Introduction Questions from my readers have spawned several of my articles. So, here is another. I decided to open this article with the e-mail exchanges that led to this. Other than my readers name, I have only amended typos/abbreviations as he sent his messages via an iPhone.
These e-mails are included more for my daughters sakes than anyone elses – as you will see. Any dad who has worked to be volitionally respected by his children will understand this. Here goes. E-Mail Exchanges “Subject: Christian with questions. Greetings, How are you doing Sir?
My name is H… and am 30 years old. I have enjoyed your free post books on the internet and they have helped me a lot and encouraged me. I however have a question that I would like you to help me with. I havent heard anyone talk or address this issue in the Christian circles and yet many of us young people are confused about it and we also dont know what to tell those who look up to us. Is masturbation acceptable before God and how does it affect us? Is it right or wrong?
Hoping to learn from you about this as I believe you are a man well versed with the word of truth. Regards, H … Botswana, Africa.” After several exchanges, with an initial assurance of a quick response, I then said, “Hi H… As I got into this, I am debating on how much of my personal experience to bring in. All of us who are sexually active are confronted with this. I am making a response to you that I intend on making public (an article). I feel it is that important. But I have two daughters and am debating on how much of my personal history to include in this topic. So, if you will – bear with me.
I do not want to make this just a bunch of declarations – but to candidly share my own journey through this matter. But, if my daughters one day read this, I do not want to demean myself in their eyes – so, I feel I must get this right for them as well. Hope this makes sense. I am working on it. – Robin” And being the gracious brother he is, here was his response. “Hi. I do understand and welcome that.
Am also grateful if this would become an article because I know it will benefit others also. So, yes I have the patience in all the world until you release the article. I also think it’s that important. So thank you for the time and experiences youre putting into it in all wisdom. Regards” Now, To Get to It In spite of misgivings, I am compelled to address this – theologically and personally. One, without the other, will make this less than what it needs to be. To begin, masturbation is either a moral hazard, or it is not. Some contend that the Bible is silent on this issue. Therefore, its rightness or wrongness is relegated to personal opinion and personal morals. Thus, masturbation is a subjective moral matter – not an objective one. Subjective Sin Versus Objective Sin Objective sin is always sin. The situation has no bearing on it. For example, any creature that takes Gods name in vain, whether man or angel, in any place, culture or age, incurs sin for that action. But there are some sins that are dependent upon the situation. When Paul addressed the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to idols (1Cor 8), he stated that a stronger brother knows that meat is just fine, but a weaker brother believes it is unclean – and if he eats it, he sins. So, the eating of this meat is sin for one – but not sin for another. But Paul went even further in this potential sin scenario. He stated that if the stronger brother eats that meat, knowing the weaker brother will then stumble, the stronger brother sins by eating it! This is the clearest example of what I call, “situational morality.” The situation determines if a particular activity is sin or not – thus, making some sins “subjective.” Another passage that falls into this theological vein is found in Romans 14. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to that one it is unclean … and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Ro 14:14, 23). So, does masturbation fall into the “subjective sin” category? James Dobson, a well-known Bible advocate in the United States, has made such a case about masturbation. He related a discussion he had with his father as a young man. The conclusion? Masturbation, as a single man, is not sin. James concurred with this, but then asserted that masturbation, once married, is sin (I cant remember if his dad said this or if he came up with this prohibition himself). So, masturbations rightness or wrongness depends upon ones situation – being single or married. This argument rests upon two assumptions. The first is that the Bible is indeed silent on this matter. The second assumption is that the passages cited above can be rightly applied to matters beyond the subjects Paul addressed. Paul was specifically referencing meat sacrificed to idols, diet choices (being able to eat “all things” versus “vegetables only”), and the observing of “special days” (those who institute high and holy days versus those who regard every day the same). But, before embracing the position that masturbation falls into situational, subjective morality … is the Bible actually silent on this issue? Nocturnal Emission When God gave the law to Moses, He said, “If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp” (Deut 23:10,11). If God considered a man “unclean” for a nocturnal emission, what about the man who is masturbating while wide-awake? Such a one is clean? One who is asleep may not even remember the stimulation leading to the emission, but what about the one who is wide-awake? When masturbating, is that persons mind … a blank slate? his leads directly to one of Jesuss declarations. He said, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart … And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt 