Matthew 5:28, Lust

Vitruvian Man, 1492, Leonardo DaVinci’s sketch of a naked man.Perhaps no verse is more referenced by those who believe masturbation to be sin than Matthew 5:28, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Some who have not understood what this verse is really saying have remarked to me, “Well, in that case, we are all doomed!” After all, what man has never looked at a woman and admired her sexually?

Applying Biblical Principles?

It has been taught that, sure, masturbation is nowhere mentioned in the Word of God, nowhere is it directly forbidden, but we can apply Biblical principles and come to some wise conclusions on the matter. Since masturbation is often accompanied by either fanaticising about an individual, or worse, using erotic materials to excite our sexuality so we can manually stimulate ourselves to orgasm, it therefore involves “lust,” which is mental adultery. Thus, to masturbate is to sin.

But, thanks be to God, this line of reasoning is very, very flawed. It is flawed because it defines simple sexual stimulation and erotic thoughts as lust. Note that Jesus did not say “that everyone who looks at a woman with appreciation for her female charms or sexual attractiveness has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Neither did He say “everyone who looks at a woman and feels sexual stimulated has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” No, Jesus specifically uses the word “lust.” And in reality lust involves a whole lot more than being aroused by a thought or a picture, or even the form of an attractive female walking by. It even means more than using that thought or picture as an aid to masturbation. Erotic thoughts are not lust, because lust includes intent.


We can understand what Jesus was talking about if we more closely examine the original Greek, words most commonly translated “lust.” These words - epithumeo, epipotheo, and orego - mean to covet, to desire, to long for intensely, to set one’s heart upon. The idea of intent, or volition is almost always present. It is the same word used in 1 Tim 3:1. “If any man desires (orego) the office of a bishop, he desires (epithumeo) a good thing.” This is talking about more than having a daydream, or a fantasy. It means someone is actively pursuing the goal of being a leader. He does whatever is necessary to qualify for the actual job, takes the training, lets his name stand for election.

. . . lust is defined as
"the deliberate harboring
of desire for
an illicit relationship."

So lust goes beyond admiring, appreciation, and even sexual stimulation. It involves coveting. When I want that person, that specific person, and would, if I could get away with it, use her actual person to physically to satisfy my desires, I am lusting after her. Lust is an inordinate desire for what is not legitimately yours to have. So, to lust in the way Jesus spoke if it is to actually want that woman, not merely to have a fantasy.

In the IVP commentary lust is defined as "the deliberate harboring of desire for an illicit relationship." It goes on to say that "Jesus refers not to noticing a person's beauty but to imbibing it, meditating on it, seeking to possess it." Again, the idea of purposeful intent is present.

The “Struggle” That Need Not Be

Sadly, the misinterpretation of Matthew 5:28 has caused many earnest young men in the prime of their sexuality great misery. A Christian teenage boy who is using an erotic thought as an aid to masturbation does not want an illicit relationship; he merely wants, in the privacy of his bedroom, to use his imagination to obtain the pleasure, relief and release of an orgasm. And he should feel free to do so.

Neither do we, as godly men, have to feel continually condemned because, when we are in social situations, we “enjoy the view,” or even feel some sexual stimulation when we do so. Hey, many women are nice to look at. God made them that way. And He didn’t do it to keep us in continual torment or condemnation every time we notice a lovely curve of breast or bottom. This is not the way God intends it to be. Our sexuality is a gift, not a curse!

Some have said, one admiring glimpse is ok, but a second and third look is lust. To which I say, “Oh really? I beg to differ.” Sure, it can lead to lust, but to take a second even lingering look, without any sinful intent falls short of the true definition of lust, even if that look happens to stir us sexually. We need to know that it is a whole lot harder to lust than we have been given to understand.

In conclusion, there is a word of a difference to using sexual thoughts to stir up and satisfy our own sexuality, and having a purposeful intent to sexually pursue a person. Sexual fantasies are merely thoughts with no intentions attached, and therefore cannot be defined as lust.


Denver Cheddie, “Is Masturbation a Sin?”

For more thoughts concerning Matthew 5:28. I encourage you to visit this site. The author’s article helped me clarify my own thoughts on the matter of what it means to lust.

In this excellent article, in PDF format, Mr. Cheddie expertly makes two points. First, that masturbation is not a sin. Second, he says that strong sexual desire is not the lust Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:28. We can even have erotic thoughts and fantasies and not sin, as long as we are not coveting a person in the process.


Back | Next

Feedback welcomed.