Have you ever been scared of your own sin? I’m talking “heart skips a beat, shame fills your head, despair in your stomach” kind of scared. A sinful thought that appears to come out of no man’s land enters your mind, breaks your weak heart, and off you go into a spiral of doubt.
“I’m a Christian, how could I even think of something like that?!”
“What if I’m not saved?”
“What if I do that?!”
I can’t tell you how many times this has been my life story. Pain has gripped my heart when I’ve been confronted with the evil of which I’m capable. And there I sit, wallowing in the guilt of one single thought that wasn’t even pondered. Most of the time, it isn’t even something I’ve ever wanted. But the fact that it came into my mind consumes me from morning until night. A constant nagging in my ear…”I’m disgusting!”
Can we all just take a moment and raise our hands and say, “I think wicked thoughts.” If you didn’t hypothetically raise your hand, I think you might be lying to yourself. We all have sinful things pop into our minds. No one is exempt from being a sinner.
So, where do they emerge from?
Every single person has been shaped by their past in one way or another. Things we’ve seen, heard, and experienced create pathways in our minds. Some of us have ventured down dark roads of sin, and we may deal with the consequences of the places we’ve been by the thoughts that come into our minds. Some of us may have been sexually abused which, unfortunately, affects the pathways of our minds, leaving us to deal with the consequences of the sin of others.
And all of us have desperately wicked hearts that naturally produce all kinds of wicked thoughts. Whether it’s envy, lust, or hatred, we are all tempted by something.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19 ESV)
So, what do you do when these thoughts arise? First of all, I want to state very clearly that a tempting thought is not sin. Jesus was tempted. Since we know he never sinned, we can be sure that temptation itself is not sin. An evil thought is a temptation and it’s what we do with it that makes all the difference. There are two common incorrect responses to our bad thoughts.
Giving in to Sin
Let’s say you work in an office. One day, a guy stops by your desk to chat. After he walks away, a tempting thought enters your mind. You give right in and play the whole scenario out in your mind, allowing those thoughts grow and run wild.
By doing so, you have sinned against God and have committed adultery in your mind. We know this from Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-28.
Giving in to Morbid Introspection
Okay, same scenario. Your coworker walks away and the thought arises. You think to yourself. “I’m so horrible! How could I ever think such a thing?!”
At first glance, this is a valid response. We should be appalled by evil. But if you are a Christian, this is not a place you should stay.
While the first reaction spirals you into sin, this one sends you into a down spiral of depression and morbid introspection. This in turn, causes you to keep thinking about the thought. A cycle that can go on for weeks.
You may think you’re earning your way back to God by punishing yourself, but really you are dimming the light of God’s amazing grace. In doing this, you are telling the story that Jesus’s blood can’t cover the sins of a wretch like you. Oh, the blasphemy!
Are you so far beyond the saving work of Christ? By no means! If you are his, he has already bore your sin on the tree. There is no more condemnation; no more wrath left for you! (Romans 8:1)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)
Oh, that you’d take hold of the grace he offers you!
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)
Morbid introspection is typically my response when evil thoughts come.
One day, after such an instance, I was asking a friend for counsel. She spoke these words right to my soul, “So you think you should be exempt from temptation now?” That struck me, because the answer was yes.
Somehow, I had begun to believe that I should be further along than I am. Do you see the pride there? Until we reach heaven, we will be tempted. Sin still resides in our hearts, at war with our new self (Galatians 5:17).
While we cannot hide from temptation, we can resist it by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:19-20 ESV)
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV)
The correct response to any evil thought is to grab it and replace it with God’s truth. It’s saying “no” and then choosing to think on the truth from God’s Word that combats it.
Yes, we are sinners down to our core. We need saving. We need redemption. And we desperately need forgiveness.
Thankfully, Jesus came to save sinners like you and me. That’s good news, friends! I know you’ve probably heard it a million times but this is what you need to remind yourself when you’re consumed with the evil in your heart: the Gospel.
It’s the only sufficient answer to all you face. The only answer powerful enough to crush temptation.
Because of Christ, we no longer have to give into sin or wallow in the guilt of it. May we draw near to his throne of grace and cling to his feet.