The 7 Deadly Sins, or capital sins, are the most important sins for Christians to know in the spiritual life. They are the most serious because they lead to many other sins. With God’s grace we can combat them with virtue.

35: The 7 Deadly Sins and How To Fight Them

The 7 Deadly Sins destroy lives. Why not learn the best ways to fight them? 1. Anger – “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

1. Anger, or Wrath

Anger is a desire for vengeance. As a passion, anger is not inherently evil1. Righteous anger helps us correct injustices or lead others back to God.

So when is anger evil?

First of all, anger is wrong when directed at something that is not unjust. This includes situations like:

  • Losing a game of Monopoly
  • Fuming over receiving a bad grade on your calculus exam
  • Getting mad at yourself for eating 34 oreos in one sitting again

Anger is also wrong when not done out of love for your neighbor. This means wishing them harm or suffering out of pure vengeance2.

Anger is wrong when it is disproportionate to the severity of the matter. For example, it would be sinful to throw a tantrum in Starbucks because the server messed up your order.

Angry in Prison
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” – James 1:19

So what does the Bible have to say about anger?

  • Jesus says that anger at your brother or sister can make you liable to judgment, council, or even the fires of hell. – Matthew 5:22
  • “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.” – Psalm 37:8
  • “When you are angry, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” – Psalm 4:4
  • “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” – Proverbs 14:29
  • “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” – Ephesians 4:26-27
  • “But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” – Colossians 3:8
  • “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” – James 1:19
  • “A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back.” – Proverbs 29:11
  • “Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11
  • “Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” – Ecclesiastes 7:9
  • “Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.” – Proverbs 15:18

When is anger okay?

Anger as a passion of the soul is morally neutral. It is useful when trying to bring justice. It is up to our reason to regulate and decide when it is appropriate to be angry3. Anger is a good motivation when reasonably used for the good of someone else. If someone is going around hurting people, we need to stop them.

Plus, we should be willing to take a reasonable stand for the good of others. Jesus Himself went into the temple and cleansed it with righteous anger4. If done out of love rather than pure vengeance or hatred, righteous anger is actually what we should have. As the Catechism says, if done to “correct vices and maintain justice” it is actually “praiseworthy”5.

How do we fight anger?

Like any passion or emotion, we need to be the one that’s in control — not our emotions. It is easy to let our feelings take over and seek revenge, with no charity or mercy at all. If we’re supposed to imitate the Father, infinite in justice and mercy, we need to forgive.

We know that anger is okay when we’ve thought things through and it’s for the good of the other. That means that if possible we should take some time to cool off and think about what the best response is.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I want to respond to hurt them back or have them know I’m hurt?”
  • “Is this response actually what’s best for their soul?”
  • “In these circumstances, is this the right time? If so, what should I do or say with care and love?

Maybe a charitable response really is necessary. Maybe holding your ground and turning the other cheek is the right call. Regardless, we need to pray for anyone involved and ask that Christ may be alive in us for whatever we decide.

Be the one in control and let truth and love be what guide your next steps.

Forgiveness and mercy are the perfect response when anger takes over. Remember that when Jesus suffered His death, he responded “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”6.

Imitate Christ and bring God’s mercy to them. Holding onto grudges and unforgiveness only leaves you a slave to anger and pain.

2. Greed, or Avarice

Greed is collecting too many things, or pursuing them for their own sake. In this materialistic view of the world, life is all about collecting resources. Rather than loving God and neighbor, the greedy person will let their love of money take over their life.

Greed can be consuming too much of something, in excess. We have to use our reason to decide when we are consuming too much. A good way to counter this is to fast from the things of this world. We must not be attached to things like food, money, or entertainment.

Avarice by Jesus Solana (2012)
Avarice by Jesus Solana (2012)

Yet, everything in the created world is inherently good. God created them to lead us to Him and to do His will. We should discern how we should use His goods to do His will. This would include things like giving alms or serving the poor. This would also mean not living in excess.

What does the Bible have to say about greed?

  • “. . . but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.” – Mark 4:19
  • “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” – Luke 8:14
  • “And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” – Luke 12:15
  • “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” – Luke 16:13
  • “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.” – Luke 16:14-15
  • “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” – Proverbs 11:4
  • “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” – Proverbs 23:4-5
  • “The greedy person stirs up strife, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” – Proverbs 28:25
  • “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 5:10
  • “. . . thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:10
  • “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” – 1 Timothy 6:9-10
  • “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” – 1 Timothy 6:17
  • “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.” – James 5:1-6
  • “Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” – Psalm 62:10

The Bible has a lot to say on avoiding all attachment to the things of this world. Several times Christ even warns us that a love for wealth can cost us heaven. We need focus our hearts on pleasing God. Our material wealth will disappear.

How do we fight greed?

