Sexual sin is so predominantly the sin in the minds of many that the words “lust” and “immorality” are understood to refer exclusively to it.  This error led Dorothy Sayers to title her essay on the seven deadly sins “The Other Six Deadly Sins.”[1] The consequences of this error are so extensive that they need to be exposed before we can even begin to discuss the sin of sexual lust.  We’ll look at the two most deleterious consequences.

Lust is an excessive or inordinate desire for something.  It can be for wealth (avarice), food (gluttony), praise (vainglory) or any number of objects. Sexual lust, which is an excessive or inordinate desire for or love of sex, is just one type of lust.  Limiting the meaning of “lust” to sexual immorality often results in downplaying the gravity of these other sins.  As should be clear from the other posts in this series, the other six are evil in their natures and deadly in their effects.

It also obscures the interconnectedness of all sins, which have their origin in our disordered sinful nature and its desires with the consequence that we tend to associate the problem with the desired object rather than our self.  When lust is understood erroneously as synonymous with sexual sin, the result is that sexual desire itself becomes suspect or even condemned outright.   Given that sexual desire is naturally strong and so evidently out of control in contemporary society, the church often gives the impression that sexual desire is wrong in and of itself, provoking a strong rejection of the Christian message by non-Christians and impoverishing the legitimate sexual life of Christians.

In order to overcome this error, we need to explain the biblical view of sexual desire and contrast it with its perversion in sexual lust.  Doing so will expose the false promises made by sexual lust.  Instead, we shall see that the biblical understanding of creation serves as the basis for the real benefits of sexual desire in physical pleasure, relational intimacy, and procreation.  Such a view of sexual desire should then fill us with gratitude to God for this wonderful gift and help us begin to grasp something of the mystery of sexual desire as a pointer to our relationship with God.

The Bible begins with the affirmation that God created “the heavens and the “earth (Genesis 1:1), a Hebraism for the totality of the universe.  Genesis 1 repeatedly reports that God declares the various stages of his creation to be good and concludes with statement that “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  In this context, “good” is not a moral term but rather is to be understood as pleasing, beautiful, and fulfilling its purpose.

The creation of humanity takes center stage in the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2.  Man, male and female, made in the image of God, is the culmination of creation (Genesis 1:26-31).  His blessing is his calling to be fruitful and fill the earth—procreation, the having of children, as a result of sexual relations.  The benefit of relational intimacy is highlighted in Genesis 2 in which God creates the woman because “it is not good that the man should be alone” (2:18). Upon seeing her for the first time, the man rejoices, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (2:23).  In sexual union the two “become one flesh” (2:24), which, not only describes the intimacy of the couple but also points to them forming a family, the building block of community.

Just as taste buds were created by God to give us pleasure in eating food, a necessity of life, so the human body has been designed to make sexual intercourse a physical pleasure.  The pleasure of sexual relations, implicit perhaps in Genesis 2, is explicit elsewhere in the Bible.  In Proverbs 5:15-19 the father counsels his son concerning sexual relations and its joys to be experienced exclusively with one’s mate.

Drink water from your own cistern,

flowing water from your own well.

Should your springs be scattered abroad,

streams of water in the streets?

Let them be for yourself alone,

and not for strangers with you.

Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth

a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight,

be intoxicated always in her love.

The Song of Solomon repeatedly and in the most beautiful of poetic language describes the physical pleasures of sexual love.  So passionate is it that the woman says that she is “sick with love” (2:5; 5:8).

As wonderful as is the physical pleasure of love, it is not a selfish pleasure.  Rather within the commitment of marriage it creates a mutual giving of each to the other so that both can say, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).  The giving of one’s body to the other in married love creates a relational intimacy of indescribable depth. Such giving of the one to the other in sexual love leads to children, a blessing from the Lord (Psalms 127 and 128).  Procreation, having children, blesses parents with the joy of the experience of a life beyond one’s self, a life of giving to others.  One of the chief reasons for limiting sexual relations to the married state is to provide children with a stable home life so that they in turn will become parents of healthy families.

