Motivating people to practice intentional acts of kindness

Who's right? Mom or me?

Question: My mother says, "The thought is just as bad as the deed." I cannot believe this or agree with it. She claims the Bible teaches this, but I cannot find the passage and she doesn't know where it is either. It makes no sense at all. Is she right?


Your mother is right. So are you. Yes, the Bible teaches that truth. Yes, in the everyday sense of right and wrong it is worse, by far, to murder someone than to think murderous thoughts. But wait—there is more to it.

Most likely, the biblical reference your mother is thinking of is Matthew 5:28. In this passage Jesus says, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Certainly this seems to make the thought equal to the deed. And in one sense, they are equal. But Jesus often targeted his words at the pious-acting religious people of his time. Their leaders had constructed a religious system that consisted of rules and regulations worked out to the tiniest detail. The result was that some people thought if they kept all the rules meticulously, they were free of sin and were therefore right with God. The rules were all external, so you could see or measure whether they were kept.

Jesus often took people to task for thinking they had no flaws or sins just because they kept rules. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus cuts through an age-old notion of what it means to be righteous. I do not think he was saying that thoughts are just as bad as deeds, as if someone thinking a murderous thought should be punished like an actual murderer.

Here is the point: If you have hateful, lustful, vengeful, jealous thoughts inside yourself—and everyone does—you need help. You are a flawed specimen who cannot approach the perfect God or stake a claim for being sinless. A bad thought sets you apart as a broken person needing a special pass to qualify for God's total embrace. Only the perfect can approach God. In other words, you need Jesus. Jesus paid the price for you, making you perfect in God's eyes. This is a staggeringly important teaching. It forces honest people to their knees. It demands of all of us the Godward cry, "I need help—I can't do it by myself."

Your mom may be unfairly pressing this truth on you. If she is turning the screw on your conscience, making you feel like you are a dreadful person for having bad thoughts, she may be causing more harm than good. Jesus' words should not be used to make you think you can avoid all envy, resentment, jealousy, lust, and all the other dangerous and sometimes damaging thoughts we are capable of generating. Good people have been driven to bizarre lengths trying to rid themselves of bad desires, thoughts, and fantasies. Some have tried living in the desert or the mountains to escape the temptations around them. These efforts always fail.

When unwanted thoughts turn into acts of meanness, hurtfulness, or other wrongdoing, something worse has happened. Living a balanced life in a positive spiritual environment usually curbs sin from breaking out. Sinful thoughts will always trickle in, but sound, godly decisions will hold them in check.

One final observation: Did you ever notice that when you are jealous or angry with someone, acting kindly or encouragingly toward them can change your bad feelings into positive ones?


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      Silly Thoughts

At my age ’Getting lucky’ means walking into a room and remembering what I came in there for.

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Dr. James Kok

Dr. James Kok is the founder of the Care and Kindness Campaign