Why do you sin? What is the process that leads you down that path?
No one causes you to sin.
It all comes down to your free choice. You choose to sin. But how?
How does it happen? James explains it in this passage:
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 (James 1:14-15).
First, sin begins with a temptation. A bad idea pops into your head. The thought occurs to you to act contrary to God’s law.
Now, temptation itself is not a sin. After all, Jesus was tempted, but without sin (Heb 4:15). And did you know you can stop the sin process right there by rejecting the temptation outright? You can say, “No!” just like Jesus did, and move on.
What you don’t want to do is entertain the temptation. You don’t want to brood over it. There’s a saying that applies here: “You can’t stop the birds from flying overhead, but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair.” You can’t stop the temptation from popping into your head, but you can stop yourself from thinking and obsessing over it and wondering how you could get away with it. Don’t let the temptation birds build the nest! Shoo them away!
Second, there must be a lust or desire that corresponds with the temptation.
If there’s no desire, the temptation will be stopped dead in the tracks. For example, let’s say I suddenly thought, “Shawn, you should cash out your IRA, drive up to Choctaw Casino, and bet it all on red!” Well, that temptation isn’t going to get anywhere with me because I have absolutely no desire to gamble. It doesn’t appeal to me at all. But maybe it’s different for you. Maybe you like gambling. Maybe you enjoy the adrenaline rush of placing a bet. In that case, you have a desire that matches the temptation. Watch out! Recognize that it’s your flesh talking (Rom 7:14-22) and say no. Shut that process down, right there.
But even if you have a desire that corresponds to a temptation, it’s still not too late.
Third, you must choose to act on the temptation. When James says, “when lust has conceived,” the “conception” is the choice to act. Now you have gone beyond thinking about the sin, and have chosen to act on it. When you choose to act, you’ve sinned against God.
So those are the three essential steps in sinning.
At each stage of the sin process, you are free to resist, free to say no, free to shut the whole process down. As Paul implies, you are free to flee from sin and to pursue righteousness instead:
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Tim 2:22).