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What’s the difference between love and lust?

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6

There is without doubt enough material in the New Testament alone to form the basis for a PhD dissertation on that question, but even a cursory reading of the Gospels and Epistles will reveal that the answer is rather simple: Love is about God, others, and me; lust is all about me.

When considering this matter in the context of protecting human life, it’s also important to remember that lust is not just about sex. We are constantly tempted to lust after things like respectability, power, comfort, wealth, and other pleasures, and those lusts can hold us back from loving unborn babies and old folks and their families who are in trouble and need our help.

While love usually involves our emotions, love is not defined by our feelings; at its root love is a commitment we keep in our daily, moment by moment decisions to bless and not to curse, to seek to serve, not to be served, to do justice and not harm. Jesus Himself had feelings, strong feelings, and He expressed them, but they were under the control of his love for the Father and for us.

According to what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments, God wants love for Him and for each other to be the dominant motivation in His world. However, the sad reality seems to be that we live in a world driven by lust. In many, perhaps most people’s minds, “love” is just another, more acceptable way to refer to lust, for in our American culture, both are thought of as at least similar feelings.

It may be that such has always been the case, for we human beings are indeed more likely to act on our emotions than any other motivation, and true Godly love often involves feelings, so the two are easily confused, especially in our current romantic-era world.

I won’t take the time here to review the way the English word “love” does confusing quadruple duty. C.S. Lewis does an excellent job with that issue in his little book, The Four Loves. I’ll simply say this: Yes, God designed human life to include feelings, even sexual feelings, but not lust. It is therefore no surprise that even though the word “lust” is used twenty-two times in the New American Standard Version of the New Testament, it never appears in a positive context. Lust is all about, “What’s in it for me?” It’s a desire to satisfy myself, even if the effect would result in harm to someone else, whether physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually.

Accordingly, the Spirit warns us not to lust after others sexually because of the harm it does both to others and to us! Most crisis pregnancies are the result of acting on unbridled sexual lust. By contrast, when we love, we treat others in ways that serve their best interests, not ours, and ultimately God is honored, and we also are blessed.

So when a man realizes he is attracted to a woman, or vice versa, what are they to do? Well, many books have been written on that question, but one good place to start would be to stop: pray and ask God for discernment. “Is this attraction driven by some kind of lust, or am I more motivated by genuine Christ-like love? Do I have the wisdom and self-control to begin to build a relationship that is rooted in Godly love? And if so, what would be a loving thing to do for him or her?” Wise Christian friends can also provide good counsel.

We can ask God similar questions when we consider what to do when we encounter the very emotional matter of abortion. “Are my decisions driven by some kind of lust (power, comfort, wealth, respectability, or other pleasures), or does Christ-like love motivate me to do what will honor God and bless both others and me.

Neither situation is easy to navigate; if they were there would be many fewer people threatened by unjust death and more people willing to help them. That’s why we pray, and then to the best of our ability in the power of the Holy Spirit, act on what God says would be the loving thing to do. Lord, help us.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world,

the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from

the Father but is from the world. I John 2:15-16

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