EVERY WEDNESDAY night, Sam’s youth group met in a darkened gymnasium dressed up as a rock concert: decorative fabrics, professional sound equipment, and a light show. A thin, attractive youth pastor with a soul patch and skinny jeans would deliver a message about the evils of sex, drugs, and alcohol.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This was a favorite verse of Sam’s youth pastors, who wielded it to warn kids against even thinking about sex. If lusting after a woman was just as bad as committing adultery, their logic held, then even thinking about sex is a sin.
“The weird thing,” Sam told me, “was that it wasn’t date rape or sexual harassment or even treating people disrespectfully that they were worried about. It was ‘impure thoughts’ and lust.”
There are two problems that I see here: One, these were teenagers, whose bodies are designed by God to become sexual, and two, the Greek word for lust, epithymia, is about general desire, not thinking sexual thoughts. If epithymia was a term for sexual desire, it would make some other things Jesus said super weird. (For example, Luke 22:15: “And he said to them, I have had sexual thoughts about eating this Passover with you before I suffer.”)