Summary: James teaches us that big sins begin with small temptations.

The Progressive Nature of Sin

James 1:13-15

“Great oaks from little acorns grow.” The mustard seed “is smaller that all other seeds, but when it is full grown...becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31) In this life we can all think of many examples of big things that spring from small beginnings. James discusses one of those things in James 1:13-15...SIN!

Sin has been defined as “missing the mark.” Sin is an act of wrong doing that violates the law and character of God. It can become a power in our lives that separates us from God, our Creator, and can cause us to spend an eternity in Hell!

In these two short verses, James tells us where sin comes from and where it leads.

Where does sin begin? Sin begins with temptation. Temptation is anything that prompts us to consider an act that “misses the mark” of perfection which God has set for us.

Where does temptation come from? James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

How many of us have said to someone when our actions get out of control and we do something wrong, “Look what YOU made me do.”? In today’s society, this kind of attitude is rampant. Cigarette companies are at fault when smokers develop lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. McDonald’s is at fault because we eat their hamburgers and get fat. An on and on it goes. It is always their fault, never ours. Endless law suits are filed because we want to blame someone else for our weakness.

By the way, this attitude is not new. Remember when Adam and Eve were in the garden and ate the fruit. Remember Adam’s response when God asked him if he had eaten the forbidden fruit? “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” In other words, God, it’s all YOUR fault.

James says that we are tempted when we are “carried away and enticed by our own lusts.”

Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos, say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ring tailed monkey. However, for those who are familiar with this little monkey, it is simple. They set a trap that is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this particular melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the trappers cut a hole in the melon just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. But there’s a problem. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight but he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the trappers sneak up and nab him. The monkey’s lust for the seeds have resulted in his capture. He’s on his way to the zoo and captivity for the rest of his life.

Many of us are like the monkey, our own desires get us in trouble. Thressia and I were at the mall the other day in the food court when a young woman in a very tight short skirt walked by. I “happened” to see her and followed her with my eyes as she walked away. Thressia, without even looking up from her food, said, “Was it worth all the trouble you’re in?”

Where does sin begin? With our own lust. Where does sin lead? Death! How do we get from point A to point B? One small step at a time. There is a progressive nature to sin. It starts with a small thing and ends up a very big thing.

Listen again to James 1:14-15 “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

Perhaps no better illustration of James 1:14-15 can be found than the incident found in Joshua 7. This tells the sad story of Achan and how his own lust led to the destruction of himself and his family.

In Joshua 5 - 6, we are told of the destruction of Jericho and the command of God in Joshua 6:17-19 that the things of the city were “under a ban.” Everything made of gold, silver, bronze or iron were to go into the treasury. Anyone taking any of those “banned” articles would bring a curse upon the camp of Israel.

In Joshua 7:1 we are told that, in violation of God’s command, Achan, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban. Therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.

Following their success at Jericho, Joshua sent about 3000 men to attack the city of Ai, which was a small town. To the surprise of the men of Israel, they were soundly defeated by the men of Ai. As a result, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” Morale was at an all time low. Joshua and the elders approached God and asked Him “What’s wrong?”

God responds in Vs. 11-12, “Israel has sinned, and they have transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies...for they have become accursed.” God tells Joshua that the Israelites will not succeed until they have “removed the things under the ban from your midst.’

God then instructs Joshua and the elders to find the person who has sinned and instructs that this person “shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.”

Just a side note: Notice that sin is also contagious. It affects not only the one sinning but everyone around him. Note that the sin of one man caused God’s wrath to be upon the entire nation of Israel. There is a great lesson there for us but that is for another time.

Following God’s instructions, Joshua and the elders go through a process of elimination and finally in vs. 18, Achan was found to be the person who had committed this great sin. In vs. 21, Achan confesses. His confession is a perfect illustration of the progressive nature of sin, described by James.

Achan confesses, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred sheckels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.”

