Last updated on October 11, 2020
Hey Mr. Jeffrey,
I’m having major issues understanding exactly what lust is in Scripture.
What does it mean to look at a woman with lustful intent? What if I see a beautiful woman and observe that she is beautiful and has a nice shape, would that be lust? If not, what would constitute lust in that situation?
What about pop up thoughts that just come out of nowhere that are of a sexual nature? Thoughts that I don’t intentionally think, is that lust also?
If I get aroused while talking to a woman from gazing in her eyes or just a chemistry we have, is that sinful?
Please help me, because I’m trying to balance the line between being physically attracted to a single woman I’m not married to and lust.
James details the process of sin in this fashion: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). The steps are:
- Desires: Each of us is born with a normal, natural set of desires. The physical desires are the consequence of the operation of our bodies. We also have spiritual desires, such as not wanting to be alone, wanting to be liked by others, or wanting something pretty.
- Temptation: Satan tries to place us in situations where it appears that the satisfaction of a desire will require the breaking of a law of God. Temptation is the forcing of a choice to be made: either to break a law of God and satisfy a desire or to forego satisfaction in order to keep God’s law.
- Lust (desire conceived): When a person mentally consents that breaking a law of God is worth satisfying the desire, then the person has moved into the realm of lust. This is when the person justifies to himself that breaking God’s law can be excused, at least in some situations.
- Sin: This is when a person seizes an opportunity and actually breaks God’s law.
- Licentiousness (sin full-grown): Sin is rarely done just once. The excuses to sin come fast, such as “I’ve done it once, doing it again isn’t going to make much difference.” Eventually, the person becomes calloused to sin and no longer feels guilty about what he is doing. He doesn’t care what other people think. He may even convince himself that he has the right to sin. (Licentiousness means thinking you have a license to sin.)
- Death: A person fully convinced that he ought to sin and doesn’t care what even God thinks about his actions won’t be persuaded out of his sin. Since he won’t leave his sin, he will die in his sin.
As an example, hunger is a desire — it is neither right nor wrong. Temptation is when you are in the convenience store and see a candy bar, but realize you don’t have enough money to pay for it. Lust is when you tell yourself that the store can afford to lose some items and that they are expecting some loss, or telling yourself that you could pocket it now and pay for it later and you accept that these are adequate justification to steal. Sin is when you walk out with the candy bar without paying for it. Licentiousness is when you think it is fun to take things off the shelf even though you have adequate money to pay for it. And from there it is a short step to spiritual death.
If you see a woman and think she is beautiful, then you are talking about attraction. Sexual attraction is not the only way that two people can be attracted to each other, though it is probably the most common way. Sexual desire is a part of living in a human body, but desire doesn’t mean you should act on those desires merely because they are present. You don’t eat simply because you think you are hungry. You don’t steal something simply because you would like to have an item. In the same way, just because your penis gets erect around someone, it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Desire can motivate you to do something so that you can legally fulfill your desire. However, Satan also uses our desire to tempt us to does something immoral to fulfill our desire.
The difference between a sexual attraction and lust is wanting to act on the attraction in a sinful way, such as wanting to have sex with her without bothering to date, get engaged, and then get married first. Often lust doesn’t have the patience to wait to do things properly because it is focused on selfish ambitions.
Unwanted pop-up thoughts are a form of temptation. It is Satan getting you to consider that you could break God’s laws and have sex now instead of at the proper time and in the proper way. Satan can’t tempt you if you never think about sin. The proper response to such thoughts is to reject them as being against what God wants you to do. To dwell on the thoughts and accept them as something you want to do is lust.
While lust is not directly sinning, since no action has taken place, lust is still sinful because you have accepted breaking God’s laws. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Matthew 7:21-23). Thus, looking at a woman while playing scenes in your mind of having sex with her is just as bad, in God’s view, as actually acting upon your thoughts. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).