Vicki Nunn

by Vicki Nunn

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In another article (Purity: or the World is Not Enough), we discussed sin, with a focus on sexual sin and how the world tells that we should indulge because it’s natural and healthy.

We looked at our own imperfections and sinful nature and that while we will never be perfect in this life, God promises to continue working in us, and growing us. Although we can never completely conquer our sinful nature, as we mature in our Christian walk, we are also developing resistance to temptation. Just as a labourer develops calluses to protect his skin, we too can develop toughness in areas where we need it.

There is joy and promise in the fact that one day, we will be able to leave all of our failings and all of that temptation, far, far behind us. Thank goodness!

What a wonderful promise that is to cling to, especially when we are struggling.

In this article we’re looking at the very confrontational subject of  masturbation and celibacy, and we’ll also be providing a separate article on the armour of God.

Introduction

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that we will be immune to sexual sin or any other sin for that matter. Part of our journey as Christians is to grow and strengthen, especially in our weaker areas, and we all have those!

Because of the almost resounding silence surrounding our sexuality as human beings, in Christian circles sexual sin seems to take on a larger dimension than any other sin.

At the outset, let me be clear that while masturbation is a sin, it is no worse a sin than any other. That’s right, sexual sin is no worse than envy, arrogance, selfish ambition, quarrelling etc, but for whatever reason, sexual sin is often focused on more than others, and yet many within the church are guilty of one sin or another. If we are sinful because of sexual sin such as masturbation, then we are likely as guilty as any other Christians in our church of lying or ogling their next-door neighbour’s wife/husband or a myriad of sins, because none of us are perfect.

Why is it that Christians are so afraid to talk about masturbation? I guess because it’s an embarrassing topic and none of us wants to admit that it may be an issue for us.

While some churches nowadays are less afraid to talk about sex within marriage, very few Pastors or church leaders want to tackle the issue of masturbation which haunts many Christians, distracts us from and affects our relationship with God and with others.

Sin isn’t the feeling of sexual desire: sexual desire is perfectly normal and healthy, because God made human beings as sexual beings. Sin is when we choose to do something with that desire outside of normal marital intercourse, such as masturbation, pornography and anything which encourages our mind to indulge in lustful thinking and fantasising.

It is important to remember that lust and masturbation are empty and very poor imitations of love.

So what does the Bible say about sex?

Sex is the act by which a man and a woman unite and become one (one flesh), but their joining is more than just physical: it is a mental, emotional and spiritual one as well. Genesis 2:24 states:

“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” [NLT]

Marriage therefore is not two individuals who form a team, but two individuals who form a single entity. This is the foundation for an ideal marriage according to God’s principles. The ‘one flesh’ idea is also the basis upon which several Biblical passages centre their understanding of the perfect relationship between God and His people or the Church.

The emphasis here is a merging rather than of individuality, so the sex act is part of the integration between husband and wife.

The Bible Doesn’t Specifically Say That Masturbation is a Sin Does It?

There are some Christian leaders who would suggest that because God gave us sexual desires, that it’s fine to release that sexual tension through masturbation because God has provided us with the means and the knowledge to do so.

Part of their reasoning stems from the idea that because we have a physical desire for food, it’s perfectly acceptable to fill that need by eating. Therefore, since we have a physical desire for sex, it’s perfectly fine to fill that need through masturbation.

The problem with this reasoning is that the physical requirement to eat is a need – a necessity, and if we don’t eat, we will die. On the other hand, sexual desire is an urge and not a need, and if we choose not to relieve sexual tension, we certainly won’t die. We won’t explode if we resist it!!

Another part of the claim by some Christian leaders that masturbation is acceptable is because the Bible does not clearly state that masturbation is a sin. When the Bible does refer to sex (beginning in Genesis chapter two) it is usually in reference to the act of sex between husband and wife and forms part of the foundation of the marriage union between and man and a woman.

Let’s be clear though – while the Bible makes no reference at all to the individual, this in no way suggests that we should be allowed to fulfil ourselves sexually on our own. In first Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul states:

“Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.” [NLT]

Paul recognised the dangers of falling into sexual sin.

There are many references to lust in the Bible and in first Corinthians 8:8-9, Paul made it quite clear what choices we have if we can’t overcome our lustful thoughts:

“So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am.  But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.” [NLT]

Paul said that the only alternatives here are to either overcome lust, or to marry – there is no suggestion at all that we should alleviate our ‘burning lust’ through masturbation or sex outside of marriage.

