Lust is Not Good, but Sex Is . . . Sometimes

by Derrick G. Jeter

We live in a sex-saturated society. And I think Peter Kreeft’s observation is spot on: “If lust ceased tomorrow, we would be plunged into the greatest economic depression in history. Remove sex appeal from advertising, advertising from the economy, and the economy from our civilization and what would be left?” [1] But why? Why is lust so prevalent in our culture?

The answer, I think, lies in the uniqueness and holiness of sex. Sex is the most unique thing in the world, because it is the only doorway by which the holy God daily enters the world to do the miraculous work that only He can do: create new images of Himself. It is this very uniqueness—this very holiness—that Satan seeks to distort, to twist, and to turn into sin. And because Satan is ultimately a counterfeiter and destroyer, Satan’s desire is to take what God intended for pleasure and pro-creation within the confines of marriage and pervert it into the mundane and ordinary. One way he does this is through the sin of lust, which Frederick Buechner defines as “the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.” [2] Lust is a craving. But a craving that will never quench your thirst—it will only make you more thirsty, more lustful.

Our problem, however, is not so much in the definition of lust as such, but in trying to define it either too narrowly or too broadly as a convenient way to avoid guilt. If we define lust too narrowly then lust means treating another person merely as an object to be used for selfish sexual gratification. So we might call pornography, prostitution, and “hooking up” for the night lustful pursuits, but an affair of the heart with someone we have feelings for is called “love.” Ridiculous! Ask any man or woman whose spouse has committed an affair what they think about this form of “love” and you’ll ear-full about betrayal, violation of trust, and true love lost

If we define lust too broadly, we usually do so in one of three ways. First, lust comes to describe any great passion we might have: such as the “lust for life.” This is nonsense because it turns lust into a silly word game.

Second, lust is used as an accusation, usually against men, if they acknowledge the attractiveness of a woman. Men are visual creatures and are attracted to attractiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong: some, maybe even most, men mentally and verbally cross the line when giving a woman a compliment, but not all men. Sigmund Freud hypocritically diagnosed men who smoke cigars as having a problem with their sexual identity, so when he was asked about his cigar he barked back: “Sometimes a cigar is just as cigar.” Sometimes a compliment is just a compliment.

Third, and more importantly, lust is assigned to any and all sexual desire. Now, let’s be clear: lust is sin; sexual desire, as such, is not sin—nor is sex itself, if engaged in God’s way. Lust is specifically the willful desire to commit fornication (sex outside the bounds of marriage) or adultery (extramarital sex); though nothing physical has to occur. Jesus made this crystal clear: the willful desire for adultery is adultery, even if no physical sex takes place. “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

As I said earlier, sexual desire, as such, isn’t sin. Who do you think invented sex—Hugh Heifer? Not even the Devil could come up with such a creative and pleasurable invention. God did! And if God created sex then He must have created the desire for sex. How could that be sinful? The desire is not sinful or shameful. It’s what we do with that desire that potentially turns it into sin. That’s why lust is willful. It is sexual desire willingly turned in on itself—to bring gratification to the self without regard to others, including God.

Finally, and thank God for this, sex itself is not sinful, if engaged in according to God’s guidelines. Our sex-obsessed culture, even at its most ethical, would say that sex between two loving adults is a beautiful thing. No its not! God’s standard is high. Sex is reserved for married individuals—one man and one woman—never before marriage, never outside of marriage, and never after a marriage ends. But baring these exclusions, sex is a holy act because our holy God created it and commanded it. What was the first command God gave to Adam and Eve? To put it crassly—“Have sex!” When God commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), what do you think He was telling them to do—plant fruit trees and learn the multiplication tables? Not on your life. There was a reason God brought Eve to Adam without curlers in her hair and cold cream on her face and without wearing an old ratty T-shirt. Adam took one look at Eve, standing there in her . . . glory, and breathlessly said, “This is now bone of my bones / and flesh of my flesh” (2:23), which is a loose translation of the Hebrew phrase: “Hubba hubba!” Perhaps this is why William Blake wrote, “The naked woman’s body is a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man.” [3] And for that, all the men said: “Amen!”

[1] Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 165.

[2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 54.

[3] Willliam Blake, quoted in John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 37.