Home > John's Blogs, Temptation & Sin > Seven Capital Vices, Part 4: Sloth

Seven Capital Vices, Part 4: Sloth

This post continues looking at Rebecca Konynkyk DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices, which is a look at what we commonly call the “7 deadly sins” and she calls the “7 capital vices.”  We’ve looked at Envy and Vainglory, and this post will look at Sloth.  In a busy world, in which everyone is working too hard, none of us are guilty of sloth.  Right?  In fact, our very busyness is a direct result of slothfulness in our life.  It sounds like a paradox, but read on.

Sloth is not just simple laziness, says DeYoung, but laziness in a particular direction.  Historically, sloth was not the lack of effort in general, but a lack of effort in our spiritual lives.  Thus, to the theologians of old, sloth was not sitting around doing nothing; it was a spiritual vice in which we do nothing about our spiritual walk.  DeYoung notes that “being committed to any love relationship takes daily nurturing, daily effort, and daily practices that build it up.”  So it is with our relationship with God; it takes work and effort to keep it up.

It is our very busyness in this culture that keeps us from maintaining our relationship with God.  We put Him at the bottom of our to-do list, thinking we’ll get to it eventually, after we do everything else.  But we don’t get to Him.  We take our kids to sports practices and games, go shopping, go out to eat, rent a movie, spend a little (or more) extra time at work to get ahead.  But we don’t get to God.  Historically, this is sloth.  Work on our relationship with Him never gets done; we are spiritually lazy.

Is DeYoung suggesting that we earn God’s favor through spiritual activity?  Not at all.  It sounds a little more complicated than it is, and she uses a marriage metaphor to explain.

(B)eing a Christian is like being married:  both involve accepting a new identity that needs to be lived out, day by day, for the rest of your life.  A man and a woman take their vows on their wedding day, and from that moment on they are married.  Yet being married, living out those vows and making them a living reality, will take all of their efforts for a lifetime.  Their love and identity have a now and not-yet character.  It is both a gift and a life-transforming task.  It is this transformation of our identity by God’s love that the slothful person resists.

Slothful people resist that transformational relationship with God, and so resist the love of God.  We can become so busy and industrious in every other area of our life that we ignore that transformational relationship.  Worse, we become so busy because we desire to avoid that transformational relationship.  It’s intentional spiritual sloth, wrapped up in industriousness.

And it has a serious consequence, according to DeYoung:

Sloth sabotages sanctification – the transforming power of God’s love in us.  By sapping our willingness to lay down our old loves for the sake of love of God, it saps our energy for good altogether, since God is the source of that strength.

DeYoung’s solution is to stay put:  “accepting and staying committed to your true spiritual vocation and identity and whatever it requires.”  That is, stay committed to our relationship with God, and learn to accept and requite the love of God.  Like marriage, we’ve got to work at it.

  1. Brian McLaughlin
    April 6, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I think Dallas Willard says it well: Grace is not opposed to action, it is opposed to merit. The Bible is clear that we cannot merit salvation, but the Bible also seems clear that we do in fact – through the power of the Spirit – have to work out our salvation. Good stuff.

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