Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 5)

Daily Devotional| Day 349

“Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13-15, NKJV).

In yesterday’s presentation we covered the final part of Romans 7:13-25. Twice in the passage Paul talked about sin dwelling in him: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v. 17; 20). Because of its relevance in the scheme of redemption and grace, we need to address this issue. But we will do so briefly. At an appropriate time, we hope to cover it in-depth. What Paul said raises the question, “How does sin come to dwell in a person?” Our opening Scripture from the Letter of James gives us the answer. Let us look at the text.

James breaks down for us the process by which sin is born in a person. The process starts with temptation and desire. Temptation is aroused by an individual’s own desire. Desire itself is not a sin. It is part of who we are as persons created in the image of God. We are not desire-less creatures. Whether desire becomes harmful or beneficial depends on what (or whom) we desire, how we desire and what we do with our desire. For example, if we desire to spend more time with our spouse to strengthen our love, that is beneficial (good) desire. However, if we desire to have someone else’s spouse, that is sinful (harmful) desire (Matthew 5:27-28).

 According to James, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” This means our desires can determine the direction of our lives, depending on where we channel the desires. That is how the process of sin begins. At this stage (of desire and temptation), sin is not dwelling in us because it is not born in us yet. It is still possible at this point to fight the temptation off and change course.

 But if we entertain the desire and allow it to persist, then the process continues to the next logical steps: conceptionbirth and consequence of sin. James tells us how it happens, “Then, when desire has conceivedit gives birth to sinand sinwhen it is full-grown, brings forth death.” This process played out in the case of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6).

A similar thing happened with Cain (Genesis 4:1-8). In his case, listen to what God told him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Sin was not dwelling in Cain at the time; it was at the door, knocking hard and waiting for an opportunity to enter and be born in Cain. God knew what was happening, so He warned Cain to resist the temptation (and desire) before the desire conceived and gave birth to sin. He offered him a way out of the temptation, but Cain refused.

Based on what James says, we know that desire is a powerful passion. It is so powerful it can conceive and give birth to sin. This is how sin comes to dwell in people. Committing sin is how we invite sin to dwell in us. Sin will not dwell in us without our permission and cooperation. We give the permission when we channel our desires into harmful things and place ourselves in temptation’s path.

Each time we repeat the sin, it is strengthened; and it gains greater control over us. Soon it becomes a stronghold and we feel powerless to overcome it. From this point on, a master-slave relationship is established between sin and the person who commits it. This is what Paul was referring to when he said, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:17). Sin dwells only in people who commit it. But it does not dwell in those who do not commit it.

Now that we have addressed the question of how sin comes to dwell in people, we are ready for the next presentation. That will be tomorrow, God willing. Until then, I bid you peace. May the grace of God enable you to resist temptation and live free. May the same grace further enable you to conceive and give birth to things that are noble and edifying. Amen.

For further studyJohn 8:31-36 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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