Peninsula Community Church
January 27, 2013
James – The Cause of Sin
James 1:9-15 “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”
James interjects into this passage a reference to one’s standing in life by way of their economic condition. What he infers is that we need to have a right understanding of who we are. He insinuates that there is a tendency in the lowly brother to miss out on what has been given to them. They can be so focused on what they do not have they fail to see or comprehend how much they truly have. The result is that they live a depressed and despondent life. James is calling them to be exalted in whose they are, who they are, and what is available to them in Christ.
On the other hand, those who are rich are reminded that their confidence rests not in what they possess and but in God. The problem is that because they lack for nothing; too often there is no need for them to trust God for anything. This came to light when I was talking with a missionary just a few days ago. He stated that he sees a heightened level of faith and trust in God in the countries he serves because of what they lack physically and financially. When we boil it down, both wealth or the lack thereof can be a test of one’s character and can be a measurement of where one puts their trust.
In preparing this message, I came across a couple of interesting news articles. The first was a report that one in three lottery winners are broke within five years. Those who win larger amounts have a 10% greater chance of having to file for bankruptcy within five years or less of them winning the money. In a November 28, 2012 article, Forbes magazine made the following observation. “Far more often, it seems, money doesn’t buy happiness in this context any more than it does in others.” Take the case of Evelyn Adams. She beat the odds by winning the New Jersey lottery twice in 1985 and 1986. She collected a total of $5.4 million. The problem is that she totally blew through the money because of her out of control spending habits, bad investments, gifts to family and gambling. Today, she is completely broke.
William “Bud” Post, a 1988 lottery winner, died broke in 2006. What happened to his $16.2 million Pennsylvania lottery winnings? He spent it on houses, cars, boats, an unsuccessful family business and a twin-engine airplane (even though he didn’t have a pilot’s license). Within a year, he was $1 million in debt, his former girlfriend had successfully sued him for part of his winnings, and his brother tried to hire a hit man to kill him.
A third story I found was in the Toronto News dated 2008. A woman won $5 million in the lottery, but somehow she kept her financial dealings hidden from her husband. Her husband had no clue of what she was doing with all of their money as she was handling both his money and her money. He, being a medical doctor and extremely wealthy in his own right, became suspect of his wife’s dealings. When he did not get the answers he needed, he killed her with a lethal injection of a deadly cocktail of drugs. Surprisingly, after her death he found that they were broke and had a overwhelming amount of unpaid bills. The sad part is that he had to borrow the money for her funeral. At 71 years of age he is now on trial for murder.
These trials only speak to one small segment of life but trials come in all sizes and shapes. Trials seem to come to disrupt our lives and unsettle us. It is for that reason, James continues to discuss the subject of facing trials. We can learn much from this passage:
The first thing we learn is that every trial is met with a level of temptation. Any significant change in our existence can be a test and in every test that comes there is an opportunity for temptation. These changes can be physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual. Regardless of how the tests we face come to us, they will tempt us toward positive responses or they will tempt us toward evil responses. More specifically, James notes that testing can lead us to a crown of life or it can lead us to death. It will move us toward God or it will move us away from Him. Trials by their nature change us and shape us forever. We will either exhibit a greater faith in Christ and we will be stronger as a result of the trial or the trial will get the best of us and we will face some form of death as a result. It may be that we become less trusting, more cynical or down right rebellious but there will be a death.
One difficulty in translating this passage is that the translators of the Bible used two different English words, one for “trial” and one for “temptation,” while the Greek uses the same word for both. While the same word is used, the word can have different nuances of meaning depending on how it is used within the context of the discussion. This idea is similar to the Chinese use of the alphabetical symbol used in their language for the words “crisis” and “opportunity.” It is the same symbol, but it is how it is used that makes a difference. It can be a moment of crisis or it can be a moment of opportunity. Here we see that testing can grow us or it can kill us.
A second lesson learned here is that no one causes us to sin; we sin because we desire it. James make a critical doctrinal statement in this passage. He states that God cannot tempt us to sin. Why is that? For God to tempt us to sin would run counter to His character and who He is. So, where does temptation come from? James states that temptation comes from within man and is rooted in his desires and his wants.
