(I have this feeling that I have posted something like this before. If so, I apologize and ask to be pointed to that thread that I may either add to it or concede unnecessary duplication)
The Ten Commandments tell us very clearly :
Thou shalt not covet...
Deuteronomy 5:21 rehashes the commandment and the KJV replaces "covet" with "desire".
The same commandments say very tersely :
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt have no other gods before me
Those are cited together because of Paul's declaration to the Colossians :
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
And probably the most well-known set of indictments of man's heart comes from the lips of the Savior Himself :
Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
The summary of this internal state and its importance is given in the gospel of Mark:
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
None of these are unfamiliar references to us - and they all seem to testify to one thing : that man's problem is a problem of the heart. Again...I don't think there is much to contest in that statement. All of us (I think) will agree that these things that proceed from the heart are utterly sinful. But there remains this question of the import of actions vs. intent in terms of man's standing before God.
An individual cannot judge another's heart - that is for God alone. An individual can, however, judge another's actions. If a man's actions do not reveal sin in the sense of manifestations of adultery, idolatry or murder, etc..., does that imply a different standing before God than someone whose actions do?
My thoughts go first to David who was guilty of adultery and murder. It would be difficult to imagine a more (outwardly) awful sin (sins) - at least from someone who was beloved of God. It represents man's nature at its worst - its unrestrained self-service. His adultery with Bathsheba was born in his heart before it ever took place in action. His murder of Uriah both stemmed from his sin with Bathsheba and was born in his attempt to justify himself and cover up his sin. It's amazing the deception that sin brings (Leviticus 26:17, Isaiah 60:2, and Jonah 4:11 always come to my mind in this context - and Jer 13:16 seems appropriate, too). But the thought occurs to me - what if David had never acted on that lust and committed adultery and resultant murder? Would that have been in his heart and God still looked at him the same way? Is there something about God yielding man up to a certain sin that "requires" him to go through all the mess of that sin's outworking (consequences) that would not be had if a man was sinning in heart but not in deed? Are those two men (the one who sins in heart but not in deed and the one who does both) viewed the same way by God? Do they stand (or fall) the same way before Him? Is it possible that there is a sense in which God (at least sometimes) waits for the inquity of the heart to "come to the full" (in the sense of Genesis 15:16) before He allows it to overflow from the heart to a man's words and actions? James 1:15 almost seems to imply (and I fully concede I may not be reading it correctly) that the action is what brings death - not the inward machination :
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Lust being conceived brings forth (not "is") sin. What exactly is this passage saying?
In conclusion, there is a sense that I know that the sins of a man's thoughts and heart are no less sinful. But in a more practical sense, what are the ways we need to differentiate between the sin of the heart and the sin that is manifested?
"Did Adam in some way sin before his hand actually touched the fruit or he bit into it with his mouth?"
Sin, as James 1 and numerous other passages indicate, germinates inwardly before manifesting itself outwardly. Further, as James indicates, God is not the author of sin, rather man is the sole author.
Adam knew what he was about to do was sin. Whether he actually did after desiring to do so does not absolve the sin of the desire to do (James 4:17). Adam's one sin against the laws given to him made him guilty of breaking all the laws given to him (James 2:10).
In Fisher's Shorter Catechism we read in part:
- Q. 81. WHAT IS FORBIDDEN IN THE TENTH COMMANDMENT ?
Q. 16. Does not the apostle James distinguish between lust and sin, chap. 1:15When lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin; and will it not from thence follow, that lust, or corruption of nature, is not properly sin, and consequently not forbidden in this commandment?
A. The apostle distinguishes between lust and sin merely as a corrupt principle and the act which it produces; both which are hateful to God, and contrary to his law.
Q. 17. If lust, or corruption of nature, cannot be remedied, or extirpated by any prescription in the Divine law, why is it at all prohibited?
A. It is nevertheless prohibited, both because contrary to the nature of God, and as a mean to reprove and humble us for it, Rom. 7:9.
- But James here uses the word sin in the sense of sins of act. So he uses "death," the mature result of "sin when it is finished," in the sense of the final spiritual death, or the second death; for many other Scriptures assure us that a state of sin is a state of death. James would rather teach us, in this text, that concupiscence and actual sin, being mother and daughter, are too closely related not to have the same moral nature. But the most conclusive text is the 10th Commandment. See this expounded by Paul, Rom. 7:7. He had not known coveting, except the law had said, "Thou shalt not covet." And it was by this law, that he was made to know sin. How could he more expressly name concupiscence as sin?