Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? (Part 3)

Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? (Part 3)

When are desires sinful?bigstock_Successful_Business_Man_(bW-lrg)

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!

Before you challenge this, be sure you understand the truths taught at the MCAG website. In particular, read the series of articles found here: “The Lies We Have Believed.”

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


Previous Posts in this series:

Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? Part 1
Sexual Desire and Lust – Are They the Same? Part 2

For more on this topic:

MCAG Articles: The Lies We Have Believed
MCAG Blog Articles: FAQ–What about Masturbation?

Feel free to Leave a Comment on this post.

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comments user
Phil Conte

Coveting another’s wife does not necessarily “dehumanize another person into an object of passion, leading us to act as if the other were a visual or emotional prostitute for our use.” It could be thinking you would rather be married to and to cherish her rather than your own wife. This is a more dangerous place to be than just just desiring a one night stand.

comments user

We commit adultery in our heart when we decide to try and draw a woman away from her husband so that she will be ours. It is not when we see a picture. We in no way make her an object to be used. This is also true when seeing people engaged in acts which the Bible does not forbid.

    comments user
    Bill Stubbs

    Hi Noah. Thank you for your comment. Forgive me for delaying so long to answer. We’ve recently been doing grandchild care during the birth of a new sister. So, I’ve been somewhat distracted.

    I agree with your first sentence. To decide to try and draw a woman away from her husband to be ours is mental adultery, possibly leading to physical adultery. However, I disagree with what you say next. When we see a picture of a woman (clothed) or not and we choose to let our sexual desires run its full course to increasing arousal and eventual sexual release IS making the woman (whose picture we’re viewing) an object for sexual arousal. We are using her as a prostitute. As that happens repeatedly in our lives we tend to develop a “use and abuse” attitude toward women. Also, what we do so easily with a picture can become a habit we can’t break when with women in person. The purpose of sexual arousal is to draw two people together to express oneness, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.

    Your last sentence seems to suggest that viewing people engaged in sexual acts is acceptable. I suppose if it happened in front of you (not in a picture or video), your statement would be true, though this would be a very rare experience. If you mean to justify the regular use of pornography, saying God does not forbid it, to experience arousal and sexual release, I would have serious cautions. Our whole purpose of MCAG is to release people from calling sin, what is not. A prudish view of nudity linked to pornography enslaves us to wrongful lust. Many marriages have been destroyed by it. Many have become so addicted that it has hurt their jobs, their families, their futures. However, a healthy God-view of our natural bodies and of our sexuality brings a new freedom from sexual addiction sins. If I’m understanding your last sentence correctly you wish to sanction the viewing of sexual acts. To view it may not be sinful, but again, what you do with it, very well may be. I fear that such a sanction could easily become a justification of self-indulgence. Granted that viewing a sexual act is not anathema to God, one would hope that those being seen are in a marital relationship. All other sex acts between non-married people are not sanctioned by God. How then could we justify watching it as if it were no problem? This concern alone would rule out 99.9% of sexual acts viewed in pornography.

    Pastor Bill

comments user
Benji Quintana

Hello, I have a question. I’ve heard some young men like myself ask if “fantisizing” about lying with their future wife is a sin. It confuses me because that desire seems like a righteous pursuit (sex within the boundaries of marriage). However, on the other hand it might fall into the “objectifying for sexual gratification” category. I’m a little confused. Could I get your thoughts on it? Thank you

    comments user
    David Martin

    Good question, Benji!

    I think the answer lies in being very honest about what’s going on inside your head and heart while you’re “fantasizing.”

    To experience tremendously strong sexual desire for the one God you as your wife is quite normal and firmly within God’s intent for you and your bride! So it’s not the desire that is the problem, and it’s a good idea to acknowledge that and rest in that fact. Even rejoice in that fact! Naturally, as with any strong desire, we’re going to think and dream about and anticipate the fulfillment of that desire. Here again, this is not a bad thing. And without much doubt, such anticipation and thoughts will often result in manifest physical arousal. This is exactly how God designed you (and her) and it’s not His will for you to pretend or believe that He is displeased with it all.

    BUT… “fantasizing” is a loaded word. I wouldn’t call what I just described in the previous paragraph “fantasizing”… because it’s the natural course of being human, in love, and sexually virile. To me, “fantasizing” is when the ideas and thoughts and mental pictures and anticipation and ALL of it is brought to mind for the express purpose of arousing oneself and pursuing self-gratification. Fantasizing seems to imply engaging in thoughts about another person while objectifying them for personal pleasure. If we are honest about what’s going on in our heads at that moment, I suspect that “relationship” is taking a back seat to thoughts about body parts or imagined sexual actions (yours or hers). When this is what’s happening, then I think we have reason to be concerned about it.

    As you probably know, we do not condemn masturbation as an act… but we do condemn the objectification of another person for selfish gratification. It’s certainly conceivable that you may need to relieve the pressure that’s building up as a result of your relationship and the anticipation of what’s to come. And that may well enable you to exercise more self-control when you’re with your bride-to-be and the power of your relationship is impacting you physically. Just be careful not to mistreat her in your mind and heart… ever.

    Think about it this way… it’s possible for you to objectify your wife while pursuing sexual relations with her… and that too is wrong! She is *never* an “object.” She is *always* a Person… even during your physical oneness. Sexual union is *always* about the union of two persons, not using one another for selfish ends.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for writing!

    David Martin

      comments user

      Ooooohhh okay I see, That clears up a lot. Thank you soo much. Your website has saved me from a lot of false guilt and has given me a lot of relief. Alway’s keep doing what you’re doing.

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