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SM #20: The Look of Lust

Updated: Jun 11

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. ~ JESUS (Matthew 5:27-30)

SUMMARY: Read this and skip the rest (if you want)

  • Now Jesus gives the second of his six case studies (the Six Antitheses), internalizing and principlizing the command not to commit adultery.

  • Jesus draws on another of the Ten Commandments, against coveting, to help interpret and apply the command against adultery.

  • Adultery was always a grievous sin in God’s eyes because it hurts people, erodes covenant, and messes with marriage as God’s analogy of his faithful love for us.

  • Jesus is not talking about finding someone attractive, or appreciating beauty, but intentionally looking at people to use them for our own inner sexual emotional experience.

  • When we struggle with this sin, Jesus recommends radical separation from temptation. We do not put ourselves into situations, relationships, or contexts where we know we will likely fail morally.

  • The apostle Paul confesses his own struggle with lust and explains that he knows he is pure and sinless in his soul, but his soul is encased in flesh which is sinful and powerful.

  • This helps explain why so many saints, Old Testament and New Testament, who love God and want to live right, still slip into significant sin.

  • When we struggle with temptation, we can pray along with Jesus, “Not my will, but yours be done.”


(The heart of the message)

Human beings are glorious image-bearers of God on earth. Using others as kindling to stoke our inner fires of desire is one of the ways we devalue and dehumanize others. Thankfully, Jesus offers us a redemptive way forward.


(What’s going on before and after this passage)

Jesus is walking us through his second of six case studies about how to read the Bible as a Christ-follower. He has already addressed the example of anger and now he addresses lust. Both anger and lust are related through many shared themes, one of which is that both demean another human being. (In Greek mythology, Ares, the god of war, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and sex and fertility, are lovers.)

Aphrodite and Ares

Jesus quotes one of the Ten Commandments concerning adultery and he ties it to another of the Ten Commandments concerning covetousness (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Adultery was always considered one of the most serious of sins and was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Jesus reminds us that covetousness (desire, lust) was also on God’s Top Ten list and is just as grievous.

So in this second of the six antitheses, Jesus is not overriding or abrogating a law of the Torah (as he will in other illustrations), but instead Jesus teaches us how to use Scripture to inform and interpret Scripture.

God has always opposed adultery in the strongest way, not only because it involves betrayal and heartache for the people God loves, but also because marriage faithfulness is meant to be a picture of God’s faithfulness to his people (Isaiah 54:5-8; Jeremiah 31:32; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:8-27). So marital unfaithfulness is used in Scripture as a picture of idolatry, abandoning our love relationship with God (e.g., Isaiah 1:21; 54:5; 57:8; Jeremiah 3:8-9, 20; 9:2, Ezekiel 6:9; 16:15-19, 32; 23; Hosea 2:2–5; 3:1–5; 9:1; James 4:4-5).

Human sexual intimacy has always been a living analogy of the spiritual intimacy God designed for us to experience with himself. So sex, within a covenant of Hesed (loyal love and faithfulness), is a picture of the intimate love relationship God wants with us. Adultery is a picture of this relationship going terribly wrong.


(Observations about the passage)

You have heard. Not "You have read". This reminds us that most of Jesus' audience were unable to read. And even if they were literate, they would not have had access to their own copy of the Scriptures, but heard them read at their local synagogue. Personal Bible study is a modern invention. Community learning is the historical norm.

Throughout history most believers gathered to hear Scripture read and explained.

Adultery. The Greek word (verb moicheuó, from the noun moichos) means to have a sexual experience or relationship outside of an existing marriage. Today we might call this having an affair, cheating, or being unfaithful. "Adultery" is still a good and clear translation.

But I say to you. Jesus here follows the same pattern as his first antithesis: reaffirming then radicalizing the Old Testament command. The word order of the original is "I however say to you" which puts the emphasis on the "I" (Greek, egó) - the most important word in the paragraph. More on this in our previous study.

