Is temptation a sin?

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Aaron Blumer's picture


Probably what would help when exploring a topic like this is to define terms very carefully and in a biblical way. In this case (and with the preceding post on homosexual "orientation") it helps to distinguish involuntary desire and willfully chosen or nurtured desire and also physical desire from evil affections (e.g., the attraction we feel toward something wrong just because it's wrong).

Does the Bible do this? Yes. Jesus is the example. In the temptation of Christ (surely not the only temptations He experienced by the way), Satan appealed to some desires that are built in to being human. Desires that are not inherently evil in themselves. Satan appears to have also attempted to appeal to some evil desires Jesus simply did not have (suggesting Satan did not/does not fully understand the incarnation).

I've written about this at some length before, though I'm not sure where.

Anyway, in Scripture it's always the choices we make (though not always consciously) that are sin. The underlying desires may be "sinful" in the sense that yielding to them would be a sinful act. But they are not sins.

Neither the temptation (or desire) to commit adultery/fornication or the temptation/desire to commit a homosexual act are sins in themselves, because they are not acts. They are not choices.

Though temptation and desire are not exactly the same thing, they are both distinct from committing sins.

There are actually no Scriptures that identify a desire itself (much less an "orientation") as sin. The example Burk uses in his first post does not actually teach what he takes it to teach.

Mathew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

The word that Jesus uses for “lust” is the exact same term used in the tenth commandment’s prohibition on coveting: “You shall not desire/covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21 LXX).  Thus both Jesus and the tenth commandment censure not merely adulterous behavior but also the desire that precedes the behavior. The locus of such desire is the “heart.” As Jesus confirms elsewhere, adultery and every other kind of sexual immorality proceed from the heart (Mark 7:21).

First, it's clear that Jesus has an act in mind. He is speaking of a choice. Attraction to a good looking woman is not what He's talking about. He says "everyone who looks ... to lust." Why did Jesus couple the act with looking if all He had in mind was desire? There is more than desire going on. There is indulgence. This occurs when we choose to feed a desire, to give it what it wants. It is not the desire itself.

Second, it's interesting that he makes an argument from the word Jesus uses for "lust" in Matt. 5. The word is ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeo). It is also the same word that appears in these passages:

  • Of food in Luke 16:21
  • Of Jesus' desire to eat the Passover with His disciples Luke 22:15
  • Of the desires of the Holy Spirit in Gal. 5:17
  • Of the desire to be an overseer in 1 Tim. 3:1

In short, there is no point to be made from the word being used. It refers as often--if not more often--in reference to innocent desires as in reference to desires that would be sinful to indulge. Nor does the word distinguish an involuntary desire from one we have willfully inflamed. Even in the latter case, by definition, the desire is not the sin. Feeding it was a sinful act and indulging it would be a sinful act. But what leads to A is distinct from A.

Burk's argument confuses categories throughout.