Sin Embryology 101
My hospital gown is drenched in sweat, and my body is completely spent. I hear nurses scurrying and see cameras flashing. And then I hear the sound of a baby crying. It must be mine, because I start to recognize several family members crowding around that sweet sound. Now the crying has stopped, and the small crowd parts as the nurse walks toward me cradling this precious new life all wrapped up in a hospital blanket. The nurse gently places my baby girl in my arms. I look at her face for the first time, and she smiles at me with knowing eyes and a full set of teeth. And then I woke up.
Pregnancy dreams are weird. I will spare you (and myself) by not disclosing any more of them. But try to keep that nightmarish newborn image in your mind as you read what James says in his letter to the Jewish Christians about the birth of sin:
“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
What an interesting, and completely creepy picture James paints by giving human-like characteristics to evil. Desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin. But certainly anyone who has seen an inflated woman waddling around the grocery store in her 39th week knows that something significant happens in between conception and birth.
The first, second, and third trimester of this desire are essential to its growth and development. And as I look at sin patterns in my own life, I can confidently say that when desire has conceived, it hangs out in my mind for a while, occupies space, and grows as I nourish it. This sin baby gets a heartbeat at some point in my thoughts, and then if I allow it to fully develop there, it is born. And it’s not pretty.
Paul understood how crucial this pregnancy stage is, and that is why he addresses thought life in his final exhortation to the Philippians in Chapter 4, verse 8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
In other words, do not nourish sinful desires in your mind- starve them! When our mind is full of true, noble, right, pure, and lovely things, that sin baby never even has a chance at a heartbeat.
Are you ready for some Sin Embryology 101?
Stage 1: Desire conceives. The Greek word for desire here is Epithumia, meaning “craving, longing, lust”. Example: Several years ago I desired to have a perfect body. Deep down in my heart, I craved glory for myself instead of glory for my Savior.
Stage 2: Pregnancy in the mind. This is where our desire is nourished. Example: thinking constantly about what I should or shouldn’t be eating, comparing myself physically to other girls, comparing myself to magazine photos, spending excessive time in front of a mirror, etc.
Stage 3: Sin is born. The greek word here is tikto, meaning “to bring forth, bear, produce.” Example: As a result of my thought life, I produced a nice concoction of selfishness, pride, vanity, guilt, anxiety, deceit, jealousy, and gluttony.
After years of struggling with this sin, I was finally able to overcome it as I surrendered a heart that desired accolades and exchanged it for a heart that sought the glory of Christ alone. And as I starved my thoughts in this area (no magazines, TV, gym, counting calories, scales, full length mirrors), that sin child that I had nurtured ceased to exist.
I love that Paul does NOT say to the Philippians “Don’t think about bad things” or “empty your minds”, but he goes farther and encourages them to be proactive by thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy… to create an environment where sin cannot possibly thrive.
In Colossians chapter 3, Paul gives a similar exhortation to the church there, only he sums it up into fewer words: “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (vs 2). And then I LOVE that Paul tells them why: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with him in glory.” (vs 3-4)
If I would have understood and believed these words as an 16 year old, my struggle with sin would have looked so very different. If I would have understood that I was dead – I would not have required the praise of man. If I would have understood what it meant to be concealed by Christ, I would not have needed value beyond that. And if I would have understood that one day I would appear with him in glory, I would have recognized the complete insignificance of the numbers on the scale.
And this is why Paul had a mind that was set on things above, and on Christ Jesus - Paul understood that he was a dead man walking (he had laid down his rights), and he understood that regardless of any circumstances, his life was hidden with Christ. And although almost everything in his future may have been unpredictable, he knew one thing was absolutely certain – and that is that one day he would appear with Jesus Christ in glory! And he chose to desire that which is certain.
Listen to how, earlier in Philippians, Paul describes his struggle between wanting to die and be with Christ, or remain in the flesh: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;” Did you know that the word for desire, epithumia, in that passage is the same word that James uses to talk about the development of sin? What a contrast! Imagine what is birthed as we nourish our desire to be with Christ!
We can feed our desire for Christ by filling our minds with Philippians 4:8 kinds of things - by spending time in God’s word, marveling at His creation (hippie alert), taking opportunities to fellowship with other believers, listening to His Spirit, spending time in prayer, etc. Here is one practical example of what this has looked like for me:
A couple of years ago I was repetitively reading Psalm 19:1 to my children at breakfast time. It says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands”. I chose this particular verse because it is so simple, but it ended up having a profound effect on my thought life. As I began to meditate on those words daily, and let them sink down deep into my heart and mind, I began to look at the sky differently.
The sunrise proclaimed his mercies that are new every morning, the thunderclouds and lightning displayed his power, and rainbows reminded me that He is faithful to keep his promises. The rain declared his trustworthy provision and goodness, and the variation of clouds his creativity. The sunset proclaimed his beauty, and the night sky his infinity.
I rarely look at the sky now without thinking about Him. And as a result, the thought of His character leads me in my pursuit of holiness, bringing forth life.
What does your heart truly desire- glory for yourself, or glory for Christ? What kind of desires are you choosing to nourish - those that bring forth death, or those that produce life? Is your mind set on things above, or is it occupied thinking about earthly things? Let me encourage you to take practical steps today to think on those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy...because you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ, and one day you will appear with him in glory!
Lindsey Newcomer spends most of her time managing the Newcomer household, which she falls more in love with every day. She’s a typical housewife with a few exceptions – she doesn’t exercise, iron, or drink coffee. She can count on one hand the number of things she takes seriously – foosball and her daily 8pm bowl of Cheerios probably make the cut… but the weight of her sin, and the depth of love that Jesus Christ poured out through the cross sober her like nothing else. She loves how these verses from Hosea sum up God’s relationship with her: “And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”