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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