Let’s alter the way we look at “sin” a bit. Don’t think of sin like, say, a foul in basketball or hockey. Think of sin as a condition, like alcoholism. That is, from a Christian standpoint, your actions are a reflection of your soul.
In the NBA, all that matters is whether you actually whack Shaquille O’Neal- if you thought about it but didn’t do it, you’ve committed no foul. In the NHL, you can THINK about doing anything at all- but so long as you don’t DO anything illegal, you can win the Lady Byng Cup for good sportsmanship. In the secular world, we don’t much care about what’s in people’s hearts and minds- it’s only their actions we care about.
Christians, however, generally believe that God DOES care what’s in our hearts.
Can you be considered a criminal if you’ve never committed a crime? of course not. On the other hand, can you be considered an alcoholic if you haven’t had a drink in ten years? YES! Most recovering/recovered alcoholics will tell you so. They may learn to control their behavior, but the urge to get drunk is always there.
Similarly, if one is CONSTANTLY tempted to commit immoral acts, if one is constantly battling the urge to commit such acts, ones soul is in a dangerously sinful state, even if he manages to refrain from acting on those urges.
Try this flawed analogy:
Man with a gun in his jacket pocket drives by the local convenience store late at night, planning a stickup. But he sees a police car parked there, and decides to keep driving.
Man with gun drives to convenience store, enters, demands money (without pulling out weapon), and gets it without a fight. He drives away.
man with gun goes to convenience store, demands money. The clerk refuses. He pulls out his gun and points it at her. She gives him the money and he speeds off.
Armed man demands money from convenience store clerk. Clerk refuses, so the man shoots her, empties the cash register, and drives off. Luckily, the clerk isn’t seriously wounded, and recovers.
Same scenario as 4, but this time, the gunman puts a bullet right throught the cashier’s heart, and she dies.
Now… under secular criminal law, these 5 scenarios are very different. In scenario #1, the man has commited no crime at all, and gets no punishment. Under scenarios 2 and 3, he’s guilty of robbery, and will get some jail time (more for scenario 3, which constitutes armed robbery). Scenario 4 will get him a much LONGER jail term. And scenario 5 will get the robber the electric chair. Because, under secular law, the actions in each scenario are very different.
But really, in their hearts and souls, are the 5 robbers outlined here so different? Is 1 really any better than 5? You think God awards points for cowardice? In their greed, cruelty, and willingness to kill to get money, all 5 men are just the same, even if their actions were very different.
In the same way, if I’m obsessed with sex, and refrain from adultery SOLELY because I’m terrified my wife will find out, I’m not much better than a reckless adultrerer. God doesn’t give me extra points for morality just because I’m too chicken to commit the evil deeds I dream of.
So… are thoughts alone as bad as deeds? Should I say to myself, “well, if THINKING about adultery is a sin, I might as well go ahead and DO it, since I’m going to Hell for it anyway”? No! But it does mean that my soul is in jeopardy LONG before I actually commit a sin. If I find myself thinking seriously about doing something wrong, I need to deal with my weakness and sinfulness then and there- NOT right after I’ve done it, or right when I’m on the verge of doing it.