Looking or Lusting?
Discerning Between False Accusation and True Conviction
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted Nov. 03, 2013
Jesus taught in Matthew 5:28 that whoever lusted after a woman has already committed adultery in his heart. However, Jesus did not say that whoever looked upon a woman was guilty of adultery. Daniel Whedon's comments written in 1860 are helpful.
Yet not every glance of admiration or desire, cast upon the beauty of one of the opposite sex, is here condemned. Such affections are planted in our nature for pure and beneficial purposes. Not even the recognition of the superior attractions of another man's wife, or another woman's husband, is transgression. Indeed, the sentiment of pleasure arising from beauty of persons around us, may be as pure as the pleasure of surveying pictures. A sweet voice is justly pleasant to the ear, a graceful manner to the taste, a fair form or face to the eye. But when from a sentiment it becomes a sensation, the danger commences. If the sensation be volitionally permitted, there is guilt.
Essentially, Whedon said that it is not necessarily a sin to notice the attractiveness of the opposite sex. If a woman is dressed in order to attract attention and my attention is attracted, sin has not been committed unless my will is engaged. The word lust is epithumeo, which is a neutral word. It simply means "desire." It is used in a positive sense of Jesus in Luke 22:15. However, I must not desire anything which is not lawful for me to possess. Whedon also wrote, "Where the will consents, and the volition permits" then there is guilt.
In his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley taught that one who is saved from sin could still be tempted. Among the examples he gave was this one, "A woman solicits me. Here is a temptation to lust. But in the instant I shrink back. And I feel no desire or lust at all; of which I can be as sure as that my hand is cold or hot." While the temptation had to have some appeal or it would not even be a temptation, Wesley was conscious that he had not consented. He had not crossed the "line." However, his purity of motive did not stop the accusations of his wife.
Wesley also wrote "The Life and Death of Mr. Fletcher." In this account Wesley recorded an incident where John Fletcher, who was about 31 at the time and did not marry until age 52, was showing a close friend a rope which he used for exercise. Fletcher jokingly said that the devil had often tempted him to hang himself with that rope. His friend replied, "The desire of women is a temptation far more dangerous than this." Fletcher then surprised his friend by responding, "In all my life I never felt that temptation; no, not in any degree." But Fletcher's friend reported to Wesley that when he and Fletcher met again, "He acknowledged he had been plagued, like other men, with that formerly unknown temptation."
While the struggle begins much earlier for most men, the burden of this article is to offer help for those who are coping with their humanity. While Fletcher was a saintly man, he was also human. The fact that he was tempted does not imply any sinfulness or guilt.
There can be a false sense of guilt. The devil will make accusations. He insists that if I was holy, I would not have even been aware of what was in front of my eyes. But when I examine my heart there was no sinful desire, just an awareness. I do not want anything that the Lord does not want me to have.
Wesley commented on David's adultery by writing, "But all these [wives] did not preserve him from coveting his neighbor's wife. Rather, they inclined him to it: for men who have once broke the fence will wander carelessly." The implication is that sexual desire must be contained like a wild horse is fenced.
We are earthen vessels. That fact does not argue for the necessity of sin, but we must face our humanity which makes us vulnerable to sin. The Holy Spirit will not eradicate your sexuality. It is God's plan for the world to continue through the procreation of husband and wife. However, we must discipline our sexual appetites. While I have used examples from our Methodist heritage, sexual temptation is not confined to any particular denomination. My examples merely illustrate that the struggle is not new and even the most holy men and women must learn self-discipline. "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not plan ahead about how to gratify your lusts" (Romans 13:14).