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Is Masturbation a Sin?

Hey Joshua,
So, we had a big debate in the halls last night about masturbation. What’s your take on it? 
-N (A University student)

Well done for asking an awkward question that a lot of Christians are too nervous to ask and even fewer pastors want to answer. I guess the question is a bit a handful. Attempting to answer this publicly does seem to rub some the wrong way.

I’ll answer first as a Bible teacher, then as a pastor. 

With my teacher hat on, I have to tell you that Scripture is silent on the issue. Some church leaders through the centuries have taught that it is a sin (with one insisting that it's worse than rape!) but, in spite of some hotly worded sermons, there's not one passage of Scripture which actually says so.

And that’s not because the Bible doesn’t talk about sex or sexual sin. Scripture describes sex as a good gift. Sin perverts sex and is therefore evil. The Bible cites fornication, adultery, bestiality, rape, pornography, homosexual acts, polygamy, polyamory and many other such activities as unfitting for the people of God. But on masturbation, the Bible utters not a whisper.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
- Ecclesiastes 9.10

[NOT a verse endorsing masturbation]

It is important for you to know that masturbation is not clearly condemned in Scripture. Some have heard that it is and have experienced an extraordinary and unhealthy sense of guilt. For many, it is not masturbation that is destroying them – it’s the sense of shame that goes with it. Those people need to know they don’t stand condemned under God’s law.

Understand? I hope you've got a good grip on that.

BUT – and this a big but... I cannot lie – I advise against the practice even though it is not clearly condemned. I am not pontificating law here, but rather sharing the wisdom of a man who has carried a robust sex drive within him since the days of his youth. So…why should you avoid making this a regular habit?

First of all, in our day, masturbation and pornography often go (ahem) hand in hand. I have worked with many Christian guys - and occasionally a gal - who want to kick the habit of porn. For many, if they want to get free of porn, they found that they needed to get rid of the habit of masturbation as well. 

In previous generations, porn was harder to come by and few Christians would risk losing face to go to a store and buy a one-handed lad’s mag. Now it’s on our phone and everywhere. It’s the petrol that fuels most people’s addiction to the idol of orgasm. Some young people try masturbation to understand and experiment with their bodies. Fair enough. But instead of being able to control it, some end up being mastered by their masturbation. 

When it comes to anything involving our sex drive, we are playing with something powerful - something most of us can't easily control. Hence Scripture warns us 'do not awaken love making' at the wrong time. It IS possible to live without masturbation and have a healthy and happy life. In some cases, it may even help.

For married couples, masturbation can become an easy substitute for marital sex - if you’ve been married for more than a couple of years, you know what I mean. When a Christian couple first gets married, sex is usually new and exciting. But over the years, sex gets intertwined with many other issues. If the marriage as a whole isn’t working well, then sexual intimacy doesn’t work well either. When this happens, finding sexual release by taking matters 'into your own hand' can be much simpler. This is a sad state for Christians as our God rejoices in a married man and woman sharing erotic love with each other.

There are times when it could be appropriate - but caution and wisdom are needed here too.

As many Christians do have questions about this - and other sexual issues - it would be good if pastors were willing to address them on occasion. Palm Sunday?

Often lust, sexual sin, or unhelpful sexual habits express themselves because other issues are not quite right. People who are lonely or lacking in healthy, intimate relationships are more prone. Their lack of healthy relationships make them prone to seek affection and security in other, unhealthy ways. Sometimes habitual masturbation isn’t so much the problem as it is a false solution. 

Jesus died a shameful death in order to remove our sin and shame. Finding health in a daily relationship with God through the forgiveness Jesus brings - and healthy, affectionate and transparent relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ - strengthens you. This makes the addictive hold of unwanted sexual habits weaker.

I don’t want the Christians to come under a cloud of condemnation for masturbating, but I would advise them to fight against it as a habit. Masturbation can too easily lead to other things that really are sinful and destructive. It almost always gives too much place to sexual fantasy - something that extinguishes our inner spiritual fire.

If you are in sexual sin, repent. Give Jesus your sin and he will give you forgiveness. There is no sin that Jesus cannot forgive and he will accept everyone who comes to him humbly. 
That clear?

For more on walking with godly honour in a sexually sick world, check out Elijah Men Eat MeatReadings to slaughter your inner Ahab and pursue Revival and Reform (Get Here) 

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