If I happen to see a scantily clad lady while walking along the street, have I sinned and lusted because I took notice of her in my mind?
This was one of the questions my cell members asked a few weeks ago: Where do my spontaneous thoughts originate from? Will God hold me accountable for such thoughts – especially if they’re not wholesome?
“Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.” (Psalm 139:4)
So I’ve been thinking a lot about this. The psalmist tells us that God is omniscient and already knows all our thoughts; so if the Lord already knows my thoughts before I have them, surely He would not hold them against me as sin if I did not act upon them, right?
And if God already knew I would have such thoughts, why did He let me have them?
Some of my friends offered a very reasonable analogy: They likened thoughts to a group of birds flying above.
There are many reasons why the group of birds might come and fly around my head. Similarly, the thoughts in my head can be explained as coming from one of three sources: God, the evil one and myself.
I don’t believe thoughts are inherently sinful. But because I am fallen (Romans 3:23) and am prone to sin and sinning – such thoughts can birth sin (James 1:15).
And so, because we are prone to think of sinful things, the Bible counsels how our thought-life should be like instead: To think of whatever is true, noble, right, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
… the thoughts in my head can be explained as coming from one of three sources: God, the evil one and myself.
I know that I am definitely held accountable for my calculated thoughts.
After all, Jesus reminds us that if we think lustful thoughts, we have already committed adultery (Matthew 5:28). Therefore it’s the second look at the scantily clad lady or the attractive man on the street that matters.
Now as to whether spontaneous thought is sinful, perhaps I shouldn’t be focusing so much on their nature – but on how I am responding to them, especially the ones that aren’t wholesome.
Entertaining unwholesome thoughts is akin to allowing the birds flying around my head to land and make themselves comfortable.
And that’s dangerous! When we allow spontaneous thoughts to nest in our head, they eventually breed intentional thoughts that we will be held accountable for. And each time we entertain such unholy thoughts, we only allow the nest in my head to grow larger.
We’ve probably heard it before: “Just wave the birds or thoughts away!” But the truth is, they don’t always just go away. Well, they may for the moment, but sometimes they return.
We can’t just repress thoughts. We need healthy coping mechanisms. The apostle Paul certainly understood how: By taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
… it’s the second look at the scantily clad lady or the attractive man on the street that matters.
In taking captive every thought, we choose to bring it under the reins of Christ. In doing so, a sinful thought may be snuffed out in time, preventing one’s mind from being set aflame with hellfire.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:2-5)
So let us humbly look to God to help us lead a pure thought-life. He is our only hope for holiness in this area.