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What is a thought crime? Is a thought crime a biblical concept?

thought crime

A thought crime is a concept taken from the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. In this novel, the ultra-authoritarian government ruling over the country Oceania has a division known as the Thought Police, or “Thinkpol,” which actively prosecutes individuals who have any thoughts contradicting the views of The Party, the ruling regime. The Thought Police is one of the more terrifying concepts of this novel. In Orwell’s world, if anyone is found guilty of “thoughtcrime,” he is punished.

Thankfully, a thought crime, as portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, remains a fictional concept, although some see the prosecution of hate crimes, or bias crimes, in modern jurisprudence as setting the course for Thought Police. Is a thought crime a biblical concept? Would it be right to punish evil or impure thoughts?

Let’s first define sin. Sin is any instance of disobedience to God’s commands, whether in thought, word, or action. The Bible is clear that even thoughts can be sinful. For example, the last of the Ten Commandments prohibits coveting, which is a sin committed in the mind and heart (Exodus 20:17). In addition, Jesus taught that God does not just care about our actions but also the intent behind our actions. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed that the command “do not commit adultery” applied to anyone who looked at a woman with lust in his heart (Matthew 5:27–28). Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders in His day, for engaging in heartless religion and empty devotion: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7–9, ESV). Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3, ESV). So, God cares about our thoughts and the motives behind our actions.

Is every single thought that does not line up with God’s will a sin, or a “thought crime,” in the eyes of the Lord? What about intrusive thoughts, defined as “involuntary, unwanted images, phrases, or impulses”? A study by the Mayo Clinic found that 94 percent of people report having intrusive thoughts, which can include thoughts ranging from forgetting to close the garage door to causing bodily harm to someone (, 4/13/23, accessed 1/17/24). Since these are thoughts that we do not actively choose to enter our minds, they are not sins in and of themselves. However, choosing to dwell on or take pleasure in a sinful thought is a sin.

Furthermore, there is biblical evidence that the devil can put wicked thoughts into people’s minds. In John’s Gospel, the record shows Satan putting it into Judas’s heart—that is, his mind—the idea to carry out the betrayal of Christ (John 13:2). Judas Iscariot was certainly guilty of a “thought crime” in God’s eyes.

Paul tells the Corinthians to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV). With every thought that comes into our minds, whether that thought is good or evil, we have the opportunity to bring the thought to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7), ask Him for protection from any attack of the evil one (1 John 5:18–19), and think about things in heaven that please God and are beneficial to the saints (Colossians 3:1–2; Philippians 4:8).

So, thoughts can be sinful, but “thought crimes” are beyond the ken of mere mortals. Men cannot read others’ minds or view their thoughts, but God knows all of our thoughts, and He is the perfect ruler and judge of the universe (John 2:24–25; Psalm 147:5; 145:17; 24:1). Any sinful thought that we dwell on and ponder in our heart is a “crime” against the perfect will of God, for He is holy and perfect, and He will not overlook any sin (Exodus 34:7). Believers in Jesus do not have to fear, for every sinful thought they have ever had is forgiven by Jesus’ blood shed on the cross (Romans 3:23–26). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has freed His people to experience a peace beyond comprehension (Philippians 4:7), and He has freed us from the fear of judgment (1 John 4:18). Through the grace of God, we can have thoughts of God’s love and mercy for us, leading us to rejoice!

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What is a thought crime? Is a thought crime a biblical concept?
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This page last updated: January 24, 2024