Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? (Part 2)
Are sexual desire and sinful lust the same?
Summary of Part 1
In 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 Sinful
Clearly 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 Sinful
Let’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 Possess
While 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.
That notion is biblically false! The correct understanding is this:
- 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:
Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? Part 1
Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? Part 3
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