“Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:15
Today I would like to call attention to this passage in James. I think a clear understanding of this passage is imperative in understanding our own sin and salvation. It may be helpful to start somewhere else and work our way back.
What is the base orientation of man? Where do we, when left to our own devices, look to for fulfillment? Safety? Peace? The “respectable Christian” would probably say, “GOD!”, and give no more thought to the matter. As I have said before, I think this is the ideal way to live, but rarely is it where our hearts truly lie.
Rather, I believe the base nature of man to be sinful. We incline toward sin (Romans 3:23). This is our orientation. Think then on what this looks like; evil lures and entices with promises of great pleasure or power. By this definition, evil is simply an avenue by which we reach pleasure. Sin manifests in this way as an inappropriate quest for pleasure; either sought in sinful ways or treated as the greatest good (Which the Bible tells us only God is).
It is tragic to see the world in this light: a place filled with people desperately seeking new and ingenious ways to satisfy this deeply rooted need for pleasure; especially when you consider that infinite and unmatched pleasure is offered to us freely by the Creator of all things.
So, back to James. The author picks up here assuming the existence of desire. But where does this desire come from? I would venture to guess we just discovered the root of desire; our insatiable quest for pleasure. Our orientation (naturally towards sin) molds and fuels our desires. The rest of this cycle is laid out clearly in the passage. Desire leads to sin, which ultimately leads to death. Or, in other words: base nature and orientation fuel desire, desire leads to action, and action ushers us into eternity.
So why does this matter, especially to us? I think it is important for two key reasons:
First, understanding the processes by which we sin can equip us to more effectively fight it in our own lives. For example, look at the discoveries we just made. Now through introspection we can see our desires, and recognize their sinful potential. Therefore we can cut off sin before it even happens, by severing its roots.
Second, this model works just as well for godliness as sinfulness (Colossians 3:2). We can begin to adjust our orientation, using our desires as a guide. A challenging question I often use in discipleship is “Whom do you serve?” But perhaps the better question in this case would be “Whom do you want to serve?”. The desires of the heart say much about the inclinations a person. Change your orientation, which will in turn fuel a desire for God in you. This desire will lead to active sanctification, ultimately ushering you into eternity with Him.*
*There is a potential for this last thought to be misunderstood. I affirm that salvation is contingent on far more than our actions in this life, and would never discount the justification of confession (Romans 10:9). However, this idea focuses on the idea that faith without works is dead (James 2), and encourages the active part of the model as a means to sanctification.