The Problem of Sin: James 1:14-15

Win Groseclose

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Milton, FL


the-problem-of-sin (MP3 download)

The Problem of Sin

(James 1:14-15)


            The difference between this third issue or this third problem that we have been looking at in these verses from the first chapter of James, is that there is a distinction between the first two.  The first two are dealing largely with the things that are outside of us.  The problem of evil coming into the world—as old as some of my elementary school students think that I may happen to be, I am still not old enough, nor is anyone in this room old enough, remember when evil came into the world with Adam and Eve.  Though, as I said, many of my elementary schoolers think that I am older than dirt. 


            And when we are dealing with the problem of pain, we are again dealing with something that is largely outside of us.  It is something that God is indeed using in our lives to conform us into the image of his Son, but again it is something that is largely taking place outside of our being—or at least is beginning there. 


            This third question that comes out of the first chapter in these verses shifts and no longer is dealing with things that begin largely outside of us or things that begin working from the outside working in, but this is something that in fact that begins on the inside and works outwardly.  You see, we still have a remnant of the old man within us, and we are to be about working to tear it down and destroy it, but at the same time he is working against us, testing us and trying us.  For the believer is one who pursues righteousness and not sin but we are yet those who are not yet perfect, and those which stumble, and those that yet fall.  I heard it once said that the holier the individual, the more acutely aware they will be of the sin that is dwelling in their being.  This morning, as a result of that and as a result of what James is teaching us, I would like to essentially do three things:


First, I would like to paint a clear picture of what James is describing in these two verses.


            Second, I would like us to understand the very nature of sin itself as a repetition of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin—something that we are guilty of in addition to our own sinful behavior—I want to see those in connection.


            And Thirdly, I want to remind us of the hope that we have of forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ.  I want to remind us of where James is going with this passage.


            But first, let us paint the picture, let us look to see what it is that James is clearly saying in this text.  First, remember (you are going to get sick of me saying this over and over again), but remember the context that we have.  James had began this question with this statement:  that you, as you resist temptation—as you resist trial—it will make you stronger in faith.  It will make you and grow you to the point where you will be lacking in nothing.  James is speaking ultimately of Glorification here.  He is not speaking of something that we will not fully realize as we live on this earth, but he is speaking of something that we are moving towards as we are getting ready to be glorified and spend eternity with Christ.  He is speaking of more than purely a restoration, but he is speaking of a remaking of us into the image of Jesus.


            Yet, as we get here and look at this verse, James is speaking of just the opposite things.  The resistance to sin, the resistance to temptation, builds us up and strengthens us.  When we fall into sin, when we pursue the things of this world, that sin ultimately brings death—when it is fully formed.  This is something that will ultimately come back to the sin of Adam and Eve in terms of his reference, but we will come back to this. 


But do you see the contrast that he is making?  He is painting, if you will, two pictures, or two avenues.  And he is saying that this is the one that living faithfully leads you towards, yes it will be hard, yes, it will be difficult, yes it will be filled with pain.  Jesus never tells us that it will be otherwise, but look at the destination that it leads you towards.  At the same time, there is an easy road, there is a road that is filled with desire and the lusts of the heart and temptation and trial and giving in to those things.  And ultimately, that path has a destination as well.  And that destination is death. 


Literally, James, when he writes these words says, “Yet, when each individual…”  Note right there what he is saying here.  He is not talking about corporate sin.  There is such a thing as corporate sin, it happens, but James is not dealing with that sort of thing in verse 14.  He is saying that each individual, he is dealing with each one of us personally and individually.  And saying, look, when each of you, individually and personally is tempted, this is that same word again that we have been using—tested, tried—by his personal lusts.  Note the emphasis that he is making it once again—he is not talking generically about lusts.  He is not talking about the things that are just generically in the world, but he is saying, Look, there are things that cause you and me to stumble and fall, and they are not generic, they are different—they are individual.  What causes me to stumble and fall may be and probably is something that is entirely different that what causes you to stumble and fall.  Certainly we have things in common, but oftentimes the things that tempt one are not necessarily the things that tempt another, and that is why Paul teaches in Corinthians that we need to be sensitive to those things and be sensitive to our weaker brethren, and not by things that we are perfectly able to do, lead them into sin and trial and stumbling with our freedoms.


By our personal lusts.  Lusts is language in the Greek, that refers to things that have been forbidden.  This is not something that is just dealing with that which is probably okay, but maybe cause me to stumble and fall.  These are things that explicitly, as James is saying, have been forbidden to you and to me in His word.  He is saying, “Does God use this to tempt us?  No!”  But, God does use this to make us holy.  And he is saying that when we are tempted, when we are tested and tried by our personal lusts, being “drug away” is the literal connotations of this word, and then enticed.  I like this language here, because it so often reflects the way that we fall into sin.  The language of drug away implies in the beginning that we are kind of fighting against something, that we are kind of resisting against something.  That we are saying, “No, I am not going to go there, I am not going to fall into that sin and into that trial.”  But then enticed.  Enticed is a reflection of the idea that we are kind of going along with this. 


