What Is Lusting?

You’d think defining lust would be a simple enough task. Just open up Merriam-Webster, read the definition, and you’re set. But it’s not that simple. At least there’s still a lot of confusion about what constitutes lusting. I receive questions about it fairly often.

Today I’d like to take a stab about clearing up exactly what lust means and what it doesn’t, as well as when lust is okay and when it’s not.

Blog post title with illustration of woman facing forward and a thought bubble coming from her head

What Lust Is and Isn’t

Dictionary definition

Let’s start with that Merriam-Webster definition. The first entry to consider is “usually intense or unbridled sexual desire,” and the second is “an intense longing/craving,” such as a lust for power. That should rule out a few things that people sometimes want to list as lust, such as:

  • noticing an attractive person
  • saying someone is attractive

Mind you, these may not be wise choices in certain contexts, but they aren’t lust. These actions are no more inherently dangerous than noticing a beautiful sunset or commenting positively about a work of art.

While God prioritizes inner beauty, our Divine Sculptor also made some rather appealing exteriors. I mean, if you can’t acknowledge that the Chrises — Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt — are good-looking men, you don’t have eyeballs. Not to mention guys named Idris. But I digress.

Biblical definition

More importantly, let’s look at the biblical definition of lust. That’s what really matters to us, right? While there are other relevant scriptures, our concern about lust mostly stems from this verse: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus says lust = adultery. Obviously, that’s a line we don’t want to cross.

Now the Greek word for lust in this verse is epithumeó. This word appears 15 other times in the New Testament. Do you know how many of those times it’s translated in the NIV as lust? None. Not a single one.

In fact, you might be surprised to see the other verses where epithumeó appears, such as:

For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it (Matthew 13:17).

And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7).

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want (Galatians 5:17).

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1).

(See footnote below.)

As you can see, the word used by Jesus to mean lust isn’t strictly negative. It can have positive connotations as well. Epithumeó simply means a strong desire (that second Merriam-Webster definition), and the problem occurs when our strong desire is in conflict with what God intends for us to have — like someone else’s spouse.

Again, with these verses it becomes clear that lust isn’t merely noticing someone, but rather having a strong desire or longing. Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting — when you think sexually about someone you’re not married to or dwell on their physical attributes in your mind.

Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting — when you think sexually about someone you're not married to or dwell on their physical attributes in your mind. Click To Tweet

Revisiting my comment above, some celebrities are rather attractive men. But it’s one thing to recognize that, and another thing to seek out shirtless photos or flip through images in your mind or talk up how that person turns you on. No, no, and no.

Lust isn’t gender-specific

Did you notice all of my examples focused on women finding men attractive? Because one other thing lust isn’t — a purely male problem.

Too often when we talk about lust in churches or Christian circles, we assume that men struggle with lust and women really don’t. That’s balderdash.

First of all, not every guy struggles with lust, and second, plenty of women have issues with lust. Although Jesus speaks in Matthew 5:28 about men lusting after women, it’s pretty clear throughout the Bible — in stories and other verses — that women also have issues wanting what they shouldn’t have.

What’s the percentage breakdown of how the genders struggle with lust? I don’t know. Maybe it’s 70% of men and only 30% of women, but if you’re in the group that struggles, does it really matter? Don’t you just need an understanding that improper, selfish longing happens with both sexes and that God wants something much better for you?

Desire versus physiology

Finally in this section, I want to touch on an issue some worry about: When you see an attractive person and your body responds sexually, is that lust?

When you see an attractive person and your body responds sexually, is that lust? Click To Tweet

Let’s go back to Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Where does Jesus say the lust originates? It is in your eyeballs? In your groin? Or in your mind and heart?

God recognizes that we are physical beings here on earth. Having eyes that see a person doesn’t make you lust. Likewise, an erection or lubrication or a tingling in your nether regions could simply be a physiological reaction. What matters is the choice you make in your mind about how to view someone.

Now some might be saying that there’s not a conscious moment when you think, “Hey, I’m going to lust.” Rather, it just happens in a split second, as if your brain is responding to your genitals instead of the other way around.

As someone who mastered rationalization in my premarital promiscuous past, I’m just going to call you on that fish tale. Maybe you haven’t yet figured out how to interrupt the communication channel between your sexual physiology and your free-will brain, but you are making a choice and God calls you to make a different choice. He believes that — with intention and prayer and even support — you can do it, and so do I.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for having an arousal reaction that you cannot control, but own the part you absolutely can control — your decision whether or not to lust.

When Lust Is Okay and When It’s Not

Surely, after reading those examples, you can see that not all epithumeó longings are bad. Some are praised! Having a deep desire for something in line with God’s will gets a golden stamp of approval. In those cases, “lust” all you want after the thing God also longs for you to have.

