Instant death for sins?

It might come as a surprise to some, but there are those who believe that at some point in time or because of some particular sin, one will instantly die. Due to a misunderstanding of scripture at a young age, I once thought this too.
The scripture I misunderstood was James 1:14-15 which is as follows:

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

What I believed from this scripture as a youth was that at some point you sinned all the sins that God would permit you. Finally when you sinned that last time, you simply died.

What does James 1:14-15 actually mean? It's easy to understand as soon as you know the verse is refering to a spiritual death. That spiritual death occurs EVERY time one sins just as James describes. That process is as follows:

  1. A human is tempted to sin when he is enticed by his lusts
  2. The desire is conceived, or born, in your mind if you allow it to continue
  3. Sin occurs when you think this evil or even carry it out
  4. When you sin you die spiritually

For clarification let me say that point three is correct. Even if you don't commit a sin physically, you can still sin in your thoughts. An example is Mat 5:28 where Jesus says,


"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

This should show us that not allowing our desires to control our thoughts is very important.

Not only could a misunderstanding of this verse in James cause one to believe in instant death because of sin, but accounts in the Old Testament and even some accounts from early in the New Testament could cause some to believe this as well. For instance in Acts 5 we read of Ananias.


Acts 5:5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.

Then later in the chapter we read of Sapphira.

Acts 5:10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

There is no doubt in this account that Ananias and Sapphira sinned. Because of that very sin God "struck them dead". Also in the Old Testament one of many examples is Nadab and Abihu.

Lev 10:1-2 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

Although there is no doubt that in times past, God acted directly on humans, he no longer does this. We find in 1 Cor 13 that the days of direct and miraculous interaction have ceased.


1 Cor 13:8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
1 Cor 13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
1 Cor 13:10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

These verses explain that in times past there were tongues, prophecies, miraculous knowledge and several other spiritual gifts. All of these were used in revealing the completed, or perfect, word of God. When that word, or the Bible, was completely revealed, these gifts that were "only in part" were done away with. In a like manner, many of the other direct interactions of God were done away with.

Verses like the following show us how life really is:

Mat 5:45 "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

We just have to accept that no matter how evil someone is, they are going to live on this earth just like the rest of us. The rain and sun are going to come to them just like the rest of us. They'll have earthly pleasures just like the rest of us. However, they will answer for their evil in the day of judgement.

I hope that this article helps the reader better understand the falseness in the belief of "instant death because of sins". I know I would have had a few less worries in my youth had I understood this topic sooner.