7 DEADLY SINS: LUST
Written by Doug Ponder on January 18, 2016
What Is the Sin of Lust?
The seven deadly sins form a list of vices considered especially dangerous because of their destructive nature and their tendency to entangle us in many other sins. Though the label “seven deadly sins” is not found in the Bible, it has been used by Christians for centuries as a helpful way of summarizing the wide-ranging patterns of human sinfulness. This post examines lust.
In the broadest sense, lust is any inordinate craving. That’s why people talk about “a lust for money” or “a lust for power.” But in the most specific sense, lust is an inappropriate desire for sexual pleasure.
The Difference Between Lust and Sex
It’s incredibly important that we see that sex itself is not the problem. Christianity nowhere teaches that sex is dirty, wrong, or shameful. In fact, among the religions and philosophies of the world Christianity has the utmost respect for physical pleasures as good gifts from God. God created sex; it’s his idea of a good time.
So, wanting sex is not a problem any more than wanting food. Wanting food is good, but stealing food is not. Suppose a thief steals croissants from a local bakery every morning. He may poor, or he may be a glutton, be in either case he is taking what does not belong to him in order to enjoy a good thing (croissant) in the wrong way (stealing). The solution is simple: God doesn’t want him to stop liking croissants but to stop stealing them. That illustration reflects the difference between sex and lust: sex is good, but lust is not. The solution is not to shun sex, but to stop lusting.
You see, God has given sex to us as a gift, and like all his gifts, we must receive it in appropriate ways. This is why we say lust is an inappropriate desire for sexual pleasure. Lust is not merely wanting sex; lust is seeking sexual pleasure at the wrong time or with the wrong person or in the wrong way. The ‘wrong time’ is before marriage. The ‘wrong person’ is sexual pleasure derived from anyone other than your spouse by marital covenant. And the ‘wrong way’ is sexual pleasure that involves using or abusing others.
The Pervasiveness of Lust
If the sin of lust stopped existing tomorrow, our country would be plunged into one of the worst economic depressions in its history. For when people say, “Sex sells,” what they actually mean is, “Lust buys.”
Everything from Hooters to sports commercials, “adult” video stores, pay-per-view movies, porn sits, “men’s health” magazines, in-room hotel flicks, phone sex, strip clubs, prostitution and sex slaves—lust fuels them all. Recently New York Times Magazine reported that Americans spend multiple billions of dollars each year on porn-related products alone—more than we spend on any one of the major league sports.
Lust drives conversations around the water cooler, at the bar, and in the locker room. It’s the main feature in much of standup comedy and other jokes. Lust sells records and charts songs. We say our society is “sex-obsessed,” but it would be more accurate to call us lustful. Almost everyone knows this, but too few seem to understand why lust is such a problem.
The Deadliness of Lust
Lust is not the worst sin (that would be pride), but it is the most popular. As one of my favorite authors says, “It is the widest road, but it’s not the deepest pit.” At the same time, lust is not a small thing. We are lying when we tell ourselves, “It doesn’t hurt anybody.” The truth is that lust is quite deadly—it is one of the seven deadly sins, after all.
It destroys relationships, breaks up families, and hinders men and women in their views of each other and in their personal growth and development. Lust paralyzes. Lust objectifies. Lust uses and abuses. Lust chokes out true love.
Lust creates a barrier to closeness with God, since (like all sin), lust is a failure to trust and obey. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said. You cannot love God and your lusts.
Lust is an act of unfaithfulness toward your spouse, present or future (if you’re not married yet). Lust has ruined many marriages, and it has also prevented many from starting.
Lust fails to love your “neighbor” whom you are lusting after. Instead of caring for the other person and treating them with godly respect, you objectify them and use them for personal pleasure. Even when the other person “agrees” to the deal, you are simply using one another for selfish ends—a far cry from the beauty of sex in the covenant of marriage.
Lust even affects your relationship with your children. In the name of lust, parents who want sex without the divinely connected responsibility of bearing children will either abort them or else refuse to have them through an endless use of birth control.
Finally, lust is destructive to you, too. Since lust seeks sex at the wrong time or with the wrong person or in the wrong ways, lust ultimately cultivates impatience, ingratitude, and deep selfishness. The more you give yourself over to lust, the stronger these related vices become.
Fighting Fire with Fire (God’s Cure for Lustful Hearts)
When it comes to lust, merely telling yourself to “try a little harder” stands as much chance of succeeding as an ice cube in a bon fire. If we want to see lust put to death in our heart, we must replace it with a stronger desire for something greater.
Though you may never have thought of it in this way before, lust mainly stems from a lack of joy. We were created for endless joy with God at whose right hand is an eternal waterfall of pleasures so great they make sex seem small by comparison (Ps. 16:11). We cannot live without this joy.
In fact, the entirety human history is basically the long and tragic story of trying to find lasting joy apart from God. But there is no such thing. So we seek more desperately, crave more strongly, and act more destructively in our never-ending quest for satisfaction. Thus comes pornography, erotic literature, hookup culture, open sexual relationships, one-night stands, prostitution, swinging, orgies, gay sex, sadomasochism, sexual abuse, rape, sexual slavery, pedophilia, and bestiality—most of which are growing in popularity and public acceptance. These practices tantalize us with the promise of joy, but they never deliver. Welcome to Fifty Shades of Greytown, population rising.
Yet when you see that lust therefore stems from a lack of joy in God, the main solution is to turn back to the source of joy Himself. We’ve got to see that lust is not the cause of our separation from God but the consequence of it. It’s because we are cut off from God that we turn to lesser joys of created things (Rom. 1:25), which always fail to satisfy.
As pastor John Piper says, “We need ‘larger’ souls to make little lusts lose their big power.” We need God to ‘restore to us the joy of his salvation,’ and strengthen us with the knowledge of how much deeper and bigger and better he is than whatever we are lusting for. Yet this does not lead us into a life of eternal abstinence, where we shun sex as something insignificant. Sex remains a gift, and God intends for us to enjoy it. But gifts are never greater than the One who gives them.
And if you’re wondering what it looks like to enjoy sex rightly instead of lusting sinfully, the answer is simple: get married and make love to your spouse as often as you want (1 Cor. 7:1-9), thanking God for the grace of all his gifts. Or, if you have been given the grace to remain single, then abstain from sex with the kind of joy that only God’s Spirit can supply. Thus we are set free from slavery to lust and from that doomed quest which looks for lasting joy in creation instead of the Creator. The Giver is greater than his gifts! (Even a gift as good as sex.)
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.