Question:

Hi

I was reading some of the questions that many have posted and one of them caught my attention. In it you said that being tempted is not a sin. Many of the things we do that are wrong start in in the mind, right? So when do the thoughts themselves become a sin? How do you tell temptation from sin in the mental realm? Actions are pretty good for me to tell but thoughts not so much. Any advice would be helpful thanks. Also if I am not clear enough in any way let me know.


Answer:

First, let me prove my point:

  • Jesus was without sin. "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin" (I John 3:5).
  • Jesus was tempted. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
  • Therefore, being tempted is not sinful.

James details the process of sin in this fashion: "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" (James 1:14-15). The steps are:

  1. Desires: Each of us is born with a normal, natural set of desires. The physical desires are the consequence of the operation of our bodies. We also have spiritual desires, such as not wanting to be alone, wanting to be liked by others, or wanting something pretty.
  2. Temptation: Satan tries to place us in situations where it appears that the satisfaction of a desire will require the breaking of a law of God. Temptation is the forcing of a choice to be made: either to break a law of God and satisfy a desire or to forego satisfaction in order to keep God's law.
  3. Lust (desire conceived): When a person mentally consents that breaking a law of God is worth satisfying the desire, then the person has moved into the realm of lust. This is when the person justifies to himself that breaking God's law can be excused, at least in some situations.
  4. Sin: This is when a person seizes an opportunity and actually breaks God's law.
  5. Licentiousness (sin full-grown): Sin is rarely done just once. The excuses to sin come fast, such as "I've done it once, doing it again isn't going to make much difference." Eventually the person becomes calloused to sin and no longer feels guilty about what he is doing. He doesn't care what other people think. He may even convince himself that he has the right to sin. (Licentiousness means thinking you have a license to sin.)
  6. Death: A person fully convinced that he ought to sin and doesn't care what even God thinks about his actions won't be persuaded out of his sin. Since he won't leave his sin, he will die in his sin.

As an example, hunger is a desire -- it is neither right nor wrong. Temptation is when you are in the convenience store and see a candy bar, but realize you don't have enough money to pay for it. Lust is when you tell yourself that the store can afford to lose some items and that they are expecting some loss, or telling yourself that you could pocket it now and pay for it later and you accept that these are adequate justification to steal. Sin is when you walk out with the candy bar without paying for it. Licentiousness is when you think it is fun to take things off the shelf even though you have adequate money to pay for it. And from there it is a short step to spiritual death.