Romans chapter 8:5&8 states:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires… That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.” [NLT]

Yielding to the desire to masturbate is giving into our fleshly desires – it is only about pleasing ourselves. As Christians, our focus should be on what the Holy Spirit wants for us, which I’m sure is not indulging in sexual fantasies and masturbation which contaminate our thoughts and emotions with impurity, because for most of us the sexual fantasies are impure.

In Paul’s letter to Titus (2:11-12) he shares these words:

“We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy.” [VOICE]

      Paul speaks here about being aware and having self-control and not just controlling our lusts, but abandoning them.

Aren’t Sexual Sins the Worst Ones?

We are all sinners and we all sin. 1 John 1:8-9 says:

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” [NLT]

Let’s be clear: a sin is a sin. A small lie is just as bad a sin as masturbation, and while some Christians wouldn’t beat themselves up about a little white lie, they’ll be extra hard on themselves when they indulge in sexual sin.

We must try to refrain from believing that the sin of masturbation is significantly worse than any other sin or that sexual sins are the most monstrous of them all. Even though in 1 Corinthians chapter six, Paul told us to flee from sexual sin, he never claimed that it was the worst of sins, but merely acknowledges how easily this particular sin takes root in our minds.

So why does sexual sin feel like one of the worst sins? Because God created sex for so much more than just physical pleasure or gratification. Sex was created to be part of the spiritual, emotional, physical and marriage bond between a man and a woman. It is part of the connection that makes a man and a woman the single entity that was mentioned earlier.

Masturbation and sex outside of marriage do not complete us, and can make us spiritually aware that there’s something vitally missing. When we masturbate which usually includes giving into sexual fantasising, it can make us more keenly aware of this sin than others.

There’s also the added conflict with the world’s enormous influence on us, telling us that indulging sexually is acceptable or that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t. On the other hand our own spirit often tells us otherwise.

Whatever the sin, we must seek God’s forgiveness, and ask Him for help in controlling it and earnestly seek that, rather than putting our time and effort into wallowing in guilt. Remember, God doesn’t expect us to focus on our failures!

In his letter to the Roman church, Paul makes a reference to our ‘growing holiness:’

“But now that you have been emancipated from the death grip of sin and are God’s slave, you have a different sort of life, a growing holiness. The outcome of that life is eternal life.” Romans 6:22 [VOICE]

This indicates that we don’t instantly become perfect or immune to sin when we become Christians, but that our life’s journey is a gradual process – a growing holiness, and leaving our sinful nature and behaviours behind us as we grow:

At War with Our Minds

Paul spoke about his struggles with sin in Romans chapter seven. He talked about how he was a slave to his sinful nature, despite his love for God and His laws. While we never learn which particular sin Paul struggled with, it is clear that he had experienced its unrelenting hold on him all of his life. Here is a portion of what he wrote:

“I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” [NLT]

Notice here that Paul is quite clear that sin has power over our minds! It is our mind which plays the most powerful sexual role, rather than our bodies, therefore the battle to win this conflict must take place there!

In Romans 8:1-3, Paul reminds us that God will not condemn us because of our sin, and he promises that through Jesus Christ that there is a way that our sinful nature can be overcome. Note that he doesn’t promise that we’ll instantly become perfect and immune to sin when we become Christians, but that we are given power to overcome:

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies you sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” [NLT]

Our sinful nature leads to death. Despite the law of Moses which sought to find a way to put things right between God and man, the laws were unable to help us overcome our natural sinful nature. It was only through Jesus’ sacrifice that we now have a way to conquer our sinful nature. When we become a Christian, we begin a gradual process of  transformation: there was never a promise that we were going to become perfect.

Just as God will teach and grow us in all of the weak areas of our lives, He will also do the same when it comes to our sexual sin.

God can’t free us from sin if we choose to hold on to it. All of the pleading, the prayers, the tears and recriminations and guilt will not help us if we don’t genuinely want things to change nor seriously make an effort. The solution to overcoming sin, and specifically masturbation, doesn’t rest with God alone – it rests with us, while God promises the power to overcome it.

If we’re still watching movies or TV programs, or looking at pictures or reading material with images that are going to cause us to be sexually stimulated, then we can’t expect God to reward us for that! What we can expect is that things will either remain the same or get worse! Sexual sin, and specifically pornography, are addictive. The more we indulge, the more difficult it becomes to control.

If we’re serious about wanting to stop masturbating, then at some point we are going to have to stop and take a hard look at ourselves and our own actions as well as our thinking processes.

