The general idea of lust that was presented to me as a child growing up in a Christian family and environment, was that every sexual thought about any and every person you are not married to, is lust.
Because of my extreme perfectionist inclinations as a child, I came to believe that people are lusting all the time, especially me. I believed that watching movies that sexually aroused me was lustful. That masturbation was lustful because, while doing it, I was focused on satisfying myself sexually. That thinking about different men I liked while masturbating, was lustful. That being sexually attracted to someone was lusting after them. That premarital sex was lust. That divorce and remarriage were lust. That watching pornography was lust. That extramarital sex was lust. That polygamy was lust. Sometimes, I even thought that marriages–perhaps all or most marriages–were built on lust.
I also came to believe that human beings are not really capable of love at all. I believed that God’s love is unconditional, all-inclusive and selfless, and as far as I was concerned I did not know any human beings who were capable of that kind of love. So I concluded that most of what we produce that we call “love” is really lust, and that when we marry, we are only trying to learn how to love and none of us achieve real love every moment of every day.
That was my pessimistic, somewhat-judgemental, perfectionistic, melancholy perception of lust versus love.
To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve actually broken away from this perception. I still tend to think that our attempts at love in this life are “filthy rags” in comparison to God’s amazing love. And I also tend to think that sin is so ingrained in us, that we wouldn’t necessarily recognise lust in the very thick of it.
Interestingly, over time, this perception has decreased my inclination to be critical of other people’s sexuality and increased my grace and acceptance of people’s sexuality. I judged myself the most harshly, and because I was taught that all sins were equal, I absolutely believed that my own sexual arousal watching a movie, was no better (or worse) than friends and family who had premarital sex, or decided to get a divorce, or looked at pornography etc.
When I was 17, a 20 year old male friend admitted to me that he masturbated after dates with his girlfriend and he asked me if I thought it was a sin. If memory serves, I said something along these lines: “I don’t know if it is a sin, but I do know that God loves you just as much when you masturbate as any other time, and if it is a sin, you are forgiven.”
I emphasised the love and forgiveness of God toward other people because it was what I longed for myself. I was a terribly guilt-ridden teenager and I am incredibly lucky that despite being taught that so many things were wrong, bad and evil, it was just as much emphasised to me that God is love and he loves us unconditionally all the time, no matter what we have done, are doing or will do. My brother Michael tells a similar story of being raised to believe that basically everything in life was sin, but that God’s love was somehow amazingly greater than sin.
Suffice it to say, God’s love is much more powerful than human lust. Regardless of whether we take the critical approach of believing that everything is lust, or the liberal approach that nothing is lust, we can rest assured that we are always loved and accepted by God, and therefore “There is now no condemnation,” or guilt, or shame around our sexuality, see Romans 8:1.
From this place of security within the love of God, I still want to explore what lust is and what I believe keeps us trapped in a cycle of lust, as well what we can do to start reversing that cycle.
I started a discussion on facebook recently asking: What is lust? One of the answers I liked was that lust is about getting and love is about giving. Another was that lust is wanting something that belongs to someone else. Other words that stood out to me were “lack,” “uncontrollable urge,” “never fulfilled,” “consumed by,” and “addiction.”
In the Bible there appears to be a link between lust and adultery.
Matthew 5:28 “Anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Proverbs 6:24-25 “Keeping you away from your neighbour’s wife, from the smooth talk of a wayward woman. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.”
There were far more consequences after King David had sex with Bathsheba–a married woman–than there seem to have been regarding his other sexual partners, 2 Samuel 11-12. Yet David had more than 8 wives and many concubines as we see from 2 Samuel 3:2-5 & 5:13.
The Ten Commandments don’t actually list fornication as wrong, but include adultery twice in commandments 7 and 10!
Deuteronomy 5:18 “You shall not commit adultery.”
Deuteronomy 5:21 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.”
I did a search on Bible Gateway and the amount of times that the word lust is connected with the word adultery is astounding. Most of the time it seems to be talking about Israel’s adultery against God in turning to other idols and gods and “lusting” after them.
Before you assume that I’m limiting lust to people who have extramarital sex, remember that Jesus talked about lust starting in the heart. I still believe that pretty much all people have experienced and do experience lust. I do not believe that lust is simply thinking about or acting on having sex with someone who is not your spouse. I think that lust is entwined in obsession. In fact what I gathered from my prayer and study about lust over the past couple of weeks, is that it seems to be connected to an obsessive desire to possess something that we feel we lack.
This may be as simple as an obsession with controlling other people’s sex lives because we are scared to really analyse our own sexuality. I have seen this within the church time and time again: misdirected lust twisted into the condemnation and judgement of other people’s sex lives.
Yes, I can be critical of the body of Christ / the church (which I am still part of), but just as Paul claims to be the worst sinner of all in 1 Timothy 1:15, I can admit that I am the biggest lust-bucket of all. In my twenties I had a 6 year obsession with the same man who never loved me, never claimed to love me, but whom I “thought” God had told me I was going to marry. In my limited observation, this is not uncommon amongst sexual abuse victims. My own experience tells me that the confusion caused by sexual abuse can easily lead survivors down a path of unhealthy obsession. I later came to conclude that my obsession with this man masked my obsession with sex and marriage.
