Contents of this Article
- With Lustful Intent
- The Covetousness Clause
- Freedom from Guilt over Being Tempted
- How to Deal With Sexual Temptation
With Lustful Intent
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 ESV)
In the last article, we looked at the part of the verse “everyone who looks at a woman”, and identified that women are looked at more sexually by everyone in general, and especially men, in particular. We also looked at how women contribute to this process in their choice of attire.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the words “with lustful intent” to get at the true meaning behind this teaching.
First, though, let’s look at some examples. Most of us enjoy some candy every now and then, or perhaps some ice cream. Let’s say you are at an ice cream place. At the wonderful ice cream store, you have a generous serving of ice cream and it should be time to go. But your eyes are drawn to, lets’ say, a triple scoop hot fudge sundae and your mouth starts drooling. You keep looking at that ice cream sundae, and you can almost taste it going down. You know that you have already had all you should have. Any more and you could get fat, or spike your blood sugar which will cause health problems, weight gain, diabetes complications, and so on. But it looks so good. You look a long time.
How many people would say you have sinned? No, you are sorely tempted, but you have not sinned.
So let’s take it a step further. You don’t stop looking. Finally, you can’t say no to the anticipation of more cold, sweet, gooey delight, so you go get that triple scoop chocolate fudge sundae, and start wolfing it down.
The question is when did you sin?
Before we answer let’s look at another example. Let’s say you are 12 years old again, and your brother just won’t stop mouthing off about something nasty about you. You could walk away, but you’re really angry. He really needs to stop talking that way about you. Part of your reasoning is that because he’s done it before and he will do it again. And if you tell your parents it is just going to get both of you either a lecture or some pious platitudes like, “You boys need to just get along. Go along and be friends, be brothers.” That’s never worked either. The more you think about it the madder you get.
So, you feel like you can’t take it anymore, you rear back and you sock your brother in the jaw.
Again, the question is when did you sin?
Here’s the answer. In the above case, you sin when you fully committed to actually throwing the punch. In the ice cream store above, you sinned when you fully committed to overeating.
There is a point at which the desire to do something sinful wins. It captures the person’s mind and heart. They give in. That is the point of conception, the point at which the person changes from being tempted to having sinned.
That is what it’s talking about in Matthew 5:28. The verse is simply saying that just like everything else in life sin doesn’t start with an action. It starts with the committed decision to do the action.
Matthew 5:28 gives an analogy about the method of how people sin. It starts with people being tempted. Some people are tempted and they don’t walk away from the temptation. Instead, they allow all the temptations to dwell and grow in their mind. The overeater, instead of walking out of the ice cream store, allows himself to just look at the delicious ice cream products until he just gives in, and decides to have too much. The 12-year-old doesn’t decide to walk away; instead, he just keeps dealing with his brother, letting his anger build until he just gives in and starts fighting. And, likewise, the adulterer doesn’t turn his eyes away but keeps looking and letting the desire build until it is overwhelming to him, and he gives in and decides to go after the illicit sex.
The point is that sin is not just a physical act. It is a process. It starts with temptation and then a decision that results in an act. Jesus’ point here is that sin begins in the mind and heart. And the only way to stop sin is to change the mind and the heart.
Jesus taught about this same kind of thing in another parable:
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. (Matthew 21:28-31 ESV)
The above parable by Jesus really nails this idea of when sin actually happens. Here we have two sons. He told both of the sons to go work in the vineyard. The first son said he wouldn’t go. The second son said he was going to go. Jesus’ question is which of the boys did the father’s will. The answer is the second, the one who said he wouldn’t go.
Why? Because he changed his mind and went. The end result of his thinking process was that he did the right thing. The first son said he would go, but he sinned because he changed his mind and his resulting action was that he didn’t go.
This is a wonderful example. It shows how the mind reasons but can be changed. It shows that the end result is either sinning or acting righteously, and coupled with these other verses we see that the sin is conceived when the final decision is made to do the sinful act. And the most important part about this verse highlights that despite what you’re thinking in any given time in the process you only sin if you do the sinful act.
So what have we learned here? We also see here that it is not a sin to be tempted. In the previous article about this, we talked about how men look at women naturally, and instinctively. It is not a sin when a man’s eyes are attracted to the sight of a woman. And even when he is tempted, he has not sinned if he does not do the sinful act.
In Matthew 5:28, the keywords are “with lustful intent”. Lustful intent refers to the fact that the person has decided to commit adultery. He’s done deliberating and he’s committed to doing the deed. The deliberation may have been long and hard or it may have been short and shallow. It doesn’t matter; a hasty decision is as much a decision as a lengthy one. Once you have made a decision, you now have intent.