But trying to avoid stimulation can be difficult. Satan enjoys distracting us from growing, and where better to do than with our sexuality! We are battered left, right and centre with sexual imagery, concepts and words which stimulate our thoughts. I’m sure Satan delights in seeing Christians lose their joy and become distracted from seeking God. He must get great enjoyment from seeing us swallowed up in guilt and remorse, unable to move on or to get past that stumbling block.

And that’s all masturbation is: a stumbling block.  Satan would have us believe that masturbation is an insurmountable problem; an unforgivable and horrific sin, so disgusting that we must hide ourselves from God and berate ourselves endlessly about how pathetic we are, and what failures we are as Christians. But we don’t have to believe Satan’s lie.

If we allow ourselves to fixate or obsess about this particular sin in our lives, than it can become more than a stumbling block. We have to learn to see it for what it really is – a sin yes, but no worse a sin than any other.

I’m not saying that we should not feel guilt, but that we must find a balance between feeling remorse and wallowing in our feelings of guilt, and allowing ourselves to move on from it and working at improving our resistance.

Did Jesus Experience Sexual Desire?

Jesus became fully human, and in His fleshly form, He would have experienced the same kinds of feelings and urges as we do in our physical bodies, because of our human nature. It’s kind of hard for us to imagine Jesus in that way isn’t it; that sexual desire would have arisen unbidden in His mind? Hebrews chapter four verse fifteen says:

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” [NLT]

Let me remind you that it’s not sexual desire that is sinful, but what we do with that desire that may lead to sin.

Of course, Jesus had an enormous advantage over us: He is God and rejecting lustful thoughts would have been so much easier for Him! But isn’t it wonderful that Jesus understands what it’s like to be human!

Because of His earthly experience, He came to know us and our experiences quite intimately. Amazing! This is yet more evidence of His unimaginable love and commitment to us, that He was willing to go through that experience.

Is There a Solution to Overcoming the Desire to Masturbate?

Question: Is there some magic solution that we can use to overcome the desire to masturbate?

Sorry to disappoint you, but the first part of the answer is no … and then kind of yes. Please let me explain.

Since we live in a fallen world with bodies that are prone to sin and urges that can lead to sin, sexual desire will sometimes arise within us, whether by accident or on purpose. The answer to the question then is no – there is no magic solution which will stop sexual desire from occurring because that is a natural, human response. It is what we do with the desire then, that can cause us to sin.

On the other hand, yes, we can learn to discourage sexual desire from turning into lustful thoughts and sin, with God’s guidance and strength. As discussed earlier, it is in the mind that the battle to overcome this particular sin must take place.

Therefore, we must remind ourselves that the desire to masturbate will pass, as every single one of our sinful urges will eventually pass.

There is no magic pill that we can  take or prayer to say that will instantly ‘protect’ us and enable us to resist. As with each of our natural sinful tendencies, God will work with us, if we so desire it. His Holy Spirit will work within us, to grow, strengthen and change us, but it is not an instantaneous process.

For each of us, overcoming sin is a lifelong process. Overcoming masturbation will be easier for some than it is for others, and some Christians will have a lifelong battle with it.

When Does the Battle Begin?

After sexual desire has arisen in our minds, there is a point when we consciously make a decision to proceed or not to proceed with lustful thoughts which lead to masturbation. It’s at that point where we must instigate our battle plan right? Wrong!

Our battle plan and strategy must be in place long before we’ve gotten to that point. If we only instigate a battle plan when we’ve reached the battlefield, then it’s often far too late because the fight has already started and we are at an immediate disadvantage. To gain control in a battle, we must already have prepared the ground beforehand, and earlier put our plan into action.

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So How Does This Work in Real Life?

Following is basic sequence of actions that we can undertake which may occur after sexual desire arises.

  1. We shouldn’t deliberately expose ourselves to anything that will cause sexual desire or lustful thoughts. We should check if that movie, book or music we’ve picked up has sexual overtones or explicit scenes and avoid anything which may affect us.

  2. If we are exposed to something that causes sexual desire then we should do battle in our mind: do some self-talking and be brutally honest with ourselves, such as:

If I entertain these thoughts and continue down this path then I’m going to want to masturbate. I have a  choice now to cease or continue. What are the consequences if I continue? How can I stop this?’

We must consciously choose to stop and find a healthier option to take its place such as prayer, reading the Bible, a movie or music without sexual overtones, or another distracting activity.

We can phone a non-judgemental friend and tell them about our difficulties.

  1. At that point, if we’re still struggling, we need to do something to distract our minds. It may take practice to find what works for us. We may find that stimulating another sense such as taste or smell can help.

