"What's the difference between temptation and sin? And, can thoughts be sins?" -- My response

David,  In bible study this last week we were talking about anger - study in James on the tongue.  One of the ladies said she only had a problem with anger in her mind, her thoughts.  There was a discussion on "sinning" by thinking.  In the same book where it talks about temptation - let no man say when he is tempted he is tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.  but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death.   having said this,  my thoughts were that temptation is/can be the thoughts of sin, however the actual sin is the action or behavior or the carrying out of the thought (temptation).  So I said let me encourage you - if you only thought of acting in anger but chose not to then you did not sin ( i was clearly in the minority of this view)  If thoughts are sin - what is the difference between temptation and sin? obviously most of the women in the bible study disagreed with me  citing Jesus teaching in Matthew about if a man looks on a woman with lust in his heart he has sinned. What are your thoughts?



That's a great question.

Temptation is the enticement to do wrong. One could translate the same Greek term as “seduce” or “entice.” It’s when a person or an evil force suggests that a person sin.

Yet, defining “sin” is a big issue. In a generalized sense, “to sin” means “to do wrong, offend, to be in error.” Based on every instance of the term in the Bible, it sure seems to me that sinning is only a behavior.

Therefore, I do not think thinking can be a sin. I concur with you. This is certainly true with anger. Controlling our anger is a very righteous thing to do! It’s why we’re supposed to “control our tongue.” Anger is a feeling. (I just preached on this topic: http://fcclawrence.org/resources/sermons/ )

Matthew 5:28 might suggest that a person’s “strong desire for” (which is typically translated, “lust”) is a sin. But, it doesn’t specify if that “strong desire for” is an action (remember, Jesus says when a “person looks upon” – “looking upon” is an action!), a thought, a feeling, or something else. However, even if it does refer to a thought, it’s the only place in the Bible that I can find that suggests one particular thought is a sin. So, it wouldn’t apply to all thoughts at all times as being open to sinning. In any case, I don’t think Jesus really meant that to be understood as a thought equals sin. I’m convinced that Jesus was being hyperbolic. I don’t think Jesus really thought that if a person had a strong desire for someone it really meant the person had an affair. Instead, I think Jesus’s point is that affairs begin within a person’s desire for someone else. Instead of just being on guard for actually having an affair, each person should be on guard about wanting to have an affair in the first place.

My interpretation might be wrong, but I don’t think so.

Those are my thoughts!