences of gluttony and excessive consumption, suggesting that it can lead to negative outcomes.

"For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things." Philippians 3:18-19 (ESV)

This passage criticizes those focusing on indulgence and earthly pleasures, including an excessive concern for physical appetites.

3. Greed

The sin of greed, an obsessive desire for material wealth or possessions at the expense of ethical considerations, is addressed in various passages throughout the Bible. Greed is generally seen as a form of idolatry, where the pursuit of wealth or material possessions takes precedence over one's devotion to God and ethical living. Here are a few verses that touch on the concept of greed:

"And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'" Luke 12:15 (ESV)

This verse, spoken by Jesus, emphasizes that life's true value is not measured by material wealth but by spiritual and ethical considerations.

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

This well-known verse warns against the love of money, emphasizing that it can lead to various harmful consequences and even a departure from faith.

4. Sloth

Sloth is spiritual or moral laziness, neglecting one's responsibilities, and failing to use one's God-given talents and gifts effectively.

The term "sloth" comes from the Latin word "acedia," which originally meant "without care" or "apathy." Sloth involves a lack of motivation or enthusiasm for fulfilling one's duties, both in a spiritual and practical sense. It can manifest as a neglect of prayer, spiritual growth, or charitable acts, as well as an unwillingness to engage fully in one's work or responsibilities.

"The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied." (Proverbs 13:4)

This verse contrasts the outcomes of diligence and laziness, highlighting the negative consequences of sloth.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going." Ecclesiastes 9:10 (ESV)

This verse encourages a wholehearted and diligent approach to one's work and responsibilities.

5. Wrath

The sin of wrath refers to uncontrolled, intense, and vengeful anger. Wrath is seen as a sinful state of being because it involves harboring and acting upon destructive and harmful emotions, often leading to negative consequences for oneself and others.

"Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil." (Psalm 37:8)

6. Envy

Envy is resenting or feeling discontent towards the good fortune, success, or possessions of others. The Bible emphasizes the importance of contentment, love, and the avoidance of envy. Here are some key verses that address the sin of envy:

"You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17 (NIV)

The Tenth Commandment specifically warns against coveting, which is closely related to envy. It cautions against desiring and harboring ill feelings about what belongs to others.

"A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

This proverb highlights the destructive nature of envy, suggesting that it negatively affects one's well-being.

7. Pride

The sin of pride is consistently cautioned against in the Bible, and it is often regarded as one of the most destructive and insidious sins. Pride involves an inflated sense of self-importance, an excessive focus on oneself, and a failure to acknowledge one's dependence on God. Here are some key passages that address the sin of pride:

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18 (NIV)

This well-known proverb highlights the consequence of pride, warning that it can lead to downfall and destruction.

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." Proverbs 11:2 (NIV)

This verse contrasts pride with humility, emphasizing the value of humility and its connection to wisdom.

Further Reading

Why Are They Called Deadly Sins?

In Christian theology, the term "deadly sins" refers to a list of particularly egregious sins that are considered to be especially damaging to the soul. This concept is often associated with the Seven Deadly Sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins. These sins are not explicitly listed in a single biblical passage, but they have been derived from various biblical teachings and reflections on moral and spiritual matters.

The concept of deadly sins serves as a framework for moral and spiritual reflection, guiding for believers to avoid behaviors that are considered particularly damaging to the soul and detrimental to one's relationship with God. The idea is that these sins, if not repented and corrected, can lead to spiritual death.

In contrast, Christian theology also emphasizes the virtues that counteract the deadly sins. These virtues include humility (opposite of pride), kindness (opposite of envy), patience (opposite of wrath), diligence (opposite of sloth), generosity (opposite of greed), chastity (opposite of lust), and temperance (opposite of gluttony). The cultivation of virtues is seen as essential for spiritual growth and moral integrity.

Meaning of Sin in the Bible

The definition of sin is "an offense against the religious or moral law" and a "transgression of the law of God." The biblical terminology suggests that sin has three aspects: disobedience to or breaching the law, violation of relationships with people, and rebellion against God, which is the most basic concept. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4 KJV).

Sin can also be understood as "missing the mark" or turning away from God. Hence, an understanding of repentance is to "reorient" yourself towards God and follow His commandments.

In the Bible, sin is often defined as disobedience to God's commands or a departure from God's will. The most straightforward biblical definition of sin can be found in 1 John 3:4 (New International Version):

"Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness."

This verse highlights the concept that sin involves a violation of God's law or a deviation from the righteous standards set by God. The Bible teaches that God is holy and just, and sin separates human beings from God (Isaiah 59:2). Throughout the Bible, various terms are used to describe sin, such as transgression, iniquity, rebellion, and unrighteousness.

In addition to breaking specific commandments, sin is also seen as a condition of the human heart. Jesus, in Mark 7:20-23, emphasizes that sin originates from within, revealing the fallen nature of humanity:

"What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person."

In Christian theology, the solution to the problem of sin is found in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ, believers are forgiven of their sins, reconciled to God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live according to God's will. The Bible teaches that God's grace provides a way for humanity to be reconciled with Him and overcome our sinful nature.

