The Sin of Lust
Dr. Jim Denison
The pastor listed his sermon title in the bulletin: “Dealing With Sexual Sin.” But just before he got up to preach, the choir sang the special. Its title: “Oh, why not tonight?” Sometimes you’re done before you begin.
Now we come to the fifth deadly sin: “lust.” The dictionary defines our topic thus: “1. strong desire. Ex. lust for power, lust for gold. 2. desire for indulgence of sex, especially excessive sexual desire. 3. bad desire or appetite.”
We can “lust” for nearly anything. Oswald Chambers is right: lust is saying, “I must have it now.” We can “lust” for more money, for more power, for a new car. But the Bible typically speaks of “lust” in relation to sexual desire. In this sense, Frederick Buechner defines “lust” as the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst. We’ll define “lust” as the sin of desiring a sexual relationship outside the will of God.
One point must be made at the very beginning of our study: sexual attraction is not lust. God made us to be attracted to the opposite sex. It is not a sin to notice a beautiful woman or attractive man. It is only sin if we take that attraction to the next step. The sin is not the first look, but the second.
Now let’s learn how not to take that second look.
Sex in the ancient worldThe subject of sex was as perplexing to the ancients as it is to us. Even Agur, the writer of Proverbs 30, had to admit: “There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden” (vs.18-19). And King Lemuel, author of Proverbs 31, added this advice from his mother: “O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings” (vs. 2-3).
The word “sex” appears only one time in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and not a single time in the King James Version. But the subject itself was of enormous significance for the ancient world, as for us.
Ancient Egyptians were typically monogamous, though kings and nobles could have more than one wife. Brothers and sisters were often married; circumcision was widely practiced. Mesopotamians, on the other hand, allowed men any sexual activities they might choose. Marriage was for procreation only. Homosexuality was strictly forbidden.
Greek and Roman culture was extremely tolerant of prostitution, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. Extramarital intercourse was permitted to Greek men, but not to their wives. Marriage was typically monogamous, though divorce was common and frequent.
In ancient Judaism:, women were expected to be married and to bear children; failure to have children could lead to divorce after ten years. Women were expected to satisfy their husbands sexually and to refrain from tempting others; thus they were typically veiled in public and separated from men. Monogamy was widely practiced by the first century AD, though polygamy was common among the wealthy. Divorce was permitted only to men. And sexual immorality was prohibited by the Torah, including fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and “unlawful” marriages.
When sex is and is not sinSex is not sin when it is obedient to the will of God. He created genders: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 2:27). And he called the first couple to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (v. 28).
Sex is not sin when practiced within marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). And it is not sin when celebrating married love (see Song of Songs 4:1-5; 5:10-16; 7:1-9).
But sex is sin before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; Exodus 22:16). It is sin outside of marriage: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
It is sin when committed with another man’s wife: “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22). And when it is motivated by lust: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew5:27-28).
How to avoid sexual sin: the book of ProverbsSo how do we avoid this sin? How do we defeat the temptation of the second look? The Book of Proverbs is especially interested in this subject. Here are its answers to the question.
First, be warned: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (6:27-29). If you’re thinking that you’ll be the one to get away with this, guess where that thought is coming from. God disagrees.
Second, don’t be deceived. A woman or man who tempts to sexual sin may be “religious”: “I have fellowship offerings at home; today I have fulfilled my vows. So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you” (7:14-15). Such a person is enticing: “the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword” (5:3-4).
They promise pleasure: “I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!” (7:16-18). And secrecy: “My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon” (7:19-20). They claim innocence: “This is the way of an adulteress: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong'” (30:20). But all such claims are lies.