Which means that lusting after your spouse is not only okay — it’s good. Deeply good. Godly good.

Lusting after your spouse is not only okay — it's good. Deeply good. Godly good. Click To Tweet

Sexual desire for your husband or wife is God’s intention for your marriage. When you think about their attractiveness, when you dwell on their physical attributes in your mind, and when you look longingly at your beloved, you’re in line with God’s will.

Go read Song of Songs and how often those spouses are basically like, “Hubba hubba, I love lookin’ at you, babe!” (Loose paraphrase.) Take, for instance, just these few verses from Song of Songs 7:6-8:

How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
  my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
  and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
  I will take hold of its fruit.”

Wow, that husband clearly has a strong desire for his wife. And God made sure that’s in our Bible!

So perhaps we need to re-frame how to talk about lust. To summarize:

  1. Lust isn’t just about sex. It’s about strong desires that can be in line with God’s will or not.
  2. Noticing and acknowledging beauty isn’t lust in and of itself. It has to go further into desire, longing, coveting.
  3. Even the sexual connotation of lust can be healthy and godly when it’s in the right context — just like sex. God blesses both in the confines of a committed marital union.

A related Greek word, epithumia, is also translated sometimes as lust (most notably in 1 John 2:16) but also more often desire — because the sexual connotation that the word lust has in modern English simply doesn’t apply to many of these verses. Thus, translators moved away from translating epithumeó and epithumia as lust between the time of the King James Version (1611) and more modern translations such as the current New International Version (updated 2011). For a full list of these verses, click HERE.

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61 thoughts on “What Is Lusting?

  1. Johanna Galyen

    I laughed when I got to the Chris’ list! As a Star Trek fan myself, Chris Pine played that role very well. Anyways! I really enjoyed this post, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much the Greek word, epithumeó, is translated differently, and in so many good ways. There is nothing wrong with a strong desire for the right things…like my husband! ~ Johanna

  2. Sean

    This is one of the best articles you have ever written. I was once in a marriage seminar who said that if a husband wanted sex with his wife for any other reason than because he solely wanted to express deep mature love, then his desire was only from lust, and lust is ALWAYS a sin. I almost fell over when she said that. She was actually saying that sometimes it is a sin for a man to want sex with his own wife.

      1. J Post author

        Oh, one more: Proverbs 5:18-19. “May her breasts satisfy you always” doesn’t sound to me like “May the maturity of your love satisfy your always.” Not that maturity of love doesn’t exist, but it’s okay to also have a physical longing for your spouse. That’s God’s creation at work.

    1. Wynd

      It is actually a fairly common position.

      I grew up under the teaching that any physical attraction to someone was lust, and therefore sin. “Hey, if Job can covenant with his eyes to not even *look* at a maid, you can too!”

      I know a pastor who strongly believes it is possible to sinfully lust after one’s own wife. His teaching is 1) sexual desire for ones spouse is God-given 2) any sexual looks, thoughts, touches, or actions that are done without 100% mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual commitment from both husband and wife is lust and therefore sin. Obviously, he doesn’t provide a magical instrument for gauging if one’s wife is at 100% tonight (or 95%, or 75%)….

  3. Sean

    Also, thank you for making your illustrations from the perspective of a female experiencing lust. Too many times churches lay this sin at the feet of men only.

  4. Holy terror

    Excellent work here, J! I would add a martin Luther quote: “you cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

  5. MrShorty

    A good study. If I may, I will add a few thoughts that I have had on the concept of lust.

    The connection to covetousness is interesting, and I even find it compelling. Interestingly, when I made the connection between the words lust and covet, because covet is usually more about wealth than sex, was reminded of Tevye’s little daydream about being a rich man. As winter drags on and I daydream about retiring early to Hawaii, am I coveting? When do common, harmless (??) daydreams become sinful covetousness?

    The other one was a short study that ended up being all Old Testament. For whatever reason, the Biblical word finder thingy that I used to look for lust (KJV, if it matters) started me out in Ps 78 of all places. Ps 78 contains a recounting of the Israelite’s exodus and journey through the wilderness, with a reminder of how Israel continuously “lusted” after food and water. What did their “lust” look like? “I hope we have enough food and water for this journey.” seems like a good, wise question to be asking. After a time of eating manna (nothing but? were they obligated to eat exclusively manna?), they ask for a little variety in their diet (something I think is good). And they are condemned for their desire, given quail, and punished. Where in their desire for variety and meat did it become lustful?
    Modern parallel might be Lent. How many of us who observe Lent spend some time daydreaming about and anticipating bringing whatever we have given up back into our lives? “I’m sure looking forward to that ham/steak/doughnut/ice cream/chocolate/etc. on Easter.” Perhaps to bring this back to Matt 5:28 — when does this fantasizing and anticipation reach the point of “You are so intent on (whatever you gave up) that it is essentially as if you had not observed Lent at all.”

