Is it still considered a sin if one only thinks about committing a sin but does not go ahead with the sin?
Sins can be committed both in our minds and by our actions. God tells us in the gospel of Matthew that we can sin in our minds: for example by being angry with someone.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ‘ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court . . .” Matthew 5:21-22 (NASB)
Here Jesus said a person can commit the sin of murder both by action and by becoming angry. For the anger motivates the action. God restates this principle in a different way in the following passage,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28 (NASB)
This is an illustration most young people and adults understand. A male sees a female and starts thinking about her because he is sexually attracted to her. Or, a female may begin thinking sexual thoughts about a male. The Greek word for “looks” in verse 28 is a present participle in the Greek language. That means the person continues thinking sexually or lusting about the person of the opposite sex. The message of Jesus is that sin does not occur if we look, are sexually attracted, and then stop thinking about the person. That is not sin. But if we look and continue thinking lustful thoughts about the person, then we sin in our minds or hearts. That is, a thought or an emotion occurs and if we do not control our thoughts, it results in an adultery. That is the message of Jesus. Both passages are great illustrations of how sin occurs.
James 1:14-15 gives us the principle. It states that sin does not occur until we decide to give in to our internal feelings.
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. James 1:14-15 (NASB)
It is not a sin to be quickly angry. It is not a sin to be sexually attracted to someone. It is not a sin to think that a man is handsome or has great character, and that he might be a very romantic husband. It is not a sin to be physically attracted to a woman. But if a married man or woman goes farther and starts dreaming about having sex, being kissed, or having sex with someone other than his or her spouse, then he or she has sinned.
James reveals that sin does not occur when the emotion, thought, or passion first comes. But if those thoughts are not resisted, then sin occurs when we give in to the emotion, thought, or passion by dwelling on it. That is Jesus’ message in the following verse.
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. Matthew 15:18-19 (NASB)
So, how should we respond to temptations to sin? God gave Cain the answer in Genesis 4:7. He said, “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” That is, sin wants to force us to do what it wants. Sin is a desire that wants us to yield to it. So, what will you do?
Therefore, a person sins by dwelling on something that God has told us to avoid. When we sin on the outside or outwardly, we demonstrate to God, to others, and to ourselves that we have already sinned on the inside. God has asked us to resist the temptation to sin by fleeing from it. We are not supposed to see how close we can come without sinning. Fleeing starts with avoiding thoughts about the sin.
Flee immorality . . . 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NASB)
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14 (NASB)
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:10-11 (NASB)
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:22 (NASB)
God has called us to be holy even as He is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). Therefore, be holy!
Suggested Links:Searching For God
Anger in the Heart
Adultery in the Heart
What does “sin is crouching at the door” mean? — Genesis 4:7