“But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
“Do not err, by beloved brethren”.
The holiness of God, who tempteth no man because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil, receiveth all the emphasis in verse 13. This same truth is also the underlying thought in verses 14-16. On the one hand, James declares that every man is tempted, when he is drawn away and enticed of his own lust. And, on the other hand, we are told in scripture that sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Sin, because of the holiness of the Lord, invariably produces death. How urgent, therefore, comes to us the admonition: Do not err, my beloved brethren. This also explains the contrast between verses 14-16 and verse 13, expressed by the word “but” which introduces these verses.
Every man is tempted, we read, when he is drawn away and enticed. The meaning of “tempted” in this text is plain. The implication is not merely that I am in the midst of temptations (verse 2), but also that I experience within me the actual desire to succumb to the forces of sin and evil. James literally declares here that a man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. The translation reads: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. But the original reads: But every man is tempted, by his own lust being drawn away and enticed. It is evident, therefore, that the words “of his own lust”, because of their position in the text, received emphasis. And we must remember that James speaks of one’s own lust. This lust is man’s, his own, in sharp contrast with what James had stated in verse 13.
A man is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed. The meaning of, the difference between “drawn away” and “enticed” is clear. The two are inseparable. The first word reflects upon the operation of sin as it draws one away from the path of God’s covenant. This, we understand, does not necessarily mean that we, to reject God’s covenant, must first have been a partaker of it. Sin always rejects the things of God. The second word refers to sin as it embraces the things which are below. A person that is tempted is always drawn away from God’s covenant and attracted to the things of sin. The two are inseparable. We must love the one and hate the other, cleave to the one and despise the other.
We must notice that “every man is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed of his own lust.” These words imply, in the first place, that James views temptation here in its beginning, as a matter of the lust. The word “lust” is a strong word, is derived from a word which means “to breathe violently.” The word, therefore, refers to our desire, craving, signifies that we set our heart upon something, long and pant for it. It is therefore by our own lust that we are drawn away and enticed. To fall into temptation is brought about by an inner craving for the same. Secondly, this word of James implies that sin is indeed the fruit of man’s own lust. Thus we are tempted. God does not tempt him. The Lord does not tempt because to tempt means to incite unto sin as having a craving for it. Man is tempted, not of God, but of his own lust; the craving for sin is from our own inner passion; and although the Lord sovereignly works all things, also the phenomenon of light and darkness, yet this sovereign operation of God is always such that He sovereignly willed a creature who would experience the passion for sin, to do iniquity for iniquity’s sake. Such evil is surely far from Jehovah Who is too pure of eyes to behold iniquity. And so James emphasizes the thought that iniquity remains the object of man’s own evil mind and will—he sins because he craves it. Thus it happens that “lust hath conceived”. These words appear in verse 15. Literally we read: Then, lust having conceived. Hence, these words evidently refer to verse 14. The word, translated “conceived” means literally: to seize, take hold. We would interpret this word here in the literal sense of the word. This lust for sin has taken hold of man’s inner, personal life. Lust has conceived, the lust, we read, i.e., the definite lust to evil, so that instead of his controlling it and overpowering it by almighty grace, it has overpowered him, taken hold of him, become the prompting force in his spiritual life. Some would limit this evil lust merely to the will. However, it is surely impossible to separate the mind and the will. The mind is that faculty of the soul which advises man what to do, the mind evaluates, places man before the things which he must choose and advises him to do either or. The will is that faculty of the soul which decides to follow a certain course of action. This lust here now takes hold of the mind and of the will and of all our desires. The lust having conceived, the way of sin appeals to us, and we are aware of an inner desire to walk therein. And, the lust having taken hold, we also will to seek the things of darkness, and have therefore also decided to walk accordingly. Temptation captivates both, the mind and the will. And iniquity is the object of man’s evil lust. God is untemptable. It is of our own lust that we are drawn away and enticed.
This lust, we read, brings forth sin. The word for “sin” in this text means literally “to miss the mark or purpose”. This does not imply that we actually aim at the glory of God but miss that mark. Some would thus interpret the activity of the heathens. We read, however, that our lust bringeth forth sin. It is evident, therefore, that we sin, “miss the mark”, willfully, inasmuch as we do so as the object of our lust and desire. Man’s purpose is to glorify God; the essence of evil is the willful refusal of man to serve this purpose. Man willfully refuses to acknowledge the living God, misses the mark, not as it were by the eyelash, but with all that is in him.