How often this reflects our experience.  I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we know the things that ensnare, to use the language of Hebrews.  And usually, when it comes to those things, we resist them at first.  Usually we are aware of them enough and go, “No, God does not want me to do this, this is sin, and I am not going to go down that path.” 


But something happens to us.  And usually the way it goes is that even though we say, “no,” we dwell upon it.  We think about it.  We entertain the idea and then constantly say, no, but the more we do that, the more we drift closer and closer—the more our resistances are broken down, and the more inclined we are to move from this idea that idea that I am fighting against it, kicking my heels, burying them into the dirt, and into flirting with it.  And when we go from one to the other we fall into sin—over and over again.


Kids learn this technique at a very early age.  It is not only the pitting of Mom against Dad, when Mom says, “No,” going to ask Dad.  But it is also the pitting of them against themselves and their patience, because if a child asks his Mother or Father for something enough times, over and over again, they know that one of two things will happen:  they’ll get a spanking or they’ll get what they want.  And oftentimes, in our culture, because parents get frustrated and say, “Enough!  Alright!  Go get it!  Go to it!” we give in.  So too, Satan uses this same technique with us.  Our hearts use this same technique, seeking to justify and to lure us into sin.  John Calvin was one who said that the heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols.  And indeed, I think that there is great truth in there, but if that is true, then we need to ask ourselves firstoff, what our minds will be doing.  Because our minds really can become one of two things.  Our minds can become the guard on the wall, protecting our heart from the things that would entice them to make idols, and stopping them within as a guard or a policeman might do, or they can become the advertising division, helping us to justify sin.  As soon as we allow our minds to justify sin, then we will step and go down that pathway.


James continues, he says, “then” or “next”…  You kind of get the sense, as he goes through this, that he is taking you down or showing us the slippery slope, and saying that as soon as those forbidden lusts are conceived—they give birth to a child, and that child is sin.  And that child, when it is brought to completion—or sin, when it comes to full maturity—to keep this analogy that he is using of a child in our lives—brings forth death.  Brings forth death.


Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—“for the wages of sin is death”


How often we fail to think this way.  How often we fail to put that seriously before us, when we are being enticed into sin.  To understand this fully, though, we must understand the context that James is alluding to in this passage.  And I would argue that he is looking back at Genesis chapter 3.  Now too often, when we think of Genesis chapter 3, we think of those awful little children stories and that pretty little boa constrictor that is hanging out of the tree and talking to Eve and having a happy little conversation there within—sometimes even poetically written out.


And when we look at the command of God not to eat of the fruit of the tree we kind of see this as a strange and arbitrary command of God.  Yet, if we turn back and spend some time in Genesis 3, we will find something that is very, very different.  And we will find something that is far more sinister than what we usually introduce our children to in the childrens books.


I want to begin by saying that we do not know how long, or how much time took place in between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3.  We don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived together after this wonderful marriage arrangement.  After the guy writes poetry to her—and ladies you know that the guy is head over heels, because that is something that it is not so often that macho men—and Adam must have been a Macho man because he was created by God and in God’s image.  We don’t how long it took for Genesis 2 to end and Genesis 3 to begin.  I would at least suggest—in opposition to some that have gone in our tradition—that it was probably a little bit longer than shorter. 


Thomas Watson once said that he felt that he thought that it was the very next day that Adam and Eve entered into sin, and I don’t know that gives credit to the way that God created them—without the sin nature that we have.  And I don’t know that that gives credit to what it must have been like to live in the presence of God and in paradise. 


Never the less, man had been given the command of not eating with the implication that he was to teach his wife and their children of the importance of this command as well.  How important it is to teach our children the things of God.  And how often we fail in this task that we have been commissioned to do.  Over and over again, scripture commands us to teach our children the things of God so that they might not stray.  Of course, to teach something, we have to know it in the first place.


And one of the things that I have found in the past couple of years as I have been teaching is that teaching something to someone else actually helps you to know it and understand it far better than you did when you began the process.  There is a great deal of wisdom in these commands to teach our children because as we are teaching our children these things and as we are emphasizing these things in their lives, we are also forced to confront them and emphasized them in our own lives as well. 


And man had seemed a pretty poor job of teaching Eve.  As we look at her misquoting of the law.  As we look at her dialogue with Satan and we see how far she falls and stumbles.  She takes away from God’s command in terms of lightening it.  No longer does she say that you will surely die—in the Hebrew, “die, die,” it is a strong way of emphasis.  But she just says, “you’ll die.”  And she adds to God’s command.  No longer is it only, “you shall not eat”, but now, “no touchie” is added to it.  Satan exploits it by perfectly quoting God’s word-in verse 4, you will surely die—turning it on its head.


The implication at the woman’s presence at the tree is that she has likely been dwelling in this location for some time—wondering about this command that God has given her.  Is it not implying perhaps, as she rationalizes and says, “I saw that it was good for food…”  You see what she has been dealing with?  I want to stop right here for a moment, because oftentimes when we look at this we think of this as an arbitrary command of God.  How is it that we are to see it otherwise?  Every other command, the command to go and to multiply, to heed the moral law, to work and to keep the garden were commands that made sense to the intellect and really appealed to the desires.  Why would Eve not want to do those things?  These command were designed to delight and to fulfill, but this one is a little bit different.  Yet, beloved, that is the nature of obedience. 


