Ashley and I love the questions we receive from our readers, viewers, and Naked Marriage Podcast listeners. Many of those questions become the inspiration for new podcast episodes, videos, and blog articles like this one. We've recently heard several questions related to whether or not it's a sin to "lust" over your spouse.
To give a little bit of context, let's first define "lust" because it's kind of a term that's become "Christianese," meaning an insider language used in church sermons and among Christians that doesn't have a lot of use in the broader culture. To make sure we're all operating from the same definition, lust is essentially an intense sexual desire typically fueled by prolonged mental fantasies and visual stimuli.
The Bible talks about lust on several occasions. Perhaps most notably, Jesus teaches on lust during his famous Sermon on the Mount in which he addresses the lust issue by saying, "You have heard the commandment that says, 'You must not commit adultery.' But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye-even your good eye-causes you to lust, 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." (Matthew 5: 27-29 NLT)
Those are pretty strong words! Jesus is raising the bar from the Old Testament's standard of sexual purity, which was to avoid the physical act of adultery. Jesus teaches that the real heart of God's standard is far beyond the physical act, but it goes into what's happening in a person's mind and heart. Your brain is the most powerful sex organ you possess and what you allow to happen in your mind will impact your sex life, your marriage, and every other aspect of your life. If lust is running rampant in your mind, then sin is already happening.
So, we know that lusting after someone other than your spouse is wrong, but what about when it is your spouse? The answer to this question is multi-faceted, so hang with me for just a minute. The basic answer is that it's impossible to sin by lusting after your spouse, because within the covenant of marriage, God gives us an enormous amount of freedom to express our desire for one another. The Bible even celebrates marital desire and sex in multiple writings including the ultra-steamy Song of Solomon which is an erotic love poem using very sensual and explicit imagery to celebrate a husband and wife's yearning for each other and sexual expression with each other.
That's the good news. God wants you to have a steamy sex life with your spouse. He wants you to be aroused and delighted by the sight of each other. After all, He is the one who invented sex as a gift for married couples, and it's a gift He wants you both to enjoy often! Here's the bad news…it's possible to have sinful lust in your marriage even when you're remaining physically monogamous to your spouse. You might be scratching your head a little bit confused right now, so let me explain.
Jesus' teachings on lust show us that He doesn't just want us to be physically monogamous; He wants us to be mentally monogamous too. Sinful lust can creep into our marriage when we fuel our lust with outside images like pornography (Ashley and I have spoken and written extensively on the damaging impact of porn). I know the damages of porn-fueled lust from my own experiences. From my teenage years through the early part of my marriage, my mind was warped by pornography. Even though I didn't physically cheat on Ashley with another woman, my mind was often playing highlight reels of other women even when I was making love to my wife. I'm now sickened by the fact that I tainted our marriage bed and the sacred bond of our marriage by allowing my mind to wander into these images. This was sinful lust was an act of mental infidelity.
If porn or any outside factor is putting fantasies in your mind or images in your mind that aren't exclusive to your spouse, then lust is corrupting your marriage. If you are using your spouse as a physical body with which you can act out your porn fantasies, then you're objectifying and using your spouse instead of cherishing and loving your spouse. Sinful lust looks at other people as only bodies to be used for our visual and sexual pleasure, but marital love looks at a spouse as a soul to be cherished. If you want a thriving, passionate, intimate marriage inside and outside the bedroom, then make sure all your thoughts, all your fantasies, and yes, all your "lust" is focused exclusively on your spouse.