I’m struggling with my thoughts. Satan puts sinful thoughts in my mind, then I feel like I have sinned and begin to worry about those thoughts. I worry a lot about everything. I know I haven’t sinned because I do not accept them, and I do not even want them there, but it still bothers me. Sometimes I’m scared if I do not reject the thoughts right away then that means I have accepted them. Even though I know I have not and never would.
Sometimes I will sin in my dreams and that bothers me even more, although I know I cannot control my dreams.
And, of course, the more I try to suppress the thoughts the harder it is for them to go away. It's like I’m trapped in a constant cycle of worry and fear. I'm always having to talk myself out of worrying about these things.
How do I stop getting bothered when Satan is trying to tempt me? What should I do? I’m going to college soon, and I want my anxiety issues to be under control before I’m out on my own.
"Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them" (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18).
The problem lies in the fact that you are trying to be more righteous than what God asks of mankind. You are striving to never think of evil, which means you are trying to never be tempted. Yet, temptations are something all of us must deal with in this world. That means that at times thoughts of doing something wrong are going to enter our minds.
When you look at the passages on judgment, the emphasis is on the fact that God will judge us based on what we do.
- "who will render to each person according to his deeds" (Romans 2:6).
- "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12).
It isn't that thoughts don't matter, but rather that God uses our thoughts to clarify what we do or neglect to do. After stating that we need to warn people who are heading into danger, Solomon points out that we shouldn't offer excuses that we didn't know about their danger. "If you say, "See, we did not know this," Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?" (Proverbs 24:12). God knows our thoughts, so if we neglect to do the right thing God will judge us based on what we actually did (or did not do), taking into account what we understood. "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God" (I Corinthians 4:5). In other words, God judges us both on what we did and why we did it.
Thoughts precede actions; thus, we need to be careful not to desire evil in our thoughts (Mark 7:21-23). However, there is a great deal of difference between a passing thought that I could do something sinful and spending time imagining myself sinning or plotting how to commit a sin and get away with it. Lust is strongly desiring a sin so badly that you are willing to break a law of God to get it. Temptation is just a passing thought that sin is possible. For example, finding yourself aroused because a pretty girl walks by is a temptation. Imagining yourself having sex with her is lust. Lust is just as wrong as doing a sin because you have accepted the sin in your mind. "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 5:28).
As you noted, sometimes we dream of sinful things. But it would be incorrect to say we sinned because of a dream. Sometimes Satan attacks us with thoughts of sin, but he can't make you sin if you don't want to. "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world" (I Peter 5:8-9). Rejecting temptation means deciding not to do what is being offered. That is what you have been doing. It doesn't mean God is expecting you to keep yourself from being tempted. You can't control Satan and you can't control passing thoughts. What you can control is not acting on those thoughts.
Thanks so much for the feedback!
After some research, I believe I have religious OCD or scrupulosity (although I have not been properly diagnosed). What do I do to overcome this? How can I stop fearing that I am always doing something wrong or sinning? From my research, OCD has no cure but is treated through therapy. To be honest, I don't really want to go to counseling. I'm trying to overcome these anxiety issues on my own.
The prior answer contains the basis for what you need to do, which is to focus on what you are doing in light of what the Bible teaches instead of being caught up in your thoughts and fears.