What is sin? How does it happen that even Christians who know (or should know) better can end up sinning? Is the temptation to do wrong a completely random and unpredictable attack, or is there a process–a sequence of events–we can be on the lookout against so we can keep from giving in when the storm hits?
“Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15 CEB)
There are times when temptations really do seem to come out of no where and catch us off guard, and we end up wondering, “Where did that come from?!” But much more typically, our sin is a situation that’s been brewing in our heart for a while, that Satan manipulates. You see, there really is a process–even if we aren’t aware of it unfolding; there are certain elements that need to be present for sin to happen.
1) First of all, there needs to be something we either want or feel we are lacking in our life or have been deprived of; or we need to feel we’ve been wronged. There’s a triggering condition, in other words. For example–my husband or wife hasn’t been living up to my idea of how they should behave; I don’t have all the material wealth I think I should; someone else is getting a promotion I feel I should be getting. There are countless situations that can trigger us, that can be sources of a temptation to do wrong when mishandled.
2) The next step in the sequence is that I need to be–even if for the moment–separated from the Source of truth. Remember Eve? She didn’t have the Bible to refer to, but she could have waited to ask God about it, or even conferred with Adam, who had personally received the command. But she didn’t, and made her decision while being disconnected from the Source of truth.
Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5 NIV)
“Remain in Me…apart from Me you can do nothing.” We typically use this verse to explain that we can’t do anything good of lasting value for eternity without being grounded in Jesus–without living a life of actively reading and studying the Bible, praying, going to church. That’s true, but it is also correct to understand this verse to mean that we cannot do the good of identifying and rejecting temptation, without remaining grounded in Him, either.
Why? Because it is the work of the Holy Spirit in us as He reminds us what God says, that gives us the ability and power to identify and resist the temptation to act against God’s will–to act in an unholy, rebellious way. In other words, we need to clearly know what is right–we need to be connected to the Source of truth; grounded in Jesus, the Word of God–in order to avoid what is wrong.
So, in order to sin, there needs to be 1) a triggering need, desire, situation (which all of us experience regularly in life); and 2) we need to be disconnected from the Source of truth–from active, close fellowship with Christ through reading the Bible, praying, going to church, etc. Or, to phrase it in the reverse, even if I am tempted, if I have done what Jesus tells me to do–if I’ve actively stayed grounded in Him–I will not sin. It’s that simple, and that complicated!
Simple, because there are only two steps. One of them is mostly beyond our control; it’s a given. Temptation–the triggers to sin–happen in everyone’s life, and although we can and should actively remove ourselves when we are able from situations that increase our desire to sin, we’re all going to be triggered by various temptations at times, and there’s nothing we can do to completely do away with them.
It’s the second step we need to make sure we do–and also why it’s complicated. We have to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37 NIV) I have to love and choose Him above every other want, desire, and need; He has to be first and foremost, most precious to me.
There’s no faking this. I can say I love Jesus; I can pretend to be a Christian in front of others; but when push comes to shove, and I’m dealing with my most raw and genuine perceived needs and desires, I’m going to choose that which I believe will most fulfill me, which I think will be best for me, which I love most–whether Jesus, or anything else.
So, how do we end up sinning? Most typically, it’s when we haven’t stayed close enough to Jesus; when He isn’t most precious to me!
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help me remain in You, because apart from You I can do nothing; help me love You most! Amen.