Looks to lust. The phrase used here does not describe mere appreciating or admiring physical beauty or even spontaneous sexual attraction. It means to look or stare for the purpose of lusting, desiring, coveting, and/or possessing mentally and emotionally. That is, to look because we desire to desire. The New Testament word for "lust" is epithumeó (pronounced ep-ee-thoo-meh'-o), a compound word of epi (meaning "on" or "upon") and thumos, which refers to an intensely strong emotion (usually rage). So biblically, "lust" is the act of placing our intense emotional focus upon another person or thing or goal. It can be used positively (as in Matthew 13:17; Luke 22:15; Hebrews 6:11; etc). In this passage, epithumeó (lust) is prefaced by the word pros, meaning toward, and this communicates an extra layer of intentionality. Jesus is talking about turning toward someone (this would include in person and online) for the purpose of putting our emotional desire upon them outside of marriage. This is the act of intentionally looking for the purpose of nurturing and enjoying our own desires. (There is a possible secondary meaning to the Greek wording, which is to “to cause to lust”. That is, Jesus would be condemning the act of trying to visually engage with someone to distract or tempt or seduce them sexually, perhaps to boost our own ego. Both are dehumanizing.)

Martin Luther was a smart dude.

In his heart. The "heart" is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible and plays a central theme in many passages, so it is worth understanding the idea. The Hebrew word (lev - sometimes pronounced leb) and Greek word (kardia) are rarely used to refer to a literal physical blood-pumping organ (1 Samuel 25:37 may be the only exception). Instead, the word "heart" is used metaphorically to mean the centre of our being. We think and feel in our heart, but most importantly our heart is where we make decisions, focus our will, and chose our direction in life. Our heart is where we practice wisdom, or lack thereof (Proverbs 14:33; 1 Kings 10:24). And so, we are told to "guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23). The Hebrew writers said the human heart was deceitful and sick (Jeremiah 17:9) and so they longed for the day when God would give his people a new heart (Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26). The Good News is that Jesus is a kardiac specialist. He speaks of the human heart as having both positive and negative potential. We can have hard hearts (Matthew 19:18) and even nurture a cesspool of sin in our hearts (Matthew 15:8, 18-19). And yet we can also be pure of heart (Matthew 5:8) when we choose to focus our attention on eternal treasure (Matthew 6:21), which Jesus sees as the relationships of grace that we forge in this life (Luke 16:1-9). Ultimately, Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant, which promises a completely new heart for those who surrender to the healing of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:25-27; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This final good news promise of the New Covenant is often overlooked by conservative Christians who still talk about our hearts as though they are deceitfully wicked and beyond cure (according to Jeremiah 17:9). The next time someone talks about your heart that way, you can respond, “Well, maybe that’s the case for your heart, but Jesus says I have a new heart and a pure heart.”

Stumble. The Greek word here (skandalizó) is the verb form of the noun skandalon, which refers to the stick used as the trigger in a snare or a stone someone trips over. To be caused to “stumble” means we are being trapped and tripped by something. What irony! Our eyes, the very organ that help us avoid stumbling, falling, or stepping into a trap physically can become the reason we stumble morally. Entrapping sin will often use what is good and pure and lovely, and twist it oh so slightly to become our downfall.

To be caused to “stumble” means we are being trapped and tripped by something.

Gouge it out / Cut it off. Some scholars (like Dallas Willard in his Divine Conspiracy) see Jesus here using rabbinic sarcasm, pointing out that an emphasis on external righteousness will lead to absurdity and will never change our hearts. At the same time, Jesus is likely using rabbinic hyperbole - poetic exaggeration to make a real point. Rather than allow something to repeatedly trip or trap us, Jesus teaches radical removal therapy. The right eye and right hand were considered the more valuable, since soldiers held their sword, writers held their pen, and farmers held their tools in their right hand and needed to see as they engaged. Still, as we learned in our last study, reading the Bible literally is not the same as reading it accurately and faithfully. (With sympathy to Origen of Alexandria [c. 185 – c. 253], who allegedly had himself castrated so he could more easily train female disciples.) Jesus speaks of gouging out one eye and cutting off one hand. But of course, one-eyed people can still look with lust, and one-handed people can still steal (though given the context of sexual lust, theft is probably not what Jesus was thinking about regarding that right hand). Jesus is using vivid imagery to teach a practical principle: radical separation from temptation. Jesus doesn’t say “if something tempts you strongly, stand up to it with the power of the Holy Spirit, since you are impervious to the desires of the flesh”. Sure, the Bible says to “resist the Devil and he will flee” (James 4:7). But when it comes to our own fleshly temptations, we are the ones who should “flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22). Nor does Jesus say, “If something or someone tempts you, blame them and tell them to change.” No, Jesus tells us to take responsibility for our own choices. (More on this below.)

Hell. See our last study for more on Jesus’ use of Gehenna here.

