In Part 2 we noted that lust (or strong desires) can sometimes be good. The Bible uses the same Greek word for both positive and negative desires. So we need some kind of criteria to determine which it is. Of course, the scriptures, not human ideas, must be our guide for determining whether strong desires (“lust”) are good or bad. Simply, if the Bible condemns it, then it is sinful.
Sexual Desire Is Normal
An entire range of desires are a normal part of our human existence. We desire food to eat and liquids to drink. We desire comfort in life. We desire rest each day. These and similar desires are not condemned in scripture, except when indulged to excess, as in gluttony, drunkenness, complacency,or laziness.
In like manner, sexual desire is a God-given gift built into us so that we would long to unite with another person in the one-flesh expression of marriage. That sexual desire is positive and good. You see, the problem is not the desire, but the misuse of the desire to pursue something illicit. Only then does that natural and good desire manifest its expression as sinful desire, or “lust.”
Where We Cross the Line
In Matthew 5:28, Jesus is making the point that “to lust after a woman” is just a mental version of violating the Fifth Commandment which forbids adultery. It is a mental decision to experience a woman sexually who is not his wife. Since that woman is not his to experience sexually, and the desire for that experience may not be righteously fulfilled, it must be judged a lust that is sinful.
The “lust” of Matthew 5:28 is the desire to sexually experience a person you have no legitimate right to. To lust (desire, covet) in this way fails to treat the other person as someone to love and respect, but rather it treats them as an object to be used or consumed for personal sexual satisfaction. The sinfulness of such lust is not determined by the simple presence of sexual desire, but the intent of enflaming or fulfilling that desire illegitimately.
If we are expressing that illicit desire with a live person, we are failing to act in true love, for godly love never endorses or expresses itself unrighteously. If instead we express that illicit desire towards an image (such is in pornography,) we are objectifying, sexualizing, and dehumanizing the image of that person for the purpose of self-gratification.
The IVP New Testament Commentary Series speaks to this in the section on Matthew 5:27-30.
“The Greek tense probably suggests ‘the deliberate harboring of desire for an illicit relationship’ …. Jesus refers not to noticing a person’s beauty but to imbibing it, meditating on it, seeking to possess it.
“Lust is antithetical to true love: it dehumanizes another person into an object of passion, leading us to act as if the other were a visual or emotional prostitute for our use. Fueled by selfish passion, adultery violates the sanctity of another person’s being and relationships; love, by contrast, seeks what is best for a person …”
(The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Matt 5:27-30, n.b. paragraphs 7&8)
Desire for food is legitimate, but when indulgence in eating becomes an obsession, it becomes sin. Likewise, sexual desire is legitimate until it is focused upon and indulged with a person that we have no right to experience sexually. The desire is God-given; the misuse of that desire is sin.
Leave It to Our Enemy to Confuse Us
Our enemy has convinced us that our normal legitimate sexual desire is evil, making us feel guilty of sin. And—sadly—the Christian culture has unwittingly cooperated with the deception.
- Sexual desire is not sin. Using it to mentally possess and use someone else for self-gratification is sin.
- Being sexually alive is not sin. Objectifying others for the sake of pursuing illicit sexual expression is sin.
- Simply feeling a physical sexual response in your loins is not sin. But assuming that such feelings are lust and giving in to them as if you have no responsibility for your thoughts or choices… that is sin.
No wonder so many men feel defeated by their own bodies. They have normal sexual desires but anytime they become aware of those desires, they immediately feel guilty. And because sexual desire persists, they give up, give in, and fall into sinful lust. They descend into hopelessness, not recognizing that their sexual desire is normal. They don’t realize they have legitimate ways of addressing that desire without giving in to mental adultery (a topic for another article). Fundamentally, sexual desire is a good gift from God which we must learn to manage righteously.
Just To Be Clear…
We are attempting to draw a fine line here… There is a difference between being made cognitively aware of one’s own sexuality and focusing sexual interest on someone specific. When we focus that interest on someone specific, we are in the danger zone, if not already across the line into lust. Where the “fine line” is difficult to assess is when it is a person who triggers that cognitive awareness… and that someone is a person to whom we have no sexual claim. When that happens, we have a choice… either to focus our sexual attention on that person (which would be sin), or to reject that focus, refusing to inflame our desires with thoughts of that person.
