What Is the Difference between Temptation and Sinful Thoughts?

Serving Jesus
2 min readJan 15, 2024

To discern between sinful thoughts and temptation, it helps to understand that temptation itself is simply an offer of sin. When we are tempted, we face a choice between right and wrong.

When we are tempted and feel drawn to sin, it begins leading on a path toward sin in our actions, and we must guard our hearts in order to keep ourselves from continuing on that path. This is described in James 1:14–15: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Since Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), He must have immediately rejected all offers of sin. He would not have even considered sinning, but rather was firm in His resolve and immediately resisted sin by standing on the truth of God’s Word (Matthew 4:10).

While it can be difficult to discern between temptation and sinful thoughts, the important thing is to take every thought “captive,” as the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Past sinful habits can still present themselves in our thoughts, and our immediate responses, whether in thoughts, words, or actions may not be honoring to God, and it takes conscious effort to undo the effects of our past ways of thinking.

For those that used to have a habit of speaking profanity, it may come out as an instant reaction. Immediate reactions are different from being tempted (facing a choice) to use profane language.

Another example is sinful attraction or lust. While the first thought of temptation is not an act of sin, tolerating it is sinful. Consciously choosing to dwell on sinful thoughts is the same as acting on temptation in actions (Matthew 5:27–28).

There is a saying, “You cannot prevent the birds from flying in the air over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”

It’s more difficult to conquer subconscious thoughts, because our minds can wander without us realizing what we’re thinking about, but we need to guard our hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23) and break the habits. To do that, we need to prepare ahead of time by intentionally rejecting whatever it is we’ve been thinking about, and replacing it with right thoughts. That way, when we’ve prepared ourselves to recognize and reject sinful thoughts, it’s easier to catch ourselves in the moment if our minds start to go off-track.

The brain is designed to remember habits, and it can take time to undo unwanted habits, but it can be done with intentional effort in replacing wrong thoughts with ones that are pure.

The more we meditate on truth and purity (Philippians 4:8), the more we are sanctified (John 17:17).



Serving Jesus

I’m a follower of Jesus, wife, and mother, and I share the gospel through online ministry.