Lust takes, Love gives

“I love you.” Those three words are incredibly powerful…and dangerous. In relationships, this phrase has often been used to excuse one from responsibility or to “get” something from the other person. Lust often disguises itself as true love. Lust is simply the craving for what is off-limits or out of season. God is not against sex. He invented it. Marriage is the season for physical intimacy. Picking the forbidden fruit out of season brings brokenness and regret. “But she’s/he’s so hot!” While this may be true, hell is also hot and that’s your life will be full of if you’re in a relationship founded on physical attraction alone. What should the unmarried among us do? Wait on God to fulfill God-given desires that bring joy not regret. 

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus goes deeper than merely the physical aspect of immorality where he proclaims, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if you right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

There are several presuppositions that Jesus brings to the table:

  • Adultery is bad per natural law, Old Testament Law, & the internal law of the conscience – 5:27

You can’t find the right person by doing the wrong thing. While God’s grace is more powerful than our sin, purposefully choosing to cheat so that God can produce a story of redemption is not called grace: it’s a dangerous presumption on God’s grace. If you’ve been tempted to cheat remember that if you truly care for the person you’ll do what’s best for them. Leading them to toss Jesus’ commandments in the trash is not what’s best for them but pointing them towards Great Healer is.

  • Adultery is bad because it violates the covenant of marriage – 5:27

Affirming the wrongness of adultery is a shrewd reference to a standard. If there’s no standard there can be no violation. If there is no law, there can be no prosecutable crime. Contracts can be scrapped but covenants are sacred.

  • Jesus assumes the role of ultimate authority: “But I say to you…” – 5:28

Not only does Jesus not refer to other famous teachers of the Law but He basically assumes the role of judge. For a first century, Palestinian rabbi to do such a thing was unconscionable…unless he was more than a Teacher.

So how does Jesus address the weed of lust that seems to continually crop up despite human religion’s best attempts to control it?

  • Jesus extends the boundary of adultery from merely the external to the internal: Lust = heart adultery[1] – 5:28

Jesus takes it to a whole new level where lust in the heart = adultery. Notice Jesus’ key phrase, “looking with lustful intent” – πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι. The word, ἐπιθυμέω/lust = ‘to set one’s heart on a thing’ ① to have a strong desire to do or secure something, desire, long for.[2] So one use is simply desire, which can actually be a good desire. Here are a few examples of such uses in the New Testament:

Matthew 13:17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Luke 15:16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Luke 17:22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.

1 Peter 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Heb. 6:11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,

As we see, ἐπιθυμέω isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ word for bad desires. However, for something out of season or off-limits, natural, God-given desires can bring great destruction. The 10th commandment hinges on this where God commands, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). Simply put, Jesus is getting past the discussion of outward morality and goes straight to the heart. Here are a few points that we would all do well to take to heart:

So what does lust encompass? Infidelity of the heart certainly fits within the scope of what

  • Adultery of the heart includes pornography and so-called “emotional affairs.”

The objection here is often, “But it’s not that big of a deal!” One rebuttal is, “If God is like us then that may be true…but He’s not like us…He is holy.” Jonathan Edwards said, “It is the natural tendency of sin and lust, to stupefy the conscience.”[3] If this is true, and Russell Moore’s warning, “The temple prostitution of Corinth has been digitalized and weaponized,”[4] is half-right, then it is very possible that our shock at sin is at least partially sedated. Some of us guys have heard, “You can look but you can’t touch.” That’s not loophole given by Jesus; that’s a cultural adage to keep you from getting murdered by your wife. In a popular

So what is the origin of lustful desires that seem to rage against our reason? Lusting for what isn’t ours has its roots in pride, not love. Romans 13:8-10 reads, “8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” On the contrary, pride says, “I deserve this” even when the “this” is off-limits or out of season.

It is helpful to remember several important facts when dealing with questions about lust:

  • Desires for marriage, sex, & relational intimacy are not evil; they are God-given but lust is a distortion of those desires.

In his classic work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “What we call “being in love” is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust…the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.” Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.”[5]

  • Jesus warns that the heart is the staging area for physical adultery (Mt. 5:28-30).

On the heart, Greek scholar A.T. Robertson writes, “Not just the emotional part of man’s nature, but here the inner man including the intellect, the affections, the will.”[6] Along with this is an old rabbinical saying, “The eye and the heart are the two brokers of sin.”[7]

Q: Is lust in the heart REALLY the same as physical adultery?

A: “All sin is equally damnable, but not all sin is equally devastating” – Mark Driscoll

Q: Why is this a big deal? I’ve always been told, “You can look but you can’t touch.”

A: Notice Mt. 5:29-30 and how quickly the eyes enlist the help of the hands and body to fulfill its lusts.

  • Jesus warns that lust is never satisfied until it destroys you: Unrestrained & unchanged heart or physical adultery leads to hell (Mt. 5:29-30).

