Question: "What is wrong with viewing pornography, if I don't lust after the person?"
Answer: First, it is good to recognize that lust is sin (Matthew 5:28; 1 John 2:16). However, it is also important to be honest with ourselves. Porn and erotica are meant to incite lust in the heart. The only reason pornography exists is that so many people give in to lustful thoughts. It is impossible to view pornography and not struggle with lust—the desire to have something or do something that conflicts with the will of God. Even if one is not lusting after the particular person in the picture or movie, he or she is harboring desires that conflict with God’s holiness. Viewing porn is always sin.
We are responsible to guard our hearts against lust (Proverbs 4:23). This is important because the result of letting down our guard can be fatal: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14–15).
Trying to narrow the definition of lust or splitting hairs concerning the object of lust is a way to make sin seem more acceptable. We must remember the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). The flesh says, “I want this,” and God says, “No, it’s not good for you.” That’s when Satan steps in and says, “Maybe we can work out a compromise.”
If we desire something God has forbidden, we are lusting. Jesus said that lust in the heart is just as sinful in God’s eyes as the actual act of adultery (Matthew 5:27–28). God has blessed the sexual union of a husband and wife (Song of Solomon 5:1), and He has issued severe warnings against sex outside of marriage (e.g., Hebrews 13:4). No one has the right to look at the nakedness of another person—or to look lasciviously at a clothed person—unless he or she is married to that person.
It’s difficult to live purely in an impure world, and all of us struggle with this issue. We need the armor of God as we fight this battle (Ephesians 6:10–18). We should follow the example of Joseph, who, when confronted with temptation, ran away (Genesis 39:12; cf. 2 Timothy 2:22). We should commit to purity as Job did: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1). “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14).