A few years ago I was having a conversation with a married man who was struggling with lust. He mentioned to me that he had a hard time deflecting his eyes when he saw a pretty woman pass by. I opened up my Bible and read Jesus’ words to him in Matthew 5:27–30:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. ’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. -Matthew 5:27–30
His head went down and he said he was well aware that Jesus was teaching lust was the same thing as adultery. This was the very reason he brought it up to me because he was concerned he was committing adultery by being unable to divert his eye away from the woman passing by.
I spent yesterday morning before Church looking up every instance in the ESV where the greek word for “lustful intent” (ἐπιθυμέω) is used. It is used a total of 17 times, Matthew 5:27 being the first of the seventeen. The word is used of the Prodigal son who was “longing” to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate. It is used explaining how the poor man Lazarus “desired” to be fed from the scraps off the rich man’s table. Paul uses the word to describe how the Israelites “desired” evil while they were in the wilderness and prompted God to wrath. And James uses the word to explain where fights and wars come from; they come because we “covet” and cannot obtain.
The counsel I gave the man that night is the same counsel I would give another man this morning after doing my word study. I told the man Jesus was going after the man who was “looking at a woman with LUSTFUL INTENT.” I told him that Jesus was not condemning the man who wrestled in his heart when the pretty woman strolled by his window. Rather he was condemning the man who was purposely looking out his window with hopes that the pretty woman would pass by. It is a looking with the intent of lingering, not wrestling against lusting the lingering woman. From what I understand about the context of Jesus’ day, the Jews thought adultery was the same as stealing another man’s wife. In that sense, they thought thou shalt not commit adultery was essentially the same as thou shalt not steal. Jesus is going after that understanding by showing adultery is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of intent and not simply a matter of action.
I asked the man if he knew the difference between seeing the pretty woman walk by and fighting against the lust, and looking and waiting for the pretty woman to walk by so that he might entertain a bit of lustful play. He said he knew the difference, and you probably do as well. Jesus is so kind to us by showing that sin is a matter of the heart. But I do not think he wants us to feel condemned every time a woman in daisy dukes walks by and we sense a tension in our conscience. He gives us victory in Jesus and we can rejoice that he enables us to observe the one passing by and turn away. He enables us to look while grieving for the woman’s soul. He enables us to look, turn away, and lift her before the throne of grace. This is not the cliche which is common to hear, “you can look but not touch.” This type of looking is a looking with lustful intent. What I am speaking about is observing the onslaught of sensuality in our day and being above reproach in the midst of it. We would need to pluck out our eyes in order to never see a sensual object again. But the eyes of our mind would still fully function. Lustful intent starts in the imagination, and the victory is given there through the gospel. He takes out our heart of lust and replaces it with a heart of contentment and thankfulness. Yes we will continually fight daily battles, but we have the armor of our King. We are not left here to be helpless victims of the sinful world. We who are in Christ have overcome the world.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? –1 John 5:4–5
Press on dear brother or sister in the Lord. We walk by faith and not by sight!