You must be very careful to watch your thoughts. Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” That’s the problem with temptation. It’s so tempting. But are thoughts sin? Sometimes we unnecessarily put ourselves in the way of it.
Are Thoughts Sin?
In the Old Testament, we find the story of Joseph, someone who faced some heavy-duty temptation. Joseph’s world suddenly changed when his brothers sold him to a group of traveling slave traders. Overnight he went from a life of relative comfort to a life of uncertainty.
Joseph was sent to Egypt, a pagan country filled with religious superstition. The Egyptians worshiped as many as 2,000 gods and goddesses, as well as animals, insects and the Nile River. And of course they worshiped the Pharaoh himself. They also were given over to gross immorality.
Here in this place of wickedness and idolatry, 17-year-old Joseph arrived on the scene. He was effectively a country boy coming to the big city. Joseph was purchased by a man named Potiphar, identified in Genesis 39:1 as “captain of the guard.” This meant Potiphar was a high-ranking Egyptian official, head of the military police. He also was in charge of the royal bodyguard (a Secret Service of sorts) and was the chief of the executioners. In other words, Potiphar was one bad dude.
Joseph, however, wasn’t intimidated at all. Why? Genesis 39:2 gives us the answer: “The LORD was with Joseph” (NKJV). Joseph was a classic example of Psalm 1, which says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season” (verses 1–3 NKJV).
Potiphar was a hard guy to work for, but Joseph worked with complete integrity. Joseph was so successful at what he did that Potiphar made him his executive assistant. He was second in command in Potiphar’s household.
Are thoughts sin? Sometimes when things are going well, we become more vulnerable. When we can’t always make ends meet, or we’re sick, or we’re having challenges, we are dependent on God. But when things are going well, when we have a little extra money in the bank and our health is good, that is when temptation will hit. That’s when it hit Joseph.
Genesis 39 tells us that “Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. ‘Come and sleep with me,’ she demanded” (verse 7 NLT).
But Joseph refused. He told her, “How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God” (verse 9 NLT). Joseph’s no to Potiphar’s wife was a yes to God.
From that point on, Joseph did his best to steer clear of her. But then we’re told, “One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, ‘Come on, sleep with me!’ Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house” (verses 11–12 NLT).
That’s the way you deal with sin. You turn around and run. You put as much distance between it and yourself as you possibly can.