History of the Seven Deadly Sins

The history of the "Seven Deadly Sins" is intertwined with the development of Christian theology and moral philosophy. The concept can be traced back to early Christian asceticism, where monks and theologians contemplated the nature of sin and its impact on the human soul. 

The idea gained prominence in the 4th century with figures like Evagrius Ponticus, who listed eight "evil thoughts," laying the groundwork for the sins we recognize today. Pope Gregory I, in the 6th century, played a crucial role in formalizing the list and defining the seven sins we now associate with the term. Gregory's teachings aimed to provide a moral framework for Christians, emphasizing the severity of these sins and their potential to lead one away from divine grace. 

Over the centuries, the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins has permeated Christian doctrine, influencing sermons, literature, and art, serving both as a cautionary guide for believers and as a source of inspiration for cultural and artistic expression.

The Seven Virtues

By living out godly characteristics and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, Christians can combat the seven deadly sins.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Seven Virtues are often considered counterparts or antidotes to the Seven Deadly Sins. The correspondence between the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Virtues is as follows:

Lust vs. Chastity: Chastity involves purity of thought, word, and deeds in matters related to sexuality.

Gluttony vs. Temperance: Temperance is moderation and self-control, particularly in relation to the consumption of food, drink, and other pleasures.

Greed vs. Charity: Charity, or love, involves selfless giving and concern for others, counteracting the selfishness associated with greed.

Sloth vs. Diligence: Diligence is a commitment to hard work, attentiveness, and perseverance, contrasting with the laziness associated with sloth.

Wrath vs. Patience: Patience involves the ability to endure setbacks and provocations calmly, countering the destructive nature of wrath.

Envy vs. Kindness: Kindness is being generous, compassionate, and empathetic, opposing the negativity of envy.

Pride vs. Humility: Humility is the recognition of one's limitations and avoiding arrogance and excessive pride.

Lists of Sin in the Bible

Throughout the sweep of the Scripture, these seven specific sins are addressed. Exodus, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Galatians are some places where the deadly sins are identified.

The 10 Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5)

1. You shall have no other Gods before me. 2. Don’t make an idol. 3. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. 4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. 5. Honor your parents. 6. Don’t murder. 7. Don’t commit adultery. 8. Don’t steal. 9. Don’t lie. 10. Don’t covet.

Proverbs 6:16-19

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him, haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (ESV)

Galatians 5:19-21 

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)

Sin is a severe and deadly business.

Can Deadly Sins be Forgiven?

Yes, God forgives all sins that we sincerely repent of. However, some sins bear more earthly consequences than others. For instance, murder has more considerable consequences than sinful anger. No matter the sin, the eternal consequences are the same — separation from a holy God. But no sin is too big or bad that God cannot forgive.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." Mark 11:25

How to Deal with the Guilt of Sin

In reading over the descriptions of sin, we realize we are guilty of committing all of these at one time or another. All sin, according to Romans 6:23, results in death. Paul perfectly captures the human condition in Romans 7:21-25 (NIV):

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Jesus shows, tells, and empowers us to raise our standards from fleshly to spiritual.  He commands us to love others as we love ourselves and love God with our heart, mind, body, and soul (Matthew 22:37-39, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9). When we fix our eyes on Jesus and choose to look more like him, we will be more aware of our own areas of weakness.

We can choose to adjust our thinking and actions by replacing our thoughts with good and honorable things with prayer while looking to Jesus as our teacher and savior. The Lord accepts us as we are, yet he doesn’t leave us there. He wants us to resemble Him, our Heavenly Father. To combat our sinful nature, prayer is our weapon. We can pray what I call a replacement prayer.

Sin Replacement Prayer

Lord, replace my pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth, and greed with love for others and love for you. Give me eyes see others as you see them. Help me view myself in the proper perspective. Change my heart of stone to reflect your heart so I am content and satisfied with the skills, talents, and gifts you have given to me. When I feel hurt, offended, or angry show me how to positively deal with my pain in a way that glorifies you and honors others. I want to look more like you, Lord, and less like me. Amen

Sin isn’t just wrong or immoral behavior. It is an issue of the heart. We all sin, and that sin separates us from the Lord and others. But praise God for the great good news that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation cannot be earned. It is God’s gift of grace, so no one can boast.  We can be forgiven of all sin, even the big seven, by His grace through faith in Christ (Acts 10:23).

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Sources

AllAboutGod.com, “What Are the Seven Deadly Sins.”; BibleAsk.org, “What is the root of sin? Is it human will, and if so, why does God not intervene?”; BibleGateway.com, Hebrews 11:6; Merriam-Webster.com, “pride,” “envy,” “wrath,” “gluttony,” “lust,” “sloth,” and “greed.”


Lori Wildenberg, speaker, parent coach, and author of 5 parenting books, including Messy Journey: How Grace and Truth Offer the Prodigal a Way Home and Messy Life of Parenting: Powerful and Practical Ways to Strengthen Family Connection. For more information, go to www.loriwildenberg.com.

Photo Credit: ©Getty/RTimages

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