There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Teachers, preachers, and religious leaders throughout history have tried to list out the main temptations or sins people face. Some of the early Christian writers summarized them in seven “capital sins,” as they are often called (or deadly, or cardinal). In theory these are the basic sins, the foundational ones from which all the others spring. Traditionally they include pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and laziness.

All of the above categories are human-defined and maddeningly relative. They are invisible and immeasurable, issues of the heart and mind and will. The common denominator in all the internal enemies we face is a focus on self. Ultimately that’s what sin is: a willingness to put selfish desires and pursuits above everything and everyone, including God.

Sooner or later sin has a way of surfacing, and often at the worst possible time. When it does, and when you see the damage and pain it causes, you’re going to want to change. There comes a moment when you realize you have to deal with whatever weakness, addiction, or temptation you have, because it’s not getting any better. It’s not going away on its own. And if left unchecked, it’s going to have some pretty damaging effects on your life.

We need to die to ourselves. Or more accurate, to our self. We need to die to our ego, our selfish desires, our unchecked needs, our independence.

The good news is that putting to death the old self allows us to bring to life the new self. There is no new life without death, as we saw earlier. When we die to our old selves, to the sin and selfishness that used to define us, we become alive to God. That new life is far better than what we left behind. It’s a life characterized by grace, love, joy, and peace. A life that embraces and builds and serves others. It’s the reality Jesus came to give us: life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

It’s like one of the old Westerns where an outlaw and a sheriff face off in the middle of the street at high noon. “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” somebody usually mutters. Townspeople rush their kids indoors and shutter their windows. Cliché music plays in the background. Suddenly guns are drawn. Dust flies. The volume of the cliché music intensifies. When the dust clears, only one person is left standing: hopefully the good guy.

The good guy is you, FYI. This is a duel to the death between your inner self and this intruder, this outlaw, who is trying to undermine the person you want to be. Either you face your issues and come out victorious, or you run away and hide. This town ain’t big enough for the both of you.

Let’s think about some of the inner outlaws on our most wanted list. There are more, of course, but these are ones I often encounter, both in me and in people I speak with. If any of these are common problems for you, then it’s time to hold a funeral.

  • Pride

Pride is thinking of yourself more highly than you should, usually in comparison to others (Philippians 2:1–11). It is devastating because it isolates us from anyone who could correct us, including God. It tells us that we are right, we are the best, we are infallible, we are in control, and we don’t need anyone else. Check your pride level: Do you need to die to your ego today?

  • Greed

Greed is about wanting more than you should have or about wanting it sooner than you should have it. Greed can never make you happy, though. The human capacity for pleasure is a black hole. It’s not necessarily wrong to want more money, happiness, comfort, friends, and so on, but if getting more begins to consistently trump loving your neighbor, you’ve got an outlaw on your hands.

  • Lust 

Lust is often equated with improper sexual desire. It includes that, of course, but it’s not limited to it. Lust is any desire that is either out of control or out of context. Lust is about an appetite that is so voracious it must be satisfied at any cost. It can be a lust for power, fame, comfort, food, money, pleasure, possessions, and more. Addictions could fit under this category as well. Are there areas or appetites you have a tough time controlling? If so, don’t hide from the fight.

  • Fear

 I wouldn’t call all fear sin because fear can also be a good emotion, one that protects you and cautions you. However, if fear has expanded to the point that it controls you and hurts you, then it’s time to get rid of it. It will steal your joy, your peace, and your opportunities. Think about your fear level. How often do you hide or shrink back? Is fear stealing from you? It might be time to draw a line in the sand.

  • Insecurity 

Insecurity is a constant need to prop up your ego and your self- esteem. I’m continually amazed at the power of insecurity to warp our actions and reactions. It’s a subtle force that affects everything. Insecure people compete and compare, they put people down to feel better, they react defensively to correction, and they live in constant fear and shame. Insecurity can be hard to identify because it tends to self- protect, so be honest: How are your self-i mage, self- esteem, and self- confidence doing?

  • Anger and Abuse 

Anger, like fear, is not always wrong. But when it is uncontrolled, it can go very bad very quickly. It can lead to violence, to abuse, to broken friendships, to bad health. How often do you lose your temper? How do you act or speak when you get mad? If anger is a problem, get angry with anger. Get mad at immaturity. Use your passion to control yourself, not to lash out at others.

  • Dishonesty

Dishonesty includes things like lying, cheating, manipulation, and deceit. Truth matters. Integrity matters. Your reputation matters. Your word matters. People need to be able to know that they can count on you. If your word stops carrying weight, so will your reputation. Think about how often or how easily you lie. Are you willing to pay the price to be a person of integrity?

  • Laziness 

By laziness I don’t mean someone who enjoys naps in the afternoon. I mean someone who just doesn’t do the work they need to do. This includes apathy, a poor work ethic, and mediocrity. It might look like showing up late to work or not meeting work obligations. Do you struggle with laziness? Challenge it to a duel. Begin to build a healthy work ethic. Redefine yourself and your approach toward hard things. Your future self will thank you.

  • Jealousy and Ungratefulness 

Jealousy or envy refers to wanting what someone else has. It includes being discontent with what you have and ungrateful for your blessings. To be jealous is about comparison, and not in a good way (if there is a good way). When a child is jealous of another kid’s toy, what do we tell them? Usually to be grateful for what they have, to be happy for the other person, and to work hard so they can buy one of their own. Seems like that advice applies when you’re an adult too. How are your contentment level and your gratitude meter doing?

  • Meanness

This might not be a very technical term, but you know what I’m talking about. Some people are just mean. The way they treat other people is hurtful, damaging, and outright wrong. They might be abusive, whether emotionally or physically. They might be violent. They might be bullies. Meanness is more than having a bad day or being in a bad mood. It’s a philosophy of treating others that looks nothing like Jesus. Take a hard look at how you treat people, especially those close to you. Do you need to root out some meanness from your life?

I’ll stop with those ten, but there are more that come to mind. This isn’t meant to be an exercise in shame. Not at all. It’s about freedom, and it’s about taking back ownership of your life. That’s the point of holiness, after all—to improve life. It’s not about keeping God happy, or earning brownie points in heaven, or being better than other people, or avoiding judgmental lightning bolts from the sky. Living free from sin is better for you and those around you, and that’s why you should do it. Period.

If you need to have a funeral for yourself—for your old self—go right ahead. Take up your cross, as Jesus said, and follow him. Lose your life to gain your life. It might hurt during the process, but it will be worth it. When you die to who you used to be, you’ll discover who you were created to be.

Taken from The Art of Overcoming: Letting God Turn Your Endings into Beginnings by Tim Timberlake. Copyright 2023 by Tim Timberlake. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Publishing. HarperCollinsChristian.com