The Bible says that without Christ we are slaves to sin (see John 8:34, Romans 6:16, 7:7-25, 2 Peter 2:19). It also says that without Christ we are dead in sin (see Ephesians 2:1ff). In other words, once sin is conceived and born it immediately begins to mature. And sin will always accomplish its ultimate objective, that is, sin will always kill its human subject.

But how does that happen? What is the process by which sin is conceived, born, and perfected (brought to its ultimate maturity)? James 1:13-15 reveals the process of sin’s maturation in our lives.

Before sin can be born there must be a conception, which requires the coming together of two things: our strong desire (or “lust”*) must come together with our will before sin can be conceived. As I read James, here is the step-by-step process of sin’s maturation:

  1. We experience an eager desire, a strong desire, lust (a morally neutral human characteristic*).
  2. We recognize God’s option of satisfying that strong desire and, as we depend on God’s option for satisfying human desires, we remain safely confined within God’s will for our lives.
  3. We are “drawn away” (lured out) from that life of safety by the presence of an alternative option. It dazzles us, excites us, attracts us, and convinces us to leave our place of safety.
  4. Once outside, we are “enticed” (the hook is set) to remain drawn away from God’s place of safety as we further contemplate the alternative option being presented to us.
  5. At last, we give ourselves permission to satisfy our strong desire by forgetting God’s will, ignoring God’s option, and taking advantage of the prohibited alternative. It is here that sin is conceived as two things come together:
  • Our eager desire (our “lust,” which does not necessarily have to be evil, simply a strong desire*).
  • Our will (our “permission” to ourselves to satisfy our strong desire via the prohibited alternative).

Note that sin is conceived only after all five steps have been taken. Having desires is not sinful, even strong desires. Being drawn away from God’s standard and baited to stay there as we contemplate the satisfaction of our desire in an unauthorized way may be very risky behavior but it is still not sinful. In other words, life gets riskier as we progress through the first four steps; however, until permission is granted to satisfy our longing in an unauthorized way (until that fifth and final step is taken), sin is still merely a possibility. Disaster can still be avoided. Sin has not yet been conceived. We can still retreat to our place of safety.

But once we give in, once our lust comes together with our will and we “give ourselves permission” to satisfy our desires via the prohibited alternative, then sin has been conceived. And once sin is conceived, it will be born.

Conception may be an internal event but it is almost always followed up with an external act. Sometimes it takes time but often the act immediately follows the thought. Once the sinful act is carried out, sin has been born into our lives. And once sin has been born, it relentlessly and immediately progresses to its objective: death.

Understanding the process of sin will alert us to its deceptive ways and may even help us avoid its deadly snare. But, overcoming sin completely is beyond the reach of human beings. It takes supernatural power to do that. And, praise be to God, such power has been released on our behalf in and through Jesus Christ.

So now, as fallen human beings who are disciples of Christ, we not only ignore sin as best we can but we also abide in Christ, where there is safety and power. As we recognize sin in our lives we immediately turn from it, confess it, and rely on Christ’s work on the cross to remove it from our lives. And, we eagerly await that day when God will destroy sin and eliminate death once and for all.

* It is my opinion that in this context “lust” is not necessarily an “evil desire” as the NIV has it translated but is a morally neutral human characteristic. Jesus experienced this characteristic. Luke 22:15 says “And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired [literally, lusted] to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.'”