by Spiros Zodhiates
"Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15).
In verse fourteen of the first chapter of James we are given the clear indication that the primary and direct agent of the inner desire to sin, of temptation in that sense, is the disposition of the heart, the epithuméo, or "lust," as the King James Version has it. We saw that the attraction of sin within prepares the ground for the deceit that is to come from the outer temptation. What happens then?
James tells us that in verse 15. But I would like to give you a more accurate translation of this verse: "Then the desire of the soul having conceived gives birth to sin; and the sin having been completed brings forth death." Here we have the conception of evil which is the inner desire of the soul, the outer appearance and manifestation of evil, and finally the life of sin or evil which is death. Oh, the mystery and the depth of meaning hidden in these few words of Holy Writ!
A desire born in the mind is one of the strongest things that our wills can ever face. Either we have to proceed with the fulfillment of that desire, or somehow we have to give it up or sublimate it. That word "then," with which our verse begins, is very significant. It indicates the impossibility of the thought, the idea, the desire ever remaining in that stage. It either has to move forward and take upon it some kind of expression, or it must be thrown into oblivion.
An idea has terrific power-more than we realize, sometimes. That is why we should pray that the Lord will protect our minds from conceiving evil ideas.
And then, James says, the desire of the soul having conceived, gives birth to sin.
Why is it that we cannot avoid the birth of evil desires and ideas in our minds? Simply because of our depraved nature, which James fully recognizes. As long a there is within us the evil nature which we inherited from Adam through his sin, our minds will tend to think of evil. That we cannot help, but is this tendency as such sin? My answer to that, based on a thorough search of the Word of God, is an emphatic No. There has to be conception for the desire to become sin.
As there are two parties in physical conception, so sin is born when you and Satan start to work on your desire together. The baby is that is born is terrible, is monstrous, is sin.
What happens when sin is born? Its results and effects upon us will depend on our attitude toward it. Someone has very wisely said: "He that falls into sin is a man; he that grieves at sin is a saint; he that boasts of sin is a devil." Remember again that James here is speaking of Christians and to Christians who have experienced the miracle of the new birth. Can we as Christians be sinless? Let us be honest and confess that we cannot. There is one thing, however, that we can do and that is to grieve deeply at the recognition of the birth of sin in our heart. If we don't, then sin finds fertile ground in us to grow and become a habit.
In the King James Version we have two Greek words translated by the same English expression, "Bringeth forth": "Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." The first word in the original Greek is tíkto and the second is apokuéo. There is a slight distinction in the meaning of these two words which may help us to understand what the author wishes to convey. The first one means primarily "to bring into the world." It is again the picture of a child dwelling for a time in its mother's womb and finally making its appearance into the world. This indicates to us that the evil desire cannot forever stay within, even as the child cannot stay forever in its mother's womb. It must come out, it must make its appearance in the outside world. It is no use trying to be secretive about the evil that is within us, for eventually it will be seen by others in the outside world. In other words, the desire within will be manifested as an act.
The second word in the original Greek translated "bringeth forth" comes from the preposition apó, which in this particular instance has the meaning of "cessation," and the verb kúo or kuéo, which is common in older Greek and which has the sense of "to be or to become pregnant." Now our verse says, "and the sin having been completed ceases to be pregnant any more and the result is death." It indicates that sin has the ability of growing rapidly, like the physical embryo, to its maturity and completion, and that one day it will have to discontinue being in a state of pregnancy, but the result will not be life, but death.
Now there are two more words that I want to deal with. The first is the word apoteléo, translated in the King James Version "when it is finished," and which means "having been brought or having come to maturity, having reached its end." Again it is the figure of the pregnancy period nearing its end. With what expectation the mother looks forward to that day when she will look upon her completed child with pleasure and full satisfaction. This eagerness and expectation characterize also the man who habitually sins and who believes that the end of that will be some great pleasure. How disappointed he will be at the end! Instead of the expected life with all its consequent joys, there will be death.
And what does "death," thánatos in the Greek, mean? I believe it is one of the most misunderstood of all words. In the Scriptures and in general this word means "separation." There is physical death, which means the separation of the soul from the body; there is spiritual death, which means the separation of the spirit of man from the Spirit of God as a result of sin; and there is eternal death, which means the separation of the spirit of man from God forever. Now which of these does James mean here? Does he mean physical death? Of course. Sin and physical health don't go together. Does James mean spiritual death? Of course, for the moment that your life becomes pregnant with sin, when sin become as fixed habit determining your character, you become a slave of sin and the line of communication between your spirit and God breaks down, even if at one time the connection was made through a profession of faith on your part. How about eternal death? It surely means that, too, but then I doubt very much whether the line of communication was ever established between that habitual sinner and God.
An Armenian (one who believes that once he has been saved by the grace of God he can still be lost eternally) arguing with a Calvinist (one who believes that once he has been saved he can never be lost) remarked: "If I believed your doctrine and were sure that I was a converted man, I would take my fill of sin." Replied the Calvinist: "How much sin do you think it would take to fill a true Christian to his own satisfaction?"
Here he surely hit the nail on the head. Is it possible for a truly born-again Christian to sin habitually and find satisfaction in it? I don't believe it. This brings to mind the words of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, who died at the beginning of the twelfth century: "If I should see the shame of sin on the one hand, and the pain of hell on the other, and must of necessity choose one, I would rather be thrust into hell without sin than go into heaven with sin." May that be the desire of every born-again Christian.
From Faith, Love & Hope (the Book of James), AMG Publishers.