The difference between sin and tempation

The greatest battle of life is fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.
(In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 84–85; or Improvement Era, June 1967, 80)

A few weeks ago I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants and read this scripture:

And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.
Doctrine and Covenants 63:16

Our thoughts control our patterns of behavior, so though the sin of our thoughts may not be manifest for weeks, or months, or years, eventually our lives will reflect our thoughts.  However, just because a thought pops into our heads doesn’t me that we are the original source of it.  Although most of our thoughts come across in our own “voice” our thoughts are susceptible to three sources, our own mind, righteous sources such as the Holy Ghost, and evil sources such as Satan.  Isn’t it nerve wracking to realize that the great imitator is so good he knows how to imitate our own voice in our thoughts?  When do the thoughts in our head become a sin and when are they just temptations from evil sources?

When someone throws a ball at you what do you do?  There are two natural instincts, you can catch it, or you can duck to avoid it.

If the ball represents a thought of temptation, at what point does it become a sin?  You can not control the ball being thrown, you can only control your reaction to it.  The thought thrown at you only becomes a sin when you catch it, enjoy it, indulge in it, maybe even wish for fulfillment.

If we don’t want to sin, we just don’t catch the ball right?  Well, when Satan is throwing a ball of temptation at you this isn’t a nice bouncy playground ball like my kids play foursquare with at school.  He is a major league baseball pitcher throwing a hard baseball at you as fast as he can.  That means if you don’t catch that ball, it can really hurt, a lot.  You can end up bruised and broken.  Thankfully we have the atonement of Jesus Christ which heals us.

Does this mean we are to spend the rest of our lives being battered by these baseballs being thrown at us and subsequently being healed by the atonement?  How do your actions, and confidence, change when after being battered by baseballs someone hands you a bat?

The atonement of Jesus Christ has not only the power to heal the bruises that we get when those baseballs hit us, but when we wield the enabling and strengthening powers of the atonement like a bat we can hit those balls of temptation out of the park.

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
Doctrine and Covenants 6:36

You pick up the bat of Jesus Christ when you act.  You pick up the bat when you choose to use your agency for righteousness.  You pick up the bat when you keep the commandments.  That doesn’t mean you’ll hit every ball thrown at you, but if your hands are already holding a bat, it’s a lot harder to catch a ball.  Inviting Christ into our lives, not just to heal but to fight back, is the only way to not be battered by the temptations that are constantly being thrown at us.

So what of those people who have the instinct to duck?  They aren’t catching the ball, and therefore aren’t sinning, so sometimes they start wondering why the ball  is being thrown at them over and over again when they aren’t playing.  They start thinking of themselves as a victim, as being bullied, and sometimes it is those people who are doing nothing wrong that are the hardest to convince to pick up the bat.  Satan doesn’t care if we catch the ball, sometimes not picking up the bat is just as good, he will just throw that ball at us over and over again continually bruising and battering us.

All of us, every single one of us, needs to be armed with a bat so when Satan throws a thought of temptation we can hit it out of the park.  Like anything, it takes practice, and we may not be very good at it to start, but it is worth it.

Why is it so important to understand the difference between a sin and a temptation?

“We are distressed when Satan places unworthy thoughts and desires in our minds.  We wonder, ‘Why do I think such things?’  This is extremely dangerous, because if we fail to recognize the source of such thoughts we are vulnerable to Satan’s next strategy.  One of his most deadly devices is to first whisper unclean thoughts to us and then turn around and accuse us of being unworthy for having such thoughts.  What a wicked person you are, he sneers.  Look what you were thinking.  You have an unclean mind.  You are dirty.  God couldn’t possibly love you with such filthy thoughts in your mind.  You should not pray.  You should not attend church…

“…The important factor in judging a person’s righteousness is not the appearance of unworthy thoughts, but his response to the thoughts once they have appeared.”
(Steven A. Cramer, Putting on the Armor of God, Chapter 7)

If he can convince us that we are unworthy for even having the ball thrown at us Satan still wins.  It is so important to remember that we cannot control what he throws at us, only our reaction to it.

“Now there is not a person alive who has not, at some point in his life, had an inappropriate thought enter into his mind, primarily because Satan has the power to put it there.”
(Ronald A. Dalley, New Era, August 1984)

We live in a world where commercials, ads, tv shows, movies, and even some people resemble pornography in some form.  Pornography is not the only problem we are bombarded with, but many other forms of pride are being thrown at us through commercials, ads, stores, marketing etc, even at times our friends and family.  It is vital that we learn the difference between our own thoughts, righteous thoughts and unrighteous thoughts.  Learning the difference between sin and temptation can help us better understand our need of repentance, better evaluate our worthiness, and most importantly, learn what to ignore.  Satan may be able to imitate our own voice in our thoughts, but he cannot imitate the feeling of confirmation the Holy Ghost brings when our thoughts are righteous, whether our own or from promptings.  Ask the Lord to help you learn what he sounds like when he talks to you, so you can know who to ignore.

“The future of this world has long been declared; the final outcome between good and evil is already known. There is absolutely no question as to who wins because the victory has already been posted on the scoreboard. The only really strange thing in all of this is that we are still down here on the field trying to decide which team’s jersey we want to wear!”
Jeffry R. Holland


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