Some of the response to our previous article about Same Sex Attraction revealed that many people misunderstand what James 1:14-15 is saying, and, in fact, some even seem to have a Roman Catholic understanding of desire and temptation. This post will set forth the correct interpretation of this passage and then provide responses to the Roman Catholic misinterpretation.
“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” (James 1:14-15).
Matthew Poole interprets James 1:14-15 and then replies to the Papist interpretation:
“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.“
He shows the great cause of sin; that lust hath a greater hand in it than either the devil or his instruments, who cannot make us sin without ourselves: they sometimes tempt, and do not prevail; but when lust tempts, it always prevails, either in whole or in part, it being a degree of sin to be our own tempters.
Drawn away; either this notes a degree of sin, the heart’s being drawn off from God; or the way whereby lust brings into sin, viz. the impetuousness and violence of its motions in us.
Of his own lust; original corruption in its whole latitude, though chiefly with respect to the appetitive faculties.
And enticed; either a further degree of sin, enticed by the pleasantness of the object, as represented by our own corruption; or another way of lust’s working in us to sin, viz. by the delightfulness and pleasure of its motions: in the former it works by a kind of force, in this by flattery and deceit. It is either a metaphor taken from a fish enticed by a bait, and drawn after it, or rather from a harlot drawing a young man out of the right way, and alluring him with the bait of pleasure to commit folly with her.
“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.“
Then when lust hath conceived; lust (compared to a harlot) may be said to conceive, when the heart is pleased with the motion, and yields some consent to it.
It bringeth forth sin; the birth of sin may be the complete consent of the will to it, or the outward act of it.
And sin; actual sin, the fruit and product of original.
When it is finished; sin is finished, when it is not only committed, but continued in, as the way and course of a man’s life.
Bringeth forth death; not only temporal, but eternal. Or we may thus take the order and progress of sin: the first indeliberate motion of lust, is the temptation or bait, which by its pleasantness enticeth, and by its vehemency draws the heart after it (as the harlot, Proverbs 7:21, with the flattering of her lips forced the young man, telling him of the pleasure he should enjoy, Jam 1:14,16-18, and then he goes after her, Jam 1:22); the heart’s lingering about and being entangled with the delightful motion of lust, is its committing folly with it; when the full consent is joined, lust hath conceived; when the outward act is performed, sin is brought forth; and when sin is finished in a settled course, it brings forth death; which, though every sin do in the merit of it, yet sin only finished doth in the event.
Doth not this imply lust, and its first motions, not to be sin?
1. The least motions of it are forbidden, Matthew 5:28 Romans 7:7.
2. It is contrary to the law and Spirit of God, Romans 7:23, 25; Gal. 5:16, 17.
3. It is the fountain of impurity, and therefore is itself impure, Job 14:4; Matthew 7:15, 16; James 3:11.
4. Evil thoughts defile a man, Matthew 15:19; Acts 8:22.
How is lust said here to bring forth sin, when, Romans 7:8, sin is said to work lust?
James calls the corrupt principle itself lust, and the actings of it, sin; whereas Paul calls the same principle sin, and the actings of it lust. And so both are true, lust, as a root, brings forth the acts of sin as its fruits; and sin as a root, brings forth actual lusts, as its fruits. (commentary on James 1:14-15).
Thomas Cartwright likewise refutes the Roman Catholic misconception of desire with multiple arguments:
Rhemist (Papist) Interpretation
Concupiscence (we see here) of itself is not sin, as heretics falsely teach: but when by any consent of the mind we do obey or yield to it, then is sin engendered and formed in us.
If concupiscence is not sin unless there come consent, then it followeth that the breach of the tenth commandment is not sin, seeing the desire that is with consent is against the other commandments: and under the tenth, those only contained which come not to consent [Deut. 5:21; Ex. 20:17]; when therefore concupiscence without consent is against the Law, and whatsoever is against the Law is sin, it followeth also that concupiscence without consent is sin.
