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Are intrusive thoughts sin?

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Nearly everyone, at some point or another, has been subject to intrusive thoughts. These involuntary, unwanted images, phrases, or impulses are extremely common. Spontaneous and intrusive thoughts of violence to children or animals, inappropriate sexual contact, and blasphemy can be extremely disturbing and even cause some to question their salvation. But are they even sin?

God is not surprised by intrusive thoughts. He knows all of our thoughts—intentional and otherwise (Psalm 139:2). He also knows the feebleness of the human mind—“The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath” (Psalm 94:11). One of the biggest fears about intrusive blasphemous thoughts is that God will not forgive them. God knows the wicked will blaspheme (Psalm 10:4), but He is always prepared to forgive—“Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). Furthermore, God is well aware of the difference between the convictions of a wicked heart and the fleeting thought of someone who knows and follows Him (1 Chronicles 28:9). “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

God has given us tools to fight intrusive thoughts. Psalm 139:23-24 encourages us to submit our hearts and thoughts to God. He can determine if there is anything harmful in us that needs to be dealt with. If the thoughts truly are unbidden and spontaneous, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 explains what to do next: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Blasphemous, harmful, and deviant thoughts and inclinations are part of spiritual warfare, and we need God’s help to fight them. By studying Scripture, reaffirming the truth in our minds, and Bible memorization, we can greatly diminish or even vanquish intrusive thoughts—“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19).

Intrusive thoughts are not necessarily sin—even blasphemous ones. Our minds are weak and easily influenced by the world around us. But intentionally exposing ourselves to blasphemy, violence, and other evils may be sin. The more we surround ourselves with worldly things, the more the world will invade our thoughts. Instead, we should concentrate on the honorable, the true, and the pure (Philippians 4:8). If we fill ourselves with good, God will bless us: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1–3).

Sometimes intrusive thoughts can be more than spiritual. If Scripture memorization and prayer don’t significantly diminish harmful thoughts and inclinations, the body’s own chemistry may be at work. Intrusive thoughts are a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder, post-partum depression, and attention deficit disorder, among other things. Just as God has provided trained professionals to advise in spiritual matters, He has provided us with doctors and counselors to help with the physical. If intrusive thoughts become particularly debilitating, realize that “the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24) may require the humility to ask for help.

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Questions about Sin

Are intrusive thoughts sin? Are spontaneous violent, sexual, or blasphemous thoughts sin?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022