In John Owen’s well-known work on sin and temptation, he defines two kinds of temptation: ones that come from without and others that come from within (Works, 6:194). The first kind of temptation works like this. I am hungry. And someone offers me stolen food. This temptation comes from without and is morally neutral.
The second kind of temptation works like this. From within me, I propose a desire to steal food for the pleasure of eating. According to Owen, “the very proposal from within, it being the soul’s own act, is its sin” (Works, 6:194).
Although this taxonomy of temptation may seem overly detailed, it becomes important when we ask the question: when does temptation become sinful? Or more specifically, when does sexual or romantic desire become sinful?