All the pleasures of human life are meant to draw us toward God.  Their joys lead us to seek more, but that more can only be found in a relationship with God.  This is because God “has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  This is true especially of the marriage relationship, which Paul teaches is a profound mystery that refers to the relationship between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:32).  As those made in the image of God, we cannot find ultimate satisfaction in anything apart from God.  Our joy then is to image his self-giving love to others and to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Sexual lust perverts all of this.  In sexual intercourse it seeks selfishly to gratify its physical desires.  Using the other person or persons as objects for its gratification, it destroys relationships and seeks to avoid children as a burden.  In fact, the popularity of pornography is that one can get the physical pleasure of sex without the hassle of another person.  By focusing exclusively on the physical pleasure of sexual love and ignoring its more profound and enduring purposes, it loses even the physical pleasure.  It is a well-known fact that the stimulus to attain illicitly the physical pleasure of sex must be increased as lust becomes addiction and the addicted seeks stronger fixes to sate an insatiable desire.  Sexual lust becomes idolatry, and the false god of sex fails.

How can we avoid the trap of sexual lust?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Believe what the Bible says about the meaning and joys of sexual love and the terrible consequences of sexual lust. To do so means to make the effort to expose oneself to faithful biblical teaching and avoid the false teachings about sexual love that really are advocating sexual lust.
  2. With prayer set your heart to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. As you do so, you will experience the depth of joy that comes from living in concord with your true nature as the image of God and will not be duped by the counterfeit pleasures of sexual lust.
  3. Trust God that he will provide a mate for you to satisfy your desires for a deep and intimate relationship or that, whether single or married, he will satisfy you.
  4. Set your hope to be part of the fellowship of believers who, as the bride of Christ, will be presented spotless and pure before him (Ephesians 5:25-27).
  5. Depend upon God’s Spirit who will help us overcome sexual temptation (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
  6. When faced directly with the temptation of sexual immorality. flee (1 Corinthians 6:18). Do not tarry.  Do not dawdle or toy with it.  It is too strong for you.
  7. Immerse yourself in the loving community of God’s people who do truly love you and support your desire for purity.

 

May God give all of us the grace to overcome these deadly sins and to enjoy him now and forever.

[1] Dorothy Sayers, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” in Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, ed. Roderick Jellema (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmanns, 1969), p. 138.

28 Responses to “Sexual Lust”

  • Tess Ewing:

    Dr Isley, thank you for another well thought out blog post for me to learn from. To start with, I really appreciated the clarification between sexual love and sexual lust (as it is always nice to compare and contrast) and for the tips to help one realize the difference between the two. As well, I like how you talked about the benefits of sexual love, and used verses to support that thought, because as I believe you mentioned earlier in class, a lot of the time we only hear of sex in general as a bad thing, so it was nice to get the whole picture on that statement. An example of this that seemed to help me grasp this concept was when you talked about the creation in Genesis 1 and 2 of man, and how it God created mankind to be fruitful and fill the earth, implying that sexual love is not always a bad thing, until we pervert it, mainly by making people or the act of sex as an idol/we love it more than God. Overall, this was a very clarifying blog post, and I enjoyed it.

  • Drew Sullivan:

    One other thing to remember that many don’t, especially in our society, is that love is a choice not a feeling. It is important to remind yourself that looks fade away and putting God first in a marriage will make it stronger. It is also important to only have sex with one person because of the whole ‘one flesh’ thing. When this is broken, there may be external consequences just like gluttony. On that topic, I like your comparison of intercourse to eating. Last, the saddest thing about sexual lust is how it affects others, as it often leads to divorce, death, depression, broken relationships, people who feel used, and abortion. Thanks for all you posts, they have been great and I have learned a lot.

    • Thanks, Drew. I would say that love is both a choice and a feeling. However, I must admit that our society unfortunately identifies love as a feeling and when the feeling is gone, we feel justified in abandoning the one we supposedly loved.

