4 minute read

Looking vs. Lusting (Part 2)

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

Luke Gilkerson
Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Your Brain on Porn and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Last week we published a podcast interview with Mark Brouwer about the subject of “looking vs. lusting.” Soon after publishing the post, my wife came across a post on another blog about the difference between looking and lusting. The post begins with a quote:

My husband is a very visual/artistic man and says that for him, for the vast majority of the time, looking at beautiful women in bikinis, lingerie, etc. is the same as looking at a beautiful car or art picture. He enjoys it for its beauty and it has nothing to do with his love or desire for me, nor does he use it for sexual fulfillment.

In my college and post-college years I lived with a few “artist types,” men who were and still are quite talented in the area of painting and sculpture. I remember being amazed at their seeming ability to “not lust” after staring at a naked or partially naked woman for hours in an art studio. At the time I simply chalked it up to them being different than me. Each of us has our own besetting sins, right?

Admiring Beauty in Creation vs. Idolatry

Over time I’ve also come to appreciate that there is something unique about the human body, at least compared to other objects of God’s physical creation. Reading through Genesis 1-2, the apex of God’s physical creation, after He made the moon and the stars and the garden of paradise, is the woman. After finding no helper suitable for him, Adam at last meets Eve, someone perfectly suited to be his mate, and upon seeing her he erupts in a song full of anticipation and excitement, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

Since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, Paul tells us it has been our sinful tendency to look into the created order and make idols of the things we see (Romans 1:18-23). We should be able to look at the beauty of God’s creation and clearly perceive the immortal and invisible God behind it all, and seeing Him we should be drawn to worship Him. Instead, we exchange the glory of God for “images resembling mortal man” and other visible things.

It makes sense that if the woman was the crown of creation, then in our sinful hearts images of women will often be our first pick for idols. Men and women alike are guilty of idolizing the female form. This might come out in the form of lust. Or it might come out in the form of “rating” women by some lofty physical standard.

The bottom line is this: Seeking to “appreciate beauty,” Christians should always be alert to the sinful drive in them that pulls their heart towards idolatry.

Can Men Notice and Not Lust?

I think it is possible for a man to notice and woman and not lust, but I say that with two strong reservations:

1. Often men will use the dichotomy between looking and lusting to justify their desire to play with temptation. As Christians we are meant to love what God loves and hate what God hates, which means when we detect any lustful inclination in us, the godly response should be to flee, not continue to stare under the pretense of “admiring beauty.”

Sin is deceitful (Hebrews 3:13), and men can easily fall into lust’s deceitful trap when they try to draw a hard line between looking and lusting. Paul himself spoke of a sinful drive in his bones that led him to covet or lust (Romans 7:7-11; 22-24). It was a drive so strong and that even when he wanted to do good, evil was close at hand (v.21). Men may want to do good (admire beauty), but their flesh will always seek to warp that good intention. Always. Sin may not always try to warp noticing into lust specifically, but indwelling sin is always at work in us.

I do think it is helpful to draw a distinction between noticing and lusting so we are not plagued with a false sense of guilt. The word “lust” in Scripture denotes a strong craving or desire, coveting something or someone. Some men, when they see a women that their mind registers as attractive, are easily racked with a sort of chronic guilt over the fact that they noticed someone’s attractiveness. This is not lust.

But being careful to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5), we should take note of the fact that something is attractive to us, and then quickly turn our minds, as CS Lewis puts it, to “the place where all the beauty came from,” setting our minds and affections on things above (Colossians 3:1-4). If we are married we should be very careful to guard our hearts, not letting them turn aside to the images of other women (Proverbs 7:25), but rejoicing in the wife of our youth, letting our hearts be intoxicated with their love (5:18-19).

