A Biblical Study of Lust – Part Two

In Part One I wrote about several Scriptures that urge us to look inside our heart to evaluate whether our act of looking at a member of the opposite sex is outside of God’s will. In summary, those “inside of me” factors include selfishness and lustful intent.

In Part Two I want to consider a related question: what is in the heart of the person we are looking at?

We’ll start with a rather obscure Old Testament passage. Leviticus 18 in the King James Version gives a series of prohibitions about men “uncovering the nakedness” of certain women. Modern translations recognize that phrase isn’t really about nudity. Instead, it is a euphemism for having sexual relations (that is, intercourse). I agree with the change in wording so people today get the correct understanding of the passage. However, in the original it literally does say “uncovering the nakedness.” I think that points to an important principle for us to discern.

That phrase puts the focus on a man’s act of taking. I will be writing from the male perspective, but the principles apply equally to females.

The phrase vividly pictures the man being active, taking off a woman’s clothing in order to have sexual relations with her. One factor in what makes it wrong, then, is the mindset of taking what has not been offered as opposed to receiving what has been offered. That, in turn, raises the question of “what is going on in the heart of the other person.” How does that affect the issue of lust? Is that other person offering something visual to us that we can rightfully receive, or are we taking something they are not inviting us to have?

The person we are viewing can have three possible attitudes in their heart:

“I don’t want you to look at my body.”

“I do want you to look at my body.”

Or, “I don’t care whether you look at my body.”

If the other person’s heart is saying (usually non-verbally) “I don’t want you to look,” then for us to violate that is disobedience to God. Sometimes the message is communicated by clothing that shows a high level of modesty. Other times the woman may turn away from us or do something to shield herself from our view. And if we fail to see those nonverbal signals, she may even have to say something to rebuke us (such as, “my eyes are up here!”).

At the opposite end is the person whose heart is saying “I want you to look.” Picture a woman who is being flirtatious, flaunting her body, and asking for sexual engagement. The Scripture is clear in telling us to avoid looking at such a woman (Proverbs 5). Our eyes may be attracted at first, because raw sexuality is being brazenly offered to us. But we have to look deeper than the surface and see what is in her heart. Her heart’s desires are evil and if we give in, the result will be disaster for us.  We are wise to draw the boundary early and say “I am not even going to let my gaze linger on her.”

In short, it is wrong for us (male or female) to look at either, the person who says “I don’t want you to” or the person who says “I do want you to!”

Now let’s consider the middle ground, the person whose heart is saying, “I don’t care whether you look.”

I’ll start with an example that involves full nudity. A number of years ago our family spent some time at a Caribbean resort. It was acceptable there for women to go topless and for either men or women to be fully nude. About half of the people still chose to wear swimsuits, and we took our place in that half! But the half who were nude seemed to have no shame, embarrassment, or even self-consciousness about their bodies being on display.

On the one hand no one was flaunting their body. On the other hand no one was even casually trying to block the view with their hands or a towel. They were engaged in their activities of sunbathing, swimming, or other things. They were as carefree as if they had been wearing the usual attire.

It would have been wrong if they were doing something to actively flaunt the sexuality of their body. It would have been wrong if I were staring (selfishly trying to take as much as I could) or if I were looking with lustful intent. But so long as both the one looking and the one being looked at had the proper intent in their heart, I did not discern any wrongdoing. Others may respectfully disagree, of course.

Now let’s consider a more common daily setting, a workout gym. There, both men and women often dress in ways that reveal or even highlight their best physical qualities. But let’s go deeper than the clothing and ask “what is the intent in the heart?” If a man is looking with lustful intent, considering how he can get into a sexual relationship with that woman, then there is a problem. If a woman is dressing seductively with the intent of drawing a man into a sexual relationship, then there is a problem.

Is it possible for a woman to view the man on the treadmill and admire his bulging biceps and his cute butt without looking with lustful intent? Can a man notice the woman on the stair climber, admiring her breasts and her shapely legs, without looking with lustful intent?

Another relevant question is, “What do the watchers do with the sexual energy that builds up within them?” Can the ones watching capture the sexual energy of that experience and take it home and use that energy to bless their spouse? Or do they seize that sexual energy selfishly to masturbate to a fantasy of having sex with the person they saw in the gym?