At the very least, thoughts of physical mutilation should put a damper on sexual desire. ~ Amy-Jill Levine (Sermon on the Mount)


(Personal reflection)

I confess that I have committed adultery. And according to Jesus, I am also a murderer (see our last study), and a hypocrite, and a host of other things.

I am currently in a season of life when I am defending my legal innocence while wanting to focus on confession and repentance of my moral guilt. I am grateful for this space and the small churches who I get to meet with where I can focus on confession and repentance.

Here is what I have come to embrace: I am a more vile person than anyone knows, and yet I am a more glorious soul than anyone sees, and a more loved person than anyone comprehends.

Somehow, I believe it all to be true. And I believe this is true for all of us. So it seems helpful to name this paradox of being human – that we are at once both horrible and honourable, glorious and gross, bad to the bone and beautiful to the core. And at all times, God loves us unconditionally.

As a Christian, I find many answers in Scripture, but I also come away with even more questions on this topic. According to the biblical promises, New Covenant believers are new creations with a new heart that is redesigned for following Jesus. So why do we still sometimes choose to walk a path of significant sin? I struggle to make it make sense. I know that I love Jesus, I trust Jesus, and I want more than anything to follow his will and his way. And yet, sometimes I don’t. I mean, I really really don’t.

I once had the opportunity to share a one-on-one lunch with one of the world’s best known Christian apologists (those teachers who focus on giving rational reasons for the Christian faith). I had admired this man’s writing and speaking for years and now I had the chance to ask him anything I wanted. Near the end of our time together, after discussing evidence in favour of faith in Jesus, I asked him: “What do you think is the greatest evidence against believing in Jesus?” I wasn’t prepared for his response.

This gentleman seemed to become suddenly sad and stared at the table. I said, “Is it hard to think of anything?” He said, “No, quite the opposite. It is a heavy burden.” Then he continued: “The thing that works against the Christian faith so strongly is our own apparent lack of transformation. Jesus teaches that he has brought the New Covenant in his blood, which the Bible says gives us a new heart, a new spirit, and God’s Spirit to help us follow Jesus. New Covenant believers are born again, Spirit-indwelt new creations. So then why do so many of us so often not live like it? It seems to me that Christians are the greatest evidence against Christianity.”

That's heavy.

He went on to explain that every other world religion teaches a path to walk so we might eventually one day achieve some sort of salvation. But only Jesus front-end-loads our salvation and transformation at the beginning of our faith journey as a gift of grace. That sounds beautiful. But, he asked, where is the evidence? Christians seem just as broken, fallen, messed up, and sinful as non-Christians, and maybe more so when you add on our own hypocrisy of claiming to be better than we actually live.

At the time, I assumed his seriousness was a kind of sorrow for the sins of the Church as a whole throughout history. I thought through the catastrophic failures of the Church, like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and witch burnings. But I would later learn about this famous apologist’s own brokenness and moral failure and realized he was almost certainly including himself in his lament.

And now, I too am in a season of lament, asking God why someone like myself, who loves God and wants to follow Jesus, could make some of the sinful and hurtful choices I have made in my life. Where is the evidence of God’s transforming power in my life, and in the lives of so many Christians?

I find some measure of encouragement knowing that Jesus foresaw this troubling reality. As we discussed in an earlier study, Jesus himself was under no delusions of some utopian vision for his future Church. Jesus did not think his spirit-filled, new heart, new spirit, New Covenant followers would live in moral perfection, but in mercy perfection (compare Matthew 5:48 with Luke 6:36). Just look at how much of Jesus’ teaching for his future Church is about how to mercifully confront and forgive sin within the Church! For instance, Christians who live out the Sermon on the Mount perfectly will be Christians who hunger and thirst for their own righteousness, are merciful because they know they need mercy, pray daily for forgiveness of their sins as they forgive others, and regularly deal with the plank in their own eye before helping sisters and brothers with their moral splinters. Apparently, our New Covenant heart is designed to make us, not just superior in morality, but powerful in mercy.

Of course, followers of Jesus want to let God’s will and God’s way hold sway in their lives. That is the kingdom! We just need to remember that for Jesus, in this life, mercy is the ultimate morality. We know that we will fail and be failed by others, and when that happens, Jesus shows us a clear pathway forward that is paved with grace.