To explain this Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, stated that we must not confuse the cause of sin with the occasion of sin. The cause of sin is our desire but the occasion noted here is the trial. The test in school does not cause us to fail the test but we fail because of what is lacking in us. Keller uses the example of people that abuse children. He states that those that are abused often become abusers. It is a proven fact that what we hate in others we become ourselves. However, regardless of how we have been treated in the past or regardless of the damage done to us; these things are not an excuse for sin and therefore should not cause us to sin. The real cause of sin is the war that goes on within us. It is a brought on by the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Because you are a creation of God and you have Christ in you can stop sin by way of your thought process and by partnering with the Holy Spirit. We all have free will. We can choose to sin or we can choose to deal with the sin. Remember that while God allows testing to come into our lives He never tempts us to sin. We sin because of the attitudes and lusts of our hearts that go unchecked.
We must understand that we only do what we most desire to do. It is for that reason that we must take responsibility for our actions. One way to illustrate this is a situation that could take place on your job. Suppose the boss wants you to lie big time to cover a mistake he made or else you will loss your job. If you choose to lie, the fact is that you wanted to keep your job more than you were concerned about lying. You always do what you want to do. You sin because you desire it and are drawn to it.
A third lesson from this passage answers the question, “Why are we tempted to sin?” James uses a sexual metaphor to describe how sin enters the heart. He states that one is seduced by sin when he is drug away by his evil desire. When we fail to resist the draw of sin in our hearts there is a subsequent conception and a birth. He continues the analogy by stating that the grandchild of this relationship is death.
EPITHUMIA is the Greek word used here for “evil desire” The general idea realized in this word is that the essence of sin is an over desire for things. It is not that we want bad things but we want things too badly. It is our “over desires” that seduce us. This may be food, sex, money or any other healthy thing that we desire without using good judgement and self control.
In the Old Testament a word picture that is often used for sin is the idea of spiritual adultery. Therefore, sin in the Old Testament was not seen as just breaking the rules but it was seen as an act of adultery. It was seen in the Israelites rebelling against God and going after other gods. The picture that is painted in this is that sin comes because people are seduced into the arms of another lover. It is not that they are dissatisfied with their spouse but the other person too often makes them feel more secure, more needed and more of a man or woman. They need the strokes and the adoration from the other lover and they fall for the oldest trick in the Bible; deception and doubt.
Tim Keller stated, “Sin begins when something becomes the author of your self esteem.” It becomes a fatal attraction for us because we trust whatever that is but it can become a fatal attraction. All sin tends to start like that. If there is anything that is added to Jesus for our happiness, we are in trouble. Here in James the word picture given us is the idea of lust. To be honest lust is not just wanting bad things but it is wanting things badly.
Sin is conceived within the heart but it will grow and become full grown if we do deal with it sufficiently. Sin begins as a seed within the heart. The seed gives birth to actions that would not normally define us. Have you ever noticed that we lie most often because we want security and we are afraid that people will find out who we really are and that they will not like that person. What is giving birth to the lie? A fatal attraction to career, job, success, self esteem, or money. Fear is the seed.
If you think the answer to avoiding sin is to just say no; you are wrong. If it were that easy we could just say no and all would be well. It has been said that the way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it something even more beautiful. Jesus must become the passion of our hearts. If we put our lives into the hands of anyone except our spouse we are setting ourselves up for trouble. If we say, “You make me feel…..” We are in trouble. My people have forgotten me was the cry of God’s heart.
What do we do then? We must realize the thing we go after may not be a woman. It could be our job. It could be our love of sports. It could be our love of shopping. It could be the love of money. It could be many things. Whatever fatal attractions we have, we must let them go and fall in love with Christ again. How do we do that? We get into the Word and allow the Word to permeate our hearts. For those who are married or have been married, do you remember what it was like when you were dating your spouse? You could not see any other person though the room was filled. You did not want to be with anyone else but that one person. You spent hours talking and relating with them to get to know them better. Too often, however, we fail to continue to keep the relationship fresh and alive. Christ desires that of us. He wants us to draw close to him. He loves us.