Look at how Achan’s lust led to his sin. He says first, “I saw...” At this point Achan had not sinned, he has only been tempted. Imagine, the spoils of war are in a great pile, gold, silver, bronze, iron, and all kinds of other valuable things. In the pile, Achan spots a beautiful mantle from Shinar. Shinar was probably in the area of Babylonia, modern Iraq and Iran. A mantle is a more or less square piece of cloth, which is sometimes thrown over one shoulder or, as now, over both shoulders. However, this mantle was special. It was called an ADDERET. It was sometimes made of a costly material and was usually worn by royalty. It must have been very beautiful and valuable. Achan also sees 200 shekels (about 5 or 6 pounds) of silver and a gold bar weighing fifty shekels (about 1.5 pounds). He lingers near these things and looks, and looks. Perhaps he picks them up and holds them. Watch out Achan.

Then, as Achan confesses, “I coveted them.” Now Achan’s lust has given birth to sin. Sin always begins inside of us. Jesus said in Matt. 5:28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’; but I say to you, that every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Such was the case of David in II Samuel 11 when he saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her house.

Every day we all see things that we admire and we say, “Oh, I would love to have that.” We are like Will Smith in the movie “Independence Day” when he climbs into the alien space ship and flies away toward the mother ship, does a couple of barrel rolls and exclaims,” I’ve gotta get me one of these.”

Such sentiments are OK so long the things we desire do not lead us to covet. To covet something is to want it so bad that we are willing to do just about anything, risk just about anything, to get it. David was willing to risk his throne in order to have Bathsheba. Coveting is desire gone to seed.

Now back to Achan. Achan has been tempted when he sees the things he desires, then he covets them, now he TAKES them. Sin is accomplished. Can’t you just see him. In Jericho after its capture, there is chaos in the streets. People are running everywhere and nobody is particularly watching what anyone else is doing. Achan sees his opportunity. He thinks to himself, “I can take just these three little things and no one will ever know.

So he takes the mantle, the silver and the gold and hides them “in the earth inside my tent.” Maybe no one will notice, but Achan is not taking any chances.

Now everything seems to be going just fine. Achan has the items hidden in a hole under his tent. But then comes the defeat at Ai. God demands that the one who has taken things under the ban be found and destroyed. Achan begins to worry. As the lots are taken and the search narrows, he really begin to sweat. Finally Achan is found out and taken before Joshua where he makes his confession. You have to give Achan a little credit. At least when he was caught, he confessed and did not try to blame anyone else for his misdeeds.

Achan’s lust has given birth to sin and now is about to bring about his death. Achan, his family and all his possessions, were taken to a valley where the people stoned them with stones and burned them with fire.

Poor Achan. It would be bad enough if Achan were the only one to have succumbed to temptation in this way. Unfortunately there are other examples throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, David and Bathsheba, Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard and so many others. In each case, lust gave birth to sin, which when it was accomplished brought forth death.

The pattern continues today. Just this past week in Houston, Clara Harris was convicted of running over her husband and killing him with her car after she caught him in an adulterous affair with another woman. His lust gave birth to sin and brought about his death as well as the destruction of so many lives around him.

Now sin does not always bring about physical death as we have talked about this morning but it ALWAYS brings about spiritual death. It separates us from the God who loves us and if we do not repent, will cause us to suffer an eternal death in hell.

How do we avoid such a fate?

1. Remember that sin is progressive. It starts with a very small temptation.

A small act that seems so insignificant that it could not possibly hurt anything. We need to remember when we are tempted that “sin is crouching at the door.” Benjamin Franklin said, “It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it.” The road to hell begins with that first step.

2. We must not put ourselves in the way of temptation. Paul admonishes us in

Rom. 13:14, “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Some of us fall into temptation but some of us make plans for disaster ahead of time. “Son,” ordered a father, “Don’t swim in that canal.” “OK, Dad,” he answered,” but he came home that evening carrying a wet swim suit. “Where have you been?” demanded the father. “Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy. “Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father. “Yes sir,” answered the boy. “Then why did you?” “Well dad, I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.” “Why did you take your swim suit with you?” “So I would be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted.”

3. We must seek help from God through prayer. Jesus advised the apostles in

Matt. 26:41, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We need God’s help to overcome our weaknesses. Remember “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond that which we are able to bear.”(I Cor. 10:13)

4. When we do sin, repent and seek the forgiveness of God immediately. God is always there and ready to forgive.