Guard Your Thought Life
The road to sin starts in your mind
Doug Britton, MFT
A few years after becoming a Christian, I thought it would be harmless to daydream about certain sins, since I was sure I never would engage in the actual sins. That was a mistake, for the temptations grew and gained strongholds in my mind. By God’s grace, I didn’t engage in those sins, but I had to fight to regain a pure thought life.
Note: This Bible study is adapted from the book Defeating Temptation: Biblical Secrets to Self-Control.
It is dangerous to “entertain” sinful thoughts
The road to sin begins in your thought life.
When you commit a sin, it never “just happens.” Sinful acts begin as attitudes or temptations in your mind and emotions.
For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)
Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (James 4:1)
We should try to act properly, but it’s even more important to deal with our thoughts and emotions, since they are the source of our sinful actions.
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:26)
Don’t fantasize about sin, thinking that your thoughts are harmless. When you cherish sin in your heart, you put a wedge between yourself and God.
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. (Psalm 66:18)
You can become ensnared by sinful thoughts.
You can become spiritually crippled if you continuously think about committing a sin, even if you never commit that particular sinful act. If you allow yourself to daydream about divorcing your spouse, seeing a prostitute or committing any other sin, this thought pattern can become a habit that is hard to break. The thoughts become compulsive and can continue for years, robbing you of the joy that comes from a clean conscience.
If this has happened to you, don’t despair. Read on and learn how God can help you escape.
Impure thoughts are not sin — They become sin when we entertain them.
Everybody has impure thoughts of one type or another. That’s part of being human. Having an impure thought come into your mind is not a sin by itself; choosing to entertain the thought is a sin.
A good guideline is not to allow yourself to consider or dwell on anything God would not want you to do. Don’t allow yourself to think about sinning or ways you could go about sinning.
Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Romans 13:14)
Ask God to search your heart
We aren’t always aware of what we are thinking about. In fact, it’s possible to go through the day unaware that we are entertaining tempting thoughts. Take a few minutes to ask God to reveal any areas in your thought life that need to change.
An upright man gives thought to his ways. (Proverbs 21:29)
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise. (Ephesians 5:15)
The highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life. (Proverbs 16:17)
Related: Stop, think, pray when tempted
Analyze why you are tempted
Ask God to help you figure out what’s underneath your temptations. For example:
- You may feel like getting drunk because you feel depressed or hopeless.
- You may flirt or engage in sexual conquests because you are insecure or feel unloved and want to feel desirable or important.
- You may sin in various ways because of peer pressure.
- You may shop (and spend money you shouldn’t) when you feel depressed or sorry for yourself.
- You may give in to advertising lies that encourage you to buy thing you don’t need and can’t afford.
Once you identify what motivates you to sin, pray about the underlying reason. For example, if you feel unloved, pray to enjoy God’s love instead of looking for a cheap substitute.
Related: Make a plan to develop self-control
Reject sinful thoughts
Learn to identify and reject unwholesome thoughts.
Don’t allow yourself to fantasize about sin.
Don’t continually brood about how someone irritates you, fueling your anger toward him or her.
Related: Guard your heart when helping others
Repent of “pleasant” sinful memories.
Some people think about early sinful sexual experiences or other sins with fondness or nostalgia. If you do this, ask for God’s forgiveness for the original sins and for enjoying their memory. Confess your early actions as sins and ask God to cleanse and purify your memories.
Do not fantasize about sexual sin and masturbate.
Masturbation is not forbidden in the Scriptures. However, the thoughts that often accompany it are. Looking at pornography or entertaining immoral fantasies pollutes your mind. Ask God to help you break free from entertaining sinful fantasies.
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
Sometimes people have orgasms in their sleep. If that happens, don’t feel guilty or condemned. However, if you have sexually immoral dreams, ask God to replace them with pure dreams.
Think about positive things
Do you think you can’t control your thoughts? If so, you are not alone. Many people think thoughts are like rain—there’s not much we can do about them. But that’s not true.
You can discipline your mind and decide what to think about. Make it a habit to think about things that are pure and true.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5)
Finally, brothers, 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. (Philippians 4:8)
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (Hebrews 3:1)
Pray to choose wholesome thoughts.
Ask for forgiveness if you sin. (Don’t give up.)
It’s inevitable that you and I will sin from time to time. The Bible tells us to aim for perfection (2 Corinthians 13:11). However, we all come short, and God’s word encourages us not to give up. When we ask the Lord to forgive us, he does.
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. (James 3:2)
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 1:8-2:1)
Related: Bible studies on knowing who you are in Christ
Do you allow yourself to entertain impure thoughts? If so, write a prayer asking for God’s forgiveness. Also ask him to help you resist and reject these thoughts.
More Bible Studies
About Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.