Understanding Lust

Understanding Lust

There is a fundamental problem with using the term "desire" or "sexual desire" as the starting point when developing a suitable, practical definition of lust.
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Use of pornography and other sexual sins are rampant in our culture and in the church. Many have concluded that such behavior or at least the lust—evil desires—that drives them is fundamentally an unsolvable problem, a sin that will not be defeated in the lives of God's children. Such a response is unacceptable in the face of the severe and incalculable damage that lust inflicts upon lives, families and fellowships.

If we desire to overcome lust we need to recognize what we are dealing with. A good place to start is to understand the "sexual buzz"—the electric feeling of pleasure that makes sex so enjoyable. The psychobiologic sexual buzz involves our emotions, our bodies and our cognitive functions. God designed the buzz for good. The sexual buzz occupies an essential role as an early phase of intimacy within the sexual union of marriage. Without it, we would not become aroused and sex probably would not happen enough to keep reproduction going or marital ties binding. However, the sexual buzz is only appropriate inside the marriage relationship.

When we misuse this capacity—allowing ourselves an illicit sexual buzz—it is sinful lust. Consider the following definition as a way to understand this:

Sexual lust—the illicit sexual buzz—is a willfully allowed pleasurable gratification of wrongfully directed sexual desire that takes place deep inside.

Let's break that down:

  1. Willfully allowed—it is something we choose to do. It is not forced upon us. Giving in to it may be driven by habit and undertaken without deliberation, but it is still a choice on our part.
  2. Pleasurable—we enjoy it. The illicit sexual buzz is intensely enjoyable in a way we cannot fully understand. God designed us so that even when we are merely looking to enjoy legitimate sexual pleasure, looking to lust, or contemplating sexual activity, we are able to realize a pleasurable sexual buzz.
  3. Gratification—we recognize when it happens; something clicks into place. We may claim that we are "doing nothing" and may be able to fool others, but we should not try to fool ourselves. God, certainly, is not fooled.
  4. Wrongfully directed sexual desire—we are focusing our attention in a way that is not right. The sexual buzz is only proper when it is grounded within a marriage relationship. This is hard to accept when we are in bondage to lust. We look for a way to justify our waywardly pointed gratification of sexual desires—to convince ourselves that it is OK to let them roam.
  5. Taking place deep inside—we cannot fully understand how the sexual buzz takes place. Our psychobiologic response is deep-seated and intensely personal. It occurs quickly and unmistakably, long before (and oftentimes without any) externally visible evidence.

This is, admittedly, a rather complicated definition. Jesus—the Master Wordsmith—distilled all these elements into a phrase that instantly rings true. He termed what takes place when we sin this way "adultery in the heart" (Matthew 5:28). In doing so he included all of the above elements with an elegant, penetrating simplicity that a Christian cannot dismiss from his conscience.

Distinguishing Sexual Desire from Lust

There are a few objections that rise up immediately in some who hear this explanation for the first time and it is best to introduce them right from the start.

The first objection is the assertion that the sexual buzz which develops in a mostly indiscriminate way is nothing more than natural sexual desire. In fact, most definitions of lust describe it as a normal desire that has gone astray, without explaining plainly when this occurs.

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