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The Birth of Sin

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The Birth of Sin

James 1:13-18

May 3, 1998

James 1:13-16

13        When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

14        but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

15        Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16        Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.

17        Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

18        He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.


If you missed last week, we have begun a new series on the book of James. We won’t explore every verse, but we will look at the major sections that are the heart of this book. Now, this week’s scripture is closely linked to last week’s, so I want to take just a few minutes to review and draw the connection between the two passages.

Last week, we explored the exhortation to choose joy in the midst of trial. In essence what James has said so far is that whenever we are faced with any kind of trial, we are left with a choice. The trial may be the temptation to commit a particular sin or it may be to lose faith in the midst of some difficulty. But regardless of the nature of the trial, we must choose how we will respond in the midst of it .

Now, the choice exists for a very simple reason: we live in a season of warfare. On one side is God and the kingdom of righteousness. On the other is Satan and the kingdom of darkness and evil. Now the good news is that the war has been won. Christ defeated Satan on the cross. But like an animal that has been shot through the vitals, but hasn’t yet fallen, Satan continues to wage the battle and he will continue to do so until Christ returns and brings the war to an end.

In the meantime we have a Father who loves us and wants to use every trial and every opportunity for our good and an enemy, Satan, who hates us and wants to use every trial and opportunity to our detriment. And we determine by our response in the midst of trial whether the result of that trial will be in the hands of God or Satan.

Last week, we said we can choose joy rather than anger or bitterness or disappointment in the midst of trial for three reasons: 1) Verses 3-4 tell us that we know God is for us and will use our trials for good, 2) In verses 5-8, we know God will give us the wisdom we need to overcome our trial if we’ll simply ask in faith, and 3) Verse 12 reminds us that if we persevere we will gain the ultimate reward - the crown of life - which is eternal life with Christ.

So in verses 1-12, James emphasizes God’s activity in the midst of trial and temptation. Now, in verses 13-18, though he does continue to remind us of God’s goodness, James also looks more specifically at the activity of Satan in the midst of trial and temptation. And in the process we learn some very important lessons about the relationship between temptation and sin.

The Responsibility for Sin

James begins in verses 13-14 by addressing the matter of who is responsible for sin. And that’s a good place to start because humanity has always struggled with taking responsibility for sin.

I have a pastor friend in the Atlanta area who told me a story on his niece. When she was 4 or 5 years old, her mother came into the kitchen and discovered that someone had eaten part of the chocolate cake she had left on the table. From the mess, she could tell the crime hadn’t been committed by a professional, so, she went searching for the little girl. Sure enough her mouth and most of her face were covered in chocolate. Trying not to lose her temper and wanting to give her daughter the opportunity to confess, the mother asked rather calmly, “Honey, can you tell me who ate the chocolate cake?” The little girl looked up and with a very innocent look on her face said, “It was a mouse.” So, the mother pressed her, “Well, honey, if a mouse ate the cake, then why do you have all that chocolate on your face?” Without a moment’s hesitation, the little girl shot back, “I ate the mouse.”

Now, I don’t know where this little girl got her quick wits, but I do know where she got her aversion to taking responsibility for sin. She got it honestly - she was born with it. It started right in the garden. Do you remember Adam’s response when God confronted him and Eve after their sin? First of all, Adam blamed Eve, and then he blamed God. He said, “This woman that you gave me.” And ever since both the propensity to sin and the inclination to avoid responsibility has been passed on from one generation to the next. Theologians call it “original sin.”

But James wants to make it very clear here that God cannot be blamed in any way for our sin. He says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He never tempts us with evil.” Evil is completely inconsistent with God’s nature.

Now, we may be tempted to rush by this point because it looks so obvious. “Well, of course God does not tempt us with evil.” But do we really know that? Aren’t there times when we question why God allows certain things to happen? Aren’t times when we question why God made us the way we are? And don’t the questions themselves imply that we are not fully convinced that God’s purposes are always good?

Well, James understood that his readers were asking those same kinds of questions. So he takes the time to encourage them - and in the process he encourages us - by reminding us that God is not even capable of evil. That God would never try to draw us into evil, but that his purposes are always for our good.

Now, the really interesting thing is that James also doesn’t put the blame on Satan. We can assume that Satan is involved, but James will not blame Satan for our actions. So, as it turns out, Flip Wilson was wrong - “the devil doesn’t make us do it.”

We are fully responsible for any sin in our lives. James says that there exists within each of us a sinful nature that is completely at odds with God. And it’s this sinful nature that draws us into sin. Now, without a doubt, Satan knows all about that sinful nature and he targets it mercilessly. But Satan is not the source of our sin. It is our own human nature - what the Bible calls “the flesh.”

Now, as Christians, we are redeemed and the Spirit of God dwells in us. And God’s Spirit is much more powerful than our flesh, but our flesh does still exist. And it can draw us into sin if it is not continually submitted to the Holy Spirit.

So, James says first of all, that we are responsible for our sin - not God, not even Satan. We can only look to ourselves.

The Life Cycle of Sin

But then James goes on to explore the life cycle  of sin. And the fact that there is a life cycle is significant in itself. It tells us that sin never “just happens.” There is always a process. And in the case of sin that process is from temptation to conception to the birth of sin and ultimately to death.

The fact that there is a life cycle is significant for another reason. Not only does it tell us that sin never “just happens,” it also implies that the possibility of aborting the cycle always exists. But in order to see how it can be aborted, we need to understand the cycle itself.

