I’m working on my review of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill (Zondervan). You can follow other reviews of the book at Zondervan’s Engaging Church blog, but mine should be up tomorrow. I found this book immensely helpful on many levels, but more later.
In this book, on pages 135-136, the author quotes Dallas Willard on an important distinction when considering the nature of sexual lust. I thought Willard’s insights were quite helpful and so I’m sharing them here with you all:
Dallas Willard helpfully defines lust as “looking to desire” — looking at someone other than a spouse in order to indulge in sexual fantasies. “That is, we desire to desire. We indulge and cultivate desiring because we enjoy fantasizing about sex with the one seen. Desiring sex is the purpose for which we are looking.” ¹
This purposeful looking — the “second glance” — is different, Willard says, from “looking and desiring.” Looking to desire is intentional, willful. Looking and desiring is natural, reflexive, part of the experience of a God-designed and God-given desire for intimacy with someone of the opposite sex; it could happen at any time, in any place — as you drive down the road and see a billboard, as you place your order at a restaurant, as you browse shelves at a bookstore.
When we only think of sex with someone we see, or simply find him or her attractive, that is not wrong, and certainly is not what Jesus calls “adultery in the heart.” Merely to be tempted sexually requires that we think of sex with someone we are not married to, and that we desire the other person — usually, of course, someone we see. But temptation also is not wrong, though it should not be willfully entered. ²
Looking and desiring, according to Willard, isn’t sinful; it’s what you choose to do with the desire that determines whether the first look will turn into cultivated lust.
¹ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), 165.
² ibid, 164