In this matter of “when does looking become lusting” there are both external and internal factors to consider. As to the external actions, are they appropriate and not causing offense? As to the internal, what are the intentions in the hearts of both people?

So far the situations we have discussed primarily involve face-to-face interactions. But there are a couple more areas that are relevant to this topic of lust. What about fantasies, when we are picturing the person in our mind but they are not present? What are the boundaries of lust in that arena? Or what about digital images, when we see the physical body, but we probably have never even met that person? What are the boundaries of lust in that arena? These are even more challenging to evaluate. If there is enough interest, I can explore that in Part Three.

.Questions for your own reflection or for discussion with your spouse:

  1. Is the matter of clothing only a matter of the intention of the heart, or is some clothing (or lack of clothing) simply too revealing and thus inherently not appropriate? To what extent does that depend on the setting and on the people present?
  2. Is there someone in your circle (a co-worker or a friend) whom you feel is not in the right place with regard to clothing and the intentions of their heart? How does that affect you? Have you discussed this with your spouse?
  3. For you, what are the signs that you have crossed over that line between looking with Godly appreciation and lusting with selfish sexual intent? What steps do you take to avoid crossing that line?  What steps do you take if you find you have crossed that line?
  4. Some men like to have their wife “dress up” or even dress quite seductively when they go out as a couple. Is there a point where that may “cause a weaker brother to stumble” (See I Corinthians 8:9, 10:23-24 and 10:31-32)? How do you balance your own freedom with your concern not to lead someone else into temptation?
  5. Would you be able to go to a nude resort and “be comfortable in your own skin?”  Could you allow others to see your body that God has created without feeling shame or embarrassment? If not, what are the reasons you would give?

Click on a heart to thank the author of this story!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not one of your favorites!

Help us understand why.

20 replies
  1. ArtRutherford says:

    If questions create thinking, then you have brought up some excellent questions. What IS the intent of the other person?
    Do they want you to look? Or, do they not want you to look? Or, do they not care if you look? What IS their motive?

    On the back of that, let's discuss role-playing. Or as I have elsewhere discussed, what does "reverse role-playing" bring up? (In other words, if role-playing is two people who are married are pretending to be two people who are not – ie. doctor/nurse, boss/sectretary, professor/student, etc.) Then what shall we do with reverse role-playing? Is it acceptable for two people who are NOT married to pretend that they are?

    Where does one "cross the line"? Who decides the line? How? And, what does the Bible say?

  2. ArtRutherford says:

    If role-playing is not wrong? (In other words, why do you want to pretend to be two people who are NOT married?) Then is reverse role-playing wrong? (Is it wrong for two people who are NOT married to pretend to be two people who are? Why do you want to do that? ) What is your motive? (This may be the same question I asked above)

    • CrazyHappyLoved says:

      Art, I love your responses. Usually they are short words of encouragement, but when you give us more you bring so much to the table!

      I can't speak for all Christians and I'm sure many here will disagree with us, but for Rez and I, a healthy marriage relationship is what God put in place as the spiritually and emotionally safe place to meet and fulfill each other's sexual needs and desires. (I say "healthy" because there are marriages that are not built on honoring and loving God and spouse above self.) We see role-play as one permissable aspect of that, since God didn't say we couldn't play pretend. But that is only insofar as we are acting in love.

      We also draw a line at purposefully influencing others to disobey or dishonor God by misrepresenting our relationship to them. We wouldn't take off our wedding rings or have a conversation meant to be overheard that made people think we were having an affair. That doesn't "give honor to marriage" as we are called to do.

      What we occasionally imagine and pretend during sex excites and titillates each of us, but it isn't a fetish (something we depend on for sexual satisfaction.) If it controls us, then it is our master and we can only have one.

      The thing you have called "reverse role play," though, is just premarital sex (assuming you did mean that the couple in question was having sex while pretending to be married.) As such, it doesn't fall within God's guidance to us on when sex is okay and with whom. As we see it, the difference is one of obedience. Outside marriage, not okay and pretending doesn't make it okay. Within marriage, okay and pretending doesn't make it not okay.

    • Mercury7 says:

      Art, thanks for your responses. As to your question about what you call "reverse role playing", in my view, one's answer has to come from scripture. You have to be able to answer to your own satisfaction, "Does the Bible say two people can pretend to be married and that gives them the same rights as if they were married?

