The Sinister and Singular Cause of All Sin3
I don’t like oversimplification. I don’t typically give much credence to those who try to reduce complex problems to a single cause. But I’m going to make an exception to that today. And I’m making an exception because James does. Or I should say, God does through the writing of James. Look at what he says in James 4:1-3. Continue reading . . .
I don’t like oversimplification. I don’t typically give much credence to those who try to reduce complex problems to a single cause. But I’m going to make an exception to that today. And I’m making an exception because James does. Or I should say, God does through the writing of James. Look at what he says in James 4:1-3.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3).
Now, before I explain more what I mean, let’s be honest and acknowledge that sin is a massively complex and multifaceted phenomenon. We typically define sin as the immoral and ungodly energy in the human soul that results in willful violation of God’s law. Sin comes in a wide variety of forms and expressions. There is lying and stealing and cheating and slandering others and lusting. Sin in the human heart comes to expression in arrogance and pride and greed and envy. You may recall how the apostle Paul describes sin in Galatians 5. He calls them “works of the flesh” and proceeds to mention “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21a).
How serious are such sins, you ask? Well, Paul says in the very next sentence: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21b).
So, as I said, sin is a multifaceted and complex energy in the human soul that if not acknowledged, confessed, and repented of will exclude a person from the kingdom of God. What this means is that I’m treading on thin ice when I say that all sin, in whatever form it occurs, can by and large be reduced to one simple and single cause: selfish desires that are the fruit of a steadfast refusal to believe and trust in the truth that God alone is able to satisfy the human soul.
I realize that I have just overly simplified a massively complex and intricate issue in human experience. But I believe I’m justified in doing so. Stop for a moment and consider a few of the other attempts to account for human behavior:
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I am a victim of the sinful behavior of others.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I was emotionally or verbally or sexually or physically abused by others.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I was deprived of a good education.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I’ve never been given the opportunity to develop my talents and succeed in the world of business.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I’ve been slandered and undermined by other people.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I’m not as physically attractive as others and I have to compensate for that in some manner that works.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because I’ve lacked the money to achieve or obtain what I most wanted in life.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because my parents failed me in every conceivable way.
I’m sinfully acting the way I do because society is stacked against me.
I may not have covered all the possible options, but you get the point. Now listen carefully. Every single one of these explanations for your behavior may well have validity. Each of them may well be true. But none of them is sufficient to account for why you and I sin in the ways we do.
Sin begins with the steadfast and stubborn refusal to believe that God alone can satisfy the longings and desires of the human soul. This act of rebellious unbelief fuels the selfish desires that we have to satisfy our longings in someone or something other than God. Again, why do we have selfish desires to find satisfaction and meaning and joy and peace in something other than what God is for us in Jesus? The answer is because we do not believe that in God’s presence (alone) is fullness of joy and at his right hand (alone) are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
All sin comes from rejecting God as our highest treasure and our ultimate satisfaction and our supreme love. God created you so that he, God, might be your all-consuming, supreme love and satisfaction. So when James says that all manner of sin comes from unsatisfied desires, you must not write him off as offering some quasi-psychological analysis of the human predicament. What he means is that all sin comes from rejecting God as our greatest treasure and our supreme satisfaction and our most passionate love and instead turning to anything or anyone else for the fulfillment of our selfish desires. This simple but undeniably profound truth is at the heart of what James is saying in James 3:1-6.