How Sin Works

By David Embury

2Cor 5:19 …God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Col 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

This is the wonderful truth of our Gospel. The good news of the gospel is a life of freedom over sin – not from sin. God through his Spirit of grace has opened up the way for us his people to live in this life of victory.

An overcoming life while no cakewalk is gloriously possible [1Jn 5:4; Act 20:23-24a; Rom 8:38]. Paul's injunction in Phil 2:12 informs us: "work out [not at] your own salvation…" In other words – live out what God has birthed in you.

Life is real, sin is real, so too the temptations that can lead to transgressions – those things that we do that hurt ourselves and others.

Temptations are a normal part of the human experience; even Jesus had to deal with temptations, more than anyone ever did [Lk 4:13; Heb 2:18; 4:15]. Being tempted is not wrong – giving way or yielding to temptation, however, hinders our spiritual walk. Temptation's end is always toward some action of sin, and "actioned sin" or transgressions are seldom an individual affair, inevitably others are affected. From the beginning, 'man' has sought to shift the blame for his deeds [Gen 3:12-13]. The poet Robert Burns echoes this sentiment:

Thou knowest Thou hast formed me

With passions wild and strong;

And listening to their witching voice

Has often led me wrong.

As much as we find it convenient to "pass-the-buck" sin is our responsibility, in fact, we have a scriptural injunction to "rule over it" and not visa versa:

Gen 4:7 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."

Rom 6:12; 14 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. …For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Temptations and consequent transgressions can be stifled or nourished, and deliberate sin only has entrance through our own lack of self-control. Man is not a helpless victim; he, in fact, initiates much trouble from within his own heart [Jer 17:9; Mk 7:20, 23]. Man then is accountable for his own temporal condition.

The Progression And Development Of Sin

We find in James 1:14-15 an unfolding plan, a pattern of 'How Sin Works'. The imagery in these verses is suggestive of a fish swimming in one direction and being lured aside, being drawn off course towards something that initially seems attractive, only to discover to its own peril, the bait it has taken has a deadly hook in it.

"Six Steps Down To Death"

Jas 1:14-15 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.

DRAWN: How are we drawn away?

The Greek word "drawn" [exelkomenos – εξελκομενος] means to allure – much like a fish, though not seeing the bait yet sensing and becoming aware it. This speaks of something that catches our attention e.g., the 'burning bush' caught Moses' eye [Ex 3:2]; David "saw" Bathsheba – he could have turned away 2Sam 11:2 [Job 31:1].

We can be drawn away, drawn aside by the fleeting thoughts that pass through our minds – often impulsively and not always intentional. We cannot always stop thoughts from entering our minds, but we certainly have the choice as to whether they stay. As the old maxim goes: "You can't stop birds flying over you, but you can stop them nesting in your hair."

When misleading thoughts come, as they happen to do – that's normal, what should our response be but determine to challenge them immediately, surrendering them to Christ [2Cor 10:5], as Rom 13:14 says: "…make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

DESIRES: What are they?

Desires are the by-product of those fleeting thoughts we choose to entertain, mull over or ponder. Much like our fish, who now seeing the bait, goes in for a closer more intense look e.g., "…the woman was very beautiful to behold." 2Sam 11:2 – David was looking intensely, he was captivated. Moses also saw and beheld the bush – it grasped his attention.

Whether good or bad, be it help or hindrance, if what catches our attention is held and meditated upon will undoubtedly lead to some action. We tend to draw to ourselves that upon which we set or fix our delight i.e., what we pleasure in – desire. We need to be sure that our desires and delights are God-wards [Psa 37:4; Mt 6:21].

Heb 12:1 tells us "…lay aside every weight [wrongly based motive, attitude, memory or treasure that leads to] …the sin that so easily ensnares us." This area of desire is crucial because there is tremendous power in desire. Desire is a foundation for vision, and vision the unfolding plan or revelation of impending action.

Further, Heb 12:2 suggests we will run life's race well as we keep "looking unto Jesus." The principle of 2Cor 3:18 comes into play here i.e., 'what we behold, we become.' [Hos 9:10b] Desire generates a powerful inner hunger, drive and thirst. Jesus speaks of this in Mt 5:6 – desire seeks, and in this instance finds satisfaction.

ENTICED: What Happens?

This Greek word literally means – to take or catch with bait. Having perused with increased interest and having had sufficient desire aroused the fish reasons, "I'll have some of that" – and does so, the fish has been enticed and moves in to partake. This speaks of a wilful decision being made.

In the incident with Bathsheba, King David became enticed – he saw; he wanted; he took [2Sam 11:4]. When we wrestle with areas of sin in our lives we may need to ask ourselves: "have I left those at the foot of the Cross, or have I picked them up again, giving them undue or unwarranted attention?" Isa 43:18 says: "Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old." [2Pet 1:9].

