Desire isn’t Sin? (part 1 of 2)

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 1:14, 15 ESV

Many of my recovery clients have found a concept from this verse helpful in our one-on-one coaching work together. It’s right there in the verse, but it’s amazing how many people haven’t seen it.

Each person is tempted: Why in the world do we expect on any given day not to be tempted? Scripture clearly implies here that we will be. As believers, we need to stop acting as if something strange is happening to us when we’re tempted (See 1 Peter 4:12).

Lured and enticed: This is a fishing term, used in the same way a fisherman lures and “tempts” a fish with bait at the end of a hook (different lures for different fish, by the way).

By his own desire: Biblically, it’s the object of our desire that makes a desire godly or evil. The desires spoken of here are those which are set upon objects that God has not created us to have or experiences He has not ordained for us. The person who isn’t our spouse, the possession that belongs to someone else, a life experience that will lead us further from our Heavenly Father, etc. This desire may be lodged deep inside our soul, even though it may be the very opposite of what we actually value. It’s the essence of life in a fallen world.

Desire gives birth to sin: Pay close attention here. If our desire “gives birth” to sin, then the desire, in and of itself, is not sin. Yes, that desire is completely inconsistent with our values as a redeemed son or daughter of God. However, it’s merely evidence of our fallen nature and not equivalent to sin. Desire only “gives birth to sin” when we take the first action step that our desire is luring and enticing us to take. Now granted, that action may be with our physical body, our eyes, or a thought that’s a half-second beyond our initial impulse. Here, the words “desire”, “temptation” and “impulse” can be used interchangeably. But these, Scripture says, are not inherently sinful. If they were, then Christ also sinned. Yet, Scripture tells us that He was tempted in every way we are, yet He did not sin (See Hebrews 4:15).

I don’t know about you, but I find my heart filled with all kinds of temptations and ungodly desires on any given day… some days, way more than others. True, our impulses may say something about the sinful habits that we once indulged. We may have to accept the fact that, at some level, we might contend with these impulses for the rest of our earthly lives.

Perhaps these impulses, with biblical intervention and the help and encouragement of others, can be reduced in intensity and frequency over time. For many people, this does happen. But for others, it doesn’t.  Rather than defining our recovery as a measure of reduced impulses and temptations, perhaps a more helpful definition might define recovery as being on a sanctifying path towards greater intimacy with God and greater Christ-likeness in how we live out our lives day by day.

More thoughts on this next week.