Jesus warns us that evil thoughts are akin to evil deeds. Lust in the heart is near to adultery, inappropriate anger is akin to murder. But good thoughts that do not result in good deeds are worthless; we should love not just in word but in deed. So why are evil thoughts that don’t result in deeds a problem, but good thoughts that don’t result in deeds not a benefit?
@Narphi Thank you for your very thought provoking question. I think there is a fairly simply answer - the Scripture is not asymmetrical about the thought life - God judges the heart . The issue is this - what is the intent of your heart? Do you really love God and love others? To love God is to keep His commandments and to love others is to put them before ourselves.
I Corinthians 13:4-6 - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
- not doing what you know you should shows that you are putting yourself before God and others - the intentions of your heart are not truly good. If they were, you would act on them.
- dwelling on evil thoughts shows that the intent of your heart is evil and that you delight in evil. If you were given the chance to do evil without consequences, it is probable you would do so because you delight in it.
So the issue has to do with our intentions and what we delight in. Both our thoughts and actions reveal our intentions and what we delight in. To love God is to delight in Him and to set our heart on doing what is righteous, just, pure and true.
Not Doing What is Good
Love is action. To truly love God is to obey Him. To truly love others is to help the orphan and the widow - to clothe the naked - to visit the sick in prison.
James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 4:17 - If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Isaiah 58:6-10 - Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
I Samuel 15:22-24 - Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed [is better] than the fat of rams.
John 14:21 - Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.
Dwelling on Evil Thoughts
Below I will distinguish between having evil thoughts / being tempted and dwelling on them. But here my point is simply that when you look at a woman with the intent of lusting, that shows that your purpose - the direction of your life - is wrong. You are seeking to do evil and you would if you were given the opportunity.
The issue here is that your intentions are evil - not whether or not you act on them. God judges the intent of the heart.
Matthew 5:28 - But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Psalms 36:4 - Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.
Having Evil Thoughts Versus Dwelling On Them
There is an old preacher illustration about each thought we have being like an airplane and our mind like an airport. Now, when we have an evil thought, we can choose to force it to fly somewhere else or we can let it land in our mind.
If we let evil thoughts land in the airport of our mind, that is wrong. If we do our best to take every thought captive and force those evil thoughts to fly on by - then we are attempting to renew our mind.
We all have sinful thoughts because our sinful nature will not be gone until Heaven (we are set free from the power of sin and penalty of sin, but not yet the presence of sin) - but the question is - what do we do with them? Do we let them land or do we make them fly on by?
2 Corinthians 10:5 - We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Renewing the Mind
As Christians, we should seek to renew our mind and think only on those things that are good and true and beautiful. At first, this may be very hard if we have been living in sin. Our mind tends to replay what we have spent a lot of time watching or dwelling on. So this process can take months or years - but as we meditate on what is good we will find our mind does not so easily drift to what is evil.
Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Do you have any further questions? I hope those thoughts are helpful. May the Spirit of Christ grant you wisdom in this matter.
How to I keep out evil thoughts?