“Recognizing the Process of Sin”



process of sin


Several weeks ago I started this series, “Living Between the Already and the Not Yet.” “The already” is who we are in Christ and have been since the day that He saved us. The “not yet” is who we will be when we stand before Him faultless, in other words, when we are like Him.

The first post was “5 Ways God Finishes His Work in Us” based on Philippians 1.6. In it I said that God is progressively changing and growing us as we learn to:

  1. Count it all joy when we encounter tests & trials.
  2. Accept His discipline.
  3. Keep the two great commandments.
  4. Overcome evil with good.
  5. Trust in His sovereignty.

In the second post, I talked about “Responding to Difficult People.” We all have one or more of them in our lives, whether it’s a child, a family member, a spouse, a co-worker or someone else.

I used a simple counseling diagram we call the “Y-chart,” to demonstrate how responding God’s way results in peace and blessings and how our load in life gets easier. But when we respond our own way, it results in tribulation and distress (anxiety, fear, worry, stress, depression) and life gets harder.



In this post I’m going to talk about the process of sin: how it works, why we fall into its snares, and how we can avoid it. 

First of all, we need to know we CAN avoid it.

1 Corinthians 10.13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (NASB).

The NLT says it this way, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

The Message says, “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”

Why am I spending so much time on this verse? It’s good news/bad news!

The good news is that no one and no circumstance can make it impossible for us to respond without sinning. We won’t be “tempted beyond what we are able” (NASB). It won’t be “more than [we] can stand” (NLT). It can’t push us “past our limit” (Mess).

This isn’t about relying on our own strength, but relying on God. And He is always faithful. When we trust in Him, “he’ll always be there to help [us] come through it.”

Others have gone through the same thing and come out the other side. It’s “common to man” (NASB); it’s not different from “what others have had to face” (Mess).


choicesIt’s a choice!

That’s the good news. The bad news is, if we sin, it’s a choice! And choosing to sin has consequences.

Let’s use the example of a college student named Lisa for a minute. One night as she’s heading for class, a friend says, “Let’s go meet the guys. They want us to have pizza and a drink with them.”

She resists at first. She knows she needs to study. But her friend persists and finally she goes. The first time it happens, she gets away with it. But it begins to happen more and more and sometime in the near future, it catches up with her. Her grades start falling and then she fails an exam.

About this time her parents call to ask how she’s doing. She lies and tell them everything is going great.

But when the next exam comes around, Lisa is in a panic and she cheats. Now she begins to feel anxious and soon she’s depressed.

If she walks into the medical clinic on campus and describes how she’s feeling, she would very likely be prescribed something to make her feel better.


What’s going on?

But what is really going on here? Lisa chose to respond sinfully:

She was more concerned about what her roommate thought than what God thought (fear of man, Prov. 29.25).

She didn’t use her time wisely (Eph. 5.16).

She lied to her parents (Eph. 4.25).

She cheated (Eph. 5.25, 28).


Fear, worry, anxiety, and depression 

As a result she’s experiencing the consequences: fear, worry, anxiety, and depression. The answer is not to put a Band-Aid on her feelings. The answer is repentance and restoration.

Lisa needs to confess her sin to her parents and her professor. She need to accept the immediate consequences: the loss of trust, the need to work hard to make up for lost time, and possibly a failing grade. But she can have the long term good results: peace with God and joy in knowing she did what was right. If she stays faithful she can be restored in her relationship with her parents and others, but she will be instantly restored to a right relationship with God.


The process of sin

Let’s take a closer look at the process of sin, so we’ll be better equipped to respond biblically.

First, everyone is faced with temptations. In fact, we’ve been talking about 1 Corinthians 10.13, but verse 12 says:

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” 

When we think we’re not vulnerable is when we are the most at risk of falling. Even Jesus was tempted.

prayer15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4.15-16).

One way we fight temptation is to go to the throne of grace and find that mercy and grace we need!

Second, temptation is not a one-time thing. In Luke 4, after Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, it says:

“… the devil left Him until an opportune time” (v. 13).

Galatians 5.16-17 says:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

It doesn’t mean you can’t, but you may not.