I really resonate with how the apostle Paul dealt with his own moral struggles. He was under no delusion regarding his own sinfulness, yet he also maintained a clear vision of God’s love for him and desire to partner with him.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. ~ The apostle Paul (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

In his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul confesses his ongoing battle with the sin of "covetousness" (Greek, epithumeó, the same word translated "lust" in our current Sermon on the Mount passage). After his initial confession (Romans 7:8-14), Paul laments his own apparent lack of transformation (in what I have heard called the do-do passage):

I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 7:14-15)
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 7:18-19)
What a wretched man I am! ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 7:24)

Yet, embedded in this honest wrestling, light shines through, and Paul shows mercy – to himself:

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 7:17 & 20)
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 7:22-23)

I am blown away by Paul’s theological anthropology. He is dissecting his own soul here, and it resonates with me profoundly. In essence, Paul declares that in his heart of hearts, he knows that he is a perfect, beautiful, sinless image-bearer of God (also see 1 John 3:6). In his quieter moments, when he searches his heart, Paul knows that he really wants to live the loving life God desires for him, despite some of the evidence of his ongoing sin struggles. He sees his spirit as currently encased in “flesh” (Greek, sarx, sometimes translated “sinful nature”). This is the human condition. As believers, our minds are made perfect through Christ, but our minds do their thinking and feeling through our brains, which are part of our imperfect self-sabotaging flesh. These three pound bio-electrical organs can misfire and misrepresent reality to us, and we in turn make sinful and hurtful choices.

Like optical illusions, sometimes our brains experience emotional illusions, reasoning illusions, and even spiritual illusions that influence how we see and process the world around us. When we listen to these lies, we make choices that hurt ourselves and others. Eventually when the cognitive dissonance builds to the breaking point, shame threatens to flood our hearts so denial becomes a primary coping strategy.

Optical Illusion: Duck or Rabbit? Lust is a kind of "emotional illusion" for our hearts.

We can too easily become lust-addicts, wanting to experience wanting, desiring to experience desiring, always looking for our next hits of dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin. This happens through our own lust and/or knowing that we are the object of someone else’s desire. A form of bonding happens with every sexual experience, physical or fantasy, with a real or imagined person.

And being wise, intelligent, educated, and/or spiritually zealous does not insulate us from the influence of our “flesh” – that is, our fallen or sinful nature, living as a parasite on our souls. In fact, the more wise we are, the more crafty our flesh grows at the same time. Smart people are not just smarter at identifying truth, they are also smarter at excuse-making for their sin. In other words, an emotionally intelligent saint with strong leadership skills has an emotionally intelligent flesh with strong leadership skills.

The more insightful and persuasive we become, the more insightful and persuasive our flesh becomes, using new levels of creative excuse-making to mislead and misdirect us. King Solomon, who sought God’s wisdom above all else (2 Chronicles 1:7-12), failed to live wisely in his sexual life (1 Kings 11:1-8). And King David – a man after God’s own heart! (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), wise writer of Scripture, and namesake of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1; 21:9; 22:42) – became blinded by his own murderous and sexual sin spiral until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 11-12).

The 1985 film "King David" portrays the confrontation scene with Nathan most powerfully.

Beyond Scripture, many more church leaders, prominent pastors, theologians, and heroes of the faith have unravelled morally through sexual sin. From Karl Barth to John Howard Yoder, Bill Hybels to Ravi Zacharias, Jean Vanier to Martin Luther King Jr., not to mention the countless lesser-known pastors, priests, and church leaders who have sinned grievously, some we know about and some we will never know about. (See this study where we talk about the example of Lonnie Frisbee, a hero of the 1070s Jesus Movement, who also strayed into sexual sin.) Perhaps you can think of other examples. And the lesson should be, not “how dare they”, as though we are above temptation, but “God help us all.” For none of us are immune.

In "Set Free", a book about Lonnie Frisbee, the influential author and therapist Rich Buhler writes:

"If you review the history of people who’ve been used mightily in remarkable ways, you’ll find this kind of brokenness very often. That’s what gives each of us a confidence that we can be used of God. We’re all having to deal with sin and failure, but God uses us despite that."

~ Rich Buhler (Counsellor/Author)

And so in this life it would seem that love is best expressed as truth-telling face-to-face confrontation, repentant response, and forgiving mercy. The triumph of mercy and restoration, in our relationship with ourselves and others, is the only way forward. Yes, Jesus sets the ethical standards high in the Sermon on the Mount and we should aim for moral purity, but Jesus also front-end-loads mountains of mercy and grace into his teaching, knowing that we will all fall short of the glory of God.