Obsession turns sexual attraction into lust or love … or, in my opinion, usually both. I still believe that we confuse lust and love all the time, but I think that some lust and obsession is unhealthier than others–like my 6 year obsession with one man who didn’t reciprocate. I will go into much more detail about healing from sexual abuse and overcoming the type of obsession that stems from abuse in my book: “Grace for Sexual Shame: The Abused.”
But there is some lust-obsession in all of us and that is what this blog which is part of my book, “Grace for the Sexual Shame: The Obsessed,” is all about. I brought it up in my first two blogs: “Why is the church obsessed about sex,” and “Why I am obsessed about sex.” Now I wish to bring the discussion full circle and talk about how we can start to move from this state of lust-obsession to one of love.
Lust-obsession is fear based. When I was obsessed about the same man for 6 years I was afraid that I was never going to get married, that no one was ever going to love me and that I was never going to have sex. I was desperately clinging to the hope that I might just get what I want from this man, because I was terrified that my desires would not be fulfilled elsewhere.
When we become afraid that our needs and wants are not going to be met, we become obsessive and lustful. But, instead of being honest about it, human beings have a tendency to go into hiding. We go into hiding because we do not want to be judged for our perception of our needs and desires. We go into hiding because we are afraid of what people would think of us if they really knew our desires. We cover up our lust-obsession with secrets, lies, deception, dishonesty and facades. These are the enemies of love that feed our lust-obsession.
So then, the obvious solution, is honesty. Again, this ties in with the blogs I wrote 9 months ago. The only way we can even attempt to overcome our obsession with sex which is basically the same as lust is to talk about it. To be honest about where we are at. To admit the things we have done in the past. To admit what we fantasise about doing in the future. To be real, authentic and honest about our sexuality.
When an alcoholic goes to alcoholics anonymous, the first step is honesty: “Hi my name is such and such and I’m an alcoholic.” When we admit our secrets we start to break free from those secrets. I think this is why the Bible says:
James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Honesty is the enemy of lust, because when we start being honest about what we want, we stop being quite so afraid that we are not going to get it. We start to believe that we can actually have what we want. And sometimes, we come to realise that it’s not what we wanted at all, it is only a surface level desire. As we unload our honesty about what we think we want, we start getting to the heart of what we really want.
As cliché as it sounds, we all want to be loved. And that includes sexual love. I’m not saying that we are all going to resolve our lust by realising that we really just want to give and receive love, but I do believe this recognition is a healthy step. It is a step toward the love we want, need and actually have.
God is love, and by extension, so are we.
To be truly ourselves is to be loved, love and loving. When we see ourselves as trapped in an obsessive lust cycle, we are not being our- true and authentic -selves. We are living from a place of fear. Afraid we are not going to get the love that we need. Denying that we already are loved, love and loving.
If you feel that you are trapped in lust right now, please know that I am not judging you. Not only have I been in unhealthy lust places in the past, but I believe that I will always be tainted by lust until the day I die and God sets me completely and finally free from all sin.
For example, as a newly-wed I have wrestled over my decision to remain a virgin until I was married. When I am honest and authentic, I am unsure whether I feel like sex was worth waiting 32 years for with all the anxiety, fear and lust-obsession that I experienced prior to marriage. Sex became so much bigger in my mind than it actually is and during this first year of marriage sex has felt like a deflating balloon for me. But I don’t know whether having sex before marriage would have made life any better. It would just be a different story. A different experience. I would have learned other lessons instead of the ones I’m learning through my own choices and experiences.
Because I believe so much in honesty, my husband has had to listen to me deflate my sex balloon all year. We’ve talked about disappointed expectations and disillusionment etc. Being honest with my husband has only made our marriage deeper. When we let our thoughts out their power tends to evaporate over time.
The way I see it, there are two options. We can be honest about our lust-obsessions and/or we can act on our lust-obsessions. But both of these things will lead us back to the same conclusion eventually. And that conclusion is our eventual freedom or salvation from the lust that entangles, to being the love that we were created to be.
If you don’t believe me, check out what the Bible has to say about it:
Romans 1:26 “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts …”
Romans 11:25-26 “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in and in this manner all Israel will be saved.”
Romans 11:32 “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all!”
1 Corinthians 5:1&5 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you … a man is sleeping with his father’s wife … Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh [lust], so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Lust is destroyed and the person remains saved. So even when we give into lust, we will learn from our decisions, reap the consequences, and remain saved.
God will use any means to bring us back to the same conclusion: love. Love is the answer. Love is the way. The more we focus our attention on love, the more our lust-obsession will likely decrease. As we become who we truly are, we are less inclined to act according to our sinful nature–our lust-obsession–which is who we are not.
1 John 4:16-18 “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus [we are love]. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Be honest about where you are at. Then focus your attention on love because that is who you truly are.
For an excellent and challenging book on honesty I recommend “Radical Honesty” by Brad Blanton http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Honesty-Transform-Telling-Truth/dp/0970693842