In our world today, the line dividing love from lust has become extremely blurred. And the issue isn’t labeling love ‘lust’ so much as it is labeling lust ‘love.’ We have lost the meaning of true love in pursuit of something fake and temporary. Our culture is flooded with songs and movies about so-called ‘love’, and yet it is also flooded with images of heartbreak, anger, and jealousy.
Is this what God had in mind when He created the earth? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Clearly lust is a perversion of what God created to be good. But how, exactly, can we distinguish lust from love? First, let’s take a look at it from a scientific perspective.
The Science of Lust and Love.
Believe it or not, the difference between love and lust is something that can be observed in science. It’s not just a mental distinction; it’s a physiological one. As with nearly all Biblical concepts, the concept of love vs. lust is supported in the lab and is being witnessed by countless nonbelievers all over the world.
One recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that the feelings of lust and love activated two different parts of the brain in brain scans. Lust, which was triggered through the display of things such as erotic photos, activated the same part of the brain associated with pleasure and desire.
In other words, the brain reacts to lust in the same way it would react to a food or drug addiction. Love, however, activated the part of the brain associated with habits, which are developed over time, and selflessness. This supports the idea that lust is a temporary desire for pleasure, while love is a deep, lasting emotion that requires time to mature.
The Love Spot of the Brain.
Another study has produced strong evidence for a neurological distinction between love and lust. Like the aforementioned study, the feelings of love and lust made use of two different parts of the brain.
Love is associated with a part called the anterior insula. Researchers found that people with damaged anterior insula had a harder time recognizing and responding to the concept of love. The anterior insula, which is always linked with love and not lust, has been appropriately nicknamed the brain’s “sweet spot of love.”
One article describes lust as “the intolerable neural itch.” Lust is often characterized as a sexual desire toward someone that does not necessarily involve attraction, attachment, or deeper feelings.
Among the exclusive traits of love, however, the article listed the experience of novelty, intrusive thoughts, focused attention, increased energy, powerful feelings, and more. The difference between love and lust is clearly identifiable in human behavior.
Understanding the Spirituality of Lust and Love.
1 Corinthian 13:4-8 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”
This is God’s definition of love, and anything less is lust. Even secular sources all agree that lust is a temporary, less meaningful alternative to love. If you ever question whether you are in love or lust, just match up your relationship with this passage.
Are you patient or kind, or do you anger easily when things don’t go your way? Do you insist on your own way or seek to serve your significant other?
God has given us the guidelines for love by which we are to live. To ignore them, especially if it’s out of fear, is a dangerous thing to do. Because the truth is that when our relationships are pleasing to God, we also get more out of them. These verses don’t exist to put limits or restrictions on love, but to allow us to enjoy love to the fullest.
If we lust, we make a game out of what God created to be a lifelong commitment. We objectify the people around us and assign to them the sole purpose of fulfilling our cheap wishes. Love, however, is the only thing that can fulfill us and bring us true joy. Just as Christ first loved us, and just as we are supposed to love our neighbors, we should love our spouses or future spouses with every part of us- not just the part of us that desires temporary pleasure.
Here are 10 things you can do to protect against lust.
1. Admit you weaknesses and sin to God.
2. Grab the reins of your thought life and begin to focus on things that are “true, honorable, right and pure.”
3. Pray about it and obediently follow.
4. Accept God’s grace and ask for forgiveness whenever you view someone in an impure way.
5. Understand that lust and temptation are a battle of the heart. Check out this article in which I go into more detail about how to guard your heart and the underlying meaning and importance of Proverbs 4:23.
6. Take lust seriously by adding layers of accountability. This can take on many forms such as: an accountability partner (ex: a close and mature Christian who you can share this issue with), accountability software (ex: covenant eyes), accountability fellowship (ex: groups that specifically talk and discuss issues about lust).
7. A rededication to your wife or husband (if married and if the lust is focused outside of the covenant of marriage). What I mean here is totally devoting your love, attention, and focus towards your significant other.
8. Walk in the Spirit by feeding the right desires and killing the wrong desires.
9. Start your day off in the morning by having a large spiritual “breakfast.” From my own experiences, by taking the time to pray and read God’s word early in the morning it helps get me in the right frame of thought and that protective effect sort of carries me throughout the day.
10. Develop self-control. Start by setting up some small goal that requires a small amount of discipline to achieve it. Once you’ve done that, build off of it by gradually going after goals that require more discipline then the last goal. By building your self-control you’ll be better prepared as a Christian to handle and respond (not react) to lust.
If you’re a Christian seeking to guard yourself against lust…
2 Timothy 2:22 says, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” If you sense that you are in danger of falling into lust, or if you have already fallen, the first thing to do is cry out to Jesus. He won’t turn away or hide his face at the sight of you; He will always forgive your shortcomings and give you strength to overcome them, if only you trust him. Be constantly in the Word, taking in all you can about what true love is supposed to look like. And one step at a time, if you resolve to change your lust into love with the help of God, you will.
If you’re a Christian seeking to help someone to guard his or her self against lust…
First, let them know that there is still hope and that their relationship is not a lost cause. Encourage them to pray and read scripture, just as you would do for yourself. Let them know that you will always be there for them, and keep your promise. That doesn’t mean condoning everything they do; that means being accountable.
If you see them slipping into lust, let them know so that they can fix their bad habits. Set a good example, and always remind them of the lasting joy that results from true love rather than lust. God has great things in store for their lives, and none of it involves temporary pleasure and the guilt that ensues.
What are your thoughts?