Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

James 1:15


Some of you will object to my saying this—but it is my opinion that in Christianity we have overemphasized the psychology of the lost sinner’s condition.

We spend time describing the sinner’s woes and the great burden he carries until we almost forget the principal fact that the sinner is actually a rebel against properly constituted authority!

That is what makes sin sin! We are rebels, we are sons of disobedience. Sin is the breaking of the Law and we are fugitives from the just laws of God while we are sinners. We are fugitives from divine judgment.

But thankfully, the plan of salvation reverses that and restores the original relationship, so that the first thing the returning sinner does is confess: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight, and I am no more worthy to be called Thy son. Make me as one of Thy hired servants!” (see Luke 15:21).

Thus, in repentance, we reverse that relationship and we fully submit to the Word of God and the will of God, as obedient children!


Dear Lord, You didn’t come to this world to condemn but to save sinners. I pray that Your Spirit will do His convicting work in the hearts of many seekers today.[1]

The Nature of Lust

Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (1:15–16)

A third proof that God is not the source of temptation is seen in the nature of lust. Having identified lust in the nature of man, James then discusses it in practical terms. Here is the heart of his teaching about temptation.

Shifting from the metaphors of hunting and fishing, he now uses the process of childbirth to illustrate his point. Lust is depicted as a mother conceiving and bearing a child, which is sin and whose ultimate destiny is death. Through James, the Lord here makes clear that sin is not an isolated act or even a series of isolated acts, but rather the result of a specific process, which is succinctly explained.

To better help us remember the process, we can identify the four basic steps with words that each begin with the letter “d.” The first is desire, an alternate translation for lust. Before salvation all people are slaves to lust (Eph. 2:1–3; 4:17–19; 1 Thess. 4:5). As noted above, epithumia (lust) is itself morally and spiritually neutral, its rightness or wrongness being determined partly by the object that is desired and partly by how and for what purposes it is desired. It begins primarily as an emotion, a feeling, a longing for something that, at first, may be largely subconscious. It develops from somewhere deep within us, expressing a want to acquire, achieve, or possess something that we do not have. It can be sparked by any number of things and types of things. Looking in a jewelry store window can spark an immediate and strong desire for a ring, a watch, a bracelet, or crystal vase. Driving past a model home, we may suddenly feel an intense longing to have one like it. Passing an automobile dealership may just as suddenly spark a desire for a new car, perhaps even a make and model we had never thought much about before. The desire may develop and gain our full attention. Lust to sin comes much in the same way. Something we see or hear about suddenly grabs our attention and draws out a strong desire, or lust, to have it or to do it.

The next step is deception, which is more closely related to the mind than to the emotions. When we think about a desired object, our mind begins to rationalize a justification for getting it. That is virtually an automatic part of the process of temptation. We don’t have to tell our minds to rationalize our lusts, because they are already so predisposed by our fallenness. Like the animal or fish that goes after the bait, the desire to have what we want is so strong that we are inclined to discount possible dangers or harm. Simply wanting it justifies the effort to have it. It is at that point, James says, that lust has conceived. The “life of sin,” as it were, has started to form and grow.

The third step is that of design, when plans start to be made to fulfill the emotional desire that we have rationalized and justified with our minds. This stage involves our will, our conscious decision to pursue the lust until it is satisfied. And because the will is involved, this is the stage where the most guilt lies. What has been longed for and rationalized is now consciously pursued as a matter of choice.

The fourth and final stage is disobedience. If we allow the process to continue, the design inevitably produces disobedience to God’s law, by which it gives birth to sin. That which is desired, rationalized, and willed is actually done, committed, and accomplished. Desire leads to deception, deception to design, and design to disobedience, which is sin.

It should go without saying that the earlier in the process we determine to resist, the greater the likelihood we will avoid the sin. Conversely, the longer we delay resisting, the more likely the actual sin becomes. It is only the Christian who is able to control his emotional responses to temptations when they first appear who will effectively deal with sin in his life. The principle of “nipping it in the bud” has no better application than here. The battle must be fought in the mind, where sin is conceived. The truth of God which activates the conscience, the soul’s warning system, must be heard and not ignored. No one can fight the battle in the mind or imagination except the individual believer. To lose it there moves one into the design stage, in which the actual execution of the sin is planned. (The New Testament has much to say about the importance of the mind.)