Is Jesus really endorsing pre-UFC eye-gouging allowances? Is Jesus endorsing self-mutilation? No, but Jesus is commanding cutting off any allowance of deadly lust having its hooks in us. Jesus’ command is simple: Declare war on lust.[8] The point of the idea to ‘offend/ensnare’ is not that internal or physical adultery would offend our ‘personal preferences’ but that it would ensnare our soul leading to both physical and spiritual destruction in unending torment in hell. According to Jesus, an unchanged heart of lust places physical and emotional satisfaction (a sad illusion) in the position of God. Instead of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, lust deceives our heart, and directs our mind, soul, and strength to be poured into the illusory sinkhole of self-satisfaction.

Benjamin Nolot, founder and president of Exodus Cry and Producer/Director of the Nefarious documentary against sex slavery, recounts a sobering encounter in an article titled, Who Buys Sex? Linking Porn and Human Trafficking.

“I have seen the face of human trafficking. While filming Nefarious: Merchant of Souls–a documentary on the global sex trade–I traveled to a small village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had heard that the village was a hotspot for child sex tourism, but I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. When the dust around my vehicle settled after the long trip down the bumpy dirt road, I saw a white western man standing in front of a dilapidated shack. The man, probably in his late 40s, was bartering for sex with a child outside of a shanty brothel. My film crew and I quickly jumped out of our vehicle and began to approach the man. When he saw us, he took off down the dirt street towards the main highway and we gave chase, catching up to him just as he saddled the back of a moped taxi. I grabbed him by his shirt and stared straight into his eyes. The look on his face was one of sheer cowardice and it seemed that there was a literal film of perversion that glossed over his eyes. After I raised my voice, demanding that he never return to the village again, I let him go. As we walked back to our vehicle, I pondered what I just faced. Why was this happening? Who was this man? Why was the most lucrative business in this village child sex tourism? Then it hit me––this man didn’t wake up the day before and decide to fly to the other side of the world to buy a child for sex. Of all the men we talked with who had purchased a woman or child for sex in prostitution, there wasn’t one who didn’t have a history of viewing pornography. The deviant behavior of men in our world is not simply pathological; it has been taught to them. The hyper-sexualization of this generation has awakened an unprecedented demand for illicit sex. When men pay to view sex, they aren’t too far from taking the step to buy sex. Boys growing up in this culture form an objectified view of females at an early age. Ninety percent of them will view pornography between the ages of 8-16, with the average age of initial exposure being 11. When a young child’s fragile mind is exposed to the graphic images in pornography, it distorts his view of girls, sex, and relationships. He begins to see them as inanimate objects, devoid of humanity–a thing to be conquered instead of a person to love.”[9]

So what should we do to counter this epidemic?

How to Wage War on Lust, Heart & Physical Adultery:

  1. Take steps to avoid sexually oriented material that feeds lust.

Secular culture often tells us we need a ‘release’ and this so-called release is by no means benign. When someone whispers that tantalizing opportunity, the Christ-follower can simply and humbly respond, “I am not an animal.” This seductive ‘release’ whether it be porn, indulging in a lust novel, or cheating on one’s spouse may seem like a “Free Indulgence Pass” but in reality it only provides momentary excitement in exchange for unshakeable guilty (outside of the gospel), that requires deeper and more expansive releases that ultimately lead to destruction and death. So knowing this we want to take every step imaginable to avoid what feeds the monster of lust.

But what if I’m already hooked?

  1. Take steps of accountability via installing software on your computer, tablets, and smart phones and/or give your passwords to your spouse. are three good examples. Just go Nike here, “Just do it.”

2.  Avoid alone time alone with someone of the opposite gender who is not your spouse: “Before you cheat on your spouse you have to cheat on God first” – Mark Driscoll

To the objection, “I just slipped,” Adrian Rogers once quipped, “Then don’t walk in slippery places.”

3.  Meditate on specific Bible verses to reverse the damaging mental patterns created by heart adultery.

Scripture changes us. The more of it we get inside us the more the default of our thinking patterns change. If a guy has issues viewing women as meat, let us remember that she was once a little girl who played with dolls (or GI Joes if she was a tomboy). This woman is possibly a mother or wanting to be one or she may be attempting to smother grief such as brought on by a past abortion or something of the sort. One day she’ll be the age of your Mom. Then one day she’ll be grandma stage and possibly be in a nursing home gazing out the window in an existential struggle with loneliness. Men, we must allow God to so change our hearts that we view women as persons worthy of respect and not things to be used for our gratification. Women, you should find your worth and strength in God rather in the words or arms of a mortal man.

4.  A changed heart precedes a plan: Cry out to God for a changed heart.

Willpower is weak; only the Gospel can break the chains. Regeneration, where God radically changes our hearts, must precede any genuine life change. Let us cry out to God for mercy and forsake the lifeless materials of self-improvement. We don’t need self-improvement; we need a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ. First John 2:17 says, “The world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

*For a full more detailed discussion of this important topic, check out our podcast:


[1] Much thanks to Pastor Mark Driscoll for coining this useful term.

[2] W. Arndt, F.W. Danker, & W. Bauer, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 371.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 837.

[4] Russell Moore, “The Spiritual Consequences of Immorality,” September 5, 2013,

[5] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 108-109.

[6] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].

[7] Ibid.

[8] See, John Piper, “How to Kill Sin: Part 1,”

[9] “Who Buys Sex? Linking Porn and Human Trafficking,” Covenant Eyes, October 18, 2012,

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