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Would you please explain James 1:14-15?

The passage reads:

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

When and how does sin start? Does death only await us when sin is “full-grown”?

Vincent’s Word Studies explains that the terms “drawn away” and “enticed” “are metaphors from hunting and fishing.” It continues: “Drawn away, as beasts are enticed from a safecovert into a place beset with snares. Note the present participle, as indicating the progress of the temptation: ‘is being drawn away.’ Enticed– As a fish with bait. Also the present participle.”

We see, then, that a PROGRESSION is described.

In addition, the ORIGIN of sinful conduct is not mainly external, but INTERNAL. The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explains:

“Every man, when tempted, is so [tempted] through being drawn away of… his own lust [or, desire]. The cause of sin is in ourselves. Even Satan’s suggestions do not endanger us before they are made our own. Each one has his own peculiar (so the Greek) lust, arising from his own temperament and habit… drawn away [describes] the beginning step in temptation: drawn away from truth and virtue. Enticed [means] literally, ‘taken with a bait,’ as fish are. The further progress: the man allowing himself… to be enticed to evil… ‘Lust’ [or ‘desire’] is here personified as the harlot that allures the man…

“The guilty union is committed by the will embracing the temptress. ‘Lust,’ the harlot, then, ‘brings forth sin,’ namely, of that kind to which the temptation inclines. Then the particular sin… ‘when it is completed, brings forth death,’ with which it was all along pregnant…”

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible gives the following additional explanation, showing that the sin in the heart becomes manifest for all to see:

“… the fountain or source of all temptation is in man himself. It is true that external inducements to sin may be placed before him, but they would have no force if there was not something in himself to which they corresponded, and over which they might have power. There must be some ‘lust’; some desire; some inclination; something which is unsatisfied now… The original propensity may not be wrong, but may be perfectly harmless – as in the case of the desire of food… The error, the fault, the sin, is, not restraining the indulgence where we are commanded to do it, either in regard to the objects sought, or in regard to the degree of indulgence. ‘And enticed’ [actually means] Entrapped, caught; that is, he is seized by this power, and held fast; or he is led along and beguiled, until he falls into sin, as in a snare that springs suddenly upon him… Without doubt, the apostle traces the whole evil of temptation, which some falsely ascribed to God, to the sinful desires of the human heart…

“The whole passage, with the words and figures which are used, show that the idea in the apostle’s mind was that of an enticing harlot… The meaning is, when the desire which we have naturally is quickened, or made to act, the result is that sin is produced… In the mere desire of good, of happiness, of food, of raiment, there is no sin; it becomes sin when indulged in an improper manner, and when it leads us to seek that which is forbidden – to invade the rights of others, or in any way to violate the laws of God…

“‘It bringeth forth sin’ [means that:] The result is sin – OPEN, actual sin. When that which is conceived in the heart is matured, it is SEEN to be sin. The design of all this is to show that sin is not to be traced to God, but to man himself…

“There are, first, our natural propensities; those which we have as men… Such Adam had in innocence; such the Saviour had; and such are to be regarded as in no respect in themselves sinful and wrong. Yet they may, in our case, as they did in Adam, lead us to sin, because, under their strong influence, we may be led to desire that which is forbidden, or which belongs to another… And sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death…”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible alludes to the fact that James has the progression of sin in mind, which, through habitual conduct, may lead to committing the unforgivable or unpardonable sin:

“Every man is tempted (in an ill sense) when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. In other scriptures the devil is called the tempter, and other things may sometimes concur to tempt us; but neither the devil nor any other person or thing is to be blamed so as to excuse ourselves…

“The method of sin in its proceeding [is described:] First it draws away, then entices. As holiness consists of two parts – forsaking that which is evil and cleaving to that which is good, so these two things, reversed, are the two parts of sin. The heart is carried from that which is good, and enticed to cleave to that which is evil…

“Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; that is, sin being allowed to excite desires in us, it will soon ripen those desires into consent, and then it is said to have conceived. The sin truly exists, though it be but in embryo. And, when it has grown [to] its full size in the mind, it is then brought forth in ACTUAL EXECUTION…

“Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. After sin is brought forth in actual commissions, the finishing of it… is its being strengthened by FREQUENT ACTS and SETTLED INTO A HABIT. And, when the iniquities of men are thus FILLED UP, death is brought forth… the wages of sin is eternal death… Your own hearts’ lusts and corruptions are your tempters; and when by degrees they have carried you off from God, and finished the power and dominion of sin in you, then they will prove your DESTROYERS.”

It is correct that James is addressing here, foremost, the concept of the UNPARDONABLE SIN. All sin deserves the death penalty, and sin is not only to be seen in outward acts, but also in inward WRONG desires. Christ said that whoever LOOKS at a woman with the thought of committing adultery with her has already committed adultery in his heart and has therefore sinned in the eyes of God (compare Matthew 5:27-28). He also said that whoever HATES a person in his mind has already committed murder in the eyes of God (compare Matthew 5:21-22). But sin can be forgiven, upon repentance (1 John 1:8-10), unless it has reached such a state of habitual conduct that the perpetrator does not want to repent of it anymore. In that case, it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew such a person to repentance (Hebrews 6:4-6). His conscience is seared–he does not see anymore that what he does is evil; he has embraced his sinful conduct as a way of life to be desired. In that case, eternal death is the fate of such a person, and his sin–which began in his mind but which was allowed to grow unchecked–has led to the second and final death in the lake of fire from which there will be no resurrection (Revelation 20:15; 21:7-8).

We are admonished to bring every thought into the obedience of Jesus Christ–not to dwell on evil thoughts, but to eradicate them from our minds (2 Corinthians 10:5). Christ was tempted in all points as we are, but He never allowed any tempting thought to take root in His mind; He never allowed any natural desires to embrace sinfulness. When Satan tempted Him in the desert, He resisted Satan by dwelling on the Word of God. When people tempted Christ by either wanting Him to become their king or by ending His misery and pain at the cross, He rejected those tempting thoughts by dwelling on the Word of God. He never allowed desires to settle in His mind to conceive sin–let alone allowing sin to grow in His mind and to even manifest itself in outward acts.

We read that Christ, who had been GOD since all eternity, BECAME flesh–a human being. He came into sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), being born of the Virgin Mary who had human nature, but He overcame sin in His flesh. He never sinned once–not even in His mind. When He was in the garden called Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father to let the cup of torture and crucifixion depart from Him, if there was a different way to accomplish the same purpose for His Coming, but He added that the Father’s Will–not His own Will–needed to be done. He always submitted to God’s Will. His prayer for relief from death was a product of His human desire not to die, but this desire was not bad or sinful. IF, however, He had decided NOT to go through His ordeal and flee from the soldiers who had come to arrest Him, then He would have sinned, as He would have violated the Will of God. But He did not do this–in fact, He never entertained the thought of doing this. He never had the desire to disobey God; but He controlled His human desires so as to never entertain the thought of wanting to do evil.

With Christ living in us through His Holy Spirit, we CAN reach the same kind of mind frame which Jesus possessed. We are told to renew our mind (Romans 12:2); to acquire and have the same mind which Jesus had (Philippians 2:5). We, too, can CONTROL our thoughts and overcome any desires to sin. We CAN become more and more perfect by eradicating from our minds the very desire to disobey God and to sin.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link