The virtue to counter greed is liberality. This means giving your possessions and wealth away to those in need. As greed can take us from heaven, liberality can lead us toward it:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”7.

Wealth and possessions are a gift from God to provide for our needs and a means of providing for others. We should enjoy them while also staying detached. Focus instead on giving it away wherever and whenever God wills it.

3. Lust

Lust is the “inordinate craving for, or indulgence of, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation”8 Sexual desire is not in itself sinful. In fact, it is a gift from God. As the definition says, it is an inordinate craving or indulgence, meaning acting out beyond what is lawful.

For example, a house can be a warm place for everyone if the fire remains in the fireplace. Things get out of control when the fire burns down the entire house! We lose the original benefits of the fire and it takes complete control.

Lust from The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch (late 15th century)
Lust from The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch (late 15th century)

When we objectify another person for our own personal pleasure, lust has taken over. It is never okay to use someone as an object for our own means. Lusting after someone opposes loving them.

Instead, our sexual desires should lead us to being a complete gift of self in the context of marriage. They should lead us to loving over obeying carnal desires. When we let these desires take over what we know is right, we become like animals leading aimless lives. Why ruin and abuse good desires?

What does the Bible have to say about it?

  • “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28
  • “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” – 1 Peter 2:11
  • “Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18
  • “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
  • “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” – Colossians 3:5
  • “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” – Hebrews 13:4

How do we fight it?

We must not forget the original purpose of these desires: a complete gift of self for your spouse. Suppressing them completely is both not advisable and not possible. We must control rather than remove, through the virtue of chastity.

Work on controlling your passions rather than your passions controlling you. Fasting and gratitude will help you order all desires of the flesh like our desire for food and drink.

Recognize the gift of both the desires and what the desires are leading us toward. Detaching ourselves means living in the truth and seeing created things for what they are: gifts. They are not to become idols that control our lives.

Other essential ways to fight include:

  • Regular confessions
  • Forming a daily habit of mental prayer
  • Relying on trusted friends and accountability partners.

Build good Christ-centered friendships with those of the opposite gender. It’s hard to recover from viewing others as objects. So the best way to make progress is to love them and see their dignity.

To master your desires of the flesh is to no longer be a slave to your desires. You will be free.

4. Gluttony

Gluttony is the “excessive indulgence in food and drink”9. Like lust, these natural desires for food and drink are not inherently sinful. It is the excessive desire for food and drink that becomes a sin.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains that it is gluttonous when done “too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, [or] too daintily10.

If you overeat to the point where it hurts you, you’ve overdone it. Spent a huge amount? It’s likely gluttonous. Can’t wait for the proper time to eat? You let your desires control you rather than vice versa.

Gluttony from The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch (late 15th century)
Gluttony from The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch (late 15th century)

Like the other vices, we need to see the truth of food and drink: they are gifts from God. In fact, they should lead you to God.

Whether it’s a cookie or a delicious steak, you should eat and drink to the glory of God and in great thanksgiving. You don’t need to picture God in your head the entire time during your meal (although that would be impressive).

Instead, remember the Lord Who gave you this food and drink.

What does the Bible have to say about gluttony?

  • “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • “Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” – Philippians 3:19
  • “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” – Romans 13:14
  • “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
  • “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” – Matthew 6:25
  • “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” – Matthew 4:4
  • “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.’” – John 4:34

Remember Who gave you this nourishment! Don’t forget why you eat, to love and serve God and your neighbor.

5. Envy

Envy is a “sorrow which one entertains at another’s well-being because of a view that one’s own excellence is in consequence lessened”11. In other words, we are sad that something good is happening to someone else.

This is particularly bad considering to love is to will the good of the other. Our very goal in life should be to will good things on our neighbor, not to be sad!

Cain Leadeth Abel to Death by James Tissot (c. 1896 - c. 1902)
Cain Leadeth Abel to Death by James Tissot (c. 1896 – c. 1902)

Envy is a lonely sin, focused only on the self. We see good things around us and think, “Why can’t I have that? Why do they get it and I don’t?” Viewing the world in this lens will only lead to a deeper and deeper misery.

Kindness and a desire for good things to come to other people is the only cure. We must grow our charity in our hearts for everyone around us, even if it means we do not benefit.

What does the Bible have to say about it?

  • “. . . for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” – 1 Corinthians 3:3
  • “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant” – 1 Corinthians 13:4
  • “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:26
  • “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” – James 3:14-16
  • “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” – 1 Peter 2:1
  • “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers” – Psalm 37:1
  • “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” – Ecclesiastes 4:4

There is no room for envy in a joyful life. We are slaves when we lose our peace because of others, especially when it’s when things go well for them!

Instead, our foundation and joy should be in love and humility. If we only think about ourselves, we will not know true happiness.

