The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part I)

A man will never have a pure heart as long as he equivocates about the sinfulness of lust and/or masturbation.  He must decide once and for all that both are wrong in God’s eyes.  If he is indecisive on this point, he will never have the courage to win the battle that lies before him.  His constant waffling will weaken any resolve to do the hard thing.

Likewise, the one who is looking for the path of least resistance in life will also lack the determination to fight for a pure life.  Purity and godliness do not mean enough to him to warrant the effort.  When convicted over his sinful thoughts and actions, he will find ways to excuse, blame-shift or otherwise justify continuing to live in his sin.

~ Steve Gallagher, “At The Altar of Sexual Idolatry” pg. 37

It was April 21, 1989 when I first discovered masturbation and the pleasure I could bring myself.     I was 14.   I recall the date because I went with family that night to watch the opening release of Field of Dreams, a movie that remains one of my favorites to this day, but not the memories accompanying it.   Throughout the film I had this sense of guilt.   I was a Christian, and my spirit was telling me that I had likely taken a bite from a forbidden tree.

But I liked it too much to listen to what the Spirit was saying.   Rather than heed that voice, I went in search of justifications.  I scoured book stores for anything written on the topic (not an easy task in 1989) and found a few that relieved my guilt.   Masturbation, they argued, was normal and natural and part of being a sexual being created by God.   Some counseled that one should be wise in their use of it, because it could, if indulged in, lead to other problems.

At 14 I didn’t know that it was possible to justify anything and everything under the sun.   At 38 I’m just beginning to understand.

Few people in our highly sexualized culture, let alone our churches, will say what Steve Gallagher said in the quote above.   While a number of people will speak out against the sins of pornography or adultery I have noticed that many fail to address masturbation.  It’s the elephant in the room.  But it’s the root which feeds everything else.

Selfish_Fotolia_40585031_XS

Self-Gratification

Self-gratification is what I prefer to call masturbation because it names it for what it truly is:  a selfish act.   For over 20 years I locked myself in isolation to indulge my flesh, telling myself again and again that I deserved this, that I needed this, that everyone else is doing it, that I’m not hurting anyone.    I had turned my back on the light that I initially had, telling me that this was an offense against God, and over time my conscious became seared (1 Tim. 4:2).   Paul diagnoses what happened over time to me and to anyone else who indulges in self-gratification (of any sort):

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened  (Rom. 1:21).

Over time, self-gratification deprives us of God-glorification, which is our created purpose.   The light we once had grows more and more dim, and soon we find we are in a “far away land” living among pigs (Luke 15:13ff).   Meeting our own needs and desires becomes the aim of our lives and it seems fine because, quite frankly, it appears everyone else is on the same path.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that pornography served as a useful tool in aiding my self-gratification.    I had already justified in my mind that pleasing myself was OK so it wasn’t hard to convince myself that adding means (like pornography and then online chatting) to enhance that experience only made good sense.   I mean, it would be silly to deny myself that sort of pleasure, right?

Yet Scripture is full of commands for us to live in ways that make a Self-Gratifying Christian an oxymoron.    You nor I can continue to walk in darkness and claim we know God, or that God knows us.   Consider just a few words:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  (1 Peter 2:11)

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  (Col. 3:5)

Jesus said that if we have even the intent of lust towards another woman we have already committed adultery in God’s eyes (Matt. 5:28).  The longer I went justifying my addiction to myself the further along the road I was that leads to destruction, of which Jesus said many are on.    Peter said of men like me,

They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!  (2 Peter 2:14).

Over 20 years of locking the bedroom or bathroom door to bow to the altar of self led me to do some ugly, dark things.    It was not uncommon to lock myself away in a hotel room for days to please myself.   Not even the real risk of losing my wife, my kids, or my job as a pastor would wake me up to how self-obsessed I really was.

I am choosing to be vulnerable about where I was in my sin because by doing so, I believe, the power of God is made more evident.   I am writing this so that you can know that there is freedom from the bondage of self-gratification.   John writes,

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:8-9).

It’s true!  It has been nearly 2 years since I last succumbed to the sin of self-gratification.   I say this not to boast in myself but in God who has delivered me from something I thought could never happen.   I also share it because as a man who struggled for so long in that area I longed to hear other men testify about what “freedom” really meant for them.    The world needs to know that there are men living who don’t masturbate or entertain lustful thoughts.   It’s a lie of this world that says you deserve it, you need it or that it’s normal and acceptable by God.    Not until we desire to please God more than ourselves will we ever be truly free and live in the victory God desires for His children.

In the follow-up post I will address some practical ways you can be set free from the sin of self-gratification.    But before we get there, if you are someone who has long lived behind the belief that this is a “struggle” you have, I urge you to take a moment and consider whether you are truly struggling or simply giving over.   The man or woman who is consistently walking in righteousness who “slips” can say of him or herself they are “struggling,” but not the person who is habitually failing in this or any other area or sin.   Paul writes,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13)

If you truly desire freedom, God can and will set you free.   The first step towards that freedom is admitting that this is sin, it is selfish, it drives a wedge between you and God and others, and will only lead to destruction.