The thrust of these articles is not to excuse a sexual focus and response to someone besides our own spouses, but to release people from the lie that presumes that any conscious awareness of our own sexuality must also be defined as lust. Each person is responsible before God to find that “fine line” in their own heart. Chances are, it will vary from person to person.
Think About It!
At this point, you may be wondering what the Bible has to say about masturbation. I recommend that you read Pastor David Martin’s blog articles on masturbation.
— Pastor Bill
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Summary of Part 1In Part 1 I described my experience (and that of many men) of being conflicted between the acceptability of sexual desire for my wife, but unacceptability to have sexual feelings or fantasies at any other time. Such conflict led me to frustration. After fighting it so long I’d give in to pornographic lustful thinking. Previously I said that this frustration was eliminated when I finally realized that sinful lust and sexual desire are not necessarily the same. Let me explain!
Yes, Desire Can Be SinfulClearly Matthew 5:28 teaches us that to lust after a woman is equivalent to adultery.
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart – Matthew 5:28 (ESV)But what does it mean to “lust after a woman” (or any other person, regardless of gender)?
Not All Desire Is SinfulLet’s look at what the bible says about “desire.” In the scriptures the Greek word translated in Matthew 5 as “lust” is used in both positive and negative ways. The word is epithumeo in its verb form and epithumia in its noun form. By itself, the word is neutral… and may be right or wrong. The word is also translated “desire,” “earnestly desire,” “long for,” “crave,” and “covet.” Any strong desire is an epithumia. What makes it good or bad is whether or not the thing desired may be righteously obtained, then it is not sin. Sinful Lust then is the desire for something which may not be righteously obtained. Consider a positive usage of the word: Jesus “earnestly desired” (epithumeo) to eat the Passover with his disciples in Luke 22:15. This was a righteous desire that Jesus pursued and fulfilled. In 1Timothy 3:1 when Paul says that a person who aspires to be an elder “desires” (epithumeo) a noble task, he is using the same Greek word to speak of a righteous desire. By contrast, in Matthew 5:28 when Jesus talks about looking at a woman “to lust after her” (KJV) epithumeo is used for an unrighteous desire, condemned as equal to adultery. This same Greek word is used to translate the unrighteous desire called “coveting” in the Ten Commandments when quoted by Paul in the New Testament (Romans 7:7). The essence of sinful lust is coveting—a desire to possess something which is not ours.
“Covet” equals “Lust” – Including the Intent to PossessWhile we’re talking about lust and coveting, it’s worth noting that from a biblical standpoint, they should be considered synonymous. We may correctly think of “covet” as the word used in the Old Testament and “lust” as the word used in the New Testament. In both Testaments, the original language words are used to describe both righteous and unrighteous desires. It is also evident in the scriptures that these words indicate not just the desire, but also the intent to possess. I suspect that most people already think of the word “covet” as implying the intent to possess, but here’s where we make a mistake in our understanding of lust… “lust” is typically assumed to mean any evidence of a desire at all! Or more simply:
- Covet = Desire AND a Plan
- Lust = Desire alone.