When we read that “lust bringeth forth sin” we must not divorce the one from the other, as if lust in itself were not sin, but merely brings it forth. Roman Catholicism does not regard lust as sin, teaches that we are not held responsible for our inner desires but only when we acquiesce and permit our desires to develop into sinful activity. This is clearly not the meaning of James. The relation between lust and sin is not temporal as if the one follows upon the other temporally, but causal. The lust to sin is surely itself sin. But the holy writer would emphasize the thought that sin is at all times the object of man’s own desire—we sin because we lust after it.
We understand that sin reveals itself in various forms. The manifestation of evil among the heathens differs from that among the so-called “civilized”. The one may simply give himself over unreservedly unto iniquity and crime. Another, who also loves sin, desires to remain within the confines of the external law, in order that he may continue uninterruptedly his pursuit of the things of the world. But, whatever form a man’s sin may assume, all men by nature walk in paths of sin, hating God and refusing to serve Him, and seeking the things of the world and of darkness.
And we must bear in mind that sin is the fruit of one’s own lust. Of course, the Lord is sovereign over all. Sin does not develop apart from Him. This is evident from Romans 1. In fact, the development of man in corruption is the result of the wrath of God revealed down from heaven, whereby the sinner commits things unheard of even in the animal world in order that the utter foolishness of sin may be fully revealed and that he who forsakes the living God heaps up misery for himself in this world and in the world to come. But this development of sin under the wrath of God always occurs through man’s own lust. His corrupt heart becomes ever larger. The more he sins the more he craves sin. The more he lives in the world, seeks the things of time, feeds his desire for evil, the more he will walk in paths of evil, the stronger becomes his lust, and the greater his desire and craving for the things of shame and of darkness. And it is our own lust which brings forth sin. This desire is not in God. Man lusts after evil.
“And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” The meaning of “death” is this text is evident. Verse 12 had spoken of the crown of life, eternal life. Death is eternal death, the death of hell. Besides, do we not read of sin here as “being finished”? Death is principally the separation from God, not in the local sense, but in His covenant fellowship. Hell will be the ultimate and exclusive manifestation of this horrible reality. The implication is not that God, in this life, loves the sinner somewhat but that in hell He will hate him completely. But hell will be the exclusive manifestation of the eternal and unchangeable wrath of God.
“And sin when it is finished.” The word “finished” means originally “to be brought quite to an end.” The expression does not mean, on the one hand, that sin will finally reign completely within the sinner. Sin does reign completely within him. I am by nature dead in sins and trespasses. Neither does this expression imply, on the other hand, that I will have performed all sin and evil. The complete manifestation of evil is impossible by one individual. The writer of these words, “And sin when it is finished”, refers to the sinner who, ever developing in sin, walks uninterruptedly in the way of iniquity. Grace does not take hold upon him. Dead in sin, as I am by nature, I walk upon the way of iniquity unto the very end, according to my name and place in the midst of the world. Redeeming grace alone checks sin, and not only checks it but also conquers it.
This sin, being finished, brings forth death. God is good, loves and seeks and maintains Himself. Consequently, sin must bring forth death. It is true, of course, that God’s people oftentimes sin. But it is the reprobate sinner, who, having sought life and peace without God in his life, shall indeed harvest what he has sown. God delighteth not in iniquity. To the contrary, He is terribly angry with the workers of sin. Hence, the wages of sin is death, for sin is the denial of God and God’s justice requires the maintenance of Himself.
“Do not err, by beloved brethren.” We understand that James here does not refer exclusively to erring in the logical sense. We are not merely warned here to make no mistake, although, of course, this thought is not wholly excluded. But the primary meaning is that we must not err spiritually. We must not wander spiritually, go astray, walk in darkness, walk uninterruptedly in sin. To the contrary, we must put off the old man and put on the new. And the basis for the admonition is expressed in the words, “beloved brethren.” We are brethren, among one another, and the people of the living God. Hence, let us walk as such.