How beautiful though is the freedom that comes through Christ!

Go to Part II HERE.

26 thoughts on “The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part I)

  1. Nothing wrong with masturbation in and of itself. It can be a blessing to a married man who doesn’t want to treat his wife as a sex object. It can also be a release to unmarried people so that there is less temptation and urge to have sex with someone and take on those risks. You may feel guilty about your own path of masturbation but you only demonstrate that you were taught to feel guilty about it and never actually had the guts to stand and say that who taught you that was wrong. It like anything else (even church) can become an over indulgence. But like the person who pours himself into church to avoid family struggles, it can become a crutch, but has nothing to do with the act itself being wrong.

    The real elephant in the room is religious guilt heaped upon one another to sway other to their way of thinking without having any real substance to demonstrate the problem. All to avoid their own struggle against tradition.

    • Paul, this demonstrates well the sort of justifications I speak of in the post. We will go to great lengths to tell ourselves that pleasing ourselves is for the interests of others. God tells us we are to deny ourselves, not gratify ourselves. This isn’t a guilt trip put on by the church, but a call to live holy with and before a holy God. Purity of heart, mind, and soul is freedom, not bondage, but so long as we are caught up in the lies of self-justification and gratification we will not know what true freedom is.

      Paul tells the person who is struggling with lust not to go masturbate, but to marry. And if someone is controlled by their hormones (as I once thought myself to be) than it’s safe to say they are walking in the flesh rather than the Spirit. That is a far cry from what God desires for us as His children.

    • And with regards to treating your wife as a sex object, why not just abstain altogether? When we indulge in our selves we are depriving our spouse of the bond they rightfully share with us. If you are a Christian, your body is not your own. You’ve been bought with a price. And as a married couple, your body is hers, and hers is yours. You are one. If she can’t or won’t have sex with you that is not an excuse for any of us to then take matters in our own hands (forgive the pun). Rather, it should provoke us to move towards our spouse in the way Christ moved towards us – in sacrificial love, refusing to meet our own needs at the expense of others, or in the absence of them meeting ours.

    • No it actually does not demonstrate what you say. I have pointed out some positive effects that it can bring and you have said nothing that actually proves that it is a self indugent thing that is sin or that it is even a cause of any problem in and of itself. Even Jesus gratified himself on occasion, he left the multitudes to get some peace, and he did not sin. If we are not to do some things to help ourselves, whatever it may be, then Jesus did sin because he thought of himself. He thought of himself when he prayed the most intense prayer recorded in the bible to plead with his father that there be another way. He did not sin.

      The problem is that the issue of masturbation is something that religious people have over reacted to for millenia. For whatever reason it has become one of those banner issues that gets waved around as terrible wrong, because sexuality has something to do with it. I taught my sons that it is ok to masturbate when in their mind all they want to do is go out and score a lay. That along with other things of how to treat women, the risks they take on when having sex, they do not carry around needless guilt over an act that is natural and harmless to self or otherwise.

  2. I’m doing neither as you are trying to imply. I pointed out specifics showing that Jesus did things that was for himself in the moment and he did not sin. Masturbation specifically is irrelevant to that since you have categorized it as a self indulgent act. A self indulgent act is just that, whether it is to masturbate or to get away from being worn down by multitudes of people. In that context, Jesus sinned by leaving his resonsibilities as a truly selfless being. As we know, he did not.

    I am sorry that guilt was imposed upon you needlessly, some of us were fortunate as not to have carried that in that area. In my case, have carried needless guilt in other areas that I have worked through, some I still work through.

    • Paul,
      The self-indulgence of masturbation is not the same as taking time for oneself to recharge your batteries, to pray, to be refilled with God’s Spirit for the sake of being in ministry to others. In the same way not all anger is the same, as Jesus demonstrated by being angry in a righteous fashion, as opposed to the anger that is fleshly, focused on asserting one’s own power and rights over someone else.

      I would suggest that instead of teaching your sons to go masturbate, indulging their flesh, why not teach them instead to do as Jesus did and pray, reconnect with God?

      And no need to be sorry. Some guilt is good. I’m more worried about the person who feels none, and is no longer convicted by sin.

  3. It’s also worth mentioning that the rationalization that we must simply relieve ourselves is akin to saying we are animals. Scripture calls us to something much higher. Our bodies are not our own, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit! How can we go on living in the flesh if we have been baptized with Christ in his death and raised to new life? Telling your sons (or yourself) that it is OK to go and take care of this “urge” is to continue living in the old Adam rather than the New. It denies to God and to the world that we are new creations in Christ, created for His glory and here to do His bidding.

  4. Thanks for this. I should give my account of my burdening, but the last time I tried to blog about that (in the blog I deleted), it turned into a long and proud gloating (or wallowing) in my depravity.