2. There is a kind of “looking” that can also come from a sinful heart, though not the same kind of sin as lusting. A man might be able to say, “I wasn’t lusting after her, only admiring her beauty,” and say this honestly. But there might be another more subtle sin at work in this statement.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of buying into our culture’s tendency to objectify women, rating them by the size, shape, and harmony of their body parts. Men should not only guard their hearts against lust, but guard against their tendency to depersonalize women, seeing them only as physical beings. Admiring beauty in people is wonderful. But our idea of beauty must be transformed to reflect God’s perspective, not merely the ideas in our culture.

So, by all mean, admire beauty! But remember, the kind of feminine beauty that is priceless in God’s sight is not found in body shape or clothing, but “respectful and pure conduct…the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:1-6). Men, if you are going to talk up someone’s beauty, remember to speak of the qualities in a person that will last into eternity. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

Your Wife = Your Standard of Beauty

I’ll echo what Mark Driscoll says: “Everyone should have—must have—their spouse as their standard of beauty.” We know this is true when we look at Jesus and His bride, the church. Though she is sinful and flawed, he counts her beautiful and no one else compares to her. She alone is His object of desire. We fall into lust when we compare our wives to other women, secretly wishing our wives had qualities other women have.

  • Comments on: Looking vs. Lusting (Part 2)
      • Luke Gilkerson

        @Ashley – Thanks!

      • Anonymous

        I believe I am in bondage. I made the mistake of reading shanti Feldhahn’s book “for women only.” I love the Lord but I am deeply struggling with the fact my husband actually has to stop himself ( not just my husband but from the sound of it, all men) from lusting. My husband works with a beautiful non Christian young lawyer, I can’t believe that he can go to work day in and day out and not have a struggle. He loves the Lord says he has boundaries put in place, but my mind so struggles with this reality of male nature. Am I supposed to believe That her beauty doesn’t catch his eye. I am just sick about this. Is it possible for a man to look at a beautiful women the same way he does a beautiful sunset? I really don’t think so. I work out, I eat healthfully, and yet I can’t control my aging body, I have a thyroid issue, and am about 20lbs overweight. How am I to live knowing this truth about my husband, or any man for that matter. Please give me hope. I read the pages of God’s word and see it’s an ancient struggle. I don’t believe I am believing a lie. I need to know how to cope with this truth. I need hope! Can any of you Christian men give me hope in regards to this age old problem. I feel I don’t want to be married anymore because I can not trust a man. Of course I’m not seeking divorce, but my heart aches and makes me feel like I can not be freely intimate with my husband. I feel betrayed. Please pray for me and my marriage. Can anyone tell me I’m looking at this wrong? I’m going to state it more simply: knowing that men have this struggle, how as a women do I cope with this? I am in deep depression and anxiety over this.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hey there. I think the root of the problem here is that you’re obsessing over what your husband is doing, rather than being in charge of what you CAN be in charge of: your own healing. That’s perfectly normal! And, it’s perfectly normal for women to be in deep depression and anxiety over these issues. Many wives meet the clinical criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So this is all normal. It’s just not HEALTHY. And in order to get healthy, you’re going to need to turn your attention to your own healing here.

        Find a personal counselor. Attend a group like Celebrate Recovery, S Anon, or even Al Anon. See your doctor if you are having trouble functioning in daily life. There is help available to you.

        Getting into counseling and groups can help you decide what healthy boundaries look like for you in this situation.

        Here are some other articles that may help you think through various issues.

        None of us can ever be in charge of another person’s choices. It will be up to your husband to make good choices for himself about his behavior. Regardless of what he chooses, though, YOU can choose to be healthy. And from a place of good health and support from counseling and safe groups, you’ll be able to make healthy choices for yourself.

        Blessings, Kay

      • Anonymous

        Hi an 15 years old and like to draw .i was wondering is it ok to braw girls .every time i try i get aroused and get up and walk away what should i do .i dont entend to have sex

      • Jon

        I whole hearted agree with this article ! However, what does the husband do when his Bride refrains from any format of intamacy?

