What Is Lust?

By David Weaks

The word lust in the New Testament can translate more than one Greek word. However, the primary word translated lust is epithumia. W.E. Vine says of this word that it is “strong desire of any kind” (707). It can be used of strong desire that is good and strong desire that is evil. When it is used of evil desire the text will specify what is meant, and often the word lust will translate epithumia.

Epithumia can be seen in its good sense in a few pas- sages. Jesus said to the apostles, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer . . .” (Luke 22:15, NKJV — here and elsewhere the NKJV will be cited unless otherwise indicated). Paul said, “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). On another occasion Paul said, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire” (1 Thess. 2:17). In each of these passages the word translated as fervent desire, desire, and great desire is the same word, epithumia which is elsewhere translated as lust. Yet, it is clear that the strong desires in each of these verses is positive, not negative. However, the word epithumia is used in an overwhelmingly negative way in the New Testament.

Christians are told to avoid worldly lusts which war against the soul (1 Pet. 2:11). In this text, the word epithumia is connected with the word “worldly.” This indicates the kind of strong desire under consideration. These worldly desires are not like the positive desires in the above verses. These are the kind of desires that “war against the soul.” Therefore, they must be vanquished and not satisfied. To satisfy them would be to sin.

Other verses of Scripture speak similarly of lust.

Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts (Rom. 6:12). But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Rom. 13:14).

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. . . . Now the lusts of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentious- ness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:16, 19-21).

These and other clear verses of Scripture teach us that fulfillment of certain lusts is sinful. It is important to note that strong desire is not wrong in every case. What is wrong is the fulfillment of these desires contrary to God’s law. For instance, sexual desire is not wrong in and of itself. God created men and women with this appetite. However, the gratification of this desire is permissible only in the marriage relationship (1 Cor. 7:1-9; 6:18; Heb.13:4). When young people engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, they commit fornication and are guilty of sin. They have no right to fulfill their lust before marriage. Likewise, when homosexuals gratify their lust outside of marriage they are guilty of fornication. Paul said of them, “. . . God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Rom. 1:24). When they fulfil their lust contrary to God’s law they give in to vile passions (1:26), do what is against nature (1:26), and commit what is shameful (1:27). In summation, lusts which are sinful are those that prompt us to violate the law of God.

What Does Lust Have To Do With the Way We Dress?

The Bible’s teaching about lust has everything to do with how we dress. If certain lusts can be described as being at war with one’s soul, are foolish and hurtful, evil, ungodly (Jude 18), and of defilement (2 Pet. 2:10), then whatever naturally provokes and excites these sinful lusts must be vigorously avoided and opposed.

The fundamental assertion of this article is that the sight of bare flesh provokes strong desire. What kind of desire? Evil desire. The sight of a scantily clad female will not fill a young man with a strong desire to study the Bible. Instead, the sight of a girl’s partially nude body will create in the average male a desire to commit fornication with her. If a man will deny this statement he will probably lie about other things as well!

Faithful Christians will not dress in a way that causes others to lust, and they will not dress in a way that com- promises their faith.