Love or Lust, and How to Measure It

September 11, 2018 / BY Nathan Elsheimer

Modern society has illustrated an attractive perception of what a dating relationship should look like in the 21st Century.  Open any social media platform, and within minutes of scrolling through the news feed, you are told what you should and shouldn’t look for in a “soul mate.”  Furthermore, “relationship goals,” give us a faulty instrument from which to base the goodness of our relationships from.  After countless exposure to these deceiving messages, we have become desensitized to the truth we have likely heard in sermons, Sunday school, the Bible, lectures from our parents, etc.

Instead of focusing on the inner values that drive a healthy, God-centered relationship, we have settled for constructing fragile intimacy built upon false validation from societal standards.

For some of you, this is a rather bold statement (literally) so allow me to add some color:

If I am attempting to measure a relationship’s success, I think it’s valid to base a relationship over the amount of love each person shows for the other.  With this in mind, what is the definition of love and how do we measure it?

1) The Holy Spirit

Love is what kept Jesus faithful to His mission (along with tenacity, motivation and will power in amounts second to none).  Paul believes love is the very basis of faith.  1 John 4:8 reveals to readers that God is love.  So if God is the definition of love, how the nuts does this apply to relationships and dating?

Although this question is extremely difficult to answer, God left us with a “walkie-talkie” of sorts to navigate the ambiguity of this subject.  John 14 verse 15 onward is about Jesus telling his disciples that God will give us the Holy Spirit to be with us forever.  The NIV translation describes the Holy Spirit as a Counselor which I absolutely love.  A counselor is someone with a supervisory role and/or someone who gives advice.  God protects and guides us.  So part of the answer to the question above is discoverable if we have recognized the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

So we have the Holy Spirit to help answer what love is, but what else has God given us to pick out truth from this pot of muddled confusion?

2) FILTERS!!!!!!!!

Okay, maybe it’s not that exciting.  Regardless, we must realize that as followers of the One True Hope, we cannot avoid the constant bombardment of society’s definition of love.  We need filters to tune out the noise.

Ever heard of a hermeneutical filter?  No?  Okay, well after reading this post, you can brag to your friends about knowing what a really cool sounding term means.

Hermeneutics, in a quick nutshell, is interpreting the Bible.  A hermeneutical filter would be something which information passes through.  Using a hermeneutical filter on the subject of what love is by God’s definition will be incredibly helpful on your journey to discovery.

Here’s an example of what using a hermeneutical filter might look like:

I want you to think about the last time you watched or viewed a cute (or awfully cringe worthy) post that publicized one’s critique of what love is.  Was it describing how you should feel, or how the other person should feel?  Did it only describe it within the context of emotions?

Many people are under the impression that love is an emotion.  They believe love is something you feel for the other person.  This is halfway true.  The strong sense of attraction could be classified as love, but the very essence of love is an action.

Using our newfound hermeneutical filter, let’s take a quick look at the validity of this statement.

Jesus chose to put Himself on the cross to die for our sins as seen in the Gospels and referenced several times in Paul’s epistles.  The Apostle Paul chose to endure a great deal of pain and abuse to give people a chance at salvation.  I Corinthians 13 is a prime example of love in action.  Love is patient and kind.  It is not boastful, envious, selfish or rude.  Whether in a dating relationship with someone or not, those are hard things to practice on a daily basis.  So should the amount of love we give by Biblical standards be measured in terms of difficulty?

In some ways, maybe so, but I would suggest love is best measured by the width of a spectrum which is where emotions can aid or abet the decision to be active.

3. Measuring Love

This might be the hardest subject I’ve ever attempted to answer, but in line with above, the amount of love we show someone could be indicated by the breadth of high’s to low’s in a relationship.

Emotions are important because one can be excited or happy to love someone actively, or he or she can loathe every second of it.  This brings up another common misconception society has about love.  Love is not always associated with positive emotions.   It can be tedious, even painful, at times.  As Rocky Balboa put it, “it’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” and although I’m completely taking that quote out of its original context, the intentions behind it still apply.

