Lust. It’s used to sell almost everything. And it is such a big part of our lives. For some people it is everything. It is the thing that defines them, one way or another.
Sex is powerful. Buechner notes, “Contrary to Mrs. Grundy [a woman who was famous for writing against sex], sex is not a sin. Contrary to Hugh Hefner, it’s not salvation either. Like nitroglycerin, it can be used either to blow up bridges or heal hearts.”1. And so lust can be a powerful force for selling, living, all sorts of things.
Sex is not Lust
But we need to keep in mind there is a big difference between sex and lust. They are often confused and therefore people will make the mistake of thinking that the Bible is against sex. It is not. The Bible is very positive about the right use of sex. Song of Songs and the command in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 shows that sex is an important part of the marriage relationship. Sex is designed to bring people together.
Lust, on the other hand, is about selfishness. Lust is when we are using sex for selfish gain. “Lust, by contrast, pretends sex and sexual pleasure are a party for one.”2 The difference between lust and sex is. one is self-giving and the other is selfish. This is why the Bible is so strong on the context of sex being in the covenantal marriage relationship and why it is so against lust.
However, marriage may not be the answer for someone who is seeing sex as lust. In fact, it can be very dangerous as it sets up unrealistic expectations. Lust can be as dangerous for married people as it is for single people because it expecting our spouse to fulfill our selfish desires rather than it being a place for giving oneself to show the love we have for the one we are married to.
Lust is not just selfishness it is dangerous
Many others have written on the dangers of lust and I won’t belabor the point. However, let us consider four important things.
- Lust is not merely a sin, it can also be a vice. In a society where lust is so prevalent, we can get so used to the idea that sex is about selfish fulfillment. The basis of Western society is individual freedom: “I should be able to do whatever I want with whoever I want”. But notice the repeated word here: “I”. And this is part of the intuitive air we breathe and unless we stop and think carefully we will be sucked into the habit of lust. More than that, the gift of sex is meant to be something that drives two sinful people together, it is meant to be addictive. This means that lust can also be addictive which makes this a dangerous vice.
- Lust damages the ones we objectify. The object of our lust is seen as that: an object to fulfill us, not as a person who has been made in the image of God. This is a person whom Christ has died for, whether they acknowledge that or not. This point has been helpful for me when I have fallen into this danger.
- Lust damages us as we misuse the gift of sex. No matter if we are single or married sex is an important part of our identity3. As we deal with the issues of sex and lust it will have a profound effect on who we are and how we see ourselves.
- Because sex and identity are so closely aligned, how we view lust will affect how we think and how we talk about others. It is not an individual sin, it will be shown in the relationships we have with those around us one way or another.
How do you deal with lust?
Identify it. Has sex been divorced from love in your mind? Is it about selfish individual desires or about expressing love for another you are married to?
Admit it. Confession of this can be difficult and it is also very powerful in dealing with the vice aspect of lust.
Ask forgiveness for it. There can be great shame and feelings of “dirtiness” when it comes to lust. At this point we need to return to the language the Bible uses of cleansing us from sins. 2 Peter 1:9 reminds us that the basis of a godly life is that we have been “cleansed from past sins”.
Remember that God is a triune God of giving love. Love should be the thing that shapes all that we do, including our attitude to intimacy.
“Lust is a vice, then, because it does not honor the fullness of sex, and it alienates people from each other just when they are supposed to be experiencing intimate union.”4
1 Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p107 quoted in DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (p. 162). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2 DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (p. 164). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
3 Though I would argue it is not the most important part of our identity but that is for another time. Many in Western society would disagree with this.
4 DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (p. 165). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.