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An article about the differences between love and lust hardly seems necessary. When we look at the issues dispassionately, it is easy to see that one is almost the opposite of the other.

But the key word is "dispassionately". Passions, or emotions, can blind us to the most obvious truths.

Jesus spoke of an "evil and adulterous generation", and nothing could more aptly describe the world of the Twenty-First Century. Birth control and extensive media propaganda have made sexual promiscuity the norm.

We have more than once been approached by unmarried couples from otherwise conservative religious backgrounds, who refrained from joining our community merely because they would have to stop sleeping together.

What is happening in the churches today, that such behaviour is tolerated and passively encouraged?

At the moment, there is worldwide scandal about the fact that clergymen in several denominations have for many years been engaging in sexual activities with parishioners (many of them children) with only mild disfavour expressed by their superiors. Some people have been shocked by this. But isn't this the logical extension of the demand for a religion that leaves sexual mores up to the discretion of each individual?

Unmarried couples openly live together. Married couples cheat on one another, get divorced, remarry, and then start the process all over again. And the clergy either turns a blind eye or develops teachings to justify it all. So it doesn't take much for these experts at distorting the truth to come up with justifications for their own sexual adventures as well.

Amongst social workers, paedophiles are notoriously famous for being totally incapable of feeling guilt for their behaviour. The rest of society gets quite angry about that. But only because we imagine that there is some huge gulf between their lust and ours, and between their guilt and our own.

But is there?

Lust relates to seeking selfish pleasure through forbidden means. But sex is deceptive in that it allows one to go through the motions of giving pleasure to someone else (at least in some forms) at the same time that one derives personal pleasure from such activity. For many people, that is the closest that they will ever come to love. And this subtle form of self-deception can last them a lifetime.

We do not mean by that, however, that the relationships that they form will last a lifetime. Because relationships invariably make demands on the people involved in them, the novelty of selfish pleasure eventually wears off. The other person starts getting on your nerves. Your sacrifices go unnoticed. And their abuses of the relationship seem to increase. In short, you both discover that the relationship is costing you more than you are deriving from it personally.

True love, of course, blossoms in such an environment. True love gives, expecting nothing in return. But lust wants out. The relationship ends, while the deceptions about lust being love continue. It can be done through the flimsiest logic. You tell yourself that you've outgrown the relationship, that the other person doesn't deserve your love, that maintaining the relationship is more than you can bear.

And then you set off in search of a new "love" (read "lust").

Unfortunately, the pleasure that goes with sex is so intense, that it is virtually impossible to reason with someone who has recently started a sexual relationship. They become blinded to reason, lost in the euphoria of the new relationship. Some have learned when it was too late, but even those who "learn their lesson" often fail to graduate to real love. They often become bitter or depressed instead, swearing that they will never "love" again. They close themselves off from all feelings, or they replace the search for pleasure through sex with a search for pleasure through alcohol or through drugs... yet another form of lust.

Love is not a feeling; it is an act of the will. You do not "fall" in love. You consciously choose to love someone, without thought for what you can get out of the relationship.

Often there can be more genuine love between platonic friends, or even between perfect strangers than there can be between two people who have been blinded by their hormones into thinking that they love someone, when what they really love are the thrills that the other person is giving them. Sexual pleasure is probably the single greatest obstacle to true love, because it confuses the motive.

This may be why God decrees that it should not even enter the picture until after two people have made a public lifelong commitment to stay faithful "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." These traditional marriage vows sum up the essence of love, which is a commitment to doing what is best for the other person, regardless of what it costs the person who is doing the giving.

Contrary to popular opinion, love and marriage do not necessarily go together like a horse and carriage. You can choose to love any number of people without having sex with them. But if you are going to have a sexual relationship with someone, then the minimal Christian requirement is that you commit yourself to that person only, for the rest of your life. No loopholes. No escape clauses. No pre-nuptial agreements. One strike and you're out.

Approached that way, you will be forced to take a slightly more sober look at the differences between your own love, and your own lust. And if you don't do it before you marry, you'll have a lifetime to wish you had after.

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