On the other hand, we may find that we need to be dragged, almost kicking and screaming out of our comfort zone to get the shock we need to snap us out of the thought processes which would take us into dangerous territory, eg:

  • undertake a hated chore;

  • arrange to be accountable to someone about our problem and phone them (a trusted, non-judgemental friend or mentor and phone them every single time); or

  • do something which distracts another of our senses such as placing a dab of hot or sour sauce on our tongue, but nothing ridiculously extreme of course!

  • whatever you do, remember this is about distraction, not punishment.

Every athlete needs to train, and part of the discipline is both about controlling one’s mind and fine- tuning one’s body. It’s more than turning up at the track and wishing our bodies into fitness. It’s about putting in consistent effort to maintain our strength and stamina, and recognising that we’ll probably need to be constantly vigilant and never allow ourselves to become complacent. It’s about training our minds so that it is strong and resistant to sexual desire.

Some Suggestions for Avoiding Masturbation:

Stimulate Your Other Senses

Do a Hated Task

Other Options

Walk in the garden and smell the plants – drink in the sunshine or feel the rain

Clean out that cluttered cupboard you’ve been avoiding

Pray: really talk it through with God and tell Him how your feeling

Give yourself a home facial or manicure (both guys and girls).

Tidy up old contacts on your mobile phone and remove unwanted apps.

Enlist a trustworthy friend to be available that you can phone when you need help

Chew a carrot stick, beef jerky, sticky caramel etc

Clean the shower or toilet or wash down a wall.

Phone a church elder or the Pastor for a chat (it doesn’t have to be about sex.)

Sniff some eucalyptus oil or something equally strong.

Put on a load of washing or clean your windows

Read the Bible – that’s often a real mood killer when it comes to sexual urges

Pop bubble wrap

Clean and deodorise your shoes

Keep a journal about your struggles

Pat your cat or dog or play with them.

Wash the dog or vacuum and wash your car

Imagine your parents having sex. Arrgh!

Put a dollop of hot or sour sauce on your tongue.

Write a letter or email or pay your bills online

Go to the gym or for a long walk or drive.

Play a silly or uplifting song and sing  aloud.

Tidy up the files on your computer

Memorise a Bible verse.

How Can We Distract Ourselves When the Urge is Strong?

We can write up a list of things that work for us. We can adapt the above table with some suggestions to suit ourselves. We may find that one style works well, or that we need all three.

We must work out our own personal list,  keep adding to it and fine-tuning it further. We should keep a stock of helps on hand to assist us through, and put the list in a place where it will be easy to locate when it’s needed.

Let us never become complacent and believe that we’ve ever won this battle!

How Do We Cope When There’s Sex Stuff Everywhere We Go?

For the guys:

For men, this is often more difficult because they are hard-wired to react to visual stimulation much more readily than women. Thoughts may arise more easily and can’t seem to be switched off.

He may need to consider the possibility that he is purposefully focusing his thoughts on images which stimulate him and it has become a habit which needs to be broken. He needs to be truthful with himself and ask:

‘Do I allow myself to indulge in fantasising when I see a pretty girl or a woman in skimpy clothing? Do I allow my thoughts to dwell on her? Can I easily switch off those images? Am I making it worse for myself because I indulge these thoughts?’

If he regularly allows himself to indulge in sexual fantasising, then this tendency or habit needs to be overcome. He needs to consider what options he can put into place to combat this, recognising that if it’s become a habit, it will take more effort to break it.

For the girls:

This can obviously happen to women too, though perhaps not as strongly or as often as it does for men, although there are women with strong sexual urges too.  She needs to be truthful with herself and ask herself the same kinds of questions.

There’s been quite a profound change in society’s attitudes about sex when it comes to women. Today women are encouraged to be more aggressive when it comes to sex and to actively pursue it.

Satan has been hard at work trying to change the way women think about sex, and unfortunately, it’s working.

If this is her approach to sex, then because there has been such a profound shift in society’s attitudes, so there needs to be similar response in reverse within women. Women need to be aware that they’ve been brain-washed and be willing and open to God’s changing and renewing of their mind in this area.

Some Help:

We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we experienced desire, and talk it through logically in our minds – have a conversation with ourselves in our mind such as:

‘Yes, I admit there was an attraction there, and that is a perfectly natural human desire. I have a choice now to let those thoughts and feelings go, or to dwell on images that will not be helpful for me, and may take me into dangerous territory.’

