But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15

Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. – Augsburg Confession 2

Most of Christianity up until the 20th century has a focus on sin as a personal thing.  The biggest change in vocabulary which picked up velocity in the late 20th century was the movement of sin away from the individual heart and toward systemic things. The Augsburg Confession article 2 uses a big but useful word – concupiscence – which is the tendency to sin.  This is what James is talking about when he says each person is tempted by his own desire. Sin lives in our members (Romans 7:5, 23).  They are constantly proposing things for us to think and then do.  And the Reformers considered this concupiscence itself to be sin. We are bound to sin.  It is the intervention of God through Baptism and the Holy Ghost that can free us or give us some control over that desire.  For the first time we can mortify it (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5). 

Contrary to that individual story of sin, the modern story tells us something much different. I think the modern story tells us that we ourselves are neutral, maybe even good.  It is evil systems that ensnare us.  Sin is not the result of us giving in to our own desires but participating in evil structures.  It is not that the bible denies such systemic evil.  It would call that the devil and the world, the powers and principalities of this dark realm (Ephesians 6:12). The big difference being that Christ is victorious over the powers and on the last day will condemn them to the pit.  Until that day, we walk in danger all the way.  We might be complicit with these powers, but they are not responsible for our sin. If you took natural us and placed us in the New Jerusalem with perfect systems, we would still desire to sin. Adam and Eve did, and they were not fallen.  They just had the potential to fall.  Our natural selves are bound.  And ultimately, when we have learned to remain steadfast under trial, those systemic structures would fall themselves.  When Satan and the World can no longer sway me, their structures blow away and are nothing.

I rehearse that for this reason.  If our sins are due to what is outside of us, the problem abides with God who placed us in bad places.  Yet James is explicit that “God tempts no one.” God desires to lead in green pastures and still waters. It is we who desire to push and shove the other sheep and make the green grass a mud hole. And God never changes in this desire. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above. (James 1:17).” And the real problem of a lifetime of sin is that we become defined by our pet sins. We are our sins. So when Christ offers his salvation, which is the exchange of our sin for his righteousness, it can literally feel like we are giving up ourselves. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is magical at this depiction.  The various souls on vacation from hell are all bound in some way to a representation of their sin.  And almost all of them refuse to give them up.  Their sin is ultimately too precious to themselves. And Pharaoh hardened his heart.

The one who will receive the crown of life recognizes that the concupiscence might be from within me, but it is not me.  Not in the good way God desired to make us.  And we must hand it over to Christ at the foot of the cross. My sin is no longer mine, but it is held for all of us by the crucified, where all sin dies.  That work of handing over what feels like our very life is the daily gritty struggle of faith.

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