While lust might not be the deadliest of the deadly sins, it certainly seems to be one of the most popular. Paul writes about sexual immorality in nearly every one of his letters in the New Testament. It seemed to be one of the most common problems in the early church, which makes sense because almost every culture since the beginning of time has obsessed about sex.
Our culture is no different. 25% of search engine requests are pornography related. One look at this infographic will reveal how much pornography has permeated our world. Spend some time exploring Fight the New Drug's website and you'll begin to see the damage that porn is having in our world. It's not good.
Jesus doesn't speak that much about sex, but what he does say about it in the Sermon on the Mount really gets to the root of it. I've written about it before, and it bears repeating again.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at another person with lustful intent has already committed adultery with that person in their heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
It might be helpful to unpack a few of the words that the Bible uses to describe sex. Adultery is consensual sex between a married person and someone that is not their spouse. Fornication is consensual sex between people not married to each other. (Therefore, all adultery is fornication, but not all fornication is adultery.) Most of the Bible speaks against adultery and fornication, focusing primarily on our actions. Jesus takes it a level deeper.
When Jesus uses the word lust, he is not just talking about our actions. He is speaking into our thoughts and desires. The Greek word here for lust is epithumeo, which is the equivalent to the Hebrew word for covet. To covet something means to yearn and long for something that you don’t have and doesn't belong to you. When you lust after someone, it means you crave them for your own pleasure. It's more than a recognition of beauty or attraction, it's fantasizing about them.
It seems wild that Jesus would say thinking about something is the same thing as doing it, but he is exactly right.
Solomon noted that "As a man thinks, so he is." Jesus said it like this- "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" Buddha said it like this: "All that we are is dependent on our thoughts. It begins with our thoughts, it continues with our thoughts, it ends with our thoughts." Heraclitus said it like this:
“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way.”
If your thought life is consumed with lust, what does your soul look like? Lust impacts the heart, mind, and soul of the person that is lusting in the same way that adultery or fornication might. It is toxic to your thought life and relational health because it violates one of the key foundations of faith- to love others as yourself. It creates a distorted sense of ego and entitlement. It takes up bandwidth in your head and clouds your judgment. Robs you of sleep and energy and drive.
God gave us the gift of sex as a way of connecting with another in the most intimate and vulnerable way. The two become one. (Genesis 2:24) When we lust after someone, it prevents connection. They become an object for our pleasure, not a peer. One of the (many) reasons pornography is so dangerous is that it trains the viewers to view other people as just bodies with one purpose- physical pleasure. It misses out on all of the other beautiful aspects of a relationship.
Lust is a cheap substitute for the real depth, beauty, complexity, pain, and joy of a committed relationship. While it seems like an easier, safer route, it actually leaves the consumer feeling even more hollow and discontent than before.
"Man cannot live without joy; therefore, when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures."
Bruce Marshall wrote, "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." A modern version of this quote might say, "The person clicking endlessly on porn sites is searching for God." Or as Augustine famously wrote in his book Confessions, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God."
It's important to be aware of when our minds are wandering and hovering on lustful thoughts. Take note of when it happens. Take note on what it is costing you relationally and internally. Take note on when you find yourself more prone to wander. (Is their a trigger or environment or time when it happens?) What am I running from when I'm running towards this? What void am I trying to fill?
Remind yourself constantly that all of us are made in the image of God. We are all image-bearers. There is depth and beauty and complexity in all of us. There is more than just physical beauty. Don't reduce others (or yourself) to just that. If you struggle with porn addiction, get help. Find a support community. Take it seriously.
As I'm studying and working through the deadly sins, I'm realizing that all of them disconnect us from God, others, and ourselves. Lust is no different. God created us to be in community with each other. Don't settle for a cheap substitute.