Some people find it helpful to imagine in their minds that those desires have become as light as a feather and to see them drift away on a breeze. Others may have difficulty with using their imagination in this way, or recognise that it won’t work for them, in which case a series of logical thoughts may be of benefit to them. Talk it through to its conclusion:

‘If I continue with these thoughts, it will be hard to switch them off and I may feel the need to masturbate. Then if I masturbate, I’ll feel guilty afterwards and I’ll know that I’ve let myself down. It’s always tough facing God after I masturbate. I can choose to resist this. This is a choice.’

Conclusion

Masturbation isn’t the answer to relieving sexual tension or overcoming our sexual urges. The fact that masturbation happens time and time again proves that it doesn’t solve anything long-term.

Masturbation is not an unforgivable sin, nor is it a sin that is worse than any other. Yes, we need to learn to overcome it, but we shouldn’t allow guilt to consume us.

For some people, masturbation can become a habit that affects and interrupts our everyday lives, sometimes to the point where our sexual fantasies and our need to gratify ourselves becomes an almost all-consuming desire that colours the very fabric of our lives, and seriously affects our relationship with other people and of course, with our Saviour. For those who struggle with it to this degree, our ability to overcome it will be more challenging and therefore it’s vital to put every possible resistance suggested here, into place, and perhaps more.

The journey for some people then, will be very difficult, but God promises that we can overcome it. Hold fast to that promise! We should remind ourselves of it regularly, and in our prayers for help, call out to God:

“You have promised me strength through your Holy Spirit to overcome this! Give me strength and understanding through your word. Let this sin become a little easier to cope with every day.”

We need to take out the Bible and read it, seeking clarity and wisdom in our struggle through the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, it comes down to each of us. Do we want to overcome the habit of masturbation? If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes the answer to that is, “No.”

I like this quote from Joel Osteen Ministries:

“It’s easy to come up with reasons why we can’t be happy, why we can’t accomplish a dream, why we can’t overcome a problem. As long as you’re making excuses, you’ll stay where you are. Excuses give us permission to settle for less than God’s best. Get rid of the excuses – you have the power to overcome anything.”

If it’s something that we truly desire, then we need to seek God’s help with it on a daily basis, and put plans in place that will help us on our journey to maturing and healing in this area. For some, it will be a life-long battle, while for others, it may be less difficult.

We must never become complacent nor trust that we’ve ever won the battle, because that’s when Satan will take the greatest delight in dragging us down again.

At any given moment we have the power to say:

“This is NOT how it needs to be. With God’s help, I can conquer this!”

We may well sin time and time again, but God has promised that we can be over-comers. With time, as we grow, the impact of the temptation should lessen, and become easier to conquer, but we should remain forever vigilant.

Finally, if we find ourselves discouraged because of our failings, particularly when it comes to sex and masturbation, we should remember how far we have come in our Christian walk and how God has grown us. Thank goodness we’re not back at the start of our Christian journey! We have achieved so much since the beginning of our life as Christians, and yes, while there is a way to go, it proves we’ve grown and that God is continuing His work in us.

This demonstrates that God believes in us, that He believes we are worthwhile. The fact that God is willing to continue working with us to grow and strengthen us, tells us that He is committed to making us into someone stronger and better, and to being over-comers. He hasn’t given up on us, so neither should we!

Psalm 147:11 reminds us:

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” [NLT]

While there may be times when we disappoint God and ourselves when we sin or make mistakes, the fact remains that we are still on this journey to which He has called us; that we are sticking with it and growing more each day; that we put our hope and trust in His unfailing love; that we honour Him with our life; and as a result God delights in us. Isn’t that amazing?! He delights in us!

How else do we please God? The Bible reminds us:

“The Lord… delights in the prayers of the upright.” Proverbs 15:8

“The Lord… delights in those who tell the truth.” Proverbs 12: 22

“The Lord… delights in those with integrity.” Proverbs 11:20 [NLT]

As long as we are remain on the path He has set us and we are working to improve ourselves through the strengthening of the Holy Spirit and working at our relationship with Him, praying and reading His word, then He will delight in us.

Let’s not let ourselves get bogged down by our failures, because then it is Satan who delights in us. When we fall and pull ourselves up again and keep on going, God is still there with us. He doesn’t abandon us when we sin or when we fail. While we may often let Him down, we can still bring gladness to His heart as long as we are obeying Him.

“Thank you Lord for your commitment to me and for your ongoing forgiveness. Please loosen these bonds of sin that keep me enslaved to masturbation and sexual thoughts. I don’t want to stumble and fail, but if I do, thank you for your remarkable love that continues to accept and forgive me, and wants me to grow and strengthen. With your help, I pray that I will eventually win this battle.”

[End]
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Bibliography:
[NLT] As indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.
[VOICE] As indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, The Voice translation, Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.