It says that when a man has looked at a woman “with lustful intent” he has committed adultery with the woman. It doesn’t say in Matthew 5:28 that when a man looks at a woman he has already committed adultery in his heart. It says when he has looked at a woman with “lustful intent”, when he has made the decision, when he means to do it, then he has committed adultery.
The writer of James addresses this concept also:
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin… (James 1:14-15a ESV)
Isn’t this interesting? This really describes the process well. We all have desires. Some desires are not bad at all but good, like the desire to get some fresh air or work in the garden or be the best you can be at your job. However, some desires are enticing, luring, and captivating. Riches can be very captivating. Food can be very enticing. Power can be a great lure. And here, in our example, the pleasures of illicit sex can seem so wonderful.
But the concept I want to focus on most in this verse is “desire…gives birth to sin.” Sin has a birth, a starting point. That starting point is when you no longer are just thinking about it, it’s the point where you intend to do something about it. There is that concept again: intent. It’s exactly the same as what Jesus said in Matthew 5:28; “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent…”.
The Covetousness Clause
It may complicate things for some people (although I don’t think it should), but there is another sin that may be part of this process.
Matthew 5:28 is specifically talking about the sin of adultery. The point of the verse is to realize that the sin of adultery doesn’t begin when you actually touch the other person, but when you become willing to. But don’t think that someone can lust, and not be sinning. We can’t think that we can lust and that we don’t sin unless we actually commit a physical adulterous act.
There is another sin that people can do, and it doesn’t involve touching other people at all. That sin is covetousness. Covetousness is a mental state of powerful, wrong desires. Just having powerful desires is not covetousness. Someone may have a powerful desire to become a doctor. That desire motivates them to study hard in school all their lives, to do the eight years of schooling beyond high school, to do internships, and the other requirements to become a doctor. That’s not covetousness, that’s a passion for a good thing. God wants us to maintain godly passions. Only ungodly passions are covetousness.
Yes, it is available to have a passion for the right thing, but for the wrong reasons. Instead of having a passion to be a doctor in order to be able to use all your talents for God and to help people heal, you could have a passion to be a doctor in order to be powerful and to get rich so that you just get the things that you want for you. It’s all about you, you, you. That’s really covetousness for riches and power, and the person is willing to do the work of becoming a doctor in order to fulfill their covetousness for riches and power.
There are many examples of covetousness. A person walking around with his head driven with a desire for big, expensive houses, fast cars, expensive vacations, and partying is full of covetousness. A person walking around with his or her head full of desire to have sex with every person they desire is full of lust. The words lust and covetousness are synonymous. Most people just use the word lust in reference to sex, but lust can refer to any object of desire from cars to food to houses to experiences like traveling and entertainment.
And again, some objects of desire are neutral. Having sex with someone you’re not married to is wrong, but it’s not wrong to own a car, a house, some food, or to go on a vacation. It’s a matter of balance. It’s a matter of the motives behind the actions.
It boils down to whether or not God is more important, or that car, house, vacation, or money is more important than God.
The reason covetousness is wrong is that it’s idolatry. Instead of God being the object of a person’s passion it’s for all those things above; the houses, the cars, the money, the sex, etc.
In the case of sexuality, the Father wants us to have a passion for our spouses. The book of Song of Solomon has a big section that talks about the love between a man and a woman. Our Father, God, made men and women and endorses the marriage bed. Part of being a newlywed is the huge excitement over sexual passion, and being able to enjoy an abundant sex life with your partner.
But again, to have a passion for something requires a choice, a decision. You could be tempted to want riches and honor, but faithful believers decide not to. They resist that temptation.
So, once again, it’s not a sin to be tempted; it becomes a sin when the decision is made to do a sinful act. One of the sinful acts is to covet the wrong things.
Freedom from Guilt over Being Tempted
We are talking about an incredibly important distinction, and how it relates to this area of sexuality. It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet he was found to be without sin. There is no reason for umpteen million men to feel guilty every time a beautiful woman enters their field of vision. It is especially important not to feel guilty if a man is out and about and sees a scantily clad girl on a billboard or on the beach or in the gym, or even just on the street. She doesn’t have to be scantily dressed, she can be just dressed in a that emphasizes her physical beauty. She’s dressed to look sexy, and she’s out in public for all to see.
Women, Please Help In This Area, By Dressing Modestly
Again, one of the points that I hopefully made in the previous article is that women need to be more conscious of the effect they have on men in this area. And you men that want your wives to dress sexy in public need to think about this too. We never want to be a stumbling block for others according to scripture.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are profitable. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own, but each one his neighbor’s good. (1Co 10:23-24 WEB)
I have heard women speak that they are not doing anything wrong by dressing fashionably. Yes, their dress is lawful, but is it profitable for the others around her?
Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. (Rom 14:13-15 WEB)
This is the verse that applies. The women that dress immodestly, in a way that really shows their curves even though covered (like some tights in fashion), or show a lot of skin (bikinis, skimpy summer clothes, or even some dance clothing) aren’t doing anything scripturally illegal, but they are being a stumbling block to men by dressing in a temptatious manner. The females may just think they are being stylish, or cool. They may have no intent to tempt anyone, but they are making themselves a temptation to others. Don’t destroy with your body presentation him for whom Christ died.
It is an established fact that fashion has grown increasingly provocative in recent decades. The following quotes are from online articles that say just that.
Provocative dress is one such deviation that has become synonymous with today’s media and the resulting dress norms. Provocative dress is defined as, “all female appearance styles that deviate from the acceptable norm of a specific situation toward the direction of sexual suggestiveness and/or body exposure” (Lynch, 2007, p.185). Concerning such provocative dress, a “Raunch Culture” has emerged due to, “a breaking down of the traditional barriers between pornography and mainstream ideals of female sexuality”
“With the more inclusive views on women, the visibility of revealing clothes in pop culture and media also increased throughout the years. This increase in popularity prompted a lot of women to also try it. In this article, we will tell you all about the reasons why women wear revealing clothes”
What’s the number one thing that causes you to feel sexually tempted,” my husband asked a roomful of lanky teenage boys. They wasted no time answering…”I think the worst thing by far is the way girls dress in church,” one boy replied.
Over half a century ago, when I was a teenager, girls still wore veils in the church I attended, and wore “church clothes” which were intentionally modest. Nowadays, even in church, clothing can be immodest.
Do an internet search on “women’s fashion today is provocative or increasingly immodest” and you will find article after article about this topic. The world is clearly teaching and promoting women to dress more provocatively. Here is a scripture on godly women’s fashion.
In the same way, that women also adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and propriety; not just with braided hair, gold, pearls, or expensive clothing; (1Ti 2:9 WEB)
There is a little hope in a movement towards modest clothing:
Given the overwhelming rule of liberal fashion, modesty would seem a lost cause. Nonetheless, major fashion designers are returning to what was once considered a modern taboo: clothing that leaves more to the imagination, keeps hemlines down and little skin exposed.
While this article appears hopeful, there is an abundance of articles that point to the fact that in the world and even in a lot of churches the trend is increasing immodesty.
Anyway, men, you can achieve a peace about this. When a provocatively dressed woman pops into your field of vision and things start stirring, and your mind starts to think sexy thoughts, take comfort knowing you haven’t sinned yet. But keep reading because there is more involved. You are being tempted.
How to Deal With Sexual Temptation
Stop looking. Learn to turn your eyes away. Make a commitment to it. Practice it. In the book of Job we see that Job made the decision to do this very thing:
I promised myself never to stare with desire at a young woman. (Job 31:1 CEV)
If you don’t want to eat candy, don’t go into the candy store. If you don’t want to keep eating, get up from the table. And if you don’t want to commit adultery or the sin of lust, turn your eyes away, stop staring, look at something else, you get the idea.
We know that as simple as this sounds, this is not always easy to do from a strength and stamina viewpoint. There are many books, counseling programs, sexual addiction clinics, and other therapy options all designed to deal with this issue. If it were so easy we would not need all those things. A lot of people need help overcoming this particular sin, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you need help, get it.
Still, the concept is not complicated. When you find your eyes fixed on an object, and your desire building for something that you should not desire, move your eyes somewhere else.
Just remember that temptation is not sinning. So, if you are tempted, don’t feel guilty about that. It is part of life. And it is not a sin unless you decide to act on it. Train your eyes. And women, please help the men.
©copyright 2013-2022 Mark W. Smith, all rights reserved. Last revised 12/12/22
 Being Modest? Exploring the Effect of Modesty on today’s Fashion Consumers, Aleisha J. Page, Lizhu Davis, Ph.D. https://scholarworks.calstate.edu/downloads/zk51vj13g
Todays Christian Woman, The Clothes Crisis, https://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2002/december/4.44.html
 What is the Meaning of ‘Modest Fashion Week’?, John Horvath, https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/11/modest-fashion-week-john-horvat.html