Should our actions be dictated by physical nature or response to God’s Word?
Jeff brought the book with him and set it on the table. We met for an early morning breakfast at a coffee shop and sat in a corner booth, away from where anyone else could hear our conversation.
“When I first read this book, Pastor Jack,” Jeff began, “I felt liberated. But then all the confused feelings I had came back.”
The Christian author proposed masturbation as an acceptable point of adjustment for a believer’s life until marriage.
Jeff, a young brother who loves the Lord, went on to talk about the condemnation and guilt he’d felt about his habit of masturbation.
He’d hoped that by offering himself a solo sexual release, it would preserve his virginity for what he looked forward to as being a happy Christian marriage later on.
But his sense of violating God’s will for his life persisted, even given the compassionate (though spiritually misguided) permission to continue his indulgence.
Although we are assured by Scripture that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” this is followed by a requisite: ” … who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1, 4, NIV).
The summons to walk “according to the Spirit” has to do with committing yourself to a direction in life, and though there are times you stumble into carnal exercise of any kind, your eyes, heart and mind are still on a spiritual goal.
While I understood this author’s attempt to be sensitive to the pain and frustration of people who are habitually drawn to masturbation, the idea that it is acceptable–simply because sincere people labor with it–is as ludicrous as saying that any physical expression is justified because “that’s how I feel.”
The issue isn’t whether or not masturbation is a biological release, but rather: Am I first a biological being, whose physical nature dictates my response to what the Word of God teaches? Or am I a spiritual being, who has the capacity to receive the fullness of God’s Spirit to produce triumph in my life?
And in that regard, when we talk about “solo sex,” are we really talking about release?
Or are we more accurately talking about rejection–the rejection of our commitment to the Word of God, to the disciplines of a believing life, and to the wholeness of God’s intended purpose, destiny and fulfillment for our lives?
For some–in the church and in the world–masturbation has become approved as morally innocent and spiritually immaterial. Yet, just as I told Jeff that morning, I’m here to say to every man reading this article: The Word of God declares that it is neither.
Masturbation, as culturally accepted today, is worldly-minded, and leads toward sin and personal bondage.
However noble it sounds, the proposition that masturbation is a means to retain one’s virginity is faulty.
In my years of counseling people, I’ve found that a man who masturbates prior to marriage is more likely to violate the biblical standard on premarital intercourse because he’s formed a habit of indulging in sexual release when tempted.
Is masturbation forgivable? Yes, but because sin may be forgiven does not make it a matter of casual indifference (see 1 John 1:9; Matt. 18:22; Gal. 5:1; 2 Pet. 2:20).
Jeff was worried about whether my disapproval of masturbation made him unacceptable to me. Hear me, please: I must demonstrate my acceptance of anybody who fails in any way.
I, too, am a sinner saved by grace. However my acceptance of a person should not be equated with approval of their sinning.
This distinction between acceptance and approval has, both in our culture and in the church, become tragically blurred.
Although you will not find in the Bible the words, “Thou shalt not masturbate,” let’s look at what Scripture does say about this vice.
Masturbation violates an internal witness. I have never had an occasion among the thousands of people I have counseled in my lifetime–believers and pagans alike–where someone hasn’t felt an internal witness that masturbation was fundamentally wrong. Something is built into our human psyche that says, “This is not what you’ve been constructed to do.”
Masturbation panders to the spirit of lust (see 1 Pet. 1:14; 2 Pet. 3:3). You become like the spirit you submit to. Submitted to the Holy Spirit, holiness is manifest in your life. Submitted to the spirit of lust–which is actually a quest for control–lust begins to control your life.
Masturbation involves fantasy, which opens the way for moral corruption (see Eph. 2:3). When Jesus says that a man who looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart (see Matt. 5:27-28), He conclusively deals with the matter of masturbation, which involves fantasy.
Masturbation is rejection, not release. There is no scriptural justification for it. I’m not saying it’s damning, but I am saying it is a rejection of discipleship, of personal responsibility before the Lord, of an internal witness on the soul and of scriptural warning.
What should be done?
First, take masturbation seriously. Seriously enough to not approve of it and not to argue in favor of it. Seriously enough to acknowledge it as a problem and to confess it as a sin.
Does that put you under condemnation? No. Conviction and condemnation are two different things.
Conviction is the Holy Spirit summoning you to something better, drawing you to Jesus Christ. Condemnation, the instrument of the devil, will always drive you away from God and make you doubt His acceptance and love for you.
Second, don’t take it so seriously as to be shocked when you hear of it.
A response of shock–especially in young people–can provoke rebellion, a deepened curiosity, or fear and guilt that results in an unnatural attitude about their own bodies and sexuality as they grow up.
Don’t take it so seriously as to let satanic accusation condemn you. Satan uses masturbation to make a man think he is worthless. Don’t be insensitive to people bound by it.
I said, “insensitive” not “excusing.” My brother may be wrong, but that’s no reason for me not to love him–nor am I entitled to judge him. There are points of brokenness in all our lives that we are each still moving through toward victory.
What steps do you take to get free?
Bring it to the cross for cleansing and deliverance (see 1 John 1:9; Rom. 6:10-14; Rev. 1:18). The cross is the place where our deliverance from every aspect of hell’s workings has been wrought. It is where we will find freedom from the past and hope for tomorrow.
Let His love cast out fear and torment (see 1 John 4:18). Jesus Christ comes in love to cast out anything binding us. You needn’t have arrived at perfection to be accepted and without condemnation before God, but the direction of your life must be toward the things of the Spirit in order to know the peace and satisfaction of all He intends for your life.
Keep tension between the flesh and the Spirit (see Rom. 8:1, 4). Don’t let flesh have its way. I challenge anyone to successfully argue that masturbation will help you run the race of pursuing what Jesus Christ has called you to do.
Although Jeff struggled with the habit of solo sex, he had a heart to know the truth. And that truth–not a concession to the world’s mind-set–is what set him free.
Jack Hayford is the founding pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, where he still occasionally preaches. He also leads the School of Pastoral Nurture, a place of training for pastors. Visit him on the Web at jackhayford.com.