When you recount your closest friendships, you measure it based on the amount of experiences you’ve had.  Of those experiences, some are good, and some are bad.  In regard to the bad encounters, if you still have a relationship with that person and have grown closer, both people have chosen to pursue a deeper meaning to their bind.  Both are choosing to lean into each other.  They are taking action towards a closer, more intimate bond despite indifferences, setbacks or challenges.  Sound familiar?


Love is an abstract concept.  I hope I have added a framework to help condense it into a more manageable idea.  However, I’d like to speak more on the idea of love being an emotion.  I do think there is some validity that love can be described as an emotion, but we have to be careful and examine which emotions are taking hold in our attraction towards another person.

Some time ago, I was involved in a relationship that was purely based on physical attraction and surface-level qualities.  I was happy, or I thought I was, which adds to the complexity of this subject.  It didn’t take me long after exiting the relationship to realize I was modifying the true meaning of love and replacing it with qualities of lust.  Additionally, I was so far from God which compounded to the gravity of this situation.  I had no clue what real love felt like, what it was, and how to pursue it.

It is so easy to confuse lust for love when you are happy.  The sex might be great, and you feel accomplished because you’re dating someone who you and others think is physically attractive or you feel satisfied because you’ve found the attention to feel important.

You scramble to find ways to describe your relationship to convince yourself it is love.  Notice how lust is extremely selfish?  It’s only focused on what I need or want.

When the excitement wore off, I convinced myself I was happy, but I wasn’t.  My words of affirmation weren’t spawned from a place of genuineness.  My “I love you’s” felt empty; they felt like I was checking a box on a to-do list.  Also, one of the main things that brought me into the relationship in the first place, which was the sex, was no longer appealing.  It was something to do to pass time.

Giving in to physical attraction is one of the hardest things to resist.  After some convicting life events that brought me back into my walk with Jesus, my perspective on this has completely changed, especially utilizing the physical love language in a wise manner.  The impetus behind my transformation was by tapping into real love – so life giving, and eternal, and fulfilling, and righteous, and redeeming, and worshipful… you get the idea.

I think giving in to the temptation to be physically active with another in any capacity needs to be taken with extreme caution.  This is where qualities of lust can seep into our relationships and decay our idea of love.  Our attraction to his/her physical attributes and benefits starts to gain ground on our attraction to the soul.

Lust is cunning, quick, and dangerous.  It lurks in the shadows and slowly invades goodness until we are infected.  However, using some of the suggestions above – the Holy Spirit, FILTERS!!!!!, and a measuring guide – I think managing our lust meters will be more manageable.

It is frighteningly easy to fall prey to the idea of love the world has concocted for us.  It seems to speak to us on a deep and connectable level.  It incites primal behavior and promises happiness.  Our definition of love has slowly become rooted in social media and risqué publications.  The foundation of society’s love is fragile, thin and shallow.  But there is hope, and there is more.

Real love, God’s love, is not without depth.  It satiates the inner cravings of our souls.  It penetrates our lives so deeply and fills us with overwhelming contentment.  It builds pressure inside our hearts until we burst.  Our outlook on life changes.  We treat strangers differently; we hold our loved ones in higher regard; our significant others becomes more beautiful by the day.  We begin a unification process with God that will never be compromised.

Discovering real love will not only aid us in finding a deeper intimacy with someone we could spend the rest of our lives with, but also allow us to pursue others in the same way Jesus pursued us – relentlessly, forgivingly, recklessly.


Nathan Elsheimer

This post appeared on Nathan’s blog here, on August 8th. Used by permission.

I’m Nate and although I’m young (22 years old), I know God is using my background to bring a fresh perspective to young adults.  Something interesting about me is I used to loathe writing but recently ignited a passion for it.  About 5 months ago, I felt like the Lord was calling me to combine my passions for Him and writing and start Nuggets With Nate (  Aside from learning all I can about our One True Hope, I enjoy snowboarding, photography, spending quality time with people, fitness and baseball.  I’m enrolled in a 5th year at Whitworth University to pursue a theology minor and to further explore what God has in store for me in ministry.




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