You may not if you’re not walking by the Spirit. Walking by the Spirit means praying for His grace, filling your heart and mind with the Word of God, and seeking to live obediently.

reading xxxYou may not if you’re ignoring His conviction and playing around with sin or temptation. We play around with it by …

  • Fantasizing about someone besides our spouse.
  • Wondering what it would have been like if we had married someone else.
  • Watching or reading something we shouldn’t.
  • Thinking about some other forbidden pleasure.

We play around with it, thinking we can handle it, but we’ll see in a minute that is a dangerous thing to do.

Third, the temptation to sin is not sin, but playing around with it is. The thought may come, but what do you do with it. Do you toy with the idea? Do you imagine what it might be like? Or do you take those thoughts captive by replacing them with God’s truth?

Proverbs 4.23 says, “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life!”

Jesus said, “If you’re angry … you have already committed murder”

“If you have lusted in your heart … you have already committed adultery in your heart.”


So let’s go to James 4 and look at this process of sin:

1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious 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 with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

young asian couple having an argument. arguingOne of the biggest ways we respond sinfully is fussing and fighting, arguing and quarreling in our interpersonal relationships.

We justify by thinking things like:

  • “My husband or my child or my co-worker is just so hard to get along with.”
  • “I try … but if you knew who I was married to.”
  • “My boss or my co-worker is impossible.”
  • “I hate yelling, but it’s the only time my kids will listen.”

Is that true? Is it the people in our lives? Is it the circumstances that are at fault?

Look again at those verses:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures [your desires] that wage war in your members?

James said the problem is our desires. Brent Aucoin says it this way, “We do what we do, because we want what we want!”

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious 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 with wrong motives, [because we want our own selfish desires met] so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, …

We’re lusting in our hearts and committing spiritual adultery against God:

… do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.


Is what I want wrong?

Sometimes what we want isn’t a bad thing:

  • A husband.
  • If we are married, we may want a godly husband.
  • Children.
  • A better job.
  • Children who are respectful.

Sometimes the problem isn’t what we want, it’s that we want it too much.

How can we tell if something we want has been come a lust? It has become a lust if we’re willing to sin to get it or sin if we don’t get it!

Let’s go to James 1:13-15:

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. [remember Adam]14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. [There’s that word again] 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Fish hook with worm isolated on white backgroundBut each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” These are hunting and fishing terms. The fisherman baits the hook and the fish is “enticed” by that yummy worm or that shiny lure and when he has taken the bait, he is “carried away” as the fisherman reels him in.

There’s something going on in our hearts. And the devil doesn’t have to work very hard at it. In fact, if the desire, the lust wasn’t already there, the bait wouldn’t do any good. Did you get that?

If we weren’t already wanting our kids to behave too much and, often, for the wrong reasons … the temptation to yell and scream would hold no attraction.

Wrong reasons like:

Having well behaved children makes me look good or it makes my life easier.

Most of the time it’s not really about the glory of God.

We want a husband … because we don’t want to be lonely or because everyone else we know is married …

It’s not about whether or not we could serve God better as a couple, rather than as a single.

15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Death of a marriage … because we’re fighting to get our own way.

Death of a testimony … because we compromise to get what we want.

Death of our relationship with our kids because we yell and scream at them.

Or because they see us acting like the rest of the world or fighting with each other, they start to think Christianity isn’t real. Why would they want it?


sin will take you farther

This is serious stuff!

When we don’t respond biblically to the temptation to sin, when we justify, think we can handle it, or play around with it, we can find ourselves on that downward spiral of sin just like our student, Lisa.

And as we continue down that spiral, it gets harder and harder to stop.

I don’t know who first said it, but, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you there longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you ever thought you would pay.”

Romans 1.21-32 gives us a frighteningly clear picture of that spiral. I have written more about it here.


Why does God show us these things in His Word?

God has always been talking to mankind, instructing and warning and encouraging us. He talked to Adam and Eve in the garden. He talked to Cain and warned him that sin was crouching at the door, even before he killed his brother (Gen. 4.6).

And He talks to us through His Word. He wants us to understand how these things work so we can make a different choice when we are at that “point of decision” and Satan is dangling the bait.

