How do we distinguish between attraction and lust?


Having read your article, "Is masturbation unacceptable?" I wish to commend you for tackling a subject many avoid. Sunday night I finished a series of lessons on human sexuality, so I feel we have this in common. I have a question that might help shed some light on this subject.

Matthew 5:28 says,  "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." I find our usual understanding of this passage leads to problems. To say anytime a man looks upon a woman and finds her sexually attractive is a sin, it is a dangerous position. I have heard it said there is a distinct difference between finding a woman attractive and finding her sexually attractive. I challenge anyone to clearly define the differences. God created "male and female" and sexual attraction is normal, and I believe it to be expected. Anyone not attracted to the opposite sex has emotional or health issues. To say a man sexually attracted to a female falls under the condemnation of Christ is to put every unmarried male in a difficult position. Can they date, become engaged, and plan a future life with one of the opposite sex without thoughts of sexual desire? Of course not! What is the difference? They are seeking and planning a "lawful" gratification of those desires. You make an excellent point, the motivation provided the condemnation. It is when a person seeks or is motivated to meet the needs of sexual gratification in an "unlawful' manner that it becomes a sin - fornication, adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, etc.

I came to this understanding while studying a passage with similar language.  Matthew 5:6 says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." Who is blessed?  Those who think of, fantasize about being righteous, or those who seek out opportunities and plan to do those things necessary to accomplish righteousness?  It is often said a man "lusting after' a woman only lacks an opportunity to act upon that lust. He has committed himself to the act in his mind. Thus, God charges him as though the act were committed. I believe if we would make the same statements and provide equal understanding between Matthew 5:6 and Matthew 5:28 it would help us understand the point Jesus was making about "lust". To acknowledge a woman as attractive does not lead to sin. To seek out and plan opportunities to fulfill sexual gratification with her is a sin.

I have heard the problem with "mixed bathing" is that a man cannot see a woman in stages of undress without sinning.  If that is true, it is just as sinful to go to the mall or Wal-Mart during the summer months. We must be consistent, must we not? We could become a commune of monks if we are not careful. Furthermore, most would agree a woman can be just as attractive and desirable dressed in a modest evening gown. It is not the natural sexual desire that is sinful, nor the opportunity to sin - it is seeking and planning (motivation) to sin that leads to sin.

Does this make sense?


What you have stated is succinctly expressed by Job: "I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?" (Job 31:1). The attraction between the sexes is as normal as hunger or thirst. It is the major motivator that drives men and women to seek to become husband and wife. The problem, of course, is that Satan seeks to take our natural desires and twist the situation so it appears that fulfilling that desire would require breaking a law of God. "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren" (James 1:13-16).

Notice that Jesus did not just say it was wrong to look at a woman. He said, "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). It is looking at a woman to lust for her that is wrong. "Lust" in this case means more than just a strong desire, it means a strong desire for something that is unlawful. In other words, to look at a woman with thoughts of wondering what she would be like in bed (i.e. outside of marriage) is lust. The only difference between the thought and the action is the opportunity to commit the action. A more detailed discussion on lust can be found in "What is Lust?" from the study Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Boys and "What is Lust?" from the study Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Girls. The first three chapters and the last chapter of the Song of Solomon make an excellent foundation for discussing these matters. A study can be found in The Greatest Love Song Ever Written: A Study of the Song of Solomon. Look for the discussions on the phrase "do not awaken love until she pleases."

There is a bit more to the mixed bathing issue than personally resolving not to lust after a person of the opposite sex. God gives rules regarding limits for clothing. If the problem was solely the "lookers" problem, then a nudist would be correct in contending that he does have the problem, it is everyone else's problem. However, God tells us "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way" (Romans 14:13). To dress provocatively, knowing full well that some will have difficulty controlling their thoughts, is just as wrong as those looking whose minds are in the gutter. You can find a fuller discussion on the issue of clothing and mixed bathing in "Is it okay for boys and girls to swim together?"

Since you have done lessons on human sexuality, you might be interested in Preparation for a Lifetime, a pre-marital study that includes numerous chapters on sexual issues.

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