    A couple of things I ask myself. Don’t ask me what I will answer myself, because I don’t yet know.

    1. Terry

      MrShorty, I’ve studied the account of the quail in Numbers, and it seems the last verse answers this question (Numbers 11:34). God punished them not for wanting something different or for eating meat, but for being greedy. He had intended for them to enjoy the change of pace (to the point of nausea, it seems according to v.20), but instead of giving thanks and distributing the meat thoughtfully, the people turned it into a free-for-all competition. How would they know that “He who gathered least gathered ten homers,” unless someone were counting? So their “lust” in this case was not in their desiring of the quail but in how they received it.

      An alternate (or expanded?) definition of lust I’ve heard is a desire for something – anything, not just in a sexual sense – such that I believe I cannot be happy without it. Thus lust is a form of idolatry. It does give one pause to consider the kinds of things we fixate on and the prominence they take in our lives. I don’t think looking forward to something once enjoyed (e.g., during Lent) is a form of lust unless it becomes all-consuming, or the “sacrifice” is a sham because we find a way around it (e.g, eating reptile flesh because it doesn’t count as “meat”). But like you I’ve often pondered what constitutes lust or idolatry, which likely misses the point as the idea in any case (sexual or otherwise) is not to figure out where the “line” is but to run away from it and toward the likeness of Christ.

      1. MrShorty

        A good analysis.
        Perhaps greed is a part of this. And perhaps idolatry (the part about not being able to be happy without it) is also part of this. I think the part I am still trying to understand is the daydreaming part. If I am driving down the freeway in my little Honda Civic/Totyota Corrola/insert other cheap car here and I see someone driving something like a Lamborghini or a Porsche or a Cadillac or (insert favorite luxury car/sports car/big truck depending on your style), I can (within the limits of safe driving) “ogle” the car, look at it from all angles, and, when we inevitably part, daydream about what I would do if I had such a vehicle all the way in to work. When I get to work, standing around the water cooler, I can strike up a conversation about that car I saw and we can all daydream together about it. Then, when break time is over, shrug our shoulders and return to our routine workaday world with no harm done. But, when it comes to sex, we have exactly 0.375 seconds to look the other way and stop thinking about it.

        I know that we sometimes treat sexual sins as a special class of sins. What do we think? Is daydreaming about expensive cars coveting? If it is, why are we more tolerant of this sin than the sexual version? Or is sexual daydreaming really a different class of sin than other daydreaming?

        1. J Post author

          Yes, I think we are more tolerant of some sins than others. Ephesians 5:3 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Greed is right there with sexuality immorality. Though I’m not sure daydreaming about having a cool car quite counts as greed. I think people often know, however, when wanting something they don’t have has become a focus of their attention that keeps them from being content and grateful for what they do have.

          But I also think you’re dealing with inanimate objects versus people, and clearly God values the latter in a deeper way. So much of Scripture is about how we treat others. If you’re treating a person with a similar ogling and daydreaming attitude as you would a car, you’re looking at that person as an object. That’s clearly not a Christ-like way to view people.

          By the way, I no longer suggest you have “0.375 seconds to look the other way.” The answer may instead to be looking closer to see the person behind the beauty. You can read more about my thoughts on that here: On “Pigs,” Good Men, and the Difference

          1. Brian

            J, I agree with everything except what you said about “looking deeper” to see that person. This sounds great and if we were all Jesus and strong enough to resist temptation I would agree with you. But we aren’t Jesus and that isn’t the world we live in. I think any man or woman is playing with fire when they interact closely with the opposite sex, and I see no examples except for Jesus to dispute this.

            Sexual temptation is probably responsible for bringing down more righteous men than any other sin in history. It brought down King David at the height of his power. If you can say that you are more spiritual than David then go right ahead, but it only takes a moment to lead you down the path of ruin.

          2. J Post author

            I don’t believe that we need to be in close, ongoing contact with people of the opposite sex. But I do think when you see and interact with someone, you can look past their collection of body parts and coach your mind to think about who they are as a person. Certainly, Elisha was able to stay at the house of a widow and treat her appropriately; the apostles surely interacted with the women who supported Jesus’ ministry, Mary Magdalene, and others; and Paul sent personal greetings in letters to several women, with whom he must have had some personal contact.