At this point in my life, I am slowly learning to forgive myself, and to declare along with Paul:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:1)

We are not half-good, half-bad. We are completely good, wrapped in weakness.


(Thoughts about meaning and application)

Jesus is addressing adultery in the eyes and heart. They are intertwined, since the heart directs the eyes and the eyes enflame the heart.

What Jesus is not doing here is giving us tips on how to avoid affairs. Adultery proper is not his focus. Just as in the last antithesis Jesus shifted focus from murder to prioritizing reconciliation over divisive anger, so here Jesus is training his disciples in honouring others as full image-bearers of God. Surely the person who successfully battles his or her own lust-looking habit will be less likely to commit adultery. But Jesus' point here is to take our smug judgmentalism toward adulterers out at the knees by revealing that looking to lust is already a form of inner adultery. Jesus is saying, before you judge look at the plank in your own eye. Or, in other words, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Jesus has exposed our inner impurity. At the same time, he has already reminded us of God’s grace throughout the Beatitudes and here he also gives us hope for a way forward.

Eye-gouging and hand-chopping may not seem like the plan we were looking for, but as we mentioned above, these graphic images are symbolic for a helpful ethical principle for moral purity: radical separation from temptation. Jesus does not advise gradual experimental distancing, but immediate, extreme, emergency surgery.

Origen of Alexandria allegedly had himself castrated so he could more easily train female disciples. Wrong kind of emergency surgery brother.

This principle of radical separation from temptation will be worked out differently for different people regarding different issues and in different circumstances and in different seasons of life, so it would be anti-Christ of us to become ethical legalists here, creating rules about what Christians can or cannot do, or where Christians can or cannot go. Jesus is teaching moral wisdom, not a one-size-fits-all law.

For some people, applying this emergency amputation principle may mean avoiding movies, music, and other media with overt sexuality. For others it may mean refusing to read romantic or sexualized novels. For others this principle will mean avoiding particular places, events, apps, parties, and/or people. And our moral guidelines may not only change from person to person, they may change for the same person over time. We cannot make our own wisdom-guidelines universal rules for others, but we can be fully engaged and ready to support one another with whatever guidelines they choose.

In pastoral circles, sometimes people discuss "the Billy Graham Rule": a guideline that says a man should not be dining or drinking or talking at length alone with a woman who is not his wife, girlfriend, or partner. (Billy Graham was known not to even ride an elevator alone with a woman.) The principle was later popularized by the American vice-president Mike Pence who, media discovered, also follows the Billy Graham Rule. This rule of conduct will certainly make adultery less likely to happen. No debate there. But at what cost? When women are viewed primarily as temptations to be avoided, male leaders will tend to prioritize meeting with, mentoring, and promoting other male leaders, and women will be kept outside circles of leadership, influence, and change within the church. Growing as a leader will happen, not just by taking a course, holding a position, or being given a title, but through friendships, mentoring relationships, and networking opportunities with other leaders. The Billy Graham rule makes this doubly difficult for women leaders in the Church, no matter how egalitarian the church may claim to be.

Some proponents of the Billy Graham rule argue that the issue at hand is not primarily one of sexual temptation but of avoiding even the appearance of evil. This argument is based on a misunderstanding of 1 Thessalonians 5:22, rooted in a wrong translation in the King James Bible.

Abstain from all appearance of evil. ~ The apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV)

But the word "appearance" here is the Greek word for the form something takes when it appears. Paul is saying we should avoid actual evil, whenever and however it appears. All modern english translations of the Bible clear this up, including the New King James.

Abstain from every form of evil. ~ the apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:22, NKJV)
Reject every kind of evil. ~ The apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:22, NIV)

Avoiding the appearance of sin was never an important value for Jesus.

At the same time, the Billy Graham rule may be an example of what some Christians in some situations with some people for some season of time may need to wisely practice. Avoiding specific people because of a personal weakness may be precisely one application of eye-gouging hand-chopping love. This avoidance of a person who brings out the worst in us is never a judgement on the other person, but a personal admission of weakness expressed through Jesus' principle of radical separation from temptation.

The truth is, every way forward will have strengths and weaknesses, power and pitfalls, and we ought not judge another's need to chop off a hand to follow Jesus better.