        Married, for nearly 30 years. Living in total a totally intamacy -free marriage for over 6 years. There always seems to be a lot of condemnation for men who look at other women, but never any mention that God gave us ALL of our desires.

    1. msa17

      Many thanks. I am a very unhappy woman. My love stares at many beautiful girls especially almost naked in the streets, buses, and so on. during ever possible opportunity. He admires native naked beauties from Brazil as Xingu, Arawete, Yanomami and other Indian girls, naked beauties from Oceania-Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Polynesia and so on, beauties from the whole world. When I told him that nakedness is sinful (when I saw naked altar girls sitting very next to priests at he altar it was namely Superrior General and the Vicar of that parish n Papua New Guinea-he said that all is OK, because this is their culture and there is nothing wrong in it… well I loed him ery much so I believed he tells the truth and believed that naked tribal girls are OK and if he says so that means that looking at them is not a sin as I thought before. So when I was told by him that it is not a sin, this is only natural beauty to be admired, when I saw how much he likes it-he gave me a CD with hundreds of photos of aroius countries and regions, including also naked and semi-naked girls and women, and he siad he wanted to share the beauty with me – I believed that it is OK and I wantd him to be happy to like me so sometimes even I looked for beautiful photos of natives and sent him, although it was hurting me somehow but I wanted so much to make him happy and to like me and not to abandon me… he even wrote to me that he thanks me for these beautiful photos of natives… so I continued, but I felt used by him-but I had no choice… I am chased by cruel adoptive parents pretending super-Christians… they want to imprison me to troture me and to sign the co-operation with the evil Communists/satanists/masonry… so I am constatnly afraid that they catch me and put me into prison… I wanted so much to be free to have some friend that I just was ready to do anything to please my love… but then I became thinking that it IS somehow sinful… I sent him a link to Covenant Eyes and I told him that I neer will be as much beautiful as the beauties he looks at on the streets and during every given occasion, and the naked native beauties… SUDDENLY HE SAID, AFTER 10 YEARS OF ACQUINTANCE, THAT I HAVE NO HONOR! THAT IF I HAD HONOR I WOULD NOT SEND HIM THESE PHOTOS OF NATIVES-DESPITE THE FACT THAT YEARS AGO HE THANKED ME VERY MUCH FOR THESE PHOTOS BECAUSE ACCORDING TO HIM THEY WERE BEAUTIFUL… HE ACCEPTED THESE PHOTOS (AFTER TELLING ME IN 2006 THERE IS NOTHING WRONG IN THE NAKED NATIVE BEAUTIES, WHEN I HAD MANY DOUBTS AND I EXPRESSED MY DOUBTS TO HIM IN 2006) FOR MANY YEARS, AND NOW… NOW WHEN I STOPPED TO SEND HIM SUCH PHOTOS AND GAVE HIM A LINK TO COVENANT EYES, HE SAYS I HAVE NO HONOR AND I AM UNCAPABLE FOR MARRIAGE… EVERYTHING WAS OK UNTIL I GAVE HIM THE LINK TO COVENANT EYES AND SAID THAT I THINK LOOKING AT THESE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS IS NOT MORAL… SUDDENLY HE CHANGED AND SAID THESE CRUEL WORDS… Please pray for me, my heart aches, I am almost dying… I feel like dumped garbage… I think I have a great honor because my whole life I lived very chaste… although I had some troubles with porn I am not a saint I struggle with sin but for sure I am a virgin and I behaved very chastely and clothed modestly, almost like a nun/islamic woman… please pray for me because my heart is broken, my heart aches, I feel ery bad and I am close to death… Thanks for very wize writings. God bless Your wife and You. Big respect and gratitude.

      • Xan

        Don’t be sad. Be strong. I have prayed that God will give you wisdom and encouragement and strength through this situation.