It begins with temptation. Now, this is an important point because it tells us that temptation and sin are not the same thing. Now that may not be new revelation to some of you, but I can tell you from years of ministry that many people do not understand this point. I talk to people all the time who are hounded and haunted by guilt simply because they have had evil thoughts or evil desires. They mistakenly think that a good Christian couldn’t possibly have evil thoughts or desires. The problem is that we sometimes forget that regardless of how long we have been saved, the flesh still exists. And it’s in the flesh that these thoughts and desires live. So, until our flesh dies or Christ returns, we will always be vulnerable to the desires of our flesh. But James doesn’t call the desire itself sin. He calls it temptation.

And what he means by that is that our fleshly thoughts and desires entice us and lure us toward sin. The words he uses here were often used in fishing to describe the process of luring a fish to the bait. Now, I’ve loved to fish all my life, so this image is a very graphic one for me. I like any kind of fishing, but my favorite kind of fishing is bass fishing with topwater lures. If you don’t know anything about topwater lures, these are lures that float on the surface of the water, and they’re supposed to resemble a crippled minnow that is struggling for life. It’s the perfect late afternoon meal for a big, lazy bass.

Now, I can remember hundreds of times fishing with my Dad when one of us would make the perfect cast to the perfect spot - just a few inches away from the bank or a log or some other kind of cover. And we would look at each other with anticipation, just knowing that there had to be a fish there. And then whoever made the cast would twitch it just a little bit. And then he’d twitch it again. And you could almost feel the fish getting ready to explode on the bait because it looked so real. But it wasn’t real, and if the fish took it, he was in a heck of a lot of trouble - at least most of the time.

And this is the image James uses. The image of a lure or a bait set out before us drawing us and enticing us to take it. And of course it looks good. It wouldn’t be tempting if it didn’t look good. Whatever he may be, Satan is not stupid. He knows the desires of our flesh, and he puts before us the most enticing bait he can find.

And once the bait has been set, the first stage is complete. Now we come to the critical second stage: the stage of conception. And conception is the point of decision. We can’t control the temptation. We can’t make ourselves immune to evil thoughts or desires. But we can control whether or not we embrace those thoughts and desires. If we reject them, sin is aborted. But if we embrace them, sin is conceived. And once it is conceived, the third stage - birth - is certain.

Conception and Birth

Now, it’s vital that we understand the relationship between stage two and stage three. Because there is always this thought that it can’t hurt to just play around with the temptation; to just live with it for a few minutes. Surely, we can always turn back just before it’s too late.

But James says that once it’s conceived - once we embrace it - the result is inevitable. There will be a birth, and the child will be a monster. The temptation may have been beautiful, but the result is repulsive.  The result is sin.

Now, some would want to haggle over that. They’d say that its gotta be possible to turn back. But you see, that’s exactly what Satan wants us to do. He wants us to push the envelope. He wants us to take temptation and sin lightly. But James point is clear: do not play around with temptation. When we play around with temptation, we give the devil a foothold, and when the devil gets a foothold, he almost always gets us.

So, when we are tempted, we need to immediately reject that temptation. It’s a time-bomb. And every second we spend dwelling on it and contemplating it brings us one second closer to disaster.

Several years ago, ABC News reported on an unusual work of modern art - a chair with a shotgun mounted in front of it. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gunbarrel. The gun was loaded and set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next hundred years. The amazing thing was that people waited in lines to sit and stare into the path of that shell! They all knew the gun could go off at any moment, but they were willing to gamble that the fatal blast would not occur during their minute in the chair.

Now, I’m confident that none of us would be so foolish as to sit in that chair. Yet, playing around with temptation is even more foolish. James says that the end of the sin life cycle is death. And He’s not just talking about physical death. He’s talking about eternal death - spiritual death. Death is the ultimate consequence of sin that is not covered by the blood of Jesus.

Remember, we are living in a season of warfare.  God is always at work for our good. And Satan is always at work to destroy us. And sin is his primary weapon.  

So, James ends this discussion of sin with the warning: do not be deceived.

n      Do not be deceived into believing that God would ever tempt you or test you with evil.

n      Do not be deceived about the process that leads from temptation to sin.

n      And do not be deceived about the ultimate consequences of sin.

Practical Guidelines for Handling Temptation

Now this is all James says about the matter. He reminds us again of the goodness of God, but he doesn’t give us much practical advise on how to handle temptation. He shows us graphically what happens when we allow temptation to conceive, but he doesn’t really tell us how to keep it from conceiving.

Fortunately, the rest of the New Testament gives us some very helpful guidelines. So, before we leave, I want to quickly comment on several vital guidelines that will help us resist temptation:

1.      Recognize our own weakness. James does return to the theme of sin and temptation in 4:7-9 when he says: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” Do you see the relationship between humility and submission and the ability to resist Satan? If we ever start thinking Satan can’t possible trip us up, that’s precisely when we’ll fall. In Christ, we can do anything. In the flesh, we can do nothing.

2.      Remember the promises of God concerning temptation. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.” Now, there are actually two promises here. First of all, we are promised we will never face any temptation that is not common to man. Now, why is that promise significant. Because we have the tendency to feel sorry for ourselves in the midst of trials and temptations. We are tempted to think that no one else could possibly have faced what we’re having to face. And when we begin to think that we, we get discouraged. We get defeated. But Paul says that’s not true. There is no trial or temptation that someone else hasn’t already faced. And if God brought them through it, he will bring us through it, too. Secondly, while God does allow us to face trials and temptations, there are limits to those temptations. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. So, with this promise, there is no reason to ever feel defeated. We know that if we’ll simply ask in faith, God will give us whatever we need to endure the present trial or temptation we are facing. God’s provisions are perfect and complete.

3.      Be proactive in regards to temptation. Now, we said as we looked at our passage in James that there is a life cycle of sin. And one of the stages of that cycle is conception. And we defined the conception stage as the moment of decision. Armor of God. 

4.      Remember we have a helper. Hebrews 4:15-16.

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