Calling to mind from whence we've come may bring with it opportunity to return [Heb 11:15]. We have the choice not to take the bait, as nice as it may seem [Heb 11:25].

Gal 2:18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

God's Word exhorts us not to flirt with sin [1Cor 6:12; 10:23; Gal 5:1; 1Pet 2:11].

CONCEIVED: The Process

From the wilful decision i.e., the heart's intent, blatant action to do wrong takes root. The fish is well and truly hooked – there's no turning back, no way of escape. Just as an unborn child grows and develops through the period of gestation, so does the soul encumbering nature of sin grow. Left unchecked or not repented of, our soul destroying wilful action grows and increases, progressing or digressing one upon another.

King David, after coveting Bathsheba, stealing her, committing adultery with her and then lying to her husband Uriah, finally arranges his murdered. In one fell swoop, David broke five of God's Ten Commandments [2Sam 11:4-5; 15].

BIRTHED: The Result

What we have now is habitual sin in action. Our fish is now well and truly being reeled in. Sin sooner or later has repercussions [Gal 6:7]. Even as an unborn child is alive and kicking in the womb before the actual point of birth, so sin is no less active just because there might not be any apparent manifestation:

1Tim 5:24 Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.

In time habitual sin having now taken root and established will be revealed and no longer hidden, being plainly self-evident.

The problem with blatant sin is that its effects have far reaching consequences, for instance:

1] The innocent victims of the Aids epidemic.

2] King David's family paid the price for his yielding to temptation [2Sam 12:9-12].

3] The cry of derision from the Jewish people "…His blood be upon us and our children" Mt 27:25. The full brunt of this malediction that came home to roost upon the "this generation" [Mt 24:34] of Christ's contemporaries in His 70AD Parousia with the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple, as prophesied by Christ in Matthew 23-25.

FULL-GROWN: The Consequences

The fish has been landed in the boat and is as good as dead – hook line and sinker. Full-grown sin shows itself as being sold out to the carnal nature, a slave to sin, being DOMINATED by base instincts. Again, in all this we have a choice:

Rom 6:16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? [Jn 8:34; 2Pet 2:19b]

The lyrics to one of Simon and Garfunkel's songs: "I am a rock, I am an island" simply do not ring true. As the great Scottish theologian William Barclay once said: "No man lives to himself. When a man sins he sets in motion a stream of consequences which has no end." Or as writer poet George Eliot penned:

Our deeds are like children that are born to us,

They live and act apart from our will;

Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never;

They have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness.

Psa 7:14 AMP Behold, [the wicked man] conceives iniquity and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.

Full-grown sin pays a bad wage, DEATH [Rom 6:23], and brings forth a spiritual condition that experiences no life.

DEATH: The End

The wise fish knows there's a hook [sin] in the bait [temptation] and so keeps to his course, however:

Prov 15:21 NIV Folly delights a man who lacks judgment, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course.

'Death' so many times in the Scriptures is understood in terms of relationship, broken relationship first with God and second with others, broken through our foolish transgressions:

Isa 59:2 AMP But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.

As with the roots of a strangler vine, if not completely severed, will in time grow back and squeeze the very life out of a tree – our TRANSGRESSIONS must be dealt with. Humanity's sin condition has been dealt with in Christ [Jn 1:29] through the Cross. However, our wrong doings [transgressions] those unrighteous works that separate, that break fellowship and strain relationships need to be kept in check – lest we not hear nor see face to face in our walk with Him and others.

Sin Knows No Mercy: But God Does

A man's sin knows no mercy, God however does, and through His grace toward humanity in Christ we find restoration – and this is the Gospel. King David through repentance found the grace and mercy of God [2Sam 12:13; Psa 51:1-19; Hos 14:1-3]. David's sin with Bathsheba was the only black mark on an otherwise diamond-studded crown.

The self-serving ways of sin always awaits an opportunity to turn blessing into curse, however, as Dr Larry Crab says:

Life is full of choices, and as we endeavour to choose the path of righteousness, our capacity for right choices in the face of adversity and temptation enlarges.

In conclusion and for some final words of encouragement in our study we need but to glance back to Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promise to those who love Him.


1Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. c.f. 2Pet 2:9


DRAWN - fleeting thought- bait sensed.

DESIRE - thought entertained- bait perused.

ENTICED - wilful decision made- bait taken.

CONCEIVED - action takes root- hooked.

BIRTHED - habitual action- reeled in.

FULL GROWN - slave to sin- netted.

DEATH - destroyed- gutted.