      • Marko

        You have a wrong perception of love/relationship. Love is not being in bondage with fear with someone who abuses our affection. Love is freedom,not being enslaved. I think you are just idolizing your partner and that is naturally making you enslaved to him. Jesus said to seek first Gods righteousness, not idolatry in a man

      • Matthew,mark,Luke, John

        I believe that it’s more you than him, don’t mistake the diagnosis, there is no blame just purely stating the facts. You haven’t caught him doing anything improper therefore he hasn’t been wrong. At least in the human standards. Now as a person of God I will not give you whether or not I’m a man or woman because in your mind you want a non bias opinion and I know the moment you would know that information it would automatically put you on a plaintiff or defendant point of view and they is one of the underlined factors here. You see you are correct about the male drive towards females that’s been included in their DNA it’s supposed to be. You see if it wasn’t there would not be the drive to procreate and what good would that do to the creators great plan of multiplying and inhabiting the earth and creating more children of God’s family. Besides if it wasn’t for that exact portion of your husband’s DNA you wouldn’t have become the Mrs, now isn’t that true?
        Remember when you first saw him and he first saw you? There obviously was a physical attraction there, this I know. I’ve been married 22 years now and this i’ve experienced myself. Now back to the diagnosis. You see we all have the drive and want to impress, it’s a natural feeling an urge to be the best, now don’t understand incorrectly, I’m not saying egotistical or a vain person however vanity is the easiest way the devil can catch you. Remember the movie (The devil’s advocate)
        This movie was an actual good movie that used the heavenly plot between good and evil. It shows how the devil uses everyday life to sneak in the little temptations without you knowing, how lack of communication/understanding causes confusion and disarray. This blocks the truth, this is what the devil does. Imagine you playing a game that you can’t touch or make the ball/person go or do what you want only influence and bribe, lie, and so fourth.
        You and your opponent can only influence. That’s what he does(devil) buy deceiving people and making their bad choices he can use them to hurt and create problems and situations for the player. But it’s actually not himself. Although I do believe he even has more authority than even I’m telling you because according to the book of job there was the instance where God was dealing with the devil and made the rules that he can do anything to Job but take his life. Therefore I know job lost several family members and his livestock died and he also because extremely ill. Therefore he can do even more than we know. That’s even more a reason you need God and Christ.
        But as per the original issue because I’m getting sidetracked, your husband will find her attractive which is normal but as a Christian like you have kindly stated yourself, he should refrain from anything more. It’s like a man searching the WEB when a pornographic picture pops up. Now, he didn’t do anything wrong, it was advertising/marketing. The man would have no control over that however he does have control from that point on. God will provide an escape, does the man take it? That we would only hope so. A god fearing man will. Even if he fights it it, he will leave. The heart will judge for you if you know what you’re doing is wrong. The mind will place reasons why you should keep going, but the spirit will tell you it’s wrong and that’s when the faith and which desire is stronger at the moment.
        If your husband was going to cheat there’s nothing you could do to stop it. But if he loves you and respects the code and rules and fears he who made them then you have nothing to worry about.
        You stay right with the Lord and he will keep your loved ones safe during temptation times.
        Good bless

    2. Michael

      Two nights ago, my wife looked at me. She was happy a minute ago, but now she is sad. With a tear in here eye, she clung to me, shaking in fear. I stroked her hair, and asked her what is wrong.

      She told me she is afraid I am seeing somebody else. To be honest, I was upset. I have no time in our busy lives to even think about another woman, nor would I. Yes, sometimes I find my eye glancing at others, but I do my utmost to control that side of my flesh.

      So I told her straight. She cried, and I held her closer. I held onto her until she realized her thoughts are not healthy for her.

      I love my wife. Yes we struggle. Yes we have problems. But not even once have I tried to get close to another woman.

      In fact, there have been many times when women, who could be considered great beauties, tried to get close to me. Even to the point of hinting at their sexual desires, but I drew the line. Told them in such a way that they knew nothing would ever happen.

      I draw my strength from Christ Jesus. ‘Anyone who looks at another person with lust in their eyes has committed adultery’.