  • Sophie Cather:

    Thank you Dr. Isley for the enlightening post.
    Lust has always puzzled me because I, by God’s blessing, have been sheltered from the exposure to much of the vulgarity and sexual immorality present today. The issue with a limited view reveals itself when I consider sexual desire to be a sin, when in reality it is the excessiveness of sexual desire or sterility. It is difficult to see the beauty and goodness of sex as it has been tarnished and distorted by society. Often, I hear premarital sex used as a status symbol. However, as Genesis 2:24 states, the two feel incomplete afterwards because they are severing the bond designed by God for the purpose of marriage.
    In Matthew 5:28 Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The accessibility of pornography due to sources like the internet is concerning, especially because many people do not see it as a sin. Part of the issue may lie in the misconception that sexual lust denotes only physical sin, yet sexual lust is both a physical and mental sin.
    One way that may help others who struggle with sexual lust is modesty. Modesty being derived from 1 Peter 3:3-4. “Do not let your adorning be external…but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Being mindful that we ought to represent Christ well can begin externally by an awareness of how we not only clothe ourselves, but also how we characteristically present ourselves.
    Thanks!

    • Thank you so much, Sophie, for your intelligent insights. It is sad, even tragic, how our society has perverted love so. I am glad how you have been blessed to be sheltered in this matter. You are certainly right that realizing how we represent Christ should make us careful how we present ourselves. The other side of those verses in 1st Peter is that we should desire above all a godly person.

  • Skylar Ball:

    This was a very well written post on sexual lust, I think it is interesting how different the biblical view of love is compared to the secular view. I just find it crazy that the concept of love has changed so drastically. And that sometimes even Christians who understand biblical love well can so easily fall into the secular view because it seems easier and more fun. Thanks, I have learned a lot from this post.

  • Chandler M Vincent:

    Dr. Isley,
    While reading this blog and coming to the end I feel as if I was left with a desire for wanting more, if that makes sense. I suppose I just felt that you focused on the positives of a moral sexual life rather than the negatives that come from an immoral sexual life. Which I suppose in most cases is probably the better option, but for myself I have always learned about the right thing to do, but I find it more interesting to learn the reasons not to do it (so, therefore, I can have a solid foundation for why I do and do not do certain actions). Anyway, I suppose my question would be what would be some negative outcomes? Or where could I look to find those, in the Scripture and out of it?
    Thank you for writing this blog, it was phenomenal. I have really enjoyed learning about human nature with you and Mrs. Gossard the past 5 months, and I will really miss the class next semester.

    • Thanks, Chandler, and you hit the nail on the head. When I finished the post, I said to myself that I had written more about the positive view of sexual love than about the negatives. We’ll talk more in class, but the last paragraph before the suggestions of how to avoid falling into sexual sin mentions the problems.

  • Kylie Cleverdon:

    Thank you for another insightful post, Dr. Isley! I appreciated how you referred to the Bible and the Biblical views of sexual love, because in this day and age, sex is usually seen as a bad thing. This blog post acted as a reminder that sex was created by God to be a very good thing, and when a man and a woman, in marriage, do so, they are able to truly see the beauty that God created, both in each other, and in their child after intercourse has occurred. God is so good and created everything for a reason and wants us to enjoy His creation. This was a great blog post and I’ve enjoyed this class very much! Thank you for teaching us how to go about becoming more like Christ by knowing some tips and tricks of how to try to avoid these 7 deadly sins.

  • Hadley T.:

    Thank you, Dr. Isley, for another eye-opening post. I have often been very confused when it comes to sexual desires, especially in identifying a difference between sexual desire and sexual lust. So, for clarification purposes, is there a possibility for sexual desire outside of marriage that is not lust? I ask this in the sense of the fact (at least from what I’ve been told) that sexual desire for someone does not begin the moment a couple is married. If so, what does this look like?
    I do appreciate the distinction of sexual lust and sexual desire. The former being selfish and objectifying, and the latter being wholesomely giving oneself to another person (or the desire to do so). It is actually beautiful if looked at from the perspective of the selfless giving of oneself, the unity seems bizarre. When the focus of the act is turned toward personal satisfaction and objectification takes over, sexual lust is there, removing not only the humanity of the other human, but the humanity of the person committing sexual lust. They sin against God and objectify themselves, making themselves less human and more animalistic. yike.

    Thank you, Dr. Isley, for all the wonderful posts!

