What Is Lust?
In rebuking the religious leaders who opposed Him and His mission, Jesus said that their “desires” (lusts) were the same as their father Satan (John 8:44). Jesus locates the origins of lust within the evil heart of Satan. Not surprisingly then, lust, or worldly desires, often choke out the seed of the gospel in the human heart (Mark 4:19).
It may well be that the first appearance of the sin of lust happened in the garden just as the man and woman made their tragic choice. As Eve considered the enticements of the serpent, she observed that the fruit was, among other things, “a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with something being pleasing to look at. But Genesis 3 is the record of history’s most infamous sin. So, we may safely conclude that Eve’s longing look upon the fruit in delight was done with a lustful eye. It was a covetous glance; a longing to have something that was not proper for her to possess.
Because Eve was born without a sin nature, her sin of lusting for the fruit (or more specifically what she believed the fruit could give her) was a deliberately chosen sin in response to an external source of temptation. We call that a “temptation from without.” We, however, are in an even more difficult predicament than our first mother. Having been born with a natural preference for sin, we are quite capable of producing lustful desires on our own without any external source egging us on. We call that “temptation from within.” Consider the words of James 1:14–15: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (emphasis added).
The New Testament word for lust is epithumia, which means “desire.” Of course, not all desires are bad. Indeed, there are examples in the New Testament of epithumia being used positively, such as when a qualified man appropriately “desires” the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1). But epithumia is often used to refer to sinful desires, so epithumia is also rendered as “lust” and “passions,” as well as “desires.” Lust is the desire for anything that is sinful, such as illicit sex, intoxication, ill-gotten gain, revenge, or anything else that God forbids.