Is "the Billy Graham Rule" an example of Jesus' eye-gouging hand chopping wisdom? Or is it an unnecessary legalism that deters male leaders from investing in female leaders and vice versa? Or can it sometimes be both?

We should also address porn, an obvious temptation to avoid, since it exists merely to sexualize another person while stimulating our desire. Porn is designed to create pockets of sexual emotion, experience, and desire outside of human-to-human engagement. Porn trains us to decouple lust from love. Porn is sex as a product, and it habituates taking rather than giving, self-centredness rather than other-centredness. Porn takes the most relationally intimate experience and removes the “inconvenience” of relationship from that experience.

Our purpose here is not to write an expose on the negative effect of porn or other forms of looking to lust, but to help us understand the why behind the what of Jesus’ teachings, and to see the direction he points us toward. For Jesus, loving relationship between us and others is always the right way forward. Anything that diminishes our ability to love well and love widely is an enemy of our soul.

Porn habituates a relationship with sexuality that is decoupled from loving relationship.

It should also be pointed out that Jesus never blames the external focus of our internal temptation. In other words, in this situation he doesn’t blame women for being too tempting, but men for indulging that temptation. True, modesty and other-centredness in how we present ourselves in this world is a Jesusy principle, and this is addressed elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:1-16; 1 Timothy 2:9-10; James 2:1-13; 1 Peter 3:3-4). In Jesus’ day, most male authors, teachers, and religious leaders blamed women’s immodesty for male lust. Jesus rejects this sexist and dehumanizing trend. Such thinking turns women into mere objects and men into mere victims of women’s apparently magical power. But the external appearance of another is never the excuse for our internal choices. In fact, according to Jesus even the sin of someone else, no matter how extreme, is never an excuse for our own sin in response. We do not return hate with hate, violence with violence, judgement with judgement, or even immodesty with looking to lust.

Psychologists use the phrase “external locus of control” to refer to the phenomenon of blaming what is outside ourselves for the choices we make. That food was too tempting, I had to eat it. That sale was too good, I had to buy it. That driver was too erratic, I had to give them the finger. That person was too attractive / too charming / too mesmerizing / too vulnerable / too powerful, I had to pursue them. Etc. Instead, Jesus calls us all to account for our own choices. Christians cannot say “The Devil made me do it”, only “The Devil tempted me to do it, and I took the bait.”

Jesus loves to forgive sin, and he calls us to forgive one another’s sin. But when someone refuses to admit their own sin because they are busy blaming external forces, then the process of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration is short-circuited, and the community of Christ suffers loss.

So let us all name at least to ourselves our own lust. It may be sexual lust, but it may also be lust for recognition, appreciation, validation, status, power, protection, security, distraction, amusement, or simply a lust for closeness to soothe our inner loneliness. What is your lust? And, follow up question: who do you turn to in order to fulfill that lust?

And let us also name our primary excuse-making machinery. Is it denial? Rationalization? Blaming and shaming others?

And let us all pause to ponder the ways we are tempted to play the victim card, rather than take responsibility for our own failures. This world is full of real victims who have suffered loss, abuse, violence, sexism, agism, racism, rejection, and ridicule. And as society rallies its powers to help true victims, others will begin to clamour for victim status in order to cash in on the benefits. Victimhood and apparent powerlessness become the new power, and people want it. But Jesus rejects this posturing and propaganda, calling us all to repentance.


(One last thought)

The night before Jesus was crucified, he prayed the most profound prayer ever:

Not my will, but yours be done. ~ Jesus (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42)

Perhaps this prayer can be a model for us when we are tempted to nurture our lust. We may not desire to quit, but we may desire to desire to quit. In those times, we can pray:

Dear Jesus,

I don’t want to give up my sin, but I want to want to give up my sin. Please shape my heart and bend my will to align with yours. Not my will, but yours be done.



(Scripture passages that relate to and deepen our understanding of this topic)

Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 5-6; Job 31:1; Romans 7-8; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:16; Philippians 4:11-13; Colossians 3:1-5; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; Hebrews 4:15; 13:5; James 1:13-15

For more information…


(Talk together, learn together, grow together)

  1. What is God revealing to you about himself through this passage?

  2. What is God showing you about yourself through this passage?

  3. Name one weakness in your life and how this teaching of radical separation from temptation might help you avoid sin?

  4. What is one thing you can think, believe, or do differently in light of what you are learning?

  5. What questions are you still processing about this topic?

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