6. Sloth, or Acedia

Sloth mean a general laziness, but more specifically it is “sadness in the face of some spiritual good which one has to achieve”12. When called to virtue, the slothful person reacts with sadness or disgust. They should instead have a deep joy at the opportunity.

The slothful person does everything with reluctance, assuming they do anything at all. There is no joy in doing God’s will.

Living a spiritual and loving life is a burden. Soon they will give up on the necessary tasks to lead a virtuous life. This type of lifestyle is devoid of love for God and neighbor and in the end focused on the self.

What does the Bible have to say about sloth?

  • “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” – Romans 12:11-12
  • “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters” – Colossians 3:23
  • “The appetite of the lazy craves, and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied.” – Proverbs 13:4
  • “The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.” – Proverbs 15:19

We must not cling to comfort when God calls to for greater things. It is not comfortable to lay down our lives in service for others. Living a life of love is not easy, but it is completely fulfilling.

Sleeping Along the River
“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters” – Colossians 3:23

When Christ asks us to take up our cross daily and follow Him, do we do it with great joy? Do we see our chance to unite with His suffering? Do we sigh and complain or do we love with peace and joy?

God is calling us to work for Him, the highest ideal, rather than our own selfish inclinations. We must not be careless by delaying and ignoring the ways of God. We should seek them out with the fullness of joy.

7. Pride

Pride is the most dangerous sin and the root of all the other vices. It is “the excessive love of one’s own excellence,”13 except the excellence and goodness belongs to God. It is a rejection of God and making ourselves the most important thing in our life.

Pride is living a lie. We see ourselves as responsible for how great we are and we focus in only on what other people think about us. The counter virtue of humility recognizes our true place and standing before God.

What does the Bible say about pride?

  • “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant” – 1 Corinthians 13:4
  • “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3
  • “For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.” – Galatians 6:3
  • “But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” – James 4:6-7
  • “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:10
  • “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” – Proverbs 8:13
  • “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18
  • “Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24
Paradise Lost - Satan Yields - Gustave Doré (1866)
Paradise Lost – Satan Yields – Gustave Doré (1866)

Pride is incompatible with love. We reject the Source of love and choose to love ourselves. The prideful person does not see themselves as in need of help or salvation.

When given the prospect of bowing before God and serving Him, they respond in the same way as Satan: “I will not serve.”

How do we fight pride?

Remember the base truth, that without Christ we can do nothing14. It is impossible follow both ourselves and Christ, something must give.

We must pray for humility and embrace every opportunity to receive it! This doesn’t mean embarrassing yourself in front of others on purpose. It means recognizing the truth: we are weak and in need of God’s mercy and salvation.

Remember that the point of life is not to glorify ourselves (as if we could), but rather to glorify God. Any good that we do inherently comes from the Source of All Goodness, God Himself. We have the privilege of cooperating in His Love, but we are not the actual source of it.

Know yourself! Learn about your weaknesses and yours strengths. Humility is true self-knowledge. Pride is self-love, regardless of the truth — a complete rejection of God.

Where Do the 7 Deadly Sins Come From?

The earliest source of the 7 Deadly Sins comes from the “8 Evil Thoughts” in Greek by Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th century15.

He lists them as:

  • Gluttony
  • Prostitution/fornication
  • Avarice (Greed)
  • Pride
  • Sadness (Envy is the sadness at another’s good)
  • Wrath (Anger)
  • Boasting
  • Acedia (Sloth)

St. John Cassian played a major role in bringing this concept into the Western Latin Church, along with other Eastern spiritual concepts16.

Pope St. Gregory I (also known as St. Gregory the Great) categorized the sins into our list in 590 A.D17 and it has continued to influence every Christian denomination.

St. Thomas Aquinas defended the 7 Deadly Sins in the Summa Theologica and the Italian poet Dante Alighieri described Hell using them in his famous Divine Comedy.

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church – Paragraph 1767
  2. Anger – Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologica – Question 158 – Article 2 – Whether anger is a sin?
  4. Matthew 21:12
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church – Paragraph 2302
  6. Luke 23:34
  7. Matthew 25:40
  8. Lust – Catholic Encyclopedia
  9. Gluttony – Catholic Encyclopedia
  10. Gluttony – Catholic Encyclopedia
  11. Jealousy – Catholic Encyclopedia
  12. Sloth – Catholic Encyclopedia
  13. Pride – Catholic Encyclopedia
  14. John 15:5
  15. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006-06-22. ISBN 9780199297085
  16. Cassian, St John (2000-01-03). The Institutes (First ed.). New York: Newman Press of the Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809105229
  17. DelCogliano, Mark (2014-11-18). Gregory the Great: Moral Reflections on the Book of Job, Volume 1. Cistercian Publications. ISBN 9780879071493.