5:27-30). This passage is followed by discussing divorce, so it is not a stretch to believe all of this material is referencing ones sexual behavior. Why is He talking about ones “right hand” for a sin in the heart? Spiritual Common Sense One time, I used this phrase in a seminary term paper. The instructor went nuts. I obviously hit a nerve, and though aghast at such a phrase, the instructor never explained the reason for the horror. Maybe it was because Systematic Theology has no category for this theological vein of thought. But, the preceding paragraph was an argument from, “spiritual common sense.” Lets continue proceeding in this path and see where else it might take us. When we do something – really almost anything – we should stand back and ask ourselves, “Does God deem this … an act of righteousness?” Or, try this. “If Jesus returned when I am in the middle of this activity – do I want this as my final act in this age?” Well, … what do you think? “Do not go on presenting them members of your body to sin as instruments (weapons) of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead and your members as instruments (weapons) of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13). While masturbating, are the members of ones body being presented as … weapons of righteousness – to God? Here is another spiritual common sense approach. “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Behaviorally, we are to imitate Jesus Christ. He is our example and it is our task and duty to learn of His behaviors. So, do I think Jesus masturbated before the Father? Would this be part of His fulfilling the Law? Quite honestly, contemplating this makes me want to throw up. And even if we find Jesus had no sexual desires while here, that still would not release us to pursue our own devices. Since He, by His Spirit, resides in the saint, the assessment of what He would do still fully applies to our sexual appetites and activities. Now, for some personal material. I became a Christian when I was 23. I was living with a woman and had pursued an immoral life with others before her. I was also involved in pornography. When I became a Christian, I knew the sex would have to end – unless we married. We went separate ways. For the next year and a half I struggled with masturbation. I then went on staff at a Christian drug rehabilitation center and it was there I decided I had to gain dominance over this practice. All I can say is that I earnestly sought God for assistance and, for my part, I avoided entertaining anything that led to that activity. We must purpose things in our heart (Dan 1:8) but, even so, the subjective, unseen hand of God must be working for any sin to be dominated. For over three years, God granted dominance (I have now been married since 1982). A year and a half of that life chapter found me on staff at a street gospel mission on the Fort Lauderdale beach – a highly sexualized environment. Wet T-shirt contests regularly blared over loudspeakers in surrounding bars. Street girls frequented our mission – some quite aggressive with their sexual missions. Female announcements of, “Whorehouse!” came from hotel windows echoing through the street late at night. As I reflect back on that time, it is amazing to me the victory in which I walked. As an aside, one afternoon a group of us decided to do some open air preaching at the beach. We took turns, and at one point, as I was standing to the side, a big, burly fellow brushed past me and snarled, “Masturbator!” Internally, I experienced a confident joy as his charge had no merit. But for our discussion here, isnt it interesting that an unsaved aggressor had no doubt in his mind that masturbation would be sin for a Christian? Think about that. What if I had said to him, “You err, friend. God doesnt mind if unmarried Christians masturbate as much as they want/need to!” What do you think his reaction to such a claim would have been? I can tell you. He would have either broke out in laughter at such self deception, or else he would have cussed me for such stupidity and idiotic hypocrisy. And yet learned Christians … believe masturbation can be in concert with personal holiness? Thus ends my appeal to your … spiritual common sense. Spiritual Common Sense Versus “A Biblical Principle” Do not confuse spiritual common sense with “a biblical principle.” Spiritual common sense takes known Bible information and places it upon some current teaching or action to see if that particular matter lines up or not. Some might refer to this as “a smell test.” On the other hand, “a biblical principle” is a declared pet doctrine or practice where one reaches back into the Bible to justify it. The principle is then presented as having the weight of God behind it. You can see these two concepts flow in totally different directions. The Bible informs spiritual common sense as it moves from the Bible to the questioned matter. Biblical principles flow backwards – and those who hold them will not allow, or entertain, proper use of their selected Bible passages (or others) that undermine and/or refute their “biblical principle.” The most obvious, and vicious, example of this is seen by those who promote tithing for the Christian. They not only change Gods tithe – from food to cash money – from thin air (even under Law, money was never offered as a tithe), but they also misrepresent Abrahams tithe, Jacobs tithe, and the tithe Jesus discussed in the New Testament. But all that does not matter. The declared “biblical principle” trumps all, even if it can be demonstrated that actual Bible content does not inform that “biblical principle.” But now I think we should ask another question. (Go to Part 2 – “Masturbation and the Bible – The End of the Matter”)