How do can you deal with sinful thoughts?

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I'd like to introduce the word temptation into the discussion. Say, for example, you see something desirable in a store and are seized with the impulse to take it. While having the thought cross your mind isn't sinful in itself, the contents of the thought are unethical and could lead to actions that are properly the realm of sin. Because thoughts are the starting point of action, Jesus said the contents of your heart are a matter for concern. When you hate, you are already on the road to murder. When you lust, you are already on the path of sexual impropriety. When you think about stealing, you have awakened the spirit of greed.

So when confronted with the so-called sinful thought, the goal is not to entertain it. Deliberately choosing to mull over the idea and spending time on developing the outcome gives temptation a chance to root down and develop into tangible action. A fleeting thought becomes an occasion of sin when you cultivate and enjoy the fantasy of stealing, causing injury to an enemy, or ravishing the stranger or coworker. Therefore it's appropriate to identify a thought as sinful at once and by its proper name: Hello, Greed! Here's that old serpent Lust again! Why, Envy, long time no see! Anger, my old friend, sorry you can't stay long. Most of the thoughts you term sinful have a root in one or more of the seven “capital” sins: pride, greed, anger, envy, lust, sloth, and gluttony.

Once you name a fleeting impulse properly, you can do what Jesus did when confronted by a tempting idea: banish it with authority. We see how this works in a gospel scene where Saint Peter suggests that Jesus doesn't have to suffer in order to fulfill his mission. Not willing to escape the reality of his redeeming role even for a moment, Jesus cries: "Get behind me, Satan!" If the spirit of evil has a long history in you and won't retreat easily, you can do what the apostles did: invoke the authority of Jesus: "In the name of Jesus Christ, get lost!" Jesus also notes that some forms of evil have great staying power and can only be driven out by prayer. When dealing with addictive forms of temptation, communal support as found in recovery programs may also be useful.

Genesis 3; Matthew 6:13; 16:21-23; Mark 14:38; Luke 4:1-13

Support for the obsessively scrupulous person at Scrupulous Anonymous

Freedom from Sinful Thoughts by J. Heinrich Arnold (Ploughshare Publishing)
Understanding Scrupulosity: Questions, Helps, and Encouragement by Thomas M. Santa, C.Ss.R. (Liguori Publications

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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