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Is it wrong / a sin / lustful to look at a person I find attractive?

In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus said, "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." Does this mean we can't even look at a person we find attractive? Not exactly. Jesus was criticizing the legalistic habits of the religious leaders of the day. They were great at seeing the "letter of the law," which is what the law literally says, but they did not grasp the "spirit of the law," which is the intent behind the law.

When you find someone attractive and then find yourself looking for a bit longer than you normally would, do a check on your heart and your motives. Why are looking? Are you merely admiring their attractiveness? Or are you imagining them in a sexual manner? Notice Jesus' words in the above verse; He says that to look at a woman with the intent to lust is adultery. A simple glance or reasonable gaze at someone we find attractive is not a sin in and of itself. When we dive into lustful thoughts in our minds is when we have crossed over into sexual sin.

What does it mean to look lustfully?

If you haven’t read the 412teens article about lust, now might be a good time: What is lust? It may also be helpful to look at the meaning of the Greek word for "lust." In Matthew 5:28, the word used for "lust" is epithymēsai, which in this context refers to an extended, yearning look, such as to cherish or embrace those sexual thoughts.

Some people like to take Jesus' words on adultery and manipulate the original Greek to switch "lust" with "covetousness." Thus, they try to argue that it is okay to have sexual thoughts about women just as long as you don't "covet" or desire ownership of them. But that is not a very accurate understanding of the word in this context. Even so, if that was the way this verse should be translated, our thoughts would still have to line up with Philippians 4:8, which would certainly prohibit lust.

Lust is a very dangerous sexual sin. The Bible says that it is "a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon" (Job 31:11). Abaddon is the Hebrew word for "place of destruction." The best way to fight lustful thoughts is to refuse to entertain them as soon as they appear (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). If a fleeting sexual thought enters your mind when you see an attractive person, do not dwell on it, playing it over and over in your imagination. If possible, we should also be careful to avoid circumstances that provide us with temptations in our problem areas. After all, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

What about looking in a non-sexual way?

Look, it is totally natural to find attractive another human being whom God has created —males and females. To acknowledge a person's attractiveness is not a sin, nor does it necessarily lead to sexual sin. It is just fine if you have a crush or find someone attractive enough to consider a romantic relationship. Even a married person can easily acknowledge, "That person is attractive," without being in sin. However, the line gets crossed as soon as we allow our minds to wander into a sexual situation with someone to whom we are not married.

As with all things, what we do with our emotions requires discernment. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) and your eyes if necessary. Anyway, there's more to a person than their good looks (Proverbs 31:30).

Controlling your gaze toward the beautiful comes down to knowing your motives. If you're looking at pictures of pretty people and finding yourself tempted to fantasize or they are invoking sexual feelings, then it would be best to avoid them. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 tells us to "flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

If you are simply admiring and feeling no temptation to go further in your thoughts, then you are probably just fine. If you are truly not sure, ask God about it, and He will give you wisdom (James 1:5).

TL;DR

Controlling your gaze toward beautiful / handsome people you encounter is a matter of understanding motives. If your intention is to lust and fantasize about it later, then that is a sin. If you are simply admiring one of God's human beings, then you are probably just fine. Fight lustful thoughts by refusing to entertain them as soon as they appear (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Use discernment when handling emotions. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) and your eyes if necessary (Matthew 26:41).

By: Jeremy V.

Jeremy is a homeschooled high school student. He enjoys teaching spiritual truth and helping out at his church. He believes in the sufficiency and objectivity of Scripture over the subjective and unreliable nature of the heart (1 Timothy 3:16; Jeremiah 17:9). He also enjoys pin trading, marksmanship, and visiting theme parks.

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