            Yes, sexual temptation brought down David. But David should have been at war and didn’t go; then he was gazing at a woman bathing; and then instead of turning away, he acted on it. He took the route warned against in Proverbs 6, essentially expecting he could scoop fire onto his lap and not get burned (v. 27). That kind of contact is certainly inadvisable in every way.

            But we should also remember that the Bible says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Doesn’t that mean that Jesus also faced sexual temptation, yet remained faithful? Of course, we’re not Jesus, but I do think he also had to deal with the physiology of being a man in every way.

          3. Doug

            Brian, I think we wrongly attribute sexual sin as David’s problem. His problem was related to power—it went to his head. Being puffed up he disregarded God and felt he could do whatever he wanted. What he did with Bathsheba was covet his neighbor’s wife. Then he effectively used his fearsome position of power to rape her. It was a classic #metoo scenario. Yet when we look at other men such as Joseph, we see a different outcome.

          4. J Post author

            You think he raped her? Certainly David used his position to persuade her, but I didn’t ever see rape in that passage.

          5. Doug

            J, Yes. Using the example of Texas law:

            Sec. 22.011. SEXUAL ASSAULT.

            (b) A sexual assault under Subsection (a)(1) is without the consent of the other person if:
            (1) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by the use of physical force, violence, or coercion;
            (2) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by threatening to use force or violence against the other person or to cause harm to the other person, and the other person believes that the actor has the present ability to execute the threat;

            What would you think if a group of the King’s armed men showed up at your door saying, “Come with us”?

            When the prophet Nathan confronted David, his emphasis was completely on abuse of power and use of force, “you took…”

          6. J Post author

            As to what a woman would think if the king’s men showed up at the door saying, “Come with us,” I think some women would feel assaulted and others would feel special, because — sad but true — a sufficient number of women are attracted to men in positions of power. Just think how many groupies over the years have responded quite positively when a rock star sent a burly security guard to say, “Come with us.” Which response did Bathsheba have? I don’t know. And I don’t think the Bible tells us exactly. Because that passage simply reads like this:

            One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her” (from 2 Samuel 11).

          7. Brian

            J, the fact that Jesus wa subjected to the same sexual temptations that we face and as a result of that he emphasizes with our struggles is kind of irrelevant to the point. Jesus was subjected to and successfully resisted all sins his entire life. I can’t even say that I get through an entire day without comiting some kind of sin.

            As to the point of David, you said earlier that instead of immediately looking away that it would be better to “look deeper.” So in theory David could have just ignored the fact that she was naked and attractive, and yet the man after God’s own heart (the only person to be labeled as such) was unable to do so.

            You can say that at this point he was already arrogant and that he should have been out leading his Army, but my point still stands. David was one of the most righteous people in history and yet he was unable to resist looking at a woman with lust. He should have looked away as quickly as possible and never looked back. Until we are are in glorified bodies incapable of sin I don’t think I’ll change my mind on that.

          8. J Post author

            Well, I don’t know what to say to you, Brian. Because of course David — and men — shouldn’t choose to “look deeper” at naked women, but most of the time men aren’t dealing with nude women strutting around in front of them. Instead, we tend to lust after people with bodies we appreciate or those dressed provocatively. What I’m saying is that pretty woman checking groceries out for a man or walking down the street shouldn’t be viewed as a collection of body parts, but rather a person made by God. If we can change our thoughts to those considerations, I believe it would help. I mentioned the apostles, because I think they largely did that with the women they encountered. But if a man believes he can do nothing but lust unless he “bounces his eyes,” then he’ll do nothing but lust if he doesn’t turn away. Just like if I don’t think I can resist chocolate cake, I will eat it and then blame the darn cake.

        2. Terry

          To J’s point as to the “rape” of Bathsheba, I would just add that the account of the rape of Tamar includes the words “by force”, as did the rape of Dinah (Jacob’s daughter). David’s encounter with Bathsheba does not.

        3. Anonymous

          An interesting response — one that is going to need to rattle around in my head for a while. Initial reactions:
          1) Interestingly, my first reaction is to reflect on the Catholic enumeration of the ten commandments — specifically that they tend to split “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” (#9) from “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s stuff” (#10). As an aside, I sometimes wonder if it would be valuable to talk about the 11 commandments, but we are so poetically attached to the number 10 that no one would probably go along with me on that.
          2) I am reminded of those who have said that “fantasizing about your spouse doing something that your spouse would not do in real life” is a form of lust/covet/objectification. I can understand why it is said, but it still seems like there is a question of degree here. Our desire for sexual novelty and variety suggests that a spouse must have some room to contemplate new ideas and to gently push your spouse’s boundaries and limits. Taken to the extreme, this attitude feels like “once you have discovered your ‘leftovers’ (see Dr. Schnarch’s discussion about sex consisting of leftovers), you are not allowed to think beyond them.”
          3) Objectification, like lust and covet, is a word that may be difficult to clearly define. Is there a question of degree between thinking about sex and objectification?
          Those are my immediate reactions. Not sure what they mean. This is going to need to simmer for a while.

