Are Desires Evil If We Do Not Act Upon Them?

February 2nd, 2022 by posted in Counseling

Are Desires Evil If We Do Not Act Upon Them?

This is a very general question that has prompted my thinking over the past few months based on many churches stance on homosexuality.

The question is this. If one struggles with same-sex attraction and the sinful temptations that go along with it, is that okay as long as one does not act upon those attractions and temptations? Many Christian counselors would counsel that the struggling counselee not worry about this as long as they do not act it out. I disagree completely.

I was quite disappointed in an article from Desiring God a few years ago that indicates that ministry (or at least the author – who quotes John Piper) does not believe it is a sin, but merely caused by fallenness.[1]

Let’s talk about other desires in the same light. If I lust after a woman in the church, desiring her in a sexual way, is that acceptable as long as I do not act upon it? If I desire to harm another person, even developing scenarios in my mind as to how I might do it, but never act upon it, is that acceptable?

Does God look at behavior only, or does he see and judge our hearts (desires and affections) as well?

  • But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, emphasis mine).
  • “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 15:26a).
  • “Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord” (Zechariah 8:17).

Was Israel permitted to covet their neighbor’s wife as long as they did nothing toward making that actually happen? (Exodus 20:17)

Isn’t sinful desire the main focus on James 4:1-3?

If it is only our acted out behavior that is sinful, what did Jesus really mean when he stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-29)

Don Green brings salient discussion to this topic when he writes, “We are to be pure from the inside out. We cannot whitewash sinful desires; otherwise we reproduce the spirit of the Pharisees. Read Luke 11:39-40.

He condemned the Pharisees for making show of external compliance while inside being full of robbery and wickedness. God forbids us to want things that are contrary to His will. Homosexual desires and behavior are sinful because they violate God’s created order. For a man to desire a man as a sexual companion is to sin from the heart against God’s order that a woman be the sole sexual companion of a man, and that in the context of a marriage relationship”.[2]

Phil Johnson weighs in with, “Those who argue that LGBT “orientation” is morally neutral often point out that an unmarried heterosexual man’s attraction to women isn’t necessarily deemed sinful, assuming he remains celibate. Why, then, should we consider a celibate gay man’s attraction wrong, as long as he doesn’t act on it?

I’d like to suggest two replies to that. First, a celibate heterosexual’s attraction to women might indeed be sinful, if, say, he is attracted only to married women or underage girls. It would likewise be sinful if he allowed his interest in a particular young woman to become a fixation that distorts his perception of reality. A perfectly innocent attraction can even become a sinful passion for the person who indulges in immoral fantasies. No sane and reasonable person would try to argue that heterosexual desires are always wholesome. Second (and this is pretty straightforward:) Scripture says inordinate affections are sinful and commands us to mortify them (Colossians 3:5). I didn’t make that up.”[3]

Our minds and our thoughts are important to God. After the fall, mankind became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. And because of man’s defiant heart they are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. This is the message of Romans chapters 1 and 2.

Why did God destroy the earth with the flood? Because every intention of the thoughts of mankind’s heart was only evil continually.

There is hope for the counselee struggling with evil desires. They must be receptive to godly counsel. They must seek godly wisdom. And so, the only completely effective tool used by the biblical counselor is the Word of God. This sin is not a special sin in a way that it must be counseled differently. We must help the struggling counselee begin to renew their mind (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23) and take every thought captive for the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Help your counselee learn to focus on the prayer, peace, power, and principle of Philippians 4:6-9. The faithful counselor brings the Word of God to bear in the life of the counselee and we pray that the Holy Spirit would transform the heart to one of righteousness for the glory of God and the good of the counselee.


[1] Nick Roen, Is It Sin to Experience Same-Sex Attraction, ( Accessed May 17, 2018.

[2] Don Green,, (Accessed 6/1/2018)

[3] Phil Johnson, Regarding “Sexual Orientation,” Evil Desire, and the Question of Moral Neutrality,, (Accessed 06/01/2018).

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