What exactly is lust? How does looking at someone become lustful?

Lust might be one of the subtlest of sins. Sometimes it’s hard to define the line between looking at a person because he or she is beautiful and looking at a person because it stirs up evil desire in us.

Jesus talks about lust in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30). He links it to adultery when he talks about the commandment about adultery in the Old Testament. People who commit adultery are judged by God and the community.

Jesus stresses that anyone who lusts after the opposite gender (a woman in his example, as he spoke mostly to men) commits adultery in the heart. After all, the physical act of adultery starts with lust in the heart.

Lust is a character issue. We act on our passionate desires. Jesus teaches that if we follow our desires and act on them, our lust turns into adultery. He further calls lust a sin, as he teaches with hyperbole to tear out your right eye and cut off your right arm if they cause you to sin. (Matthew 5:29-30).

Jesus intends the hyperboles to stress that we must get rid of sin and not allow our body parts to carry out the evil desires we have. Lust is a sinful desire directed at others we find attractive but cannot pursue for moral reasons. Usually, that person is not our spouse.

According to the Bible, every sexual desire we have that is not for our spouse, is sexual immorality, lust included. Only through marriage can sexual desire be pursued with one’s spouse. All other forms of sexual gratification are sinful.

When I was in Bible College, my professor defined lust as, “Taking a long second book at the opposite gender.” His goal was to explain that there’s nothing wrong when we take a first look at a person. It’s when we pursue inappropriate sexual thoughts about another person that it becomes lust.

One of the students in the back of the class we all thought was sleeping through the session said, “That’s why you take a good long first look.” Even the professor had a hard time maintaining his composure.

Whether lust happens on the first or second look, it happens when we begin to have inappropriate sexual thoughts about others. Jesus calls it sin. We must deal with it like the other sins listed in the Bible.

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