Where do evil desires and thoughts that arise in a Christian's mind and heart come from?

By Ron Jones ©Titus Institute 2009

I. The source of evil desires and thoughts

A. Jesus taught that evil desires and thoughts come from within fallen humans themselves.

Mk. 7:18-22 “And he [Jesus] said to them [his disciples], ‘Are you also without understanding? Do you not perceive that whatever comes from without and enters into the man cannot defile him because it does not enter into his heart, but into the stomach and is eliminated out of the body.’ And he said, ‘What comes out of the man is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, envy, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. ‘“

The evil desires and thoughts in human beings come from our flesh. They arise from within our own fallen natures.

B. The power and dominance of the “flesh” has been broken at our salvation, but its existence and desires have not been eliminated.

In speaking to Christians about their former lives as unbelievers, Paul says,

Eph.2:1-3 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins which in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. Among whom also we all lived then in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”

The word “flesh” used in this context is our “fallen human nature.” After Adam and Eve had sinned against God, their human natures were corrupted. That is, they now had desires that were against God and his ways that would arise from their own hearts. They had to turn away from these desires on a daily basis.

All their children born after them have corrupted sinful natures with evil desires that arise in them. These desires can cause evil thoughts in their minds. As unbelievers we were all enslaved to those desires. This means that they directed our actions because we submitted ourselves to our desires. Our regular pattern of life was dominated by our desires, which were turned away from God.

When we became Christians, we were freed from the domination of our desires, although they still exist and rise up in our hearts. That is, we now have the power to turn away from those desires and live godly lives.

Paul writes of this in Rom.6:1-2. He says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we who are dead to sin live in sin any longer?”

At salvation, Paul says we “died” to sin, which means we were separated from its dominion over us.

Rom.6:11-14 “Likewise count yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Do not yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but yield yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.”

Paul says that we as Christians are not to let sin reign over us by following its lustful desires. These lustful desires come from our fleshly nature within us.

All Christians have evil desires from our fleshly nature which give rise to sin in us, which we need to continually turn away from.

Satan does not put these desires in us. They are already there. Satan will tempt us to follow these desires through the world, but he cannot implant these desires in us. For the Biblical evidence that Satan does not implant evil thoughts or desires in us look at the Titus Institute Website article entitled “How Satan Attacks.”

Paul tells us that our flesh wages war with the Holy Spirit that has come to live within us at salvation.

Gal.516-21 “This I say then, walk by the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh and these are contrary to one another so that you cannot do the things that you would.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, rivalries, divisions, sects, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such things like these of the which I told you before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Notice, the phrases “the lust of the flesh” and “flesh lusts against the Spirit.”

“Lust” is a strong desire for that which is forbidden by God. Paul gives the actions that result from fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. These actions reveal what these lusts desire to do.

There are four categories of fleshly desires described here. 1. Sexual immorality 2. Idolatry 3. Rivalry 4. Giving up control of oneself

These all come from the flesh, not Satan.

Satan incites our fleshly desires within us through the unbelieving world around us. See the article “How Satan Attacks.” However, these desires in us do not come from Satan.

II. How to Turn Away From Your Fleshly Desires

A. Commit yourself to follow God’s moral standard as revealed in the Scriptures and turn away from your sinful desires.

Gal. 5:16 “This I say then, walk by the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

To “walk by the Spirit” simply means to submit to the Lord’s revealed will in the Word and trust him according to it.

As we submit ourselves to the Lord and trust him we will be empowered by the Spirit to turn away from our fleshly desires.

Gal.2:20 also describes this from the perspective of faith. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

To live by faith means to submit to the Lord’s revealed Word and trust him according to it.

To live by faith and to live by the Spirit refer to the same thing. As you live by faith, you live by the Spirit.

B. Avoid those situations that incite your fleshly desires and put up boundaries around your life to keep your fleshly desires from filling your mind.

You need to “flee” from your fleshly desires.

