Before answering whether looking at a woman’s body is sinful, we need to understand the importance of the human body. Our bodies are a key part of who we are. God formed the first man out of dust and breathed life into him. God formed the first woman out of the man’s side (see Genesis 1—2). Humans since then have been formed within their mother’s womb (Psalm 139). We are neither merely bodies nor merely souls. As some have said, we are “embodied souls.”
Though all human bodies will die (Romans 5:13), those who know Jesus look forward to a future, bodily resurrection in which they will receive glorified bodies fit for eternity in the new heavens and new earth (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Revelation 21—22). There is perhaps no more clear demonstration of the worth God places on the human body than the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God the Son took on human flesh, lived a fully human life (even including going through gestation), died on the cross for our sins, and rose back to life bodily. Our physical bodies certainly matter (1 Corinthians 6:14–15), and thus so do the ways we treat our own bodies and those of others.
The question of whether looking at a woman’s body is sinful arises in part because we live in a hypersexualized culture that tends to treat human bodies as sex objects. The human heart tends toward sin. Lust is certainly not a new problem (Job 31:1; 2 Samuel 11; 13; Matthew 5:27–30). Is it possible to look at a person’s body as something other than a sex object? Yes. Is it wrong to look at any person’s body—male or female—as merely a sex object? Yes.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently sinful about the female body or the male body. Human bodies are a good and beautiful part of God’s creation. But it is sinful to ogle a woman’s body or a man’s body while fantasizing about sex. First, as explained above, a woman’s body is part of who she is; a man’s body is part of who he is. To detach a person’s body from that person in a way that views the body as a mere means to an end is to dehumanize the person. Second, while lust is a common sin struggle, it also demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s design for sex. Sex is intended for one man and one woman in the covenant relationship of marriage. It is part of the one-flesh union of a husband and wife. Because the two are committed to one another, they can expose their nakedness to one another in vulnerability; in doing so, their union becomes even deeper (Genesis 2:14–25; Matthew 19:3–9). Sex is intended to be a giving of self to the other (1 Corinthians 7:2–4). Viewing another’s body as an object to gratify oneself not only dehumanizes the other, it cheapens the entire design of sex.
So, how can one look at a woman’s body or a man’s body in appropriate ways? This is ultimately a matter of sanctification and a changed heart (1 Corinthians 5:17–21; Romans 12:1–2). The way we view and treat others directly relates to our relationship with God. The more we know God, the more we love Him, the more we love others, and the more we reflect God in our thoughts and actions (John 15:1–11; Romans 8:29–30; 2 Corinthians 3:18). This knowing of God comes through the normal means of spending time in His Word, spending time with Him in prayer, obeying His commands, yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and spending time with other believers in meaningful fellowship and corporate worship (Philippians 2:12–13; Hebrews 10:19–25).
More specifically on the issue of viewing others in lustful ways, we need to align the way we think of others with the truth of God’s Word. When we rightly understand that all humans bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27–28), we are more likely to treat and view them in God-honoring ways. When we rightly understand God’s design for humanity and His desire for all to come to know Him (2 Peter 3:8), we are more likely to see people as He does. When we rightly understand the church as the body of Christ and other Christians as our brothers and sisters, we are more likely to treat them and their bodies in appropriate ways (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Timothy 5:1–2). Again, this understanding of people will be an outflow of our understanding of God, our personal time with God, and our time with other believers.
In short, it is wrong to look at a man’s or woman’s body with lustful desire (Matthew 5:27–30). The human body is not an object of self-gratification. Rather, it is part of God’s beautiful creation. When we see the bodies of others, we should see their entire person and honor them as those who bear God’s image. If they are believers, they are brothers or sisters in the Lord. If they are unbelievers, they are in desperate spiritual need and we can share the good news of the gospel with them that they might experience true life in Christ.