The word "lust" in most Bibles is misleading. Jesus actually referred to intent and coveting in his teachings, not dogmatic thought crimes.
We all have a deep, God-given need for beauty.
Too many Christian men are wrongly accused of sexual immorality by their wives. The faulty reasoning is that lust is equal to actually screwing someone sexually. Some mistakenly call this “visual adultery,” but this is categorically false. The men in reference here are faithful husbands who love Jesus, who love their families, and whose wives may have been raised in a religious purity culture environment. These men have also been taught the dogma that masturbation and looking at other women are sin (even though the Bible never says that). Regardless, they still live in the daily tension of being created with a strong, visual sex drive, while also wrestling with trying to be understanding towards a sensitive wife.
This is a problem which usually starts way before marriage. Staples later says that "The biggest problem with the way these verses are usually explained is that it misplaces the focus away from the will, from the commitment of the heart, towards a condemnation of the natural desires human beings are created having. Young men in many churches are effectively told that there is something inherently sinful in their sexual impulses."
The shaming and condemnation of sexual impulses, common in purity culture, is extremely damaging to people. Some even go so far as to say that dreaming of adultery while asleep is committing actual adultery. Or they might say that simply looking at an image of someone in revealing clothing or a piece of nude art is “stealing” or "theft" of an image. What utter nonsense! These people are ignorant of reason. Must everyone avert their eyes from all beautiful people for fear of the morality police?
Jesus never told us in Matthew 5:28 that we are prohibited from gazing at the sexual beauty of others. That would be misinterpreting the whole verse, and that is what’s undermined, even decimated countless marriages and families. God has given us the gift of beauty all around us so that in a difficult world, we would praise him with thankful hearts. Should we despise and reject any of his good gifts to us?
Distinct from coveting, casual thought about illicit sex is not actual sin. Rather, it's really just temptation, and such impulses occur all the time. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus is our high priest who can sympathize with us because he was tempted in ways like we are. To follow the example of Jesus, real temptations are opportunities for us to yield to the Holy Spirit to produce in us self-control.
In the Gospels, we see that Jesus was actually and legitimately tempted to sin. For us, it's important to know that these were real sins he considered and which he had to resist. The desires (lusts) were not the sins themselves, but they were an occasion for the Holy Spirit to empower Jesus to counter the lies that the enemy threw at him. For if Jesus was not really tempted and had not truly resisted temptation to sin, we would hardly be impressed. But since he did, God demonstrated his power, and we are free to be amazed and give him praise.
Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch
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Matthew 5:28 is likely one of the most misinterpreted and abused verses in the entire Bible. It is a marriage killer verse and used by some to rationalize divorce. Contrary to popular belief, this verse does not equate ogling with adultery, nor is it saying sexual lust (desire) is a sin. Those who misinterpret the verse typically try to apply it across the board to everyone, but even that’s simply not possible. For two single people obviously cannot commit adultery since neither are even married, and adultery, by definition, requires marriage. What Jesus really warns against in this verse is the sin of coveting, looking with the intent to possess what we can't have.
The critical concept necessary to understand Matthew 5:28 is that of intent. Coveting is the intent to possess, and in our context is similar to attempted sexual violation. Jason A. Staples, Ph.D., professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at NC State University says in his article, “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #1 that, "A fuller way to understand 'coveting' is analogous to the modern legal concept of 'attempted' lawbreaking." He explains that it is coveting someone else's spouse, the intention to seduce them, that’s the same as adultery, and not just looking at them to appreciate their beauty. This is what Staples has to say about lustful intent in Matthew 5:28.
"Jesus is not suggesting that any sexual thought or inclination towards a woman is sinful. Nor is he suggesting that such thoughts or attractions being triggered by a look are sinful. The look is not the problem nor is the presence of a beautiful woman...Jesus addresses the matter of intent, of volition, the purpose of the look. The issue is not the appetite itself but how a man directs this natural appetite and inclination."
When applying intent to sexual lust, a man who looks at a married woman with lustful desire, but has no intention to sleep with her, does not commit adultery. The sin in Matthew 5:28 usually translated as adultery is not the simple act of looking at sexual beauty. Likewise, we can confidently say that the sin in question is not just the desire to have sex with someone either. No, the sin Jesus refers to is the intent to violate a marriage covenant. That means that if a man had opportunity to pursue sexual contact with a married woman, he would take it. That intent, according to Jesus, is the same as the act itself.
Similarly, any man who only admires the beauty of a single woman in her state of dress (or lack of a dress), but has no intention to pursue a sexual relationship with her, does not sin either. An example of this would be simply watching porn. If someone has the initial desire and is tempted to engage another in sexual activity, but the Holy Spirit stops them short of conceiving the intent, there is still no sin. But after he lusts, it is once he decides or schemes to interact sexually with the woman that the line is crossed. Even if neither one are married, all sex outside marriage is sin according to God.
How is seeing and desiring something like your favorite fruit, a beautiful flower, or anything else God created any different from seeing and desiring the beauty of a person? Did not the same hand of God create them both? Is it that we always act on our desires in sinful ways?
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.
Christiansexdeception.com (via web.archive.org)
“You heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a wife/woman in order to covet her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
By: Jason A. Staples, Ph.D.
By: Dennis Prager
By: Mary VandenBerg