1. Flee the lusts of youth - 2 Tim.2:22 “Flee also youthful lusts but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

The “lusts of youth” are fleshly desires that are generally strongest in our youth and ebb somewhat as people age. They would include sexual immorality, pride and rivalry, and desire for money. These are fleshly desires.

Paul says to flee these fleshly desires.

“Flee” means to “run from, to evade, escape, avoid, or shun” your fleshly desires.

We need to flee physically, mentally, and emotionally.

2. We need to avoid stirring these desires up in us.

Rom.13:13-14 “Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

“Rioting and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and lust, strife and envying” are all deeds of the flesh.

To turn away from them, Paul says to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not make provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

We are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” which means we are to commit ourselves to make godliness (the characteristics of Christ) central in our lives.

We are to avoid “making provision for the flesh.” To make provision for the flesh means to provide ourselves with a specific opportunity where our fleshly desires can be fulfilled. We are not to look for opportunities to fulfill our fleshly desires. We are to stay away from those opportunities.

C. Limit your sinful actions

If you do give into your fleshly desires, don’t allow yourself to go too far into sinful actions.

Matt. 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said by those in ancient times, ‘Thou shall not kill and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you, ‘That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the Jewish Council, but whoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of the fire of hell.’”

When Jesus said this he was teaching that unjustified anger and name-calling were sins before God as much as killing was a sin. They were all violations of the commandment “Thou shall not kill.”

However, Jesus was not saying that all sins are equal in terms of their own evil or evil consequences. Clearly unjustified anger is not as evil as name-calling and both are not as evil as killing someone.

In Matt.5:38 the principle of an “eye for an eye” and a “tooth for a tooth” is based upon the belief that there are degrees of evil and someone who commits a crime should have a punishment that matches the crime in degree.

This is an important principle. Even when we begin to give into our desires to sin we still have control over how far we go. Don’t allow yourself to go too far.

For example, if you struggle with greed and have a strong desire to buy things, you can still control how much you buy. If you buy a CD that you cannot afford because of greed, that is much better in terms of its consequences than buying a stereo system that puts you into debt.

Both actions are wrong and should be avoided, but one will create more trouble in your life and the lives of others than the other.

D. Confess your sins regularly

Regular confession of sin is important to our relationship with the Lord and to turning away from the flesh.

There is a difference between the temptation to sin and the actual sin itself.

The desire of the flesh that arises within us at any given moment is temptation to sin by indulging the fleshly desire by thought, attitude, word, or action. But the desire itself is not sin only a temptation to sin.

James explains how temptation and sin occur.

Jas.1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does he tempt anyone. But every one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.”

First, a Christian is tempted by his or her own lust. ‘Lust” is a strong desire for what God forbids. Any strong desire toward the deeds of the flesh described in Gal.5:19-21 is “lust.”

Notice, James calls that desire “temptation.” He says, “But every one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.” Temptation is the drawing of the person away from godliness toward the deeds of the flesh. He or she is enticed by his or her own fleshly desires. At that point, it is not sin if the person does not indulge the desire. It is only temptation.

This is important. If a Christian thinks that every time he or she has a thought or desire to do evil, that it is a sin, he or he will be hopelessly confessing desires that he or she cannot completely eliminate.

These fleshly desires come from within our own hearts. We will have to control them by not indulging them, but we do not completely eliminate them until we shed our earthly body and enter the presence of Christ.

Then James says that when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin.

Each Christian is responsible to turn away from temptation and if he or she doesn’t, he or she is responsible for sinning.

Notice, when James says, “when he is drawn away by his own lust.” His point is that when a Christian sins, God is not responsible nor is Satan responsible, but the Christian is responsible because he is following after his own desires. God does not put fleshly desires in us nor does Satan. They are there from the fall of man and we need to deal with them.

If we do give into them, it is important to confess our sin right away and turn from it.