  6. mepharisee

    Yeah coveting is desiring something in a sinful way basically. Wanting to have something u have no leagal or moral right too. It’s amazing how we confusing humans get straightened out when we allow God to speak in our conversations. God speaks just fine on His own & wants to be a part of our thoughts, discussions, & conclusions. We Christians get so afraid of sex & we don’t see that it weakens us. A stronger church does just what this post is. Discussion that lets God’s Word speak.

    Now I’ll demand my wife not throw the pillow at me when I “notice” Jennifer Lawrence. What? Lol.

    Thanks for making a serious subject fun to tackle & address.

  7. Mike

    I desire my wife. I also enjoy seeing at a beautiful woman without lusting. However, I have to fantasize in order to have sex with my wife. At the same time I have never SEEN my wife. Sex is in the dark, under covers, clothed, etc.

    So, is it LUST if I fantasize about another faceless, unknown, beautiful, sexy woman in order to get aroused to have sex with my wife? I choose not to fantasize with any woman that I know or anyone who is a real live persons.

    What are your thoughts? Thanks!

    1. J Post author

      So if a desire is good if it’s in line with God’s will for us and bad if it’s not in line with His will, then you tell me: Who does God want you thinking of while you’re making love to your wife?

      Yes, your wife is making the situation difficult, but I also think you already know the answer to the question you asked. Maybe it’s time to have an honest discussion with your wife about this, and maybe ask if she’ll introduce low lighting so you can at least seen the contours of her body and focus on that. It would be a step in the right direction.

    2. Sean

      I am sorry my friend. Have you ever gently told your wife that you would love to appreciate her beautiful body in the privacy of your bedroom behind a locked door?

  8. Anonymous

    I admit that I struggle with this topic of lust. I have been taught that it is certainly possible to sinfully lust your wife when you physically desire to have sex with her. This was called objectification. My spouse even told me that my strong desire to have sex with her (having sex 2-3 times a week) was misguided…I was making sex an idol, treating her as a “sex object” and not as a child of God. Most everyone (Christians) who I have talked to in real life have agreed with my wife.

    Please do not get me wrong…I have the most loving wife who has supported me through our ups and downs in marriage ( such as 3 job losts and my mental health issues) for almost 40 years. As my wife has told me many times…sex is a desire, not a need…

    1. Sean

      I hope not to offend you by disagreeing with people you may respect, but I believe that you have been taught something untrue. If your W thinks that sex is not a need, I must say that she has an unhealthy view of marriage in my opinion.

      1. J Post author

        Please see my response, because really and truly, I would say that if a wife is struggling with low libido, it’s likely not helpful to say, “Sex is a need.” Sex definitely should be in marriage as God intended, but that phraseology feels demanding to low-drive spouses. That said, I obviously agree that the “experts'” responses were off-target. Quite a bit.

        1. Sean

          of course it would not be advisable to tell a low libido spouse that sex is a NEED. However, it could be helpful to gently lead someone to the conclusion that the needs of the other spouse have equal validity.

    2. J Post author

      So I struggle with this need vs desire thing. Because strictly speaking, sex is not a need and calling it that doesn’t come across well to a reluctant spouse, yet it’s CLEARLY what God intends for you to have in your marriage — regularly, intimately, pleasurably. I mean, you don’t NEED to have conversation in a marriage — you won’t die without it — but what marriage counselor would in a zillion years say, “Oh, you want more communication in your marriage? Are you sure you aren’t making conversation an idol?” Good gravy, it’s okay to want to get busy with a child of God when that person is your spouse! Sheesh, there’s still a lot of work to do in Christian communities. Sorry about my mini-rant there, but I suspect you get it.

      1. Sean

        I agree that a person will not die from a lack of sex, however, a marriage certainly can die from a lack of sex. And if you know that sex will be a blessing for your spouse, yet intentionally withhold it, I believe you are sinning by omission.

        In addition to 1 Cor 7, I also think of 1 John 3:17 – ” If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” But the King James Version words it differently, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

        Most people think that this is talking about material possessions only. But wouldn’t the principle also pertain to marriage? If a spouse has a deep need to physically express love to his her spouse, yet the spouse refuses, even though he/she has the capability to fulfill that need, does the refusing spouse really possess the Love of God? I think that consistent sexual refusal reveals a lack of God’s love on the part of the refusing spouse. In my case, I would plead in tears for information about what changes I could make so that my refuser would want to love me physically. Whatever I was told, I would implement, only to find out that there was some detail I missed. I know it is not true of all refusers, but I finally came to the conclusion that she didn’t love me.