Again, when the Apostle declareth that there is sin even in the young infants which cannot give consent [Rom. 5:14], it is manifest that there are sins that are not done with consent.
Moreover, when the Apostle James assigneth the concupiscence without conception or consent, the cause of sin, the effect being sin, the cause from whence it commeth must needs be so: except they dare say that our Saviour Christ’s rule faileth of the goodness of the fruit if the tree be good, and naughtiness thereof if the tree be naught [Mat. 7:16-20]. And why else doth he here exhort against it, complaining it to be a bait [James 1:14]?
Last of all, when he saith, that the desire that is without consent is not of God, he thereby implieth that it is of the devil, there being no lawful desire but may well be said to be of God. Whereupon Augustine saith, that the “concupiscence of the flesh doth somewhat when the consent of the heart is not given:” And asking after, what that somewhat is, he answereth, “evil and filthy desires.” Now let the Jesuits show how desires without consent may be evil and filthy, and yet not sin.
Another saith, that sin is committed four ways in the heart: by suggestion, by delight, by consent, and by a boldness to defend it. And therefore the Papists herein are more shameful heretics than the Pelagians; for in denying that there is no sin but that whereunto consent cometh, they are their fellows which denied the original corruption to be sin. But in that they deny to be sin, not only these first motions that come from natural corruption, and break out from the best men without all manner liking of them, but those also wherewith the flesh is tickled and delighted, although not to consent and resolution to do them: they are worse than the Pelagian heretics. Nay, by the Jesuits saying, not so much as concupiscence with consent should be sin, seeing James doth not say here that concupiscence which conceiveth or consenteth, is sin, but that it bringeth forth sin: wherefore, when James saith, it “bringeth forth sin,” his meaning is, that it bringeth forth the sin which he speaketh against in this place, namely actual, as to say that God is the author of this tentation [temptation].
Thomas Cartwright, Confutation of the Rhemists, on James 1:15, p. 654.
John Calvin exegetes verse 15 and replies to the Papist misinterpretation:
15 Then when lust hath conceived. He first calls that lust which is not any kind of evil affection or desire, but that which is the fountain of all evil affections; by which, as he shews, are conceived vicious broods, which at length break forth into sins. It seems, however, improper, and not according to the usage of Scripture, to restrict the word sin to outward works, as though indeed lust itself were not a sin, and as though corrupt desires, remaining closed up within and suppressed, were not so many sins. But as the use of a word is various, there is nothing unreasonable if it be taken here, as in many other places, for actual sin.
And the Papists ignorantly lay hold on this passage, and seek to prove from it that vicious, yea, filthy, wicked, and the most abominable lusts are not sins, provided there is no assent; for James does not shew when sin begins to be born, so as to be sin, and so accounted by God, but when it breaks forth. For he proceeds gradually and shews that the consummation of sin is eternal death, and that sin arises from depraved desires, and that these depraved desires or affections have their root in lust. It hence follows that men gather fruit in eternal perdition, and fruit which they have procured for themselves.
By perfected sin, therefore, I understand, not any one act of sin perpetrated, but the completed course of sinning. For though death is merited by every sin whatever, yet it is said to be the reward of an ungodly and wicked life. Hence is the dotage of those confuted who conclude from these words, that sin is not mortal until it breaks forth, as they say, into an external act. Nor is this what James treats of; but his object was only this, to teach that there is in us the root of our own destruction. (commentary on James 1:15).
Finally, Matthew Henry includes this helpful analogy in his commentary:
“As holiness consists of two parts: forsaking that which is evil, and cleaving to that which is good, so these two things, reversed, are the two parts of sin. The heart is carried from that which is good, and enticed to cleave to that which is evil. It is first by corrupt inclinations, or by lusting after and coveting some sensual or worldly thing, estranged from the life of God, and then by degrees fixed in a course of sin.” (commentary on James 1:14-15).