    • Mercury7 says:

      CHL, thanks so much for your thoughtful perspective here, and for again being so transparent about speaking from your own heart and experience. That kind of sharing is very helpful to other couples as we all try to live out our sexuality in a way that is pleasing to God, and is also a blessing to our spouse and ourselves.

    • Mercury7 says:

      I included the questions for the primary purpose of challenging the reader to further thought, and hopefully also to spark discussion between spouses. However, if you have thoughts on those items, it is fine to post them here, and I may comment on those responses.

    • Harper Shelby Thornton says:

      I ask because question 4 really stood out for me, and I feel the need to say something. There isn't anything wrong with a woman dressing for a date with her husband. Remember how I mentioned lust being synonymous with covetousness? That's a choice. I don't think it should cause a weaker brother to stumble. In order to cause one to stumble, a woman has to draw a man with actions in the form of words or body motions before true lust develops in most cases. The vast majority of men will not desire to unlawfully possess a woman unless that woman indicates in some way either verbally or through body movement toward him that she might be available to him. In other words she flirts with him in some manner.

      Now are there men who lust after women who have not flirted or motioned or talked in any sexual manner toward them? Yes! But if a man lusts after a woman simply because of her beautiful appearance and not any sexual flirting or actions on her part that would draw him to lust after her then his sin of lust lays 100% at his feet and she is innocent.

      Because of this belief about what lust is some conservative Christians have their wives and daughters dress in very baggy dresses that go to the floor with long sleeves to completely cover their arms. They may even wear their hair tied up with a head covering of some sort. This same concept when taken to its logical conclusion is why some Muslims make their wives be covered from head to toe with only a screen to see through on the face.

  3. ArtRutherford says:

    So…CHL, WHY do we want to "pretend" then? What if it doesn't control us? I was addicted to porn at one time and it "controlled" me. But now I am free only to be "controlled" by God.

    Well then, so what I hear you saying is reverse role-play is ok as long as no pre/extra marital sex is involved. What about acting then? Should it be up to each individual's personal ethics to decide what is and isn't acceptable? What if one was paid a very large sum of money and the role was important to their career. Would/Should that make a difference? 🙂

    • Mercury7 says:

      Art, you raise an interesting point…what about actors or actresses "doing their job" for a play, a movie, or a television show. I think most people would agree that actors being paid to produce a porn movie have crossed a line and are doing something against God's will But many movies today have some very explicit sexual scenes. How does one determine the line between "I'm being a diligent worker and carrying out the duties of my profession" versus "regardless of the context, what I am doing is wrong"? As a start, I would say it is for each Christian individual in that situation to use wise discernment and make their own decision, which should be based on a good understanding of the Scripture, and within the boundaries of their own conscience.

    • JAM777 says:

      I like the question about actors and actresses.
      I believe that whether you are working or not is irrelevant. Cheating is cheating.
      It's why you won't see Christian actors and actresses crossing the line in their movies. Like War Room for instance. The main actor and actress played a married couple in the movie but were not so in reality. So you don't even see them kiss at all.

  4. ArtRutherford says:

    Mercury 7 – Good point. I guess then it goes back to each person's personal decision as to whether or not they have "crossed the line". Then this would lead us to a discussion of the last days. When everybody did what was right is his own eyes. (Prov. 21:2)(But we'll save that for another time.)

    I asked my Theater teacher the other day about Philosophy of Acting and she said that there are many "black and white" areas. (What the Bible says.) and there are "grey" areas. Each person has to decide.

    If so, does that mean that to one person everything is ok. But to another person, certain things are not?

    To me, that means we go back to what Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:23. But if it causes your brother to stumble, then you shouldn't do it. (Or is it ok for one to "do it" as long as your brother doesn't know anything about it?)

    • JAM777 says:

      Another great question. This came up many times in my group studies.
      The following verse hinted at there being something that God has put a certain person's heart to do but might not have for another person.
      James 4:17 – Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.

      Use this website for instance. If someone comes here who struggles with sinful thoughts or is weak to something the devil uses against him, the Spirit could lay it on his /her heart to avoid even the smallest indication of sexually explicit behavior due it being a possible stumbling block. So if he or she ignores the Spirit and does anyway, then they are sinning.