John tells us that as Christians we should be regularly confessing our sins.

1 Jn. 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The word “confess” is in the present tense and refers to a continuous action in our lives. An expanded translation would be “If we continually confess our sins, he is faithful and just to continually forgive our sins and continually cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

John is telling us what the Christian life is about. It is about regularly confessing sin.

How can we hope to turn away from fleshly desires that we are struggling with if we do not continually confess anytime we indulge those desires?

That is what God wants. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ died for us, to continually forgive our sins.

Even if we sin over and over again and confess our sins over and over again and feel that it is hopeless and we will never get control of these fleshly desires, we must continually keep confessing and turning away from these sins.

E. Seek the good in the things of life

Seek for that which is morally good and beneficial in life.

Paul says in Titus 1:8 that a qualification of an elder is “loving what is good.”

Life is filled with many good things. These things can bring us health and happiness. They can build us up and strengthen us as people and as Christians.

Find things to watch on TV or in the movies that are good entertainment which are not centered in evil. Search for food and drink that is healthy, books that encourage and inspire, and such things like these.

We don’t have to spend every hour reading the Bible, but we should spend every hour seeking the good in life.

On the other hand, there are many things in life that can break us down and destroy us. They tear us down emotionally, mentally, and physically. Turn away from those things.

In Proverbs 11:27, God’s book of wisdom, it says, “He that diligently seeks good obtains favor, but he that seeks mischief, it shall come to him.”

F. Seek the kingdom of God and heavenly treasures

Christians need to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. This comes from focusing on the kingdom of God.

God has called us to do more than just focus on him; he has called us to focus on his work in the world.

God is focused on accomplishing his divine plan of redemption which Jesus has called his church to help fulfill. This is the Great Commission given to us by our Lord in Matt.28:19-20.

Matt.28:19-20 ”Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. ”

This command to make disciples is a command to share the gospel and when people come to Christ to help them to grow in Christ.

This command is given to the church as a whole of which each Christian has a part of play in fulfilling this command.

Jesus is basically saying that each Christian should regularly minister to others in some form of service to the Lord within the body of Christ.

This gives us meaning and purpose and a motive to turn away from the desires of the flesh. We are being used by God to accomplish his purpose and following the desires of the flesh hurt the accomplishment of God’s work in our lives to others.

This is what is valuable in our lives, not indulging the desires of the flesh.

If we value serving the Lord and are focused on it, we will be laying up for ourselves treasure in heaven and our heart will be turned toward that purpose and away from our fleshly desires.

Jesus taught about valuing this.

Matt.6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Matt.6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.”

The “treasures in heaven” in v.19-21 are explained later in v. 33. When we seek to fulfill the great Commission of making disciples of all nations we are laying up treasures in heaven.

The underlying principle here is that God created human beings to turn their hearts toward what they value. Treasure is anything that we value. Wherever our treasure is our heart is because that is what we value. To change our lives and turn away from sin, we need to change what we value, not our actions exclusively.


Evil thoughts and desires come from your fallen fleshly nature within you. Satan works to stir those desires up through the external means of the world. He cannot stir them up internally within you.

When you feel a fleshly desire arise within you that is a temptation; if you turn away from it and do not indulge it you walk by the Spirit.

If you follow your fleshly desires and sin, you are responsible for that sin.

If you are to turn away from your fleshly desires you need to “flee” them. “Fleeing” them means you avoid situations that stir them up by staying away from those situations or putting “fences” around your life that do not allow those situations into your life.

If you are to continually turn away from the desires of the flesh you need to

A. Commit yourself to follow God’s moral standard as revealed in the Scriptures and turn away from your sinful desires.

B. Avoid those situations that incite your fleshly desires and put up boundaries around your life to keep your fleshly desires from filling your mind

C. Limit your sinful actions

D. Confess your sins regularly

E. Seek the good in the things of life

F. Seek the kingdom of God and heavenly treasures by ministering to others