    Nobody ever taught me anything about masturbation, that I recall. Not my parents, not my church, not my friends — I was never taught to feel guilty. But somehow, when I discovered it — I was fifteen, I think — I felt the guilt crushing down. I knew immediately, without being told, that it was not something to be proud of, but something to be ashamed of and hidden. And from the very first, when I first began to do it voluntarily, it was all about taking — it was all selfishness. Taking the images of girls around me, girls I knew and cared for, and using them for my pleasure. And I knew, I felt, from the very beginning, that that was wrong.

    • Thanks for sharing this. My experience is similar to your own. Nobody ever told me anything about it, good or bad. I relate well with your description of “using” and “taking” for “my pleasure.”

      praying with and for you.

  5. Chad, this is a difficult subject, that will always stir up controversy, but it needs to be discussed! Thanks for doing that and bringing this subject to the table! I personally agree with much of what you say. Ultimately masturbation is a self serving exercise…You have highlighted some really helpful bible verses too. Thanks!

    I have now been “bone dry” for over three years. No porn, no masturbation, no sex, no orgasm! It may be extreme to some, but when you taste the “glory of God”, the “glory” or most greatly esteemed things that are available physically lose there appeal! I think the key to finding contentment in life is found in intimacy with Jesus. As we draw nearer and nearer to him our priorities change. Jesus becomes enough! This is understandably difficult for many people to understand! But it is the truth, and it has become my experience.

    I look forward to reading part two!

    • “I think the key to finding contentment in life is found in intimacy with Jesus. As we draw nearer and nearer to him our priorities change. Jesus becomes enough!”

      Amen! In a very real way, you just wrote Part II for me :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Thank you for writing such a great article. I perfectly relate to everything you are saying. Istarted to masturbate when I was a teenager then it continued well into last year. Before I started to masturbate, I used to let my mind run wild, thinking all sorts of lustful things, after all the world teaches us that it is good to fantasize. Then, the toughts weren’t enough. So I progressed to the act itself. Just like you, the books I read taught me that masturbation was normal and that it wasn’t a sin. The movies I watched, the people I talked to, all were f the same opinion. I started to realize that there was a problem when I couldn’t enjoy sex with my husband. I felt like I could please myself faster and better. I truly reled that I was in bondage to my flesh when I was masturbating although I didn’t want to. This bondage to my flesh led me to do other things like adulery. I was t doing these things despite my aversion for them. All of this happened before I truly submitted myself to Jesus. After I welcomed Him into my life, all these things disappeared. My desires from self gratification went away when I became born again.
    People who value the opinions of the world rather than the things of the spirit will think that you are speaking foolishness, but because I have walked the same walk as you and have been regenerated by the Spirit, I KNOW what you speak of. God bless you.

  7. Good insight, Chad. And, I too am looking forward to reading part 2. I myself struggle with this issue. Even now, after having attended purity workshops, counseling, accountability partners, reading books, fasting, and praying. And, I am not by any means attempting to justify what I also believe to be sinful behavior. But, I once had a good friend tell me that my struggle may never go away. That this may be my “thorn in the flesh”. The very thing that God may use to continue draw me closer to Him. The urge to seek sexual pleasure through masturbation is so overwhelming to me. One moment I can be reading Scripture, listening to praise music, and the very next moment turn to masturbation. I suppose it is better than engaging physically with another female, nevertheless, it is wrong, feels wrong, and almost always results in guilt. Guilt is not healthy. But, it should lead us to repentance. And, almost always I repent and seek God’s forgiveness after I have fallen. But, it only repeats itself time after time. I have been held captive to it. And, perhaps indeed it is my “thorn in the flesh”.

    • Every other time that a term similar to “thorn in the flesh/side” is used in scripture it refers to another person that is acting as a hinderance or obstruction. I personally don’t think Paul’s thorn was a sin struggle or a physical sickness, but rather a person who kept attacking and opposing his ministry. Just a thought.

      • Thanks Nathan. Not to get into a theological debate here, but this term is nowhere used in Scripture except in 2 Corinthians 12:7. There are indeed similar usages found in the Old Testament. But, it’s more literal such as a literal thorn or prickle.

    • Greg,
      Thanks for your honesty here. I relate to everything you said (particularly the seemingly fluid movements from prayer and praise to self-gratification). In my case, I came to realize that much of my praise and prayer (and blogging and studying Scripture) was coming from a place of pride. It was not me being a humble, needy beggar at God’s table hoping to be fed but a greedy scavenger looking for nuggets to win an argument, show off my theological prowess, or wow my congregation with a sermon. Paul asks, “You who teach others, do you teach yourself?” As much as I liked to think I did, I had to say “no.” As such, it was enlightening to me to see how my self-gratification with theology or religion was really no different from my self-gratification with sex. It all has at it’s root, pride. I’m not saying this is your situation, but it certainly was my own.

      I also used the “thorn in my flesh” reasoning. In fact, one of the worst (as I see it now) blog posts I wrote back in that time of my life was titled: “Was St. Paul a Sex Addict?” I argued that his “thorn in the flesh” was exactly that. I am convinced today that I was a deluded fool to write such a thing