        It was a sad realization, but when I thought of it, her behavior made perfect sense.

        1. J Post author

          Yes, I see that, but I still believe that many spouses who demand that we call sex a “need” have a spouse for whom that language feels pressuring. So why not choose something that gets across the point without having to call it a need? I mean, that term isn’t actually in the Bible, so we’re not arguing over a biblical issue — just how to best speak about sex with our spouses when there is tension or conflict.

    3. Brian

      For anyone wife that says that desiring sex from her is objectifying her, I would ask this question: If your husband decided one day to never go out and look for a job, never lifted a finger around the house, never helped out with the children, and did nothing but sit on the couch and spend money…would you be ok with that? Would you love him and get just as many butterflies in your stomach when you look at him on the couch?

      I’m betting the answer is “no”. In fact, given time I’m betting that your love for him would quickly wane along with your respect for him, until you would no longer be able to bring yourself to look at him without anger in your heart? So why is that? I would say it’s because you objectify the utility that he provides by going to work and earning money, along with the help he provides when he mows the grass, fixes things around the house, or watches the children.

      In other words, while you might consider it wrong for him to objectify you by desiring your body, you probably objectify the utility he provides just as much. If you deny this then picture your husband laying on the couch for a week straight and whether that would affect in any way your sexual desire for him. If your sexual desire for him would be affected by his lazy inaction in any way, then you are probably objectifying him.

      I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Men and women are attracted to different things in general. But, I think it’s important to point out that while physical appearance is the primary way men are attracted to women, it is not at all the only thing that contributes to sexual desire or list for someone.

      1. J Post author

        Okay, I agree and understand. But I really do think this conversation is now moving away from the point of this post. So maybe we can agree that sex is incredibly important to marriage? Because yeah, that’s what I say 100% of the time here. Right? 😀

    4. Doug

      The idea that a husband can sinfully lust after his wife is many times based on the KJV rending of 1 Thessalonians 4:4,5 “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” Vessel is interpreted as meaning the wife. John Calvin and Martin Luther were influential in stressing the idea that marital sex could never be completely without sin. Personally, I think vessel refers to one’s body. That said, if we look at extremes it becomes clearer that a man can sinfully lust after his wife. For example, it is becoming more and more common in erotica for husbands to crave seeing their wives have sex with others or group sex. It should be evident this is a manifestation of sinful lust and not holy passion. There are many other examples.

      1. J Post author

        First off, I found myself thinking: Well, of course my wonderful readers have me doing deep-dive Bible study less than an hour after I wake up. #NotAMorningPerson But this is a fascinating point, Doug. I really appreciate your take on this.

        Fleshing out these thoughts, I looked into the passage itself, the meaning of the Greek words used, and the background of the Church in Thessolonica, and I have no idea where they got the idea that “vessel” means “wife.” Since 1 Thessalonians was written to a very new congregation, it seems rather unlikely that Paul would be expecting this group of just-learning believers to get some veiled reference to a wife. Far more likely, the Gentiles in this thriving seaport, who’d previously worshiped idols (1 Thessalonians 1:9), needed foundational lessons in godly living. And according to Strong’s, “‘Vessel’ was a common Greek metaphor for ‘body’ since Greeks thought of souls living temporarily in bodies.” Paul, well-educated in Greek, would know all that and speak their language.

        Now I often use the NIV here (sometimes NLT and others), but this time, from the ESV which tends to be a little more on the continuum toward literal interpretation, this is how 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 has been translated: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” That sounds far more accurate to me.


        1. Kevin W.

          I think the idea that vessel means wife is primarily from the same Greek word being used in 1 Peter 3:7 of the wife as a a weaker vessel. I agree that body makes the most sense.

          If you want to learn more about where the idea that vessel means wife came from you can see John Gill’s notes at https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-thessalonians-4-4.html

          And if you really want to do a deep dive you can see a 51 page study at http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v11n2_2_to_possess_one_s_vessel.pdf
          The conclusion on the last two pages is that the evidence favors “to control/master his own body.”

          1. J Post author

            I think I read that first one while I was working on the post, but the second resources is new to me. I don’t often share links in comments, but these are quite interesting. Thank you!

          2. Doug

            So we may have a new word for a sexual organ — “vessel,” lol. “Tame your vessel, boy!”

            Not sure there’s much difference in meaning whether one views vessel as “body” or “wife.” If we take it to mean “wife,” then Paul would be reiterating what he said to the Corinthians: “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.” Basically, “because of the sex drive God put in you, you need to get married.”

