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Jim Caviezel passover last supper Lust
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By: Biblical Mastery Academy

Lust is one of those words that most Christians probably think they know what it means. For others, it may be vague. Either way, when it comes down to it, many just don’t understand it well. Hearing it can conjure up feelings of illicit desire which are usually sexual in nature and presumed to be contrary to love. Many would accept that as a definition of lust. However, in light of its use in Biblical contexts, such an understanding really isn’t very helpful.

First, let us be perfectly clear. The Bible does not say that lust is a sin (explanation to follow) as some translations of the term infer. And second, Christians really need to be on the same page about what it is. Why is this so important? If the definition of lust is not understood well, the subtle ambiguity and discrepancy of its meaning really causes a lot of problems.

Most Christians would say that lust is sinful, but that’s one of the lies of the evil one. Lust, at least how it’s translated in the Bible, simply means “desire.” How could it be sin if it's just a desire? If you have any desire at all for anything, then you are lusting, and without it, there would be no marriage, nor would there be a human race.

Even Jesus lusted, as stated in Luke 22:15, when he said he greatly desired (lusted) to eat the Passover with his disciples. The Greek word “epithumeo”, used here by Jesus, is the same one he used in Matthew 5:28 when referring to coveting and adultery. As well, in Galatians 5:17, the Holy Spirit also continually lusts against the flesh. So, if God himself lusts, then obviously it can’t be a sin.

Epithumia is the Greek noun from which "lust" is translated in much of the New Testament. In the Bible, epithumia just means “desire.” It doesn’t have an inherently sinful or sexual context. Similar to "desire," the word "lust" has a neutral connotation in Biblical texts. The Greek word "epithumeo" is the verb of epithumia, which means the action of desiring something. It’s often translated as "desiring," "yearning," "longing," and at times "coveting." It also is morally neutral.

One other Greek word for desire, which may have even stronger meaning than lust, is "orexis" and its variation "orego." Paul uses orego in 1 Timothy 3:1 and 1 Timothy 6:10, speaking of both honorable and sinful pursuits. So again, it is not lust that's inherently sinful, but it's what one does with the desire that can lead to sin.

Like with many things in the Bible, how you control lust is what determines whether you sin or not. So then, does a lust that always requires self-control imply that it's inherently sinful? Not necessarily. Whenever we gaze at someone (anyone) who’s sexually attractive, is that lust? Often not. We can simply look at and appreciate that person's beauty for what it is. If that appreciation is actually a desire for their beauty, is that lust? Yes, it is because lust is just desire, in this case for beauty, not the person, and so it's not sin. We can desire beauty without desiring the person. But what if we actually do desire the person? Is that lust? Again, yes it is, but it's not necessarily sin. To illustrate, if a guy is able to get a single girl to agree to sex, then that falls under the sin of porneia, or if she’s married to someone else, it’s the sin of coveting in Matthew 5:28. So there’s a whole spectrum of lust that’s not sinful and there’s also sexual sin apart from that.

We need to have a clear understanding of the meaning of lust, otherwise, a hoard of ill-conceived notions can develop. Some people teach that Christians should be rid of all sexual thoughts for others - including even their own spouse. If not, they say, it could put them at risk of jeopardizing their faith in Christ (thank God that he’s the object of our faith and that our faith is not dependent on our own efforts). Some wives even believe that their husbands shouldn't be allowed to lust after them. Oddly though, that would mean no one could ever have any interest in getting married because marriage requires desire. Even more strange is that some people assume sexual arousal will ultimately and automatically lead to intercourse - or worse. But sexual lust typically leads people to marry, sooner than it does to commit adultery or rape. These kinds of ideas can only come from the wrong belief that lust is a sin.

Lust Does Not Equal Sin

Everyone knows that the Bible says sexual lust is wrong. Except when it's not. After all, Jesus lusted, so it can’t be that bad.

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Just like eating, breathing, or sleeping, sexual lust is a natural, physiological urge. Each of these are normal, God-given, neutral cravings of the body. The apostle Paul was aware of this and instead of condemning lust or trying to cage it, he promoted marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, God tells us that his desire for those who burn with sexual passion is to get married. Paul recognizes only two options for mutual sexual gratification and only one of those is legit. We can either try to meet our sexual urges and needs with someone outside of marriage, apart from God, or we can look to satisfy them with someone within the covenant of marriage.

It may seem counterintuitive, but perhaps the best way to really gain a right and healthy understanding of lust is to permit and allow it. For many though, lust has such strong connotations with sin and the cognitive dissonance otherwise is so great, especially among Christian leaders, that they are often unable to accept this truth. The church believes sexual lust (and sexual immorality in general) is a problem, not because God says it is, but because people say it is. Paul, however, never taught this. Lust is not the problem. Instead, it should be permitted, with the aim of directing sexual desire towards marriage.

God created sex to be very good and never instructs us to stop desiring it. In fact, unnatural prohibition of any natural desire, especially sexuality, almost always turns out to be self-destructive. Paul never advised anyone to join a men's group, to learn techniques to fight a battle against the chemicals in our brain, or to counter the sexual desires God has given us. Instead, he tells us to marry someone of the opposite gender and not deprive them of sex. Don't ever try to kill your natural desires for sex. That is completely misguided. Paul never counseled anyone to do that, but rather he promoted self-control. God-given lust should not be restricted, but is intended for marriage.

To be clear, sexual lust is not a problem with our physical eyes, minds, or bodies. It’s actually not even a problem at all. There's nothing wrong with looking at someone and being sexually attracted to them, or also being romantically attracted. That's how God made our physiology to work. In fact, if you're married (and at the risk of offending many), there's not even anything wrong with unnoticeably checking out someone who's not your spouse, admiring their looks to yourself and praising God for it. He never condemns it in the Bible. Ever.

Lust is not automatically equal to sin. We know that because Jesus lusted, and he still lusts today. He desires for each of us to know the severity of our sin, the depth of his love and forgiveness, and that we would each know him personally. Lust is not always sexual, and it’s not sinful. Lust is desire. It's just what you do with lust that matters.

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Matthew 5:28 is a notoriously misinterpreted verse with a complicated history, and a reputation of being a marriage killer.

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By: Jason A. Staples, Ph.D.

 

 

"And He said to them, ‘I have lusted to eat this Passover with you before I suffer' "

Luke 22:15

 

 

 

The word "lust" in most Bibles is misleading. Jesus actually referred to intent and coveting in his teachings, not dogmatic thought crimes.

When it comes to immorality, what some think of as sexual "sin" (such as porn) is really a matter of conscience.

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