But since none of us is successful in resisting every temptation by immediately rejecting wrong desire, we need to understand ways for dealing with sin at every stage. Obviously, we can avoid many temptations simply by avoiding places and situations where we know they are most likely to occur. We don’t read magazines or books, watch movies or TV programs, associate with friends, or go places where we know our emotions will be aroused to any sort of enticement to sin. Instead, we make sure that we are exposed to things that feed our emotions in godly ways. We not only gain positively and directly from the spiritual benefit of those things, but the godly joy we receive from them makes the ungodly things less attractive and even repulsive. For example, sound, uplifting, God-honoring music is one of the greatest emotional blessings—and protections—the Lord provides.

We must also be on guard at the level of our minds. We train our minds to keep watch over our emotional desires. Instead of rationalizing temptations, we prepare in advance to oppose them with God’s Word, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. Paul therefore admonishes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Especially helpful in this regard is the apostle’s advice to the church at Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8; cf. Col. 3:2). It is not incidental that the first and greatest commandment includes loving God not only with our hearts and souls but also with our minds (Matt. 22:37). The writer of Psalm 119 memorized the truth of Scripture to strengthen his mind against temptation (vv. 9–11).

If the cycle of temptation is completed, sin is accomplished, and it brings forth death. The “child” conceived by lust is born a murderer, a killer. To use another figure, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Sin … brings forth physical death, separating the soul from the body; spiritual death, separating the soul from God; and eternal death, separating both body and soul from God forever.

Through his faith in Jesus Christ, a Christian is saved from spiritual and eternal death. But if he persists in sin, he may pay the penalty of physical death. Because some believers in Corinth were partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily, they brought judgment on themselves and “for this reason,” Paul says, “many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30), that is, had died. John also reminds us that, even for believers, “there is a sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16).

In light of those sobering truths, James implores: Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Stop blaming other people, circumstances, or Satan for your temptations and sins, he is saying. Above all, do not blame God. Take full blame on yourselves, where it belongs. Realize that your enemy—your fallenness, your lusts, your weaknesses, your rationalizations, and your sins—are within and have to be dealt with from within. When a believer wins the battle on the inside, he can say with Paul: “For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12).[2]

15 Once lust is embraced, destructive, progressive dynamics are set in motion. Perhaps playing off the sexual associations with “lust,” James focuses his figurative imagery on the processes inherent to pregnancy and birth in order to describe that progression. The two parts of this verse are perfectly balanced. First, James personifies the wicked temptress, lust, as becoming pregnant (Johnson, 194). In her perversion of desire, she draws a person into her embrace, and the result is tragic. As a physical pregnancy ends with the mother giving birth to a baby, so lust, once conception has taken place, ultimately gives birth to her child, sin. The second part of the verse focuses on the effect of sin. Having been born of lust, sin, “when it is full-grown” (NIV) or “accomplished” (NASB), itself gives birth to death. Thus the ultimate result of giving in to temptation is death, the “grandchild” of lust.

16 Now comes the exhortation warning of self-deception: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” The peril of getting off track theologically, and therefore morally, is of paramount importance in the NT (e.g., 1 Co 6:9; Gal 6:7; 1 Jn 1:8). So James strongly warns against wrong thinking that ultimately would result in wrong living. Again he puts this exhortation to his hearers, calling them “brothers”—an address James likes to use (1:2, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9–10, 12, 19) and one commonly used in the ancient world of both men and women in a religious group. Moreover, here, as in 1:19 and 2:5, he adds the affectionate “dear” or “beloved” (agapētos, GK 28). Thus he exhorts them from the standpoint of community relationships.[3]

1:15 If that is so, why then do we sin? Here is the answer: Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. Instead of expelling the vile thought, we may encourage, nourish, and enjoy it. This act of acquiescence is likened to sexual intercourse. Lust conceives and a hideous baby named SIN is born. Which is another way of saying that if we think about a forbidden act long enough, we will eventually do it. The whole process of lust conceiving and bringing forth sin is vividly illustrated in the incident of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:1–27).

And sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death, says James. Sin is not a barren, sterile thing; it produces a brood of its own. The statement that sin produces death may be understood in several ways. First of all, the sin of Adam brought physical death on himself and on all his posterity (Gen. 2:17). But sin also leads to eternal, spiritual death—the final separation of the person from God and from blessing (Rom. 6:23a). There is a sense also in which sin results in death for a believer. For instance, in 1 Timothy 5:6 we read that a believing widow who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. This means that she is wasting her life and utterly failing to fulfill the purpose for which God saved her. To be out of fellowship with God is for a Christian a form of living death.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 51–54). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 222–223). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2221). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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