Thoughts on desire, sin, affairs and being deceived...

by Michael Sytsma, PhD, LPC, CST, CSAS, CPCS

Some thoughts on desire, sin, affairs and being deceived while reading the book of James...

About 70% of my therapy load involves post-affair couples. One, or both, of the spouses have had an affair and they are in my office, at least in part, to restore their marriage. As a result, I have heard hundreds of stories of how affairs develop. The more I hear, the more James 1:14-16 becomes real to me.

14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (NKJV)


One of the first things I typically hear is the offended spouse (the one who didn’t have the affair) demanding to know “why” - why would you choose to have an affair? The simple answer is always that the one who had the affair chose sin (Exodus 20:14). The one who had the affair will often blame many things and people (especially the offended spouse) but the bottom line is they were caught in their own trap. They failed to acknowledge the true power of sin in their life.

My teenager has been frustrated by the internet filtering software in our home. One time he charged me as unfair in keeping it in place with the phrase “you don’t trust me”. 

“Not so.” I replied. “I trust you. I don’t trust sin. It is older, wiser and more powerful than you. It will entice and ensnare you before you realize it is stalking you.” If we don’t act proactively, we will fall.
  While this article focuses on affairs, the same could be said for other sexual sins.

Often we believe the problem is outside of us. We believe someone else is enticing us – be that our Enemy or the seductive or romantic object of our fantasy. The reality James drives home, is the enemy is sin and, like a parasitic alien, it is within us.

James says I am tempted when I am “dragged away” (literal translation) by my desire or lust (epithumia). While I have heard many preachers rant on the (legitimate) danger of lust, not all lust is bad (cf: Luke 22:15; Php 1:23; 1 Thess 2:17). Most of the people I counsel in affairs started out desiring something good. They wanted to feel cherished, adored, listened to, valued, appreciated, etc. All appropriate desires when found within God’s boundaries.

James identifies the problem in the next phrase “and enticed”. Vines’ says the word “enticed” (deleazo) originally meant “to catch by a bait”. Just as bait is often the real thing (a real minnow that could satisfy a fish’s hunger), I might find the adoration I crave in someone’s attentive eyes. The problem for both the fish and me is the hook.

“Then, after desire has conceived,” James says. In this context, sullambano means “conceived”, but the word also means “seized or taken as a prisoner”.

In an affiair, the individual appropriately desired to be adored, but the sinful nature of their heart (Jeremiah 17:7) drew them away by a false promise. We buy the lie that this bait would truly satisfy. Now, my own desire has me trapped like a fish on a hook.

The outcome, or fruit, of this is that I sin. I have “missed the mark” (one phrase scripture uses for "sin") God gave me. I am commanded to be faithful to my spouse. I am now on the hook for fulfilling my desires outside my marriage and I am prisoner to the conceived sin.

“If my spouse would have just fulfilled my desires, I wouldn’t have been tempted” is a variation of a common phrase in my office. While a full fish is not as likely to snap at bait, fishermen have shown that a fish doesn’t need to be “hungry” to take the bait. Instinct will cause them to strike. Similarly, I do see affairs in good marriages. While imperfection in their marriage might have made it easier to be enticed, the problem is always that they chose sin.

Just as the bait looked good to the fish, the sin looked good to our desire. But sin lies to us. Sin is a harlot that always dolls itself up to look better than it is. I seriously doubt Eve would have considered eating of the proverbial apple if she knew the cost it would have had to every generation of her children. But the Enemy lied to her. He told her it would make her more like God. She was created for this – to be in God’s image. Here was something that would help. Looking “desirable” to her (Genesis 3:6) she took the bait and death has been the cost for every generation. An enormous cost for something that looked “desirable”.

Similarly, affairs often start out looking good. But once the bait is set and we are pulled into sin, death always occurs. There is a death to trust, confidence, safety, vision, hope, belief, friendships, witness, integrity, etc. And if there isn’t help, it may even mean the death of a marriage and intact family.

All because we were deceived into believing our desires could be met outside God’s boundaries.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” James continues. “Every good and perfect gift comes from God.” God provides for our desires without a hook. He doesn’t bait us in.

Acknowledge your desires. They are real, and often holy. Now, respect the beauty and craft of sin. It is well camouflaged and powerful. Don’t be deceived by it. It is better to go hungry while you pursue His provision than to be caught by the bait of sin that leads to death and destruction.

Can you build a fire in your lap and not burn your pants? Can you walk barefoot on hot coals and not get blisters? It’s the same when you have sex with your neighbor’s wife:    Touch her and you’ll pay for it.    No excuses.
Hunger is no excuse for a thief to steal;When he’s caught he has to pay it back,    even if he has to put his whole house in hock.
Adultery is a brainless act,    soul-destroying, self-destructive; Expect a bloody nose, a black eye, and a reputation ruined for good.
~ Proverbs 6:27-34 (The Message)