Love or Lust?
Dating advice: if lust is driving your relationship,
it will never work. Here's why.
by Duncan Moore
I was brought up in an atheistic family and it wasn't until I arrived at university that I met lots of Christians. They seemed nice people and there was a quality to their friendships that I envied. However, they seemed to me to be painfully naive and their innocence, particularly in the area of sexual morality, evoked my patronizing sympathy. Since then my thinking has radically changed. In this article I want to ask whether there are good reasons for taking the Bible's teaching on sex seriously.
Contrary to popular belief, Christians don't view sex as a bad thing, tolerated as a concession. God invented sex and he meant it to be good, very good. Sex is not just a means to pregnancy, but is meant to be an intense, joyful, passionate expression of love. God also designed a context for sex -- lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. Contemporary English culture has now mostly abandoned this idea. Should Christians abandon it as irrelevant or does it point to timeless principles?
From a practical viewpoint there are plenty of advantages to following the Bible's blueprint for sex. It protects against sexually transmitted diseases -- no small thing for us and a huge issue in parts of the world where AIDS is wiping out whole communities and destroying the economy. It also protects against unwanted pregnancies outside of marriage.
Keeping sex exclusively for marriage avoids the pain and destructiveness of comparing different sexual partners. It also guards against the very painful situation where one partner is very in love and the other is purely interested in having an orgasm.
A final thought is that our sexual drives and desires are addictive. Someone once pointed out that our sexual desires have the engine of a Ferrari and the brakes of a bicycle. If we stir up and feed our sexual desires in unhealthy ways it becomes harder and harder to remain faithful in marriage, with all the emotional agony unfaithfulness brings. The divorce statistics reflect the consequences of our sexual values.
The practical reasons alone are strong enough in themselves to support the case for the Bible's teaching on sex. However, there are more fundamental reasons for setting sexual relationships aside for marriage. God didn't design sex simply to give us orgasms, he designed sex as an expression of love and physical intimacy.
To have sex with someone is a profoundly meaningful thing and if misused the effects can be devastating. There's a wonderful story of a court case where a man sued the manufacturers of his lawnmower. The man had injured himself while using his mower to trim a hedge and claimed that the instructions didn't say that the mower couldn't be used for that purpose. Similarly, sex has a purpose but because its such a powerful thing, it can do a lot of damage if not used as per the maker's instructions.
To understand the Bible's view of sex we must understand the difference between love and lust. Love honors, values and seeks the best for the beloved. It focuses on the other person. It's selfless, sacrificial and inseparable from commitment. Lust, on the other hand, seeks to use things or people to meet its needs and gratify its desires. It focuses inward on itself, is inherently selfish, and rejects commitment.
Love and lust are opposites. They are in direct conflict with each other. The question to be asked is whether our sexual relationships are an expression of love or lust: "I want to honor and value you, giving myself to you," or "I want to use you as a tool to satisfy my urge for an orgasm, using you and taking from you." If God really has designed sex as an expression of love, to use it for lust is an extremely destructive lie.
The role of Marriage
Marriage is a profound mystery, the joining of two people to become one. It doesn't guarantee or enforce love, but if taken seriously as an unconditional lifelong commitment of faithfulness and fidelity, it certainly helps to distinguish between love and lust. Just as litmus paper tests for the presence of acid, marriage tests for the presence of commitment. How do we know if we truly love someone enough to have sex with them? Marriage asks are we willing to commit ourselves to them for life?
Marriage is also a safety net. We're all fragile and fallible. How can we be confident and secure in the love of our partner in light of our shortcomings and failings? The answer again is commitment. If commitment is absent, then love isn't genuine and sex is reduced to a physical orgasm which technically you don't need two people for.
Lust is powerful and seductive, but it's inherently selfish and opposed to love. As we foster and feed lust in our lives we're dragged inexorably towards isolation, loneliness, insecurity and emptiness. What do we have left when orgasm becomes boring and unsatisfying, left alone to face the pain of guilt and loneliness?
Love with commitment is clearly very expensive and hard work. It requires honor, respect, forgiveness and sacrifice. However it's the road out of the loneliness, suspicion and despair that plagues our culture. If we substitute lust for love we end up with a meaningless sensation which eventually loses its novelty and can never satisfy beyond the physical.
God's intention for us is that we should be set free from the power and slavery of lust and become men and women of genuine love. Everyone falls short of a God who views sleeping around and entertaining lustful thoughts alike. However, he offers us all the forgiveness we need to bring us into a deep personal relationship with him. The love we experience in our relationship with God begins to be worked out in our relationships with each other. Our choice is either to respond to God's offer and pursue a life of love empowered by his love or to reject him and set off on our own.