            I wish their was a more emphatic message to singles to get married. More often we hear the practically futile message to control until marriage, which in our day is pushing age 30 on average.

  9. KarenR

    Great post J!

    I have always defined lust as predatory in nature. Almost wolf-like without regard to the personhood of the object of desire. The person is simply a potential means to an end. It is different than desire and attraction but unfortunately in Christian circles, these 3 terms are made equivalent and they are not.

    You said “Lust happens when it reaches the level of coveting-when you think sexually about someone you are married to….”
    What would you say to a couple that is engaged to be married? Sex is a huge part of marriage and I would expect a man and a woman engaged to marry are sexually attracted to one another and that they think of being intimate with their future spouse. A lot. Would you categorize those thoughts as lustful?

    1. J Post author

      Interesting question about being engaged. First of all, I’d said that really long engagements are not a great idea. That said, Jacob held off for seven years for Rachel, so it can be done. In that case, I think the specificity of thought matters. Yes, you’re aware of arousal and desire — that hot spark between you two — but you don’t feed that flame until it could burn out of control. There’s a difference between thinking, “I can’t wait for the day I can be physically intimate with my fiance,” and “I want to take my tongue and drag it across her skin and—” Okay, you get the point. The former strikes me as recognizing your God-given sexuality, and the latter strikes me as a moving into a specific desire to do things you’re not yet in the context to do.

  10. E

    Very, very well written post, J! I just LOVE your work! And I also love the thoughtful, deep conversations going on in the comments! I have learnt so much, and have found much to ponder on. As always, I really appreciate your deep dives into scripture, and how you make certain not to take verses out of context, as well as looking at various interpretations based on the original language, different translations and using scripture to interpret scripture!

  11. Thomas Smith

    I want to comment on this question of J’s: “Maybe it’s 70% of men and only 30% of women, but if you’re in the group that struggles, does it really matter?” Yes, it does, because I, as a man who struggles a lot with lust, know that the fact is that if I weren’t a man, I would likely not be struggling with lust. This is a fact, and I have trouble reconciling it with a good God.

    1. J Post author

      I understand your frustration, and I’m sure that’s tough. But honestly, if it wasn’t lust, you’d just struggle with other stuff. Because we all struggle with something. And that’s not the fault of a good God, but rather His excellent decision to give us free will.

      James 1:13-18 says: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” God knows we are tempted, but He wants to be there to show us truth and rebirth. Praying for you, Thomas.

  12. Thomas Smith

    Hmmm… J, do you believe that a Christian must conquer his sins in order to be saved, or to “stay” saved? (I’m not asking how you interpret the Bible, I’m asking what you believe.)

    1. J Post author

      I believe that no Christian can conquer his sins; only Christ can conquer our sins. If we are, therefore, committed to Christ, we are allowing Him to work in our lives and to walk with Him toward godliness. If that’s not happening, I guess I’d question how committed one is to the faith. As Jesus said in John 14:23, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

    2. K J

      If we conquered our sins in order to be saved (or to remain saved), that would be work on our part. But we are saved by grace, through faith, not by works. Jesus said that whatever the Father gives Him He will keep, and no one can take His sheep from His hands. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection conquering sin and death are the only things that save us, and God’s unending, unconditional love is what allows us to draw near to Him.

      I am daily thankful that I cannot (or did not) do anything to become or remain saved. If I recognize the sin in my heart and life and yet think that maybe I can be good, how much more will God see my true colors (and yet, He chooses to look at me through Jesus). “Goodness” is not a standard I can meet; “perfection” is the standard that God judges on and one that only Jesus can meet.

  13. Gaye @CalmHealthySexy

    Wow, this is an excellent post, J. A lot of food for thought. Also, it’s fascinating to read about what people have learned about sex in their church over the years, some of it good but some quite bad.

  14. a

    Speaking of lust, I’m struggling and would greatly appreciate any input. My husband and I have been together for more than 25 years. I’m crazy about him and thought we had a wonderful life, including a fantastic sex life.

    There have been several times I’ve noticed him going out of his way to look at other women when he was with me – sometimes as far as striking up a conversation with one. His social media has caused me a great deal of insecurity. In the past, it’s been namely Twitter. I’ve seen him following everything from car pages with half naked women to every busty blonde newswoman in the business. I’ve shared with him how these things make me feel – as if he’s choosing them over me. And I’ve reassured him that he can have the real thing (me) whenever he wants. I love having sex with him and making him feel loved and desired. Several times, we’ve had the conversation about how him viewing these type things on Twitter makes me feel and every time, he deletes his app and says he never wants me to feel that way. This lasts a few weeks until there’s a particular game or political event and he wants to get back on Twitter.