      Now it is a process. She is depressed. I am here for her completely.

      Women are emotional. They tend to overthink things and believe what is not happening. Only time we need to believe in what we cannot see is is when we have Faith in Christ and our heavenly Father.

      God bless you and I pray you overcome your doubts before it is too late to go back.

    3. David Spillman

      I didn’t know everyone suffers from this thought it was just me, I notice if I look at a women too long it can turn into about so I just put my head down when I feel that way and try to get away

    4. Sarah

      I’m still confused by the difference between “a look” and “a glance that notices an attractive woman.” I feel like it’s impossible for men, or women for that matter, to just *not* ever notice an attractive man or woman in their environment. Our eyes naturally flit around our environment and land on things to take them in and observe them.

      Would the differentiation between a sinful look and an innocent noticing be solely the laser-focusing on a body part and giving in to the temptation to not bounce one’s eyes that accompanies the sinful one? Or would the difference be the sexual thoughts that accompany a longer look that is laser focused on a sexual part, given there is more time for the hormones to be released as he becomes more consciously aware of her sexual attributes/appeal?

      Or is it also more of a heart matter, where a man who is close to god and guarding his heart is able to see and take-in, visually, women’s images transcending beyond their physical attractiveness and into their soul/reflection of God’s image? Is this possible? Or will there always be a hormonal release and the only way not to sin would be to look away immediately. Thanks!

      • Chris McKenna

        Hi, Sarah – I think you’re heading in the right direction with your last paragraph where you wonder, “or is it more of a heart matter?” If I apply that to myself, if I’m completely honest with Almighty God, He knows that over the course of years, I looked women up and down out of an unhealhtly and sinful sexualization of them. That’s what was going on in my heart. Therefore, for me, a glance carries greater risk for my heart than for someone else who can do it in appreciation for beauty and, as you say, a beauty that transcends beyond the physical and goes deeper than that. The Philippians thought filter of “noble, true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.” If the motivation behind the “glance” doesn’t pass the thought filter, then it’s something that probably needs to be dealt with.

        Peace, Chris

    5. Michelle Williams

      I’m really struggling with my husband who is addicted to porn.
      He uses it as a weapon against me. He lies constantly. He has told me women will always be sexier than me. He has said I will never be hot. Because hot is only what porn stars are. He has admitted to getting off to thoughts of porn while having sex with me for years instead of being in the moment.
      He told me he has thoughts about having sex with hot women he sees randomly throughout the day. He says he sees other women’s butts at the gym in tight pants and if he is asked if he looked, he will say yes and if he had to think about it that they had nice round butts.

      I’m fed up. Those thoughts shouldn’t happen.
      And as a Christian woman I am hurting. He has gotten around Covenant eyes every time I have put it on something. He is an IT guy and disables the programs upon start up etc. I want out of this marriage.

      My realities and what I follow in my own life are these rules:
      I’m married so-
      1. It’s okay to find a woman or man attractive. Facial wise.
      2. It is NOT okay for me or my spouse to think a man or woman’s body is appealing, hot, nice, etc. that’s sexualizing someone. A face is not sexual. A body is.
      3. It is NOT okay to have sexual thoughts about someone other than your spouse.
      4. You should only have SEXUAL eyes for your spouse. You should not think another mans butt or woman’s breasts or butt are attractive or nice. That’s not okay to me. My husband is the only man I sexually look at. I don’t look or judge or even think some ripped guys body is nice.
      I want that in return. But no. Last night I had to hear, “the porn videos I watched yesterday, there were women’s big round butts, and yes they were nice!”
      I’m sick to my stomach. He shouldn’t even think those things are nice or attractive.
      Can’t people just be people? And bodies just be bodies? I can admire an attractive woman’s face. Or a handsome mans face. But that’s where it should stop! For anybody who is married.