We won’t always do it perfectly, but we can become more aware and wiser as we study God’s Word, learn His laws and principles, and become more sensitive to His voice.

And when we fall short, we need to repent, seek His forgiveness and the forgiveness of others.

Proverbs 28.13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

And 1 John 1.9 says,If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So let’s remember when temptation beckons, that the thing that looks so good at that moment has a hook in it.





Featured Resources:

A Fight to the Death: Taking Aim at Sin Within

According to the Bible, every believer should devote himself to being a killer–
not of people or animal pests, but of sin.
Put sin to death or it will destroy you and others.

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate

Have Christians become so preoccupied with “major” sins that we have lost sight of our need to deal with more subtle sins? Navigator author Jerry Bridges addresses the “acceptable” sins that we tend to tolerate in ourselves, including pride and anger. He goes to the heart of the matter, exploring our feelings of shame and grief and opening a new door to God’s forgiveness and grace. Travel down the road of spiritual formation with Jerry and discover your true identity as a loved child of God.


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12 thoughts on ““Recognizing the Process of Sin”

  1. There is always wisdom to be found here, Donna. I think the one section that really stood out to me was is that what we want isn’t as much the problem as how much we want it actually is. I had a similar conversation with my daughter this morning and it strikes me how easy it is for me to get frustrated with my kids when they don’t act as I think they should. I had to weigh out whether I was upset for their separation from God by their sinful behavior or how it made ME look. :/ We both needed to go to the Cross and repent today.

    Thanks for the reminder to rest in His grace.

    • Dawn, it’s a constant battle isn’t it? I know our motives are never going to be perfect, but I also know God wants us to evaluate our reasons for what we do. But in the end, isn’t it comforting to know that He is looking at the heart! Have a wonderful Easter.

  2. You hit so many great points here. I have been struggling with my daughter lately because I want her to be aware of things and to be careful about (sadly) who she can trust. I say struggle because she feels offended thinking that I don’t trust her and that she can handle it. She “can’t be convinced of things”. That statement scared me and though I do trust her I feel she is not being realistic. I pray that I can use this to better explain how it truly is. This has been very insightful and helpful. Thank you! ♥

    • Celi,
      I’m glad you found it helpful. I’ll be praying that your daughter’s heart is open to more truth. It’s so hard for young people to understand the sinful condition of our own hearts and how easily we can be deceived. Most adults don’t even realize and all too often play around with fire convinced they can handle it!
      Thanks for your encouragement and kind words,

  3. Thanks for this post, Donna. There was that little phrase in the retelling of Jesus’ experience with Satan that I had noticed several weeks ago while reading that passage and you shared it here – that Satan left Him until an opportune time. That really struck me when I was reading that passage a while back – where have I offered my enemy an opportune time to attack? And to think that he sits back and waits patiently for me to give him an opportune time. And sin – our justification of sin – is most certainly an opportune time for attack.

    • Aimee,
      You are so right. Sometimes he doesn’t have to work very hard at it, does he! I remember the first time that phrase struck me. He’s not omnipotent or omniscient, but he knows if he waits, we will often give him an opportunity.
      Easter blessings,

  4. One of the major things God said to Craig (my husband) when he was struggling with his porn addiction was this: “Craig, you always have a choice.” It did so much for his feelings of helplessness and defeat!

    • Yes, it’s true. While the pull of sin may still be there, we are no long slaves to it. We are freed slaves who need to walk that out in our choices. Blessings!

  5. Thank you so much for this timely and much-needed word. We do indeed live in a culture of people – even professing Christians – playing around with sin. We treat it so casually, though it cost our Savior His life. A life He sacrificed SO THAT we could be free from sin’s penalty in eternity and from its power right now! I’m so glad you linked up with us at Grace & Truth!

  6. What an excellent, Bible-based analysis! Praise God that He is faithful to forgive our sins, and that when God looks at us, He no longer sees our sins but only the perfect righteousness of His Son! Linked up with you at Faith-Filled Friday — hope you’ll stop by Saved by Grace for a visit!
    God bless,

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