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Why Lust in Marriage Isn’t Healthy

Often when I speak or write about the sin of lust, someone protests, arguing that lust within marriage is a good thing.

I don’t believe it is. At all. Here’s why:

Husbands and wives are called to love each other. Lust, as I would define it, is using another person for one’s own selfish gratification. And that ain’t love.

Although sexual desire is not the only realm where lust creeps in, it seems to be especially fertile ground for lust, maybe especially in a culture like ours that is so confused about the difference between sexual desire and sinful lust. But there is a difference, and it’s an incredibly important one.

Before I say anything more about those differences, it has to be said first that godly sexual desire is not some kind of non-desire. It is, in fact, desire. It is a feeling, a longing, a stirring, and it is a powerful one at that. I’ve suggested elsewhere that I firmly believe sexual desire was not less powerful, but more powerful before sin entered the world.

Godly sexual desire is also not caged lust. So to become a person of sexual integrity is not simply to learn to control yourself. Self-control is an essential component, but it alone is not godly sexual desire. 

Here it would be helpful to compare the two: Godly sexual desire vs. lustful sexual desire. Seeing the differences will, I hope, provide you a greater vision of why godly sexual desire is so good and so…well, desirable.

Godly Sexual DesireLustful Sexual Desire
Immensely powerful but submitted to lovePowerful but out of control
Requires self-masteryIs master over me
Rightly directedMisdirected or undirected
For another’s goodFor my own pleasure
Sees the other as having inherent worthThe other’s worth is determined by how good he/she makes me feel
Seeks to become a good gift to the otherAssesses the quality of the other as a gift to me
(How good can I become for him/her?)(How good is he/she at pleasing me?)
Goodness is prizedAttractiveness and performance is prized
Sees a whole personSees only a body, body parts, and performance
Sex is sexual, relational, and emotionalSex is sexual
Unites with the otherUses the other
Forsakes all others for spouseForsakes all others for self
Fueled by love for the otherFueled by desire for pleasure
When necessary, sacrifices selfWhen necessary, sacrifices others
Open to new life, welcomes childrenClosed to new life, children are seen as a threat to one’s happiness

I think I could keep going. But notice in the list on the left how many of these characteristics describe Jesus’ life and love for His Bride, the Church; and notice in the right column how these describe unfaithful humanity, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, or much of our culture.

For all these lists reveal, I know there is much these lists don’t tell. For example, how? How do I grow in godly sexual desire? How do I forsake lust? What if my spouse has been unfaithful or is just mean, what then? I acknowledge these questions here not because I can answer them in this short post, but to affirm that knowing the difference between godly sexual desire and sinful lust is not the same thing as being able to live a godly life.

I hope you’ll take advantage of our resources to press forward in your journey. And if our team can help you, I hope you’ll reach out.

In the meantime, did I list anything here that doesn’t make sense to you? Did I miss anything you’d add? I’d love to hear from you.

For you,

Josh

Other resources on Lust:

How to Stop Lusting in One Step

Lust and the Search for Worth

5 Things I do When I am Tempted to Lust

Is Lust Okay in Marriage? – Podcast

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