There is no doubt whatsoever that lust is wrong and is equated in God’s eyes with adultery since God looks at the heart. Matthew 5:27-28 says, “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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Lust is an illicit desire and appetite that is indulged and fed as one looks at another person selfishly and with covetousness. It is not good enough to simply refrain from actually engaging in sexual immorality with another person, but a person must also guard his or her heart from dwelling on wrong desires and the mind from feasting on wrong thoughts. It is interesting that Christ has men in mind here more directly as He speaks of looking on a woman, as opposed to looking on a man, with lust. Men certainly are more prone to lust with the eyes than women. Job says in Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” Men indeed need to be careful of what they allow to pass before their eyes, and they must determine by faith not to look at lustful images as much as is in their control. Women can lust as well, but they don’t typically do it by longing simply for a physical body, an image, or a sexual release. Their temptation lies more directly in a man other than their husband giving them attention, affection, and a feeling of emotional intimacy and connectedness. This closeness is generally what allows a woman to open up sexually and what spurs her on to sexual activity, either moral or immoral. Thus, where men will lust by indulging the physical, women will often lust by indulging the emotional. This is not to say that men don’t care about the emotional, for often times adulterous relationships stem from being around those whom we know and are around on a regular basis. But generally, men can separate the emotional from the physical, and many times when it comes to adultery or sexual immorality, that is exactly what takes place. Women are objectified, meaning that they are treated as a sexual tool and vehicle for selfish pleasure rather than one to whom they want to commit themselves to love unconditionally and permanently.
Love is fulfilled sexually in the permanent marriage bond as partners express their love to one another sexually along with the emotions, heart, and mind. It is a total oneness, a pure unity, and a fulfilling experience, whereas lust is never satisfied. It is a vicious taskmaster, pulling a person into the worship of an experience and feeling rather than into a loving relationship involving both giving and receiving. Lust only takes, and it destroys, never delivering what it promises and always leaving a person empty and feeling compelled to lust again. It is very addictive and consuming, and it is thus a powerful weapon of the enemy.
If lust does not lead to adultery or premarital sex, it can and frequently does lead to masturbation, which can be a sinful way to fulfill lustful desire. Masturbation driven by lust is generally more of a problem for men whose sexual desire is visually driven, though women are tempted in this area as well. Some Christians teach that it is not wrong or harmful for individuals to masturbate as long as they are not thinking immoral thoughts as they do so. Thus, their argument is that it is permissible for one to experience sexual gratification and pleasure outside of the marriage bond as long as it is not driven or accompanied by lust. I believe this is extremely off base. A person, prior to marriage, should be unaware of the experience and feeling of sexual release and orgasm. Song of Solomon gives an emphatic warning multiple times that love is not to be awakened or aroused until it pleases (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). The clear meaning of this is that the sexual appetite is not to be “satisfied” or explored until the marriage bed, at which time alone it is able to please. Thus, masturbation outside of the marriage relationship, even if it is not combined with lustful thoughts, is not right. Love is not to be awakened until it pleases, which is after marriage and not before. A person is best off if he or she is innocent of the sexual experience until marriage, and such is what God commands. Within marriage, spouses will have to determine what their boundaries will be and what is acceptable and unacceptable, though certainly masturbation driven by lust or illicit thoughts or images is always wrong. Sex is to be a shared activity for the purpose of drawing spouses closer toward one another and keeping the marriage bond strong. Scripture commands husbands and wives to come together so as not to deprive one another sexually. 1 Corinthians 7:5 says, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Sex should be a giving and receiving experience where both spouses are edified as they rejoice in intimacy with one another.