27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

One thing that I hear a lot of Christians say in the debate around Same Sex Marriage (SSM) and Christianity is that homosexual desire is not sinful but acting on it is. In rebuttal to that idea appears to be Matthew 5:27-28. It would appear that desire itself is sinful. So then the reverse could be extrapolated in the SSM debate: if the desire is not sinful, how can the act be condemned?

Question: Do you think the Scriptures make a distinction between desire and action when it comes to sin? Does this idea lean too heavily on one verse?

Are there any examples in Scripture where the desire is considered good but the action sinful?

  • The key scripture on this seems to be James 1:15 which some interpret to mean that desire can lead to sin but isn't inherently sin itself. From a hermeneutics perspective, that would be a good verse to ask about.
    – P. TJ
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 3:02
  • Man, desire, and action are three different things. Both sinful desires and sinful actions are (obviously) sinful, but only by embracing one's sinful desires, either in thought or in deed (as opposed to fighting them off), does man himself also become sinful as well.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 4:39

10 Answers 10


Psalm 24 does say:

Who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart: who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. Psalm 24:3-4 (KJV)

Clean hands (righteous in action) and pure heart (righteous thoughts and attitudes) are both important.

Sinful actions usually come from a seed of sin, just like righteous actions come from seeds of righteosness (Galatians 6:8-9)

There are examples in scripture of both actions and thoughts being considered sin, God says in the Bible, "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). Stealing is an action, but he also says "You shall not covet" (Exodus 20:17). Coveting is a heart attitude, which might lead someone to commit a sinful action (note: this is NOT the same as Paul saying to covet the best gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:31).

I think the scriptures do make a distinction between desire and action in that they are two different things, but they are related. Actions or thoughts both have the capacity to be either good or evil.

God blessed Abram/Abraham for believing him (Genesis 15:6).

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Jewish elders for their ungodly thoughts as well as actions (Matthew 23:27-28).

Regarding Matthew 5:27-28, both adulterous thoughts and adulterous actions are wrong (which is applcable to anyone who has desires or actions of a sexual nature towards someone they are not married to in God's eyes). People might not be able to see adulterous thoughts but God can (1 Samuel 16:7).

Even though some places allow a legal "marriage" between two men or two women, this is not marriage as God intended (Matthew 19:4), so Biblically if the two men or two women are having sexual thoughts towards each other, then they are having those thoughts about someone they are not truly married to. Therefore those thoughts are sinful.

Regarding your question about good desires resulting in sinful actions, I am assuming you mean "Good" from God's perspective. I don't know everything in the Bible, and I am learning still, but currently, there are no examples that I can think of in scripture where "Good" gives birth to "evil" (from God's perspective) If you plant corn you get corn, if you plant wheat you get wheat etc. Good trees only bring forth good fruit and bad trees bring forth bad fruit (ref: Luke 6:43).

If you are meaning "good" from human understanding then I think of Simon Peter, who did a number of things, thinking he was doing good, only to be rebuked by Jesus, because he wasn't actually doing "good" in God's eyes (Matthew 16:21-23, John 10:11). I also think of the apostle Paul, before he was converted, and was persecuting the Christians, being zealous without knowledge.

"...There is none good but one, that is God." Mark 10:18

  • Very good answer. +1.
    – user25930
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 5:55
  • Thanks some helpful references there. I wonder if there are any examples in Scripture of where a desire might be considered okay but the resulting action sinful.
    – L0ckz0r
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 8:19

There is a logic to sin, and this entails certain stages, which I will enumerate now:

1) a sinful thought, that is not yet a sin, if not accepted and entertained, for it is even a virtue to not do so; for instance, it is not my sin if somebody does or says something pernicious, but simply the information about this pernicious act/words enters my mind. Leo Tolstoy nicely says that it is not in our power to forbid birds fly above our heads, but it is in our power not to let them sit on our heads and make there nests and hatch eggs; similarly, it is not in our power not to have any sinful thought, but it is in our power not to entertain them and to repel them as quickly as possible; thus, the first stage of the sin is not yet a sin but provides a possibility for it.

2) When this sinful thought is entertained and even consequentially accepted, because it seems to be interesting, intriguing, curious, promising an adventure or a certain pleasure (for instance, if one entertains a thought to have a love affair with somebody's beautiful wife and, having been fortified, this thought turns into an intrigue, interest and desire.

3) The desire is having been conceived by the heart of the man and it starts to grow and hatch cozily in the heart's darkest recesses.

4) After it has grown to an extent that it is perceived by a poor victim of this desire that without fulfilling it he will be totally unhappy, then this full-grown and fortified desire compels him to search for a possibility of this fulfilment, think about thousands of versions and vents so that he may be discharged of the feeling of the unhappiness and loneliness, which seems to be surpassable only through fulfilment of this sinful desire of having other person's wife as a lover.

5) The utter depression and frustration, thus, creates a boldness in the heart of the victim and he contrives a concrete doable plan and even makes an audacious decision to fulfil it.

6) And then the action is committed (for instance, he cleverly lures in snares of his charm the wife of another man and has an affair with her);

7) The committed sin generates death; not a physical death, but a death of heart and soul, for one has a feeling of utter split from God - the source of all love, humanity and empathy; moreover, he is now cemented into his sinful passion, for having been fulfilled, it became even stronger and he cannot resist it, but as an tyrant, this desire and passion rules over his entire organism and life, and this triumph of the sinful passion over man's life is called in the Gospels "death".

These are, actually, roughly the stages of which the apostle writes: "each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15).

But grace of God does not leave the dead person in his death: he feels a wrongdoing, a deception of the sin, which he served so wilfully and devotedly, but it had returned him a pain and a feeling of naughtiness; he feels a shame towards the person, whose wife he seduced, having no power to look into his eyes and have a normal conversation with him; he feels shame with reference to all society as well, for he has done something so censurable, and at a certain moment, sooner or later, he will realise that the delectation of the sin cannot be put on any level together with those burdensome feelings and understandings, for the latter are of a different ontological level, touching the eternal aspects of his soul, and he grows up to fully receive by free co-action this grace and freely repent with all his heart. Thus, the 8th stage is that of the repentance, but it is not guaranteed and automatic, but requires, as did sin, human person's free decision - based upon his good understanding of the committed evil - to abandon the sin and rejoin with God. Remorse is automatic, but repentance is not.

Now, Jesus gives still a new dimension to his commandments, as different from the Old Testament: indeed, the Old Testament censure both desire for sin and the sinful action, however the Old Testament would not provide the full-scale healing from the sinful desires, that were part of the fallen human condition; and thus, having been unhealed, those desires remained in a constant war with our knowledge of what is good and our desire to do this good, as so powerfully expressed by Paul in Romans 7:15-20. But Jesus already can work within the very dark recesses of human falledness through His Grace and transform the very fallen nature into the "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus, with this salvific and transforming Grace available, the humanity is given a new commandment that even not fully overcoming the sinful desire through the Grace of Christ is a violation of commandment, and thus, even hating of somebody is a murder (1 John 3:15), and looking lustfully at somebody amounts to an adultery (Matthew 5:28). But, again, such a level of refining of the commandments is possible only through Jesus acting in us through His Grace and impossible with only our own efforts.

  • Thanks for your answer. Just wondering can you provide your references for: " the OT wouldn't provide healing for the sinful desires"?
    – L0ckz0r
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 21:00
  • @L0ckz0r That is the basics of the Christian teaching as divined with especial clarity by the Apostle Paul; to summarise him, the sin and its result, the death, entered humanity through the fall of Adam, whereas Christ is the New Adam, whom Paul calls "life-giving Spirit" (which title is a divine title, for Spirit that vivifies is God) blotted out and completely conquered the sin and thus also its consequence - death; unless one does not abolish the Mosaic law after Christ's advent and continues in it, such one has abolished Christ crucified for salvation of humankind (Galatians 2:21). Commented May 31, 2019 at 7:51

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. James 1

I believe its safe to say that temptation is not sin.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Heb. 4

When Jesus fasted for 40 days, he was tempted with food. I'm sure He desired the bread, if He didn't there wouldn't be much of a point to this temptation trial right? His desire for the bread when hungry was not sin. Giving in to Satan's wishes would have been.

God created us with physical appetites and these are good gifts. Sex for example is a good thing that God created. However, because He loves us, He put parameters around this gift: Faithfulness, frequency in marriage, one husband one wife, love and submission. As a Christian man, I'm not just attracted to my wife. As a Christian man it's sinful for me to act on those attractions outside of my wife. In Matthew the person is not just desiring but 'looking' at a woman with lust.


There is quite a fundamental distinction to be made here between the inclination or proclivity itself to a thing (attraction to sex a, or sex b; the opposite sex, and the same sex, let's say), and lusting after someone in your heart ('I want to, x, y and z'). That is to say, between the temptation, and indulging in thoughts about committing an act potentially, which is equivalent to the act, according to Jesus (one can surmise, since it amounts to committing it, but being hindered by time or other circumstances, including one's own fleeting human change of mood and mind, not to follow through, which eventually prevent it from coming about).

So for example, it obviously doesn't mean the temptation to be angry (i.e. some matter to be angry about) is the same as harboring anger for someone (which Jesus also calls murder: Mt 5:22)—deliberately delighting in the thought, and persisting in it willingly, one can become the other by precisely the sinfulness Jesus is talking about.

It's really rather simple. There is simply a difference between looking at a woman lustfully, and looking at a woman, and consequently finding yourself attracted to her (i.e. at which point, and the earlier the better, you look away and think about something else—Job 31:1).


Is desire or action sinful? Matthew 5:27–28

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Do you think the Scriptures make a distinction between desire and action ?

The answer is yes,

The principal may also apply to someone looking at pornographic images with lustful desire to have sexual immorality. Today the mass media is awash with pornography, many who view it ,cannot get rid of it or find it difficult to erase such immoral scenes from their minds, many get addicted to it.

In view of what Sola Gratia said on anger, I personally say that Jesus was not referring to a passing immoral thought,but was referring to continuous looking , which will arouse passionate desire, and like harboring anger , harboring desire may result in sexual immorality.

Such desires are wrong, it alienates people from God ,even if it does not lead to sexually immoral acts.


Jesus says that drastic action is required:

29" If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, [c]than for your whole body to be thrown into [d]hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you [f]to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."

Paul also uses powerful words "Put to Death" that is to deaden immoral desires,to strip off the old personality with such evil practices, and that Christians should take strong action , He wrote "you must get rid of all such things."

Colossians 3:5-9 (NRSV)

5 "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.[a] 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.[b]

8 "But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[c] language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practice."


Reduced to a Loaf of Bread;

The wise King Solomom, reprimands; anyone having sexual immorality with a prostitute will be reduced to a loaf of bread-to extreme poverty.

Proverbs 6:25-26 (NASB)

25 "Do not desire her beauty in your heart, Nor let her capture you with her eyelids. 26 For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life".

Do not take Fire into you Bosom;

Proverbs 6:27-29 (NASB)

27" Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched? 29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished"

"Πορνεια"- Pornia- fornication- sexual immorality

The original Greek word "πορνειαν " translated into "fornication" or "sexual immorality" includes sexual relations between people that are not legally married according to God's commandments, as well as homosexuality.

Men/women who practice homosexuality will no inherit the kingdom of God:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NASB)

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.( Compare Romans 1:26)

Are there any examples in Scripture where the desire is considered good but the action sinful?

No I am not aware of any scriptures where the desire is considered good but the action sinful?


Question: Do you think the Scriptures make a distinction between desire and action when it comes to sin? Does this idea lean too heavily on one verse?

It is worth considering, I think, that the Greek verb translated as "sin" - hamartia - has the meaning in ancient Greek of something like "missing the point" or "failing in one's purpose". In this sense, "sin" refers to an act of omission rather than an act of commission. (The late Orthodox Archbishop Dmitry Royster wrote that one meaning of "sin" is man's "fundamentally missing the very point of his existence" (St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary, p.33).

This is not to say, however, that the word "sin" (hamartia) in the New Testament does not also take on the meaning of and act that is committed and something that can be enumerated. We have, for example, He shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21); John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4); And when He saw their faith, He said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee (Luke 5:20); and If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins (John 8:24).

Sin, according to the New Testament, is a state . Acts which reflect this degenerate state are "sins".


Yes there is another example where we can see that the desire is considered good, but the action was sinful.

1st Samuel Chapter 15

Samuel told Saul the message and instruction from the Lord,

2 “When the Israelites were on their way out of Egypt, the nation of Amalek attacked them. I am the Lord All-Powerful, and now I am going to make Amalek pay! 3“Go and attack the Amalekites! Destroy them and all their possessions. Don’t have any pity. Kill their men, women, children, and even their babies. Slaughter their cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.” - 1 Samuel 15:2-3

God has instructed Saul to attack the Amalekites, to destroy them and all of their possessions. God also instructed Saul not to have any pity for them. Kill all the people even babies and their animals.

And guess what happen? Saul didn't kill their King, King Agag. He also spare the best animals. He did this as he had good intention for them. He may wanted build a diplomatic relationship with King Agag, and also kept the best animals as burnt offering to God. He explained to Samuel why he did that. Fair and good reason.

Then Samuel revealed to him what God told him. God was angry because Saul disobeyed him, he did not listen to God, as he acted on his own desire. Of things he thought was clever/good. But Saul's action became sinful in God's eyes. The desire seemed good, but on what moral basis that we place our judgement on what is good and what is evil? What is sin?

Edit You see, I thought that sparing lives were good. I totally agreed to Saul if I hadn't listen to Samuel. I would think that Saul was a wise King, he made a good decision. But what is the standard for me to judge if something is sinful or not? Edit

We must come to acknowledge that God is the ultimate moral being, who is able to justify what is good and what is evil. All things he has instructed us to do is deemed to be good, regardless on how human perceive it to be. Well, we can see in 1 Samuel, disobeying God is sinful. So God has made 1 man and 1 women and unify them in 1 marriage, and God as the center of the marriage.

Marriage is meant to be Holy.

I hope my answer gives you a picture of it.

  • Unfortunately, I don't think this meets the criteria. Saul didn't actually have the desire to kill these people. The OP asked for a desire held that was explicitly not sinful, but acting on it would be. Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 13:21
  • I wasn't addressing if Saul had the desire to kill people. I was addressing that Saul had a desire to spare the live of the King and their best animals.
    – Disrudog
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 13:36
  • I was pointing out that disobeying God is sinful, and to see what God has given to us the morality standard what we may know what is sin. So, with God's word, one can classified what is sinful and what is not. If one choose to believe it. How do you know if one desire is good or evil otherwise?
    – Disrudog
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 14:01


In the OP's question, there is a great deal to explore. The title and part of the question asks "is 'desire' sinful", but it is readily apparent that the OP is actually asking about a specific type of desire - sexual desire. Thus, in my answer, I will seek to explore:

  • Matthew 5:27–28 specifically
  • Synonyms for sexual desire
  • Classes of usage for sexual and non-sexual desires
  • A distinctions and overlaps between sexual desire and "desires of the flesh"

Lust in the Sermon on the Mount

The passage referenced in the OPs question, Matthew 5:27–28, occurs in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. A textual analysis of this passage reveals that Jesus repeatedly uses hyperbolic absurdity as a rhetorical device in his sermon. For example, immediately before this passage, Jesus states in Matthew 5:21-22:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Yet, later in on Matthew Jesus calls the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law "fools" (μωρός/móros) in Matthew 23:17

You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

In addition to the use of μωρός/móros in Matthew 23, all Christians are called μωρός/móros in 1 Corinthians 4:10:

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!

Were we to apply the same standards to Matthew 5:21-22 that we often apply to Matthew 5:27–28, we would be forced to conclude that Paul and Jesus himself were in danger of the fire of hell.

Likewise, we see in Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Another, clearly hyperbolic statement. The point here is not to condemn a specific act, such as homosexuality or lust, but instead to level the playing field. To illustrate that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. To show that the there is no difference in the eyes of God between the pharisee and the laity, the adulterer and fidelis, the angry and the zen, the homosexual and the heterosexual, or the Jew or the Gentile.

Instead we are advised in Matthew 5:48 to

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

-- A standard which Jesus knows full well is an impossible one.

Clearly, these passages were not meant to be used as dogmatically as they are in modernity as even Jesus himself did not maintain the letter of the law as he lays it out in his sermon. It stands to reason one can have at least some level of lust in their heart or mind and still be free of sin just as Jesus had at least some level of disdain for his brothers; calling them μωρός/móros and yet still lived a sinless life.

Similar desire

Within the New Testament, there are several words which are translated as "lust" or "desire" (or some variant thereof) and these include:

While usage of ὄρεξις and πάθος refer exclusively to sexual sin within New Testament usage, this is not the case in Septuagintal usage. Translations of desire that share a common root of ἐπιθυμ in New Testament writings however, vary widely in scope. For example,

1 Thessalonians 2:17 states:

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.

Luke 15:16 also makes use of this root, saying of the prodigal son:

He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

And Romans renders this as "Covet" in 7:7 saying:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

In the old Testament usage, the following are sometimes translated as ἐπιθυμία (or variants) in the Septuagint or as "lust" or "desire" and sometimes have a sexual connotation:

Perhaps the most interesting case study however, is Philippians 1:22-26 which reads:

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

This is particularly interesting because suicidal ideation could be argued to be a sinful desire, however the author chooses to deny this arguably sinful desire soas to follow a holy edict in a manner similar to the rhetoric around homosexual desire; The desire is sinful, but it's denial is righteous.

Conversely, one can make the case that the desire for death is a holy one in which the author of Philippians desire for death is not sinful, but really a desire to be with the Messiah. Neither the desire, nor the expression of that desire is sinful - very similar to the case that many make for homosexuality.

Classification of Desire

In looking at the usage of words translated as "lust" or "desire" refrenced in the Strong's concordance entries above, in the New Testament, some broad categories of usage emerge:

  • Generalized and ambiguous non-sexual "wants" or desires
  • Sexual desire1
  • Desires of "the flesh"
  • Miscellaneous usage

Similarly, In looking at the Old Testament translations and usages of "lust" and "desire" categories of usage emerge as:

  • Desire for money
  • Desire for food
  • Sexual desire leading to adultery
  • Miscellaneous usage

In looking at the second to last bullet, this seems to be one of the two most common usages in the Old Testament with a plurality of the passages which use "desire" or "lust" sexually also referencing adultery. This becomes quite interesting then in that the sermon on the mount is often regarded as a restatement and summarization of the old testament law. In addition to the numerous condemnations of lust that cause divorce, the analogy of Israel being the bride and God the bridegroom is also at play. Thus the fact that some pharisees were divorcing because the wind shifted (See Matthew 19:1-11 - particularly vs. 3).

When we contextualize the scope of condemnation of desire to the context of lust that leads to adultery and divorce, a very familiar Old Testament theme emerges in the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus addressing divorce in the verses immediately following his statement on lust in 27-28 in 5:31-32.

Contextualizing in this manner also leads to some interesting questions and challenges. For example, is it sinful to lust after one's partner? I would suggest that a healthy sex life is an important part of a marriage, and this kind of lust is a good kind of lust that prevents adultery.

Similarly, one study found that couples that explore their desire and lust together through the use of pornography or are completely open and honest about their usage of pornography reported the highest levels of relationship satisfaction. Another survey found that men who use pornography were less likely to cheat on their partner. This raises a much more challenging version of the above question: is desire and lust which leads to stronger relationships and less adultery still sinful?

Lust of the Flesh

I have noticed a trend within pastoral teaching to equate "sins of the flesh" with sexual immorality. While sexual immorality is certainly a type of sin of the flesh, this is but a small slice of that pie. Throughout the epistles, Paul has developed a theology of "flesh" which is in contrast to "spirit" Paul enumerates a list of examples of fleshly sin in Galatians 5:19-21.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are contrasted with the fruit of the spirit which Paul also enumerates in 22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Therefore, when we read "desires" or "lusts of the flesh" in the epistles (For example, Galatians 5:16-16) and impute a sexual connotation to them, this is a major misreading of Paul's meaning. While this can include sexual desires, it also includes jealous desires, desires for wealth, desires for power, desires for vices like drugs and alcohol. It is important that we not single out sexual desire and put it on the proper level with every other desire which does not further the Kingdom of God and the things of the spirit.

Similarly, we need to understand that much like there is a time and place for righteous anger, righteous jealousy, leadership, and fundraising and these things can further the Kingdom of God, the same might be true of sexual desire.

Knowing that unrighteous desires (sexual or otherwise) can be a type of "desire of the flesh" then allows us to gain some insight into the OP's question "Do you think the Scriptures make a distinction between desire and action when it comes to sin?"

In reading Galations 5:16-17, it seems that Paul is teaching that there is a distinction between unrighteous desire and actions:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want.

Clearly, one can hold both desires of the flesh and desires of the spirit, and these things can be in conflict. Paul voices his personal struggle with this, saying in Romans 7:15

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Paul is clearly voicing a disconnect between his desires and his actions in this passage. His actions and his desires are not aligned, and incongruent.

Throughout the epistles Paul seems to be teaching that by drawing nearer to God, the spirit will work in our hearts to help align our desires to those of God's. By seeking intimacy with God, our fleshly desires will be reduced and help to make our actions more righteous by eliminating temptations and sinful desires of all types.


Sexuality is a foundational core to our human experience. In her book "Shameless: A Sexual Reformation" Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber holds that all sexual unions, on some level, are holy acts. The very act of two people becoming one flesh, is a primal experience which returns us to the foundations of creation. It returns people to a state before Eve was separated from Adam, a time and state which God called "Good". To engage in the act of intercourse is to engage in a creative act which echos the goodness of creation.

It seems to me however that as holy as that goodness can be, just as the time of creation was tainted by sin, the same can be true of sex. Few things can evoke as much guilt, shame, and stigma as sex and sexuality. But this also means that conversely, few things have as much potential to allow us to experience the grace, freedom, and joy of the Gospel of Christ as sex and sexuality as well.

Therefore, how we communicate the Gospel as representatives of Christ is extremely important. Unfortunately, what this answer cannot do is answer the broader theological questions of whether homosexual desire or relationships are or are not sinful; that is simply beyond the scope of this question/answer and certainly too broad. But what we can conclude is that there are basically 4 possible outcomes: the right acts as a result of the right desires, the wrong acts as a result of the right desires, the right acts as a result of the wrong desires, and the wrong acts as the result of wrong desires.

Unfortunately, Matthew 5:27–28 does very little to inform our answers here, as this passage is specifically speaking about sinful desires that leads to adultery and divorce, and this passage has very little application to the situation in which the OP is considering. To try to extend this passage beyond the narrow scope of condemning desire leading to adultery and divorce risks imputing eisegetical meaning to the sermon, and is an attempt to put words into the mouth of God.

More broadly, our emphasis on condemning certain sexual acts (heterosexual or homosexual) and Christian culture's obsession with talking about sex and sexual purity seems to have sent a distorted Gospel message. This is readily apparent in the stories of those appearing in documentaries like Matt Barber's "Give Me Sex, Jesus" and can be seen in the hurt caused and alienation felt by those in the gay community and by many others. It can be heard in the stories' of most of those whom you talk to about the intersection of their faith experience and their sexuality.

As a hermeneutic guideline, the OP would do well to adopt the principle that given two equally plausible scriptural interpretations, we should prefer the one that will cause the recipients of the Gospel and hearers of the word to experience the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness not so that the recipients may indulge the flesh, but so that they may experience the grace of God - especially with such as sensitive and impactful topic. This may often mean adjusting our messaging by being sure that our emphasis when preaching the Gospel is not distorted and lopsided so that the topics covered match the frequency of topics covered in the Gospels by Jesus.

1 Despite the fact I have titled this category "Sexual Desire" here, this category can be further explored and unpacked. Outside of Jesus' use of hyperbolic rhetoric, there is rarely (if ever) a prohibition on lust or desire generally in scripture - it is always in a specific, narrow circumstance. Outside of lust or desire related to adultery and coveting a neighbor's wife, the second most common prohibitions on sexual lust are in the context of Sacred Prostitution. Sacred Prostitution was always connected with other temple complexes and idolatry. Profits from this economic endeavor went to support other gods and sex was often ritualized as a form of worship. Sometimes the prohibitions on lust were not connected with prostitution, but instead ritual orgies such as in Rom. 1:27, Col 3:5. and 1 Thess. 4:5, but most often these prohibitions on lust were in one way or another connected to idolatry.


Lust (the desirefor sex) is not a sin. Just like hunger and thirst are not sins. Jesus is only talking about married men. You can only commit adultery if you are already in a relationship, not if you are single.

Matthew 5:27-28

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."


to look to lust means to lust over a woman. Lust isn't a sin, overlust is; overdesire is. Its normal and good to see a woman fully and see if you like her is part of the natural good process, I believe, but to "deliberately gawk" at her is what I believe to be meant by the Lord in the verse saying, "If you look at a woman in order to lust at her/ desire her you have committed adultery in your heart." It's undue intentional gawking at a woman's body.

  • Jesus specifically says that to look - in order to desire - is adultery in the heart. Your word 'overlust' or 'overdesire' is not in the original. This is not an hermeneutic answer from the text of scripture.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 20:13
  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour (ling below) to better understand how this site works. Can you provide some references or even Bible verses for these assertions?
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 20:40

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