The Theology of Everyday Life: Sinning in Your Heart, Part 3, "Temptation"

Continuing on from the last few posts...

The trouble with this idea of "sinning in your heart" is that Christians also have a robust notion of temptation. Specifically, Christians believe you can be tempted but not sin. We get this conception from our Christology. That is, Jesus was tempted but did not sin:

Hebrews 4:15
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin."

So, apparently you can be tempted to the utmost and still not sin in your heart. As a psychologist I have to wonder what this looks like. Some questions for reflection:

Is a "tempting thought" different from a "sinful thought" quantitatively or qualitatively?

That is, is a "sinful thought" just a "tempting thought" but to the Nth degree? If so, when is the line crossed?

Or, is a "sinful thought" a wholly different kind of thought than a "temptation"? If so, how?

Again, rather than answering these kinds of questions, I much prefer the Jewish notion of moral psychology (see prior two posts). That is, if you look at the two prototypical temptation scenes in the Bible--Eve & serpent and Jesus in wilderness--Eve and Jesus are tempted to "do something." That is, the temptation is to ACT a certian way, implying that the "sin" would be to ACT UPON THE TEMPTATION. Eve acts and sins, Jesus does not and is blameless. It appears, in these cases, that it is the CHOICE of Eve and Jesus that has moral status, not the mental realm where the temptations play out.

But, to return to the issue, if you can sin in your thoughts how does a person distinguish between a temptation and sin? Can a tempting thought lead to a sinful thought? One kind of thought (temptation) leading to another kind of thought (a sin in the heart)? And when is that line crossed?

Or maybe the issue is not having the thought but what we do with the thought, mentally speaking, that matters...

More on that idea tomorrow.

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