The Cycle of Sin

James 1:13-18

Intro:  When you mess up, who do you blame? 

·               The sun was in my eyes

·               I have a lousy boss

·               The instructions weren’t clear

·               The government

·               Your husband / your wife (some things you just can’t blame on the government!)

·               Your kids

·               Your parents were too strict / too permissive

·               Your alarm clock didn’t go off

·               Flip Wilson – “the devil made me do it”

When you sin, who do you blame? God?  From what James has just written in the first twelve verses, it might have sounded like God is planning misfortune in your life to put you to the test or pound you into shape.  But James quickly counters that by saying, When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

God does not tempt us with evil.  He himself is not tempted and he does not tempt.  God does make use of those trials in our lives – they are opportunities to choose (“temptation” and “trial” translate the same Greek word – the same event has the potential for different outcomes).  In those trials God can make us stronger, or in those temptations Satan can chisel away at our faith.  But God does not tempt us to sin.  In fact, in the midst of these temptations God always gives us a way of escape – a godly choice – the option of turning a potentially faith devastating event into a faith building event.

Is Satan the creator of temptation?  It would be so easy to blame it on him.  After all, he is the father of lies – he skillfully uses those same events that God uses to strengthen you, to seduce you to sin. 

He uses every possible occasion around you to “sift you like wheat” – (he’ll use the accomplishments of others to make you envy, he’ll use the pervasiveness of pornography to make you lust, he’ll use the availability of drugs to tempt you to seek escape, he’ll use the neglect of your spouse to justify an affair.)  But he can only use what he is given – Eph. 4:26 – “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”   Satan will use whatever you give him – and build a stronghold out of it. 

Don’t downplay the power of Satan – 1 Peter 5:8 “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  But don’t throw up your hands and say, “I couldn’t help it – the devil made me do it.”

James places the source of temptation, squarely within each of us – “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”

In the original language, the word “evil” isn’t there. It is simply the word, “desires.”  And in most cases, “evil” is aptly applied, but the truth is that our desires are what motivate us – they are the driving forces within us.  We can have a desire for pleasure or a desire for holiness.  Our desires can be molded by the stuff we feed them – a drug addict has a desire for the high that drugs or alcohol produce.  A sex addict has a hunger for the physical rush that pornography creates.  You can program your desires to be addicted to buying by medicating yourself with shopping trips.  But you can also train your desires to hunger for God, to long for prayer. 

What I’m saying is that desires are simply the motivating forces in our lives – they can be used by God, they can be enticed by Satan.  But James tells us that it is those “desires” within us that “drag us away and entice us” – it is not some external force, but the internal war that wages within.

Illustration --  “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”  (Alexander  Solzenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago)

In the first 12 vss. of James, we saw a process – it was a process in which God uses the trials in our lives to strengthen us – he develops perseverance which produces maturity which makes us complete, not lacking anything. 

He turns now to another process.  When those trials come into your life, you can choose a different path.  Sin is very much a process, not an event.  All we often consider is the final act of sin and we say, “Aha! There it happened! That was sin.”  But James reminds us that sin begins long before the murder or the affair or the theft.  It begins when we consider the possibilities…

Eve (Gen. 3:6 – She saw, she took, she ate)

David (2 Sam. 11:2-4 – He saw, he sent, he slept)

Sin is a cycle that begins long before the sin is committed.  It begins in the heart where desires war and battles are won or lost when a choice is made and a step is taken and the path is followed.

Listen as James describes that cycle of sin:

1)      “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed”

The cycle starts when our desires process something in our life – a thought, a look, a feeling, a person, a thing – and say, “I want that.”

I read those words, “dragged away and enticed,” and I think, “it sure would be nice if there were a little more dragging involved.”  Most of us go all too readily.  We know the path, the ruts are deep, the pavement is worn smooth.  We hear the voice of sin, and we say, “Here I come!” 

And most of us think, “What’s the big deal?  I’m saved by grace.  God is in the forgiving business and business is good.”  But we need to hear Paul’s words again and again, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Now hear this – temptation is not sin – when David saw – he had a choice.  When Eve listened – she had a choice.  If David had turned and walked back inside, if Eve had looked at the serpent and said, “What kind of a fool do you think I am?” sin would have been averted, God would have said, “Yes!”