- Covet = Desire AND a Plan
- Lust = Desire AND a Plan
Faulty Interpretation Leads to False Guilt!This should help us see why it is important to understand “covet” and “lust” as the same biblical concept. If we misunderstand the word “lust” in the New Testament, we may conclude that the Bible teaches something it doesn’t really teach. And this could result in false guilt, for it would be founded on a false definition of “lust”! So, both “covet” and “lust” imply an intent to possess the object desired. But here again, it is not the intent to possess which makes a desire right or wrong, but whether or not the object may be righteously obtained. In summary, it is biblically accurate to draw a distinction between desires that are righteous and those which are unrighteous. Now we are ready to talk about the difference between normal desires (not sinful) and sinful lust. I’ll cover that in Part 3. — Pastor Bill =========================== Other posts in this series: Leave a Comment on this post. Please share this blog with others…
Lust and Desire ConflictedI knew the desire for sex with my wife was OK, but I believed that any sexual feelings beyond that context was sinful lust. I would awaken in the morning with an erection and strong sexual desire. I felt guilty so I’d confess it to God. I would see an attractive woman which would heighten my sexual awareness. I believed that it was sinful lust in my heart. One minute, I’d have strong sexual feelings that I believed were lustful. So I would try to suppress them. At another time, I would be with my wife where I am permitted to feel strong sexual feelings. One moment, those sexual feelings and desires were wrong (lust) but in the next moment they were good (spousal love). I was conflicted. To be honest I was frustrated and weary of trying to not lust… yet I experienced sexual feelings and desires frequently almost every day. I could not eliminate it from my life. Eventually, I would quit the battle and just give in to the outward expression of those sexual desires… and indulge in pornographic lust.
Most Men are FrustratedI know I wasn’t alone. As a preacher, I could easily make men aware of their “sinfulness.” All I had to do was quote Matthew 5:28, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Every man I knew felt that his heart was lustful if he merely looked and acknowledged the attractiveness of any women other than his own wife.
My Journey to VictoryI have since realized that I was confused between sinful lust and natural sexual desire. My journey to victory began with understanding the lies that I had learned and believed about the human body. The truth taught at My Chains Are Gone replaced the lies and my battle with pornography ended. I soon realized I had also believed a lie about what constituted sinful lust… a lie that had contributed to my bondage. Could you be caught in this same trap, believing that any sexual desire, dreams, thoughts, or fantasies other than for your wife are sinful lust? I am convinced that many men are unnecessarily defeated because of this confusion. Stay tuned for part 2 where we will look at two different ways the Bible uses the words for lust. Not all lusts are equal. — Pastor Bill =========================== Previous Posts in this series: Leave a Comment on this post. Please share this blog with others…
Good Ol’ DaysAt my high school in the locker room for gym class, guys stripped, showered, and dried off without ever bothering to wrap in a towel. The same was true at the YMCA I joined while in graduate school. But that was 30+ years ago… and times have changed. Today, at my gym, nearly every man quickly secures a towel around himself just to go back and forth to the showers!
It’s Funny…It is almost comical to watch. Some guys are so stricken by the fear of someone seeing their bodies that they do a Houdini straight-jacket routine just to change clothes. Before removing pants and underwear the towel goes around first. It sure looks awkward as they undo their belt and zipper, remove their pants, then underwear, all the while trying to keep the towel from falling off. The towel doesn’t come off until they are in the shower stall and the curtain is pulled. When it is time to dress the procedure is reversed.
Gymnophobia and PornWhat gives? We’re all guys! Who cares about nudity in the locker room? I recently counseled a young man in his late teens who was experiencing sexual identity issues. To help him get comfortable with his own body, I suggested that he go to the shower at the gym without wrapping in a towel. He was appalled! “No one does that!” he said. In all the time he had been going to the gym with other guys, he had never seen another man totally naked. Nor have they seen him. Isn’t it a little ironic that we have become so guarded against others seeing our own naked body, and yet many will go straight home and purposefully view naked bodies in sex acts on the internet?
A Connection?Could there be a connection? If we never see an unclothed human being unless it’s a sexual context… or we never allow our own bodies to be seen unless we are interested in sex, might that explain why we are so squeamish about nudity in a non-sexual context like a locker room? No one wants the locker room visit to be a sexual experience, so everyone keeps covered up. Unfortunately, that just reinforces the nudity/sex connection. What if… what if… we didn’t have such a strong association between sex and nudity? What if an unclothed person was just that… a human being without clothes. What if we could treat a man like a man, and a woman like a woman… no matter how much of their body we see? Then, maybe—just maybe—porn wouldn’t have the profound sexual impact on us that it has today. — Pastor Bill =========================== For more on this topic: The Pornographic View of the Body or My Chains Are Gone Feel free to Leave a Comment on this post. Please share this blog with others…