      Am I living in a fantasy world!? I don’t have those thoughts. I can’t be the ONLY person like this.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hey Michelle. I think it’s time to consider what your boundaries need to be in this relationship. Here and here are a couple of articles. And you might be interested in some thoughts about when divorce becomes appropriate. You are not required to be the target of abuse. And you are not required to listen to your husband being abusive and objectifying toward other women. You can disarm those weapons by leaving the field of battle. This battle is his responsibility to fight, not yours. Peace to you, Kay

    6. Dudekula Akbar

      please do needfull help to get away from lust of women naked.

    7. Sue

      I am struggling with a few things but right now it’s about “liking” gifs of women twerking and the like….the emoji with heart eyes specifically was used. I found it in a group message on my husband’s messenger. They literally send them all day. He didn’t send any that I know of. I was crushed. He felt I invaded his privacy and it wasn’t meant for me to see. Prior to this, he left porn on our t.v. and that was the beginning of this month and a half long battle. I feel it’s inappropriate. He feels I’m trying to “legislate his morality” and control what he’s allowed to view. I’m not naive to think he’ll never see barely dressed women the rest of his life but to choose to involve yourself I such a way, to me, is a slap in the face. He claims he’s insanely satisfied with our physical relationship but then this stuff happens….
      It’s he feefing me a line or am I overly insecure line he says I am?

      • Kay Bruner

        You get to choose how you want to be treated in a relationship. If you don’t like how your husband is treating you, then create boundaries for yourself. While it’s true that you can’t control him, you can certainly control yourself! Here, here, and here are some articles that might help you think things through. Here’s one on what porn does to a marriage relationship, from the world’s foremost marriage researcher.

        It’s very common for men to blame-shift when things like this are discovered, saying that you invaded his privacy, when he was hiding his own wrong is blame-shifting. Saying that you’re overly insecure, saying that he’s insanely satisfied with your sex life while looking at porn, I would call those things gaslighting. Here’s a short animation on gaslighting that might be helpful to you.

        Bottom line is: you get to choose. Be secure in that! Whatever he decides, you choose to be healthy and whole.

    8. So, this website can help for sure but this needs to be clarified: If any man finds admiration in the beauty of any woman aside from the covenant of his youth (his wife, or girlfriend if they’re not legally ‘married’), he is living in the flesh and not the spirit.

      Men: Please realize that you can in fact build rational understanding and find reason within yourself to acknowledge that flesh is flesh, and though “woman may be beautiful” you do not need to subject yourself to sin…

      Men: You can either live solely by the spirit, or solely by the flesh. There is no “in-between” — Meaning, even if you say “well, I’m a great husband and admire my wife too, just as I admire the beauty of other women” — You are still, in fact, living in the flesh. You are not living in the spirit, even if your spiritual counterpart advises you of what’s righteous, that doesn’t automatically negate your physical body from having desire, because it certainly does. Do not be deceived to believe that you’re living in spirit, because if you have any (literally any) sense of desire for other women, contrary to what society will tell you, it’s NOT normal and you are (again) living by the desires of flesh and not living by the desires of your spirit.

      Trying to help! It’s hard! I know! I’m not perfect, I’ve struggled and still struggle, but that IS what God has told me and I’ve learned to build an understanding so I’m aware that if I “find” another attractive (besides my own wife) — I’m doing something wrong. And trust me, I COULD definitely look at the flesh of another woman and “excuse” my spirit to find the flesh desirable, but I CHOOSE not to, because I know that if my eyes are wandering, that means I’m living by the desires of my flesh and I’m not longer living by the desires of my spirit.

      Goodluck. God bless and farewell.

      • Tammy

        C.E. you guys should use this mans words!!! I just want to say God Bless you brother in Christ. You worded this so well! I pray God continues to give you an your wife strength to deal with this. I also, pray God will share this with all other men……Have a blessed day!

    9. Groszmann

      Wow! I didn’t know art was a sin. Does this mean enjoying pizza is idolatry?

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