I’m going to post a few blogs on sexual temptation (I’ve already done one). What prompts me to do this is that in the last six weeks a young man asked me, “What do I do about feeling really ashamed?” A young woman asked, “What do I do about my boyfriend who is struggling with porn?” Another young woman asked, “What do you do if you feel really sinful?” Then I got an email from a student saying that he had been looking at some stuff that was “wicked” on the Internet. Then, this morning, I received a note from a fellow who wrote: “I wonder at times if God forgives me still. I don’t want to take advantage of his mercy. I feel very bad. After I sin I either run from God or run to God as in reading the Bible. But then I call myself a hypocrite. I’m emailing you because I need help, I question my relationship with God, and I want to stop.”
I’ve been asked these types of questions many times and my heart really goes out to the struggling Christian. I’d like to have something in print to refer them to. I’m going to need to do this over several blogs because there is much to say.
So why not begin with masturbation?
Statistics. Statistically speaking (yes, I’ve looked up the stats and no I don’t intend to footnote them), a large majority of men masturbate. Even a majority of married men masturbate. Although not a majority in either case, many women masturbate as do many married women. By the way, that married men and married women might masturbate tends to freak out the unmarried: “Why would they need to?!” I’ll talk more about that later. Anyway, that so many people masturbate is helpful to know because many Christians wonder if it is only they. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13:10: “There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” So, if this is a struggle for you—take heart—there aren’t enough stadium seats in the world to hold all the Christians who have struggled with it.
Sin? People ask if masturbation is a sin. The answer to this is a little complex. The reason it’s complex is the Bible doesn’t mention masturbation whatsoever. It is true that some have tried to apply various verses in an effort to make sure everyone thinks it’s a sin but the verses are yanked out of context. I’ll give one example. Many have called masturbation “Onanism” after Onan in Genesis 38 who pulled out of his wife Tamar and spilled his sperm on the ground so he wouldn’t give her a child (he didn’t want to split up his inheritance). That’s not masturbation—it’s a birth control technique (and not a very good one). Anyway, when the Bible is silent on an issue, we shouldn’t be making up our own rules either way. This kind of thing is commonly called a gray area.
That being said, there are other principles that come into play: like lust! Masturbation may not be specifically condemned in Scripture but lust is clearly condemned. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Does that settle it? No. Christians ask if it is okay to masturbate if they don’t lust. For example, when I spoke to our undergrads on sexual temptation, a girl asked, “If a husband was in the military, could he and his wife masturbate while they were talking to each other on the phone?” Umm…
That would depend on another principle: keeping a clear conscience. We must always keep a clear conscience. Paul told Timothy to hold “on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). So, even though the Bible doesn’t specifically condemn masturbation, if your conscience isn’t clear about it, then you shouldn’t do it anyway. But, as with every gray issue, if the Bible is silent about a particular act, and no other sin is involved with it, and one’s conscience is clear about it, then it wouldn’t be a sin for that person.
One young woman blogged that it would be impossible to masturbate without lusting. Makes me smile. How would she know that? One young man proclaimed to a seminar I was teaching that no one could keep a clear conscience and masturbate. Again I smile (but not at the time because I didn’t want to embarrass him).
But there is one last thing to consider. If a person is married, masturbation could become a substitute for a sexual relationship with that person’s spouse—and that’s bad. Married people should be having sex with each other! As I mentioned above, those who haven’t married are shocked that masturbation could even be an issue for someone who has an available sexual outlet. Well, there’s a problem that relates to sex between married couples that a lot of not-yet-married people haven’t considered. Namely, often married people aren’t getting along with each other and if they aren’t getting along, then sex just isn’t something they are going to want to do with each other. Thus, many married people often choose solo sex. Of course, that’s hurtful to the marriage because, frankly, they need to be motivated to work out their differences and the desire for sex can be a great motivator. Married people need to learn to settle their differences, forgive each other, romance each other, and then enjoy each other. Solo sex is a sign that something needs to be fixed in the relationship.
Thus I am neither condemning nor condoning masturbation. Why? Because the Scripture is silent. Masturbation won’t be an issue once you get control of your lusts and I’m talking about that next.
More to follow.
1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”