You’d think that the answer that question would be pretty obvious, but I believe more often than not, people get confused when it comes to these two topics (especially Christian people).
Here’s the thing:
You can lust after anything, not just the opposite sex.
You can lust after money.
You can lust after a car
You can lust after power.
And the list goes on.
The word lust simply means having a passionate or overmastering desire or craving for something. It’s just that, in our culture, we generally connect lust with “sexual lust.”
Looking, however, is a bit different.
I can look at something without having a strong desire for it.
I can even admire something (like a car) without lusting after it.
But because sexual matters are so sensitive, we often have a hard time trying to distinguish the difference between looking and lusting when it comes to those we’re attracted to.
Your spouse probably would have no problem with you saying, “Hey, that new sports car our neighbor got is pretty great-looking.”
However, try saying that same thing about your neighbor’s spouse.
Wow! It’s off to couch city for the next few nights.
But the truth is, looking and lusting are entirely different. The reason we have a hard time recognizing this fact is either because of “religious guilt” or insecurity.
So, for those of you who are constantly asking yourselves, “Am I looking or lusting?” here are 3 ways you can tell:
1) You just can’t look enough.
Hey, she’s good-looking.
I get it.
You didn’t ask to see her; she just ended up crossing your path today.
Looking at her and noticing that fact is not wrong. And it’s not lust.
But how many times do you need to go back to the well for a drink?
Chances are if your head keeps turning like it’s on a swivel, you’re doing more than just “looking.” You are looking for a reason.
And often that reason is lust. You like what you see and you want to see more because there is some strong desire there.
2) You are “coveting” what you see.
Take my earlier example of the neighbor with the “new” good-looking spouse.
Whether you end up on the couch or not, the truth is, you are not lusting after your neighbor’s spouse simply because you acknowledged that they have some visual appeal.
However, if you follow up your look and unwelcomed observation with the thought, “Boy, I wouldn’t mind if that person was my spouse,” then there is a problem.
You now have crossed the line.
You are coveting.
Coveting is an older term we find in the Bible a lot but basically means “to have a strong desire for.” So in this case, since your “strong desire” is for someone other than the person you’re committed to, then it’s safe to say you’ve wandered into the lust territory.
3) It makes your “special areas” all warm and tingly … and you want more.
Now, I know I may catch some heat for this one, but the truth is men are wired very differently than women and respond accordingly.
While women visually process things, men are far more visual, and our biological responses to what we see are practically hard-wired.
If a man sees a woman who’s very attractive (and especially dressed in a provocative nature), he is going to feel some sort of primal response. In other words, his brain is going to let him know it likes what it sees.
Not much we can do about that.
However, it doesn’t have to go any further than that. There are ways to keep that look from drifting into the lust arena (I wrote a post on that HERE).
But, say you feel all warm and fuzzy and decide to let that look linger because you want more of that feeling. Or, after you are done looking, you keep recalling in your mind what you just witnessed and how great it made you feel.
Well, now you officially crossed over into the lust area.
You see, the first situation is a physical and biochemical response. But the continuation is an intentional decision to elicit sexual pleasure from what you’ve seen.
And if what you’ve seen is not your spouse, then it’s time to have a talk with that accountability partner of yours.
Hey, I understand. This topic is a little sensitive.
Especially if you are talking about it with your spouse.
But don’t confuse looking with lusting.
Don’t let religious guilt or insecurities lead you to self-imposed and needless shame.
But at the same time recognize that looking can lead to lusting very quickly if left unchecked.
So be aware.
And seriously, be honest enough to talk about this stuff.