    That’s exactly what happened recently, except this time, I noticed that not only is he full blown into Twitter again but also Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook (which he supposedly hates.) I checked out his FB today and he’s added about 50 women since his last social media break – women from elementary school days to ex-girlfriends. I also looked at his browsing history (what is visible). He’d looked up about 20 women in the last week that either he or we both know.

    I’ve asked him previously about pornography and he says he has viewed it in the past, but vehemently denies using it and becomes angry and defensive if I question him. But there have been many times when we’ve been intimate that he’s said and done things that left me feeling like he had to have seen that somewhere. It was more than he could have read in a blog.
    More recently, he’s been having a difficult time performing and hasn’t been interested in sex much at all. He attributes it to age and stress but now I’m wondering if he’s looking at porn and taking care of things, himself. He gets up early every morning so he can spend a good deal of time in the bathroom. Not to be graphic, but I noticed there’s a jar of coconut oil in the bathroom cabinet. I did not put it there.

    Earlier this week, Pink was in concert in our city. My husband said, “Don’t you wish we were there?” We used to go to Christian concerts when we were dating but nothing other than that and he knows I don’t enjoy concerts. If the man knows a single Pink song, it’s news to me. He’s lost about 40 pounds and perhaps the concert sounded like a way to feel young? I don’t know who I’m married to anymore.

    My whole life, people have told me how pretty I am but I have never felt so ugly and unwanted. My heart hurts with every breath. Am I crazy to worry?

    1. J Post author

      I think some of what you’re worried about likely isn’t true. However, your husband is adding a lot of this anxiety by saying one thing and doing another. That makes a spouse feel off-balance and looking for reasons why. One possibility is your concern that he could be watching and satisfying himself with porn. It’s not the only one, but it would explain some of his behavior.

      Rather than pleading with him, maybe it’s time to establish some boundaries. To simply say, “I cannot live like this anymore, because your words and your actions don’t match. If something is going on, you need to tell me so I can be there with you to help. But I will not support you looking at other women and then trying to engage with me.” Then follow through with setting boundaries. Point out what you see, calmly but firmly, by asking questions. “Why is this coconut oil here?” “Why did you friend these women?” However he answers, you don’t have to respond. Just him knowing that you see what’s happening may be enough to show that he needs to walk the talk.

  15. Anonyman

    My wife and I have had this discussion a number of times over the years. She is beautiful and I tell her so, however, after marriage her expectation was that I would never see another woman as attractive except for her. In fact, she hates the word ‘attractive’ because she believes it implies a sexual longing for someone. She doesn’t think noticing is lusting, but she’s told me if I notice a woman long enough to recognize or think she’s beautiful I have looked too long and have begun to lust. She would be terribly hurt if I ever said another woman was pretty or attractive. She says she does not find other men (actors, public figures, or men’s she sees in daily life) as attractive and I should be the same regarding women.

    I sometimes feel as if she is trying to hold me to an unrealistic standard and she feels I’m trying to make excuses to lust. I once told her I lusted for her and she became very upset and hurt, telling me lust is a negative thing and I was objectifying her. I have never used the word again.

  16. alchemist

    Several thoughts: pastors who says physically wanting to have sex with your wife is lust. Argh! That’s so rediculous it makes me want to poke my eyes out.

    I’ve always read the passage with David and Batsheba as coercion. Aka, not by consent, therefore rape. What’s a lady to do when the king summons her and her husband is an officer in his army? That’s all kinds of coercive force there. I guess from the story with Abigail we have reason to believe that David would have listened to appeals to his better nature. Did she know that?

    I normally don’t think of lust as a sexual thing; maybe because I have little to no temptation to it. Maybe I just watch too much Anime. Lust for knowledge and vengeance is far more likely to get me. Lust for power, dominion and control, that I get.
    I think C. S. Lewis is right in the Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy. You can tell lust be the quality of the emotion. He described ravenous lust for the occult. I can 100% identify with that. Or the quality of sexual desire for the Infernal Venus as qualitatively different than his more healthy and innocent desire for the Terrestrial one (although the latter can still be twisted to lust).

    Lust is close cousins to greed and envy. And if you don’t think lust for power, vengence, dominion, control or knowledge can corrupt and destroy people maybe you should watch more Anime. Naruto Shippuden is a case study in how desire for vengence can utterly a person (Sasuke). Pain and Madara are case studies in how desperate desire for dominion, power and control can essentially drive you mad and destroy the world. Kabuto and Otochimaru embody the lust for knowledge. It’s not pretty.


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