The Seven Deadly Sins – Sloth

Written By: Dr. Ravae Wilson


October 25, 2023

Sloth [noun]

  1. disinclination to action or labor
  2. any of various slow-moving arboreal edentate mammals (genera Bradypus and Choloepus) that inhabit tropical forests of South and Central America, hang from the branches back downward, and feed on leaves, shoots, and fruits.

When you hear the word ‘sloth,’ which definition comes to mind? For me, it’s the animal. I think of that scene in Zootopia where the sloths are the DMV/Secretary of State workers slowly taking their time while the main character is in a rush. However, the main characteristic of this sweet creature is also a term that represents an aversion to doing anything—what some would call laziness.

But is the sin of sloth just laziness? Or do its roots stem far deeper than just sitting around all day? For this deadly sin, we’ll take a moment to look at what it is and what it isn’t, then how God calls us to combat it.

What Sloth Is

Sure, being slothful can be a form of laziness. There are plenty of Saturdays where I have the best intentions to get things done around the house, but instead, I choose to lay around and watch TV—especially during football season. But I don’t think this is what some of the early church fathers meant when they added sloth to the list of deadly sins. Most scholars don’t even use the word ‘laziness’ to describe it. Instead, they compare sloth to being apathetic towards physical and spiritual work. Sloth isn’t laziness; it’s not caring.

I want to introduce a third definition of sloth: spiritual apathy and inactivity. And when we look carefully at this third definition, we begin to understand why this sin is so deadly. It’s not always a bad thing to be apathetic towards something. However, when we lack the motivation to grow closer to God, we have fallen victim to the sin of sloth.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” – Romans 12:11

What Sloth Is Not

I want to be very clear when I say this: struggling with your mental health, specifically depression, is not a form of sloth. While depression can lead to feelings of apathy towards many different things, it is not to be mistaken for the sin of sloth. Now, there are times where sloth and apathy can lead to depression, but we must not mistake mental illness for something it’s not. If you are struggling with depression, please know there are many resources available to you that can help bring healing and hope. Click here for more information.

Another thing we must not confuse sloth with is sabbath. True rest is not the same thing as laziness, apathy, or anything else that may be associated with this deadly sin. Rest that restores our body and mind is a type of rest that God intended for us to have.

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.” – Psalm 23:2-3a [NLT]

How Do We Combat It?

In an article published in John Piper’s Discovering God, author and professor Uche Anizor talks about overcoming apathy towards God (sloth in our spiritual walk), saying we must ask ourselves three questions:

  1. Am I living in unconfessed sin?
  2. Have I neglected God’s means of grace?
  3. What fills my mind daily?

The answers to these questions will help reveal the reasons behind sloth-like tendencies that lead us to spiritual apathy. And as we uncover those reasons, we can move back into a place of spiritual intimacy with God. If you’re struggling with unconfessed sin, confess it to God—He already knows it, and He’s already forgiven it on the cross. Before anything else, we need to spend time in confession before God, releasing our struggles to Him who heals and forgives.

To continue to combat sloth and spiritual apathy, we must begin to create rhythms of spiritual discipline in our lives. This looks like spending time in prayer and in God’s Word—starting small and removing distractions. For many of us, social media, technology, our phones, and many other things can suck up our time and—truthfully—suck the life out of us if they’re not used correctly or with boundaries. Think of ways you can remove the distractions in your life, even if just for a few moments a day, to make room for time with God.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with finding a spiritual discipline you can start doing right now. These disciplines not only help us combat the deadly sin of sloth, but they will continue to draw us near to our Father in heaven.

For more on the spiritual disciplines, click here.