But when we hear temptation call to us, red flags need to be flying, sirens need to be screaming.  When temptation comes we are under attack and we must take immediate action.

When God spoke to Cain about the anger and jealousy he felt toward his brother Abel, he said: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7)  For all our best intentions, Satan is a formidable enemy – sin is an ever-present danger.  But it is not undefeatable.

Joseph experienced the same kind of temptation as David, if not worse – but instead of letting that voice of temptation lure him into sin, he turned and fled and sin was defeated.

2)      But when we listen to the voice – when we react to the stimulus – the seed has been planted.  James words it this way:  “When desire has conceived.”  It is the union of temptation and opportunity.  A lot of sins never tempt me because I just don’t give them opportunity – it’s not that they couldn’t tempt me – but because I stay away from opportunity, the two never get together and sin is never conceived.

I think how many times Paul wrote to Timothy and other Christians, “Flee from sin… from sexual immorality… from idolatry… from sinful desires”

3)      “Gives birth to sin”

But once the seed is planted, and the path is chosen, that desire will give birth to sin. 

It’s amazing how many people go around sowing wild oats and then pray for crop failure.  Gal. 6:8  “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”

I’m always amazed at the people who live lives with total disregard for God, pursuing and reveling in a sinful lifestyle, then blame God when the consequences of those sins devastate their lives.

James uses the imagery of something living – it is conceived, it is born, it grows, it becomes full grown.

And sometimes, because the sin is so small, and seemingly so insignificant, we don’t take it seriously – it’s just a little exaggeration, it was just a little flirtation, that’s just the way business works. (Anytime you have to use the word “just” to convince yourself something isn’t so bad, you know you shouldn’t be doing it.)

Illustration – Monty the Python   There is no such thing as “just a little sin.”

4)      Ultimately, sin has one outcome – it may produce short term rewards and pleasures – we may convince ourselves that nobody gets hurt – we may salve our conscience by finding some justification for it – but ultimately sin has one outcome – James says, “and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”  

Rom. 6:23 – The wages of sin is death.  Prov. 14:12 – There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.  Ezek. 18:20 – The soul that sins shall die

Sin always damages our relationship with God, sin always creates distance between us and God.  Don’t ever minimize or dismiss the disastrous consequences of sin.  It was for our sin – every sin that Jesus was nailed to the cross.  Sin is always costly – it always breaks the heart of God – because it is saying to God, “Your sacrifice doesn’t matter.”

But James doesn’t leave us there – He tells us that trials in our life can be used by God to strengthen us – they can be used by Satan to destroy us.  But then in vs. 16, he says, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.”  [Open your eyes – see clearly.] He had said in vs. 5, “Ask for wisdom.”  [Remember last week – We need wisdom to see those trials through God’s eyes – with his perspective.] 

And now he brings us full circle – Not only is God not the author of temptation – everything that comes from God is always and only for your good – vs. 17-18 – “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

·         What God gives is always good.  What Satan gives always has strings attached and will always bring you harm.

·         Satan works in the shadows, he is always switching the price tags.  When you lean on God he is always there; when he speaks it is always the truth.

·         And when God gave us new birth, it was not into sin but through the word of truth.  We were not made for sin, our lives are not fulfilled in anything or anyone but God.

Let me quickly share three ways to bring those desires under control:

1)      Put those desires under God’s control

2 Cor. 10:5– “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Rom. 6:12-13 – “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

2)      Avoid opportunity

A wiser David understood that – Ps. 101:3 – “I will set before my eyes no wicked things.”

1 Cor. 15:10 – “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good character.”

3)      When confronted with temptation, seek the way out

1 Cor. 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 that you can stand up under it.”

When James comes to chapter 4, he will speak of the desires that battle within us.  Paul, in Romans 7, will talk about the battle within him between his desire to do good and the sin that so often derailed his best intentions.

The answer is to direct those desires, not toward the things of this world, but toward God. 

David will sing, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps 37:4)

Isaiah will praise the Lord: “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” (Isa 26:8)

The man or woman of God knows that Satan is strong, but that he is no match for the Holy Spirit, and when we let God rule over our desires, we truly find the desires of our hearts.