    • CrazyHappyLoved says:

      Hi, JAM777. Love that part of James, especially when considered with 1 Cor and Romans 14. Here's what they mean to me: If *your* conscience or the Holy Spirit says to *you* its wrong, don't do it or its sin to you (and you can expect to experience conviction about it.) If *your* conscience or the Holy Spirit says to *you* its a good thing (like a good deed God's prepared for you or a mission He's given you or a respectful conversation He wants you to have), DO it, or else its sin to you. And if it's something He hasn't said NOT to do nor has He given you clear indication you SHOULD do, then act in love and don't judge others (or encourage them to act against their leading) as they make different decisions than you in that matter. "Love covers a multitude of sins." 1Pet 4:8 🧡

  5. CrazyHappyLoved says:

    At least that's how I read it. Not even how *may* it affect others, though. If I *know*"it will cause my brother or sister to stumble, I shouldn't flaunt my freedom before him or her. On the other hand, that brother or sister also bears a burden not to intrude upon my freedom with with his or her personal convictions ("and let not him who eats not judge him who eats…") and to avoid exposing *himself* to things that cause him to stumble. Why should anyone else be disturbed if I play pretend with my spouse? As long as we restrict our sexual escapades to just the two of us, we believe we have kept the marriage bed pure.

    As for an actor, they probably have to think harder about "play-pretend". I mean, obviously somebody has to play the bad guy, but does the film glorify the bad guy or show the error of his ways? Does appearing in the film *cause* your brother to stumble. How would you ever know that? Can't that brother just avoid films like yours if they bother him? If he sees you, the actor, do something in that film and then goes out and does it himself because "Hey, Art is a Christian actor, and he played a guy who did this," then he's got bigger problems than you as an actor can take responsibility for. Paul was talking about real life, not acting. (And he could have – there was theatre in his day. It's where we got the word hypocrit.) But you know I'm no expert. Take my opinion with a grain of salt.

  6. Old Lover says:

    Great discussion regarding an understanding of lust, biblically and experientially. Thanks, Mercury7. Let me take a crack at your sub-questions posed in number 3.

    For you, what are the signs that you have crossed over that line between looking with Godly appreciation and lusting with selfish sexual intent.

    The danger signal that the line is crossed between an appreciation of sexual beauty and selfish sexual intent is when an emotional connection develops. It can/will lead to an emotional affair (even hidden and unspoken) and if so the line has been crossed between appreciation (even desire) to adultery (coveting with selfish sexual intent). As a man, this can happen if situations, lack of inhibitions, and guardrails are not in place. Once the line is ever so slightly crossed it is extremely difficult to get back behind the line. An emotional affair is adultery.

    What steps do you take to avoid crossing that line?

    First, I do not ‘over stay’ my thoughts on the form, beauty, attractiveness, etc. of another woman. Also, I have a policy to never meet alone with a woman without my Anne knowing and both of us fully comfortable with the purpose of that meeting.

    Second, I have learned to envision my Anne whenever I see the beauty and attractiveness of another woman. For example, when I fly and interact with successful, attractive business women their personality, poise, and physical attractiveness can be alluring. Over the years, perhaps the sacredness and satisfaction of my marriage to Anne has caused me to energize any thoughts of other women to my dear Anne. I faithfully, joyfully, and enthusiastically do this all the time; Anne satisfies me completely!

    As a practical matter, when I read Christian erotica as on MH or see provocative images of the sexual female form my sexual arousal, intent, and action is always focused on my Anne.

    What steps do you take if you find you have crossed that line?

    One time, many, many years ago, I danced mightily close around that line. Here’s my steps. First, I dove into the Word and prayer. Second, I cut off (carefully) all contact and connection. This was extremely difficult and only the Holy Spirit provided the strength. Third, the mere notion of ever falling into this trap is a strong restraint and governor on my eye and heart.

    • Mercury7 says:

      OL, thank you for your very personal responses to the questions. I think few people really grasp how pervasive and difficult this area of lust is for men. It is a huge challenge that most of us men deal with on a daily basis. I think you spoke for many of us when you said that you had a personal experience of being very close to crossing the line. And as you stated several times, one essential key is to keep working to deepen our relationship with our wife, and to work hard to keep our primary focus there, in our relationship with her.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply