Lust is any strong desire; sinful lust is desire for something that God has forbidden. Looking lustfully at a woman’s body produces lustful actions, and lust acted upon always leads to devastation. Eve lusted for the delicious fruit from the one tree about which God had said, “You must not eat from it” (Genesis 2:16–17). Her act of eating and giving some to her husband opened the door for sin to enter God’s perfect world. David lusted for Bathsheba, another man’s wife, and, when he acted upon that lust, it led to murder and the death of his infant son as part of God’s judgment (2 Samuel 11:2–4, 14–15; 12:13–14). Wicked actions can begin with looking with lust at a woman’s body, so it is important that we get rid of such thoughts as soon as they arrive.
Sin is in the heart (Matthew 7:20–23). Actions are merely indications of what was already in the heart. We cannot always control what our eyes see, what our noses smell, or what our ears hear. It is the heart that determines whether that which the senses perceive becomes sin. Medical professionals can look at women’s bodies all day and not sin. They are observing, evaluating, and working to keep women healthy. Heterosexual females can look at a woman’s body and not sin because it is simply an observation. So the act of looking at a woman’s body is not sin per se. It is what the mind does with that sensory input that determines whether or not it is sin.
Modesty is a natural instinct for human beings. After the first sin in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve immediately made garments to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). No one told them to do that, but the moment they became sinners, they recognized the shame associated with public nakedness. Our world likes to defy that natural modesty and parade nakedness publicly. Girls are targeted at a young age by clothing manufacturers and pre-teen magazines that encourage them to show off their bodies in seductive ways. Sexual images assault our eyes everywhere we go. Mall-goers are typically confronted with giant photographs of immodestly dressed women, and even the youngest of children are forced to view them from their strollers. Those innocent children are not sinning; mere viewing is unavoidable and, in their case, incites no lust.
However, when the heart awakens to lust, many begin seeking ways to look at naked bodies for the sake of sexual fantasizing. That seeking is itself a sin because it arises from sinful intent (see Matthew 5:28). The Bible links evil purposes with sin: “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” (James 1:14–15). Looking at a woman’s body, clothed or unclothed, with a heart of lust, is sin.
People who want to keep their minds and hearts pure must develop self-control and a greater desire to please the Lord than please themselves (1 Corinthians 10:31). Job wisely saw the danger of looking at a woman’s body lustfully, and he purposed in his heart to avoid that temptation: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1). In warning his son to avoid the adulteress, Solomon included this admonition: “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty” (Proverbs 6:25). Recognizing physical beauty is natural, but do not allow the heart to lust or the gaze to linger.
Psalm 24:3 asks, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The answer? “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (verse 4). In order to have fellowship with God, we must have “a pure heart.” That means our sins are confessed and abandoned (1 John 1:9); our hearts are devoid of lust and desirous of purity.
The sexual urges that may occur when seeing a woman’s body are not sin in themselves. They are part of being human. But what we do with those urges determines whether we start down a path of sinful lust or a path of integrity, purity, and self-control. When motivated by lust or stoking the fires of lust, looking at a woman’s body is sinful.
Wise people know their own areas of temptation and take steps to avoid having them exploited (Ephesians 4:27). Wise people who struggle with lust learn to avoid situations that call for compromise. Just as a recovering alcoholic knows to stay away from bars and clubs, those who cannot look at a woman’s body without lust know to stay away from pools, beaches, and entertainment that invites looking. That is not weakness; that is strength. That is not foolishness; that is wisdom (Proverbs 2:16–19).