What Is Lust?

The Greek word epithumia (ἐπιθυμία) means strong desire, passion, or eagerness. The connotation is of a desire so strong that it overpowers reason and produces poor decisions. When this term appears in the New Testament, it is translated into English as either “lust,” “desire,” or “concupiscence.”

James identified lust as the reason that temptation leads to sin:

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (James 1:14-15).

Notice the pattern: temptation → lust → sin → death. If you can overcome lust, you can break the pattern.

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, when Laban saw the gold, silver, and precious things belonging to Nephi and his brothers, he “did lust after it,” and took possession of it by commanding his servants to kill the brothers (1 Nephi 3:25).

Nephi later foretells a time when people and organizations who are focused on becoming “popular in the eyes of the world,” or on “the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world” will be “consumed as stubble” (1 Nephi 22:23). They have spent their lives acquiring temporal wealth, and that wealth will one day crumble around them, demonstrating how short-sighted their objectives really were.

During His mortal ministry, Jesus explained to His apostles that following Him would not be easy. “If any man will come after me,” He said, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” In Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, the Savior adds this explanation:

And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments (Matthew 16:25-26, JST).

Elder Ulisses Soares has explained that abandoning “every worldly lust” enables us to face the challenges of life with strength and determination:

Our determination to cast off all that is contrary to God’s will and to sacrifice all we are asked to give and to strive to follow His teachings will help us to endure in the path of Jesus Christ’s gospel—even in the face of tribulation, the weakness of our souls, or the social pressure and worldly philosophies that oppose His teachings (“Take Up Our Cross,” General Conference, October 2019).

While the word “lust” can refer to any strong desire, it is most commonly associated with sexual desire. When Alma the Younger counseled his son Corianton, who had abandoned his missionary service to pursue a harlot, he said, “Go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things.” Then, to reinforce the seriousness of his message, he added, “Oh remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things” (Alma 39:9). Thus, to “cross yourself” means, in part, to take upon yourself a cross, to intentionally deny yourself of things you want, but that you know are wrong.

Jesus pointed out the importance of stopping lust at its source: in our thoughts. “Whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart” (3 Nephi 12:28, Matthew 5:28).

And Moroni adds an important principle: While it is good to pray for things we desire, we ought to be careful not to pray for things we shouldn’t desire. “Ask not, that ye may consume it upon your lusts,” he said, echoing a passage from the epistle of James, “but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God” (Mormon 9:28). (See James 4:3.)

Today, I will carefully monitor my desires and my passions. I will remember that true discipleship includes discarding every desire that conflicts with God’s will: “every worldly lust.” I will strive instead to focus my time and energy on activities which will produce enduring value.

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