See, obedience is not pure obedience if we can rationalize and we do it out of our own desires to do it.  If I say to my son after dinner, “Paul, eat your desert!”  His obedience in eating his desert, his ice cream or M&Ms or whatever it might be, has nothing to do with his obedience to me.  It has everything to do with the pursuit of his own desires because he is doing what he wanted to do in the first place anyway.  And he is even nodding his head in the back.  Obedience is not pure obedience until you obey even when you don’t understand why you are obeying.  Because you obey out of your respect and out of your love and out of your admiration for the one who has commanded this of you.  Beloved, this is pure obedience and beloved, this is why this command sometimes seems arbitrary to us.  It was designed to teach them about what it means to obey.


And beloved, this is not what we see taking place next.  Not only does she see and say, “this looks good to eat.”  But she also says, that she desired it as something that would make one wise.  You know, even the serpent did not say that.  Even the serpent did not say that it would make you wise.  He simply says that it will help you discern between good and evil.  But as Eve was justifying her sin in her own heart, she took and added to even what Satan had introduced to her. 


Beloved, is that not what we also do?  And there are two aspects of sin that are involved here.  She was denying the truthfulness of God’s command—“if you eat it you will die”—and she is going, “oh, let’s see what happens!” and Adam eats right along with her.  Essentially they are accusing God of being a liar.  And they wanted to become like God—or “gods” depending on how you want to render this language from the Hebrew.  It is idolatry.  They basically were forsaking their place in the garden, as being servants, as being submissive and under God.  Seeking to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.  And beloved, James is saying here by implication, that when you engage in sin, you too enter into these same three sins:


You are guilty of allowing yourself to become enticed to justify sin, to deceive yourself that what is poisonous is not really as bad as it is or as God tells you.  You are doubting God’s truthfulness, that when God says, “No!” that he means it.  And you are wanting to take God’s place—to obey your own reasoning and not God’s plain commands.


How often we act this way.  How often we take our own sins so lightly.  How often we place ourselves in situations where we will be tempted and where we will be tried and how oftentimes we are so little different from Eve and not even stay away from the object that will tempt us.  But we stroll into its presence.  And how often we fail to guard—as Adam failed to guard his wife—ourselves.  How often, beloved, we take our own sin so lightly.  And beloved, when we take sin lightly, we take redemption lightly as well.


With this in mind, let us briefly remind ourselves of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.  And let us begin with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, verse 15.  They were given a promise of the coming Messiah.  Do you understand how wonderful this promise is?  That even in their rebellion, in their opposition of God, God gave them a promise and they did not go to bed one night in their fallen lives without the promise that a redeemer is coming.  And throughout scripture we find this same language being used. 


Isaiah 1:18, “’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are scarlet they will become white like snow, though they are red, like crimson, they will become white like wool.’”


Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”


We could go on and on…


Nehemiah 9:17, “But you are a God, Oh God, ready to forgive, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, you did not forsake them.”  Speaking about Israel in the wilderness.


Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist.  Return to me, for I have redeemed you!”


And beloved, we are just barely scratching the surface of the Old Testament alone.  We could also cite passages like:  Matthew 6:14, Mark 3:28; Acts 5:13, 13:28; Ephesians 1:7, 1 Timothy 1:15, Hebrews 8:12, and I can go on and on and on all morning and barely scratch the surface, but I would like to go back to Romans 6:23, and look at the second part of that passage.  Indeed Paul begins, “For the wages of sin is death, but,” notice this wonderful “But” here in the middle of this verse!  “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Beloved, there is redemption in Christ Jesus even though we stand guilty of our sin.  There is no denying it, there is no excusing it, we deserve the wrath of an angry and a righteous God, for by our sins we have rejected his ways, we have accused him of being a liar, we have rejected his good things and we have sought to set ourselves over God and not under his authority.  We are rebels and we are usurpers, yet God has sent his Son to pay the price on your behalf and on mine.  He called you to himself.  And he has made us rebels into children.


Look at the next verses in the book of James that we will look at.  He is calling believers and saying, “Look” (verse 18) “We are a kind of firstfruits.”  Firstfruits are things that the Israelites were called to set aside for a holy use, for God’s own use—and he is saying that applies to you!  That applies to me!  God has done this in our lives. 


Beloved, as we come to this point, my prayer is that you would examine your own heart.  Maybe you have sought to trust in your own works, your own church membership to save yourself.  Maybe, you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ and you hear of this hope and of this promise of forgiveness that is given over and over in scripture.  Maybe you have that relationship, but sin and disobedience has dulled it, and made it seem distant.  Maybe your relationship is well, but that the trials and the testing that you have undergone as of late seems too much to bear, and you feel just worn out. 


Beloved, wherever you are in this mix and mess that we call life in a fallen world, would you pray with me, pray from the depths of your heart, along with me…



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