Can desires themselves be sins?

I’m a firm believer that it’s not our desires or temptations that define us, rather it’s what we choose to do with them that makes us who we are. For example, if someone feels extreme anger towards a friend, but is able to hold themself back from saying anything derogatory or rude to that friend, that’s a sign that they’re a good person. I’ve been thinking about how Jesus said “whoever lusts after a woman in his heart has already committed a sin.” But most Christians would agree that being attracted to someone isn’t a sin in and of itself. I’ve also read that in Catholicism, homosexuality itself isn’t a sin, but acting upon those desires is. So I was wondering if desires to do something could be sins!

Sin is an act of the will. One can desire all manner of things that are wrong, but does not incur sin until the desire is acted upon.



Lust is a possible exception.


“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart.” - Genesis 6:5-6

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” - Exodus 20:17

“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart…you shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people…” Leviticus 19:17-18

"You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court…” - Matthew 5: 21-22

“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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” - Matthew 5:27-28

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Yes, our desires (concupiscence) is sinful. People who try to make the distinction between desires and actions for the purpose of balancing their account with regard to sin are making a distinction that God doesn’t make, and they will be held accountable for sinful desires. Sin is not something manageable. It is serious, and it is deadly for us. We are spiritually dead in our sinful nature and that includes our desires. It is only through Christ that we are forgiven and acceptable before God.



Because we’ve gone down this road, concupiscence is not sinful. Sin involves an action, even an intellectual action. A bodily urge, drive, or impulse is not sin. Intrusive thoughts are also not sins. Making the deliberate choice to dwell in lustful fantasies, or to stoke angry or hateful thoughts towards another person, or whiling time away feeling envious of another person is sinful. And those are actions, even if not physical actions.


Wait, so God doesn’t make a distinction between merely having sinful desires and acting upon them? Lusting after someone is a sin, but it’s definitely much better to stop there than to go on and actually act on that lust, right?

No, this isn’t true. You can’t be judged for having desires, which are the result of the fall. You do not incur sin merely by having desires. Sin is an act of the will.

Desires can be temptation to sin, but they aren’t sin. Jesus experienced temptation, and we know he didn’t sin.


Father, may I ask if this in regards to what Hodos wrote, what I wrote, or both?

What Hodos wrote, which seems to be more Calvinist than anything

Different sins have varying impacts. This is what we see in the law. So murder carries a much greater temporal punishment in the civil realm than does theft. But they are both equally guilty of sin before God. And both require Christ’s atonement on the cross. The same can be said of sinful desires.

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I think we just need to be careful as to how we use the word lust.

Wife: 'Do you think Mary is sexually attractive?
Me: ‘Yes, she is’.

I’m probably not in any trouble there.

Wife: ‘Do you think about having sex with Mary’
Me: ‘Yeah, quite often’.

Then I’m sleeping on the couch.


Baltimore Catechism No. 3

Q. 1317. What is forbidden by the ninth Commandment?
A. The ninth Commandment forbids unchaste thoughts, desires of another’s wife or husband, and all other unlawful impure thoughts and desires.

Q. 1318. Are impure thoughts and desires always sins?
A. Impure thoughts and desires are always sins, unless they displease us and we try to banish them.


Really? I was under the impression that sins had different levels of severity (ex. murder is worse than theft, adultery is worse than getting drunk).

yeah, that’s what I thought :sweat_smile:

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They are in the civil realm. Different sins have disparate impacts.

I’ll leave the ranking to God and others more studied than me, but in Catholic moral theology this is true. Hodos is not Catholic. And I’ll add that I disagree very much with his post above, but I think he’s a good poster on these forums.

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Thank you for the compliment. We disagree on this topic and I will just rest on what scripture says on the subject.

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Aquinas has this distinction between higher and lower reasoning that I don’t exactly understand, but I think it’s basically, if some illicit desire merely passes through your mind, it is not a sin, but if you think about it to the point that you decide you want to do that, then it is. You would have to actually decide that you would do that (or say that), in that moment, if you could.

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Perhaps an initial feeling outside our control is not sinful, but when we entertain that feeling and consent to it then it is.

2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

St Faustina’s Dairy, 93

Q. Is every bad thought a sin?
A No, every bad thought is not a sin; it becomes so only when the acquiescence of the will and consent are joined to the consideration of the mind.

I think this explains it well. We can ask God (and Mary) to protect us from even these initial desires/thoughts and make us more pure, but if we do have them, we don’t entertain them and we “take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” immediately.

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By “entertaining” bad thoughts, I’m assuming you mean following up on them and giving into them? Sometimes when I have bad thoughts, I try to think about what the reason is that I thought it, so that I can avoid doing so in the future. That’s not wrong, right?

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