Question: "What is the lust of the flesh?"
Answer: Sinful lust is an overpowering desire for that which God has forbidden. First John 2:15–16 mentions three types of lust that lead us into greater sin: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” The lust of the eyes occurs when we see something visually that incites covetousness, jealousy, or sexual lust. The pride of life is the desire in every human being to be his or her own god. Arrogance, self-promotion, and greed all stem from the pride of life. The lust of the flesh is also one of the foes we fight.
When the Bible refers to “the flesh,” it can mean one of two things. The first meaning of the word flesh pertains to living beings on earth such as animals, birds, and people (1 Corinthians 15:39). But most often the Bible uses the word flesh to refer to the propensity to sin we possess in our earthly existence. Our sinful nature, dominated by sin and rebellion, is so closely tied to the physical aspect of mankind that it is called “the flesh.” Every human being is born of the flesh, the union between a man and a woman that produced another flesh-bound human. Desires that arise from being fleshly creatures in a fallen world can quickly become sinful lusts.
Desires that arise from the fact that we are earth-bound, fleshly creatures are not sins in themselves. We desire food, water, shelter, sex, and comfort. God created us with those desires. However, we are born sinful, desiring to please ourselves, regardless of God’s moral law (Romans 3:10, 12). When fleshly desires rule us, taking priority over God’s will, they cause us to violate God’s righteousness. They become lusts. For example, hunger propels us to find food. Eating is good. It is not sin. Jesus ate and drank when He was on the earth (Luke 24:42–43). But when hunger becomes a lust for food, it turns into gluttony, which is a sin (Proverbs 23:20–21). When natural sexual desires turn perverse, they lead to homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and other sexually related sins. Those are lusts of the flesh.
First John 2:17 contrasts the lust of the flesh with its more desirable counterpart, pleasing God: “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever.” In other words, if we follow the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, we cannot do the will of God, and therefore will not inherit eternal life (Matthew 7:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:19–20). Those who have been born again by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus will continually put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:12–14). We will not allow the lust of our flesh to control our lives; rather, we will choose to consider ourselves “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20) so that we might live for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).