How does one know the difference between Lust and Love?

For example (Hypothetically speaking, of course):
•if someone has sex before marriage but they have true love only God knows if it's sin or not.
•if someone has sex after marriage but they never loved the person just lusted the person it is a sin, because LUST is a sin.
•if someone has sex after marriage and they loved the person it is NOT a sin, because, even if there was minor lust (which of course, with hormones there always will be), Love covers a multitude of wrongs.

How does that "someone" know whether they have love or lust (in their heart)?

*Side-note: My main focus with this question is about the differences between lust and love, not the topic of premarital sex— that was just an example I used to help further get my point across! Thankyou!

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    Growing up Nazarene, I was always told that it was one of those "If you have to ask..." things; the first example you give is dubious-yes, love is crucial to a Christian relationship, but certain things come first, like a solid commitment and statement of unity, rather than after. Most sects don't allow for premarital sex "just because it's true love" any more than they encourage marrying someone for lust. The typical idea that I've heard time and time again across multiple denominations is that the commitment of marriage is crucial for sinless sex; this commitment must be judged seriously. Apr 17, 2013 at 4:17
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    This is not a matter of whether you love the person in general, but a matter of whether you act out of love for them. If your action is a sin (adultery, sex before marriage, and being Catholic I should add sex with contraception and sex with the same sex), then you can conclude that it is not done out of love for them or for God, because love is the keeping of commandments (related).
    – Alypius
    Apr 17, 2013 at 4:32
  • Christians are supposed to have a love for God, not a lust for God. Lust usually implies selfishness.
    – Double U
    Sep 13, 2013 at 23:22

4 Answers 4


To answer this from a doctrinal perspective requires a doctrinal perspective on love. So we ought to turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, Paul's famous homily on Charity (Christian love):

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

By contrast, the word lust has a wider meaning than simply "unwholesome sexual desire." For example, from Mark 19, where Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower:

18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

We see "lusts" (plural) used here in the company of "the cares of this world" and being deceived (led astray) by seeking after riches. It speaks not of unwholesome sexual desire, but of unwholesome desires in general, not too different from gluttony or covetousness. The essence of lust is greed.

Contrast this greed with the attributes of Charity as described by Paul. Longsuffering, kindness, an absence of envy, ostentation and flashiness. "Not easily provoked," bearing and enduring all things with faith and hope. Distill all of these virtues down to their essence, and you get selflessness, the very antithesis of greed.

Greed is a hunger. It consumes in order to enlarge itself. But charity, pure Christian love, is selfless. It builds up those around it.

So how can this be applied to matters of the heart? What is the difference between real love, and lust?

Lust is greed. Lust says "this person is desirable, and I desire to have them, to further my own interests through interaction with them. I want to take pleasure from them, because it will make me feel good."

Love, on the other hand, is constructive. It says, "there is good in this person, and I want to work with them, to build something together with them that is greater and more beautiful than what either of us could accomplish alone, and I would wish to put forth the effort required to see it through, even if it requires some personal sacrifice on my part." Lust would never dream of that last bit!

  • +1 Thankyou for the references! I am going to leave this question open a little bit longer before accepting an answer to see what other have to offer! God bless! Apr 17, 2013 at 4:33

To answer this, we need to answer the questions of "What is Love?" and "What is Lust?"

What is Love

We are given the clearest description of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

We are also given some clear pictures of love in how God loved us. In 1 John 4:19, it says:

We love, because He first loved us.

And in Romans 5:8:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

So what does it mean for a man to love a woman? Well, apart from the rightful sexual intimacy that takes place between a husband and life, the love of a man and a woman is like that between any two people. Love is a continuous sacrifice, a daily "laying down your life" for the other person, of being not selfish, but selfless, seeking the interests of the other. Love is not predicated on the other's actions or feelings toward us, but rather, following the example of Christ, we are to love even in those times we find someone "unlovable".

What is Lust

Taking the dictionary definition, lust is:

  1. intense sexual desire or appetite.
  2. uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness.
  3. a passionate or overmastering desire or craving

Looking at Matthew 5:28, we see that lust is spoken directly to by Jesus:

but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

And adultery is, of course, one of the things forbidden in the ten commandments. But what about the case where someone marries not for love? They are only in it because of lust? Then it becomes clear that there are other problems here. They may be idolizing sexual gratification, or they may be putting their sexual desires before the good of the other person. Is the act of having sex with your wife wrong if you do not love her? I would contend that yes, it is. The chief purpose of sex is not personal gratification. The chief purpose is to bring glory to God. John Piper in his book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, co-authored with Justin Taylor (and available for free here), says:

God created human beings in his image—“male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27)—with capacities for intense sexual pleasure and with a calling to commitment in marriage and continence in singleness. And his goal in creating human beings with personhood and passion was to make sure that there would be sexual language and sexual images that would point to the promises and the pleasures of God’s relationship to his people and our relationship to him. In other words, the ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable. The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people—both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not).

So if a husband and wife's sexual relationship is not pointed them towards God, then there is a problem.

It is pretty clear in the Bible that premarital sex is fornication (a sin). Doesn't matter whether you actually "love" that person or not, whether you get married later, no qualifiers are given. See these questions for more on that subject:

In conclusion, sex is a gift that God has given us. But it has its proper uses, and anything outside those proper uses is indeed sin.

  • Thankyou for all of the references and definitions in the first half of your answer! (I will have to disagree with your premarital sex statement at the end though, I know God looks at the heart before an action, not at the rituals preformed before an action. In fact, I'm certain marriage didn't exist back when Adam and Eve had their children. But I will save that debate for a different SE question :o) Thanks!) Apr 17, 2013 at 4:39
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    A small pet peeve here; if you're going to ask a question, be ready for the answer. I'm not one for rituals; the only sacrament I believe in is Communion, and even then only as a reminder to believers. This doesn't justify premarital sex; marriage is a clear message of dedication and commitment necessary to live the pure and honest life that Christ demands of his followers. Where your heart is matters less than one would think; we can have a bleeding heart with our children and choose not to correct them when they stray, but in doing so we would encourage them to live lives without direction. Apr 17, 2013 at 4:46
  • @KyleWilley Sorry, it's just an answer for a different topic... my main focus with this question is about the differences between lust and love not the topic of premarital sex. That was just an example I used to help further get my point across! Thankyou though! Apr 17, 2013 at 4:49
  • I've edited that into the question so there won't be further confusion :) God bless! Apr 17, 2013 at 4:55

Love is the opposite of lust but have similar powers thats why lust is deceiving, lust is selfish love is not . Everything else follows suit there powers over you so to say is so similar lust disguises itself in the description and definition amongst love more so with those who lack in experience of love so keep it simple lust is selfish love is selfless when you in love you can adapt to change with no problem in lust its hard cause there's other reason to change than the effortless changes made when you love who or what you are changing for and everything else follows that same example. Lust is a manipulator of wants love is a joyfulness of what is


Quick and short Lust vs Love

Lust is LOVE for myself(through sex, food, other pleasures). Love is not "LUSTING", but desiring God more than anything and finding PLEASURE in each of His commands

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