    • Thank you, Hadley for your insightful comments and the very good question. On the one hand, I don’t think that is wrong if we find a person of the other sex attractive and as a single are even drawn to him or her as a possible mate. I would hope engaged couples feel that attraction. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus condemns adultery in the heart in which one looks at a woman (or a man, I’d add), with the intent to lust after her, then that is sin. Usually, this involves looking on them as a merely physical object and to desire them for one’s own sexual satisfaction without the marriage commitment. I hope that helps. This would be a great question to ask in class.

      • Taryn Durbin:

        Thank you for another well written post, Dr. Isley! I liked how you compared the biblical view of sexual love to the secular view. The biblical view of sexual love views sex as a very good thing. When having sex in a married relationship the two become ‘one flesh.’ Whereas the secular view of sex seeks only to fulfill one’s own physical desires. Sexual lust often times destroys relationships and leads to divorce, people feeling used, abortion, etc. Sex is often seen as a bad thing, but this post helped me to better understand that sexual love in a married relationship was created to be a beautiful thing. Giving one’s body to the other in marriage leads to children, which is a blessing from the Lord.

  • Jaley Barkley:

    This was a great post and I loved all the examples and Scripture references that you gave! The sin of sexual list I feel is growing and is sadly becoming more accepted in our society today. Instead of using sex as a way of procreation and for pleasure (in the right way), people take advantage of the thing God made for man and solely us it for pleasure with many people. God clearly says that we become one with our mate when we have sex, but many have sex with multiple people, instead of what it says in Proverbs, which is to save yourself for one mate. The view that I have learned is that God desires for us to have sex after marriage. I was wondering if it is a sin to have sex before marriage even if they end up being your husband or wife, so they end up only having sex with one person.

    • Thank you for your comments, Jaley. Your question is an important one. The Bible limits sexual relations to one’s spouse. To have sex before marriage, even if they were to marry later, is a sin. They have not promised or vowed to be with one another for life; so, the sex is not connected with the commitment of marriage.

  • Halle Pavlik:

    Thank you so much for another amazing blog post. I really appreciated it because it answered questions that sometimes I was afraid to ask. In my friend groups, family, and at Cair Paravel we don’t really talk about sex. I think we don’t talk about it because we think it’s awkward but this just leads to fear that we can’t ask questions. I thought that sex was only for procreating and not for pleasure between a married man and woman. I now see that it is not wrong to desire this pleasure as long as the 2 are marred and it is not in a unholy way. I now can understand the concept of sexual lust and can now see that people excessively desire it. I was only left with a couple questions: how does this lust start before the act has been done? How do they desire this pleasure if they have never experienced it and if they know it is unholy? Are they just seeking validation or approval or are they desiring to fit in? I look forward to seeing your response. Thanks again for another great article.

    • Thank you for your comments, Halle, and I’m so glad that you found the post helpful. It can be awkward to discuss an intimate subject like sex, and I hope that you’ll have more opportunities to discuss it. Be sure that it is the right context and with people who know God’s word and have your best interests at heart. Your questions are very good. Lust usually starts with the sight. Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28 spoke against looking at a woman to lust after her. It also is often related to fantasizing about someone of the opposite sex. In any case, we need to remember that we are sinners and so seek that which is wrong or forbidden. We need to remember that society in so many ways seeks to provoke the desire for sex and without the limits of a married relationship. I think that there are several reasons why people commit the sin of lust. Your two could be the case. For others, it could be just a desire to have the experience.

  • Lauren Drum:

    This might be a really dumb question but why is it so bad if someone (particularly Christians) have sex outside of marriage? Even if they know or recognize that they are not ready in any way to take on a family. There are ways to get around that, and they are there for a reason. I mean I get that sex is something that is “special” between a husband and a wife but why can’t it be someone’s decision without it being sin? If someone wants to have that relationship with someone outside of marriage, why do they have to be looked down upon by others because of something that is natural for everyone? I’m not saying that I am in anyway for or approving pre-marital sex, but this is something that I have heard a lot of especially coming from a public school. It seems to be becoming a major part of many teenage lives, which is sad. It’s turning into the result of young families or abandoned children, which is also very sad. Also, what would be your advice for Christians to tell those who are struggling with sexual temptations? Thanks, and sorry if I confused you, because I kind of confused myself!

    • Thank you, Lauren. I always appreciate your frankness. There are several reasons why it is wrong to have sexual relations outside of marriage. In the first place God says it is wrong in his word; so, ultimately it is not ours to say that it is right. However, as always, God’s commandments and prohibitions have a positive reason behind them. There is no other relation that is like that between a husband and a wife. It involves a lifelong commitment to each other under God which creates a union so close that it is compared to Christ’s relationship to the church. Sexual relations seal and promote the intimacy and commitment of the couple to one another. Social and psychological problems mentioned by you also show why extramarital sex is wrong. If someone is struggling with sexual temptation, they need to pray to God for help and seek counsel and support from mature and loving Christians. If the temptation has become a compulsion, they may need professional Christian counselling.

  • Kassidy Napier:

    This is pretty eye opening. I think this paints pornography etc in a different light than what is often presented to us. Normally I hear pornography is bad because of how it is made. Often without 2 consenting adults (which is bad). I had never really thought of the effects it would cause in the one who looks at it. I had never really thought about how A married couple complete each other in a sexual sense. Just a random question that might be weird: why are married couples referred to as “one flesh”? Obviously they are joined together but that does not make them one person. I think one of the reasons people might stray away from marriage is to avoid becoming “one flesh” with someone. I especially fear loosing myself in a relationship. I want to retain a certain level of myself. I don’t know if that is selfish. Also, can one be “not cut out for marriage”?

    • Kassidy, thank you for your comments. I’m glad that you learned something about the destructive nature of pornography. You’re right about how it damages those who make it, but it also damages the person who views it. You are right that the term “one flesh” does not mean that the couple becomes one person. They are still two persons, but they have now formed a new community, committed to one another. In a real sense too they have deepened as individuals because of the depth of the love and commitment that they have for one another. You don’t lose yourself, therefore, rather you grow as a person. By the way, this is why I don’t like the practice in weddings of the couple taking two lit candles, lighting a third and blowing the other two out. It seems to imply that they have lost their own self. It is true that God does not call everyone to marriage. The Apostle Paul was not married. God can and does bless the single person too. Very good questions, Kassidy. Thank you again.

  • Kassidy R Napier:

    (I sent something before and I don’t think it went through) This reading definitely opened my eyes to a new view of sex. I knew it was for procreation and pleasure but it never occurred to me that it could strengthen relationships. Let alone strengthen a relationship with God. I think that people might not want to “tie the knot” for fear of loosing themselves. This might cause someone to have sex without the marriage part, perverting it and removing the commitment. Is it possible that someone is not cut out for marriage? Does God provide a few possible partners in case one fails to work?

    • Kassidy, I did get your other response. They don’t show until I approve them. The only question I didn’t deal with before was the last one in this. I think that the best response that I can give is to say that God is loving and faithful and will provide what his children need. I would want to add that we should not rush into marriage but rather get and listen to good premarital counseling from one’s pastor. Thanks for your good questions. I do appreciate your interest.

  • Jude Borchers:

    First, I’d just like to admit that I felt rather awkward when reading this post. One aspect of this sin that I don’t tend to look at is that this sin takes a sexual relationship and tries to completely remove the relationship part of it. Sex is an intimate relationship and this sin perverts that to ignore that part of it, viewing it as an action that fulfills a selfish desire for satisfaction. I do have some questions (I’m not sure how to phrase) about the mental aspect of this sin because I often think of lust as more of a thought. I’m also wondering if it’s okay to just say “lust” when referring to this sin if everyone understands the context and what your meaning is?

    • Thanks, Jude, and I appreciate that this subject can be awkward to speak about. I probably agree with you that lust is mostly in the thought life, but it often then leads to action and is still a sin, even if only a thought. I think that it’s OK to use “lust” as you suggest. However, any illicit desire is a kind of lust, and the way in which lust is so often equated with sexual sin clouds this important truth.

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