What’s The Harm in Looking?
Read Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
When it comes to purity, have you ever heard that you can “Look, but don’t touch?” What does today’s verse say about that idea?
Our secular culture today does not value modesty or purity. Explicit images and sexual content are everywhere we look. Many people seem to think that the “look, but don’t touch unless there is consent” principle is all we need. In fact, I have even heard many Christian leaders downplay an individual's responsibility to guard their own eyes, hearts, and minds against lust. I’m reminded of the prophet Jeremiah’s statement: “...they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush…” (Jeremiah 6:15).
So, is there any harm in just looking? Well, let’s go back to the Bible for the answer. In today’s verses, Jesus answers that question for us with a resounding yes! There is harm in looking because when we look lustfully at someone, it reveals the intentions of our hearts. We want to sin. We wish we could sin. We may be outwardly devoted to God and our spouse, but inwardly we are capable of cheating.
Think of it this way. Is it really less hurtful to your spouse if you look at other people lustfully but don’t physically commit adultery? No. Your spouse is probably deeply hurt that you even entertain the idea! The fact that you are willing to look and are lusting after another reveals that you are not fully devoted to your spouse and you are not fully satisfied with them. Ouch!
Even worse, if we do not stop sinful desires when they originate and allow our minds to entertain lustful thoughts, we are playing with fire. The more comfortable we are with looking at pornography or fantasizing about others, the more likely we are to eventually cross the line physically. Wrong desires equal wrong actions when we don’t deal with them immediately.
James put it this way: “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, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Evil desires become sin in our hearts when we allow them to grow. The more we dwell on temptation, the stronger and more powerful it becomes. Eventually, we will act on those thoughts and the consequences will be destructive and devastating.
God calls us to more than just outward purity. He desires pure hearts (your spouse does, too). So what can we do? How can we overcome lust? “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness…” (2 Timothy 2:22). Seek to stop lust before it even starts. If you are usually tempted by the TV or the internet, you can flee evil desires by replacing what you watch with something that honors the Lord. Or, if you need to, you can ditch the whole temptation altogether and pick up your Bible or read a God-honoring book instead of picking up your phone or the remote. There are also apps that allow you to filter and block certain websites. Some content control apps even provide an online report that you can have set up to be sent to your spouse or a trusted friend to help hold you accountable for what you are viewing.
But friend, if you are struggling with lust, be encouraged. You don’t have to rely on our own strength or will-power to overcome temptation. In Christ, we have been given a Helper, the Holy Spirit. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
Ask the Lord for help. Spend time in the Word and in prayer as you seek to overcome the temptations of lust. Those of us who belong to Christ have crucified our flesh with its passions and evil desires (Galatians 5:24). We do not have to remain a slave to lust. We can find freedom in Christ!
Lord, I confess that at times I struggle with lust and impure thoughts. But I want freedom. I want to honor You, not just outwardly, but with a pure heart as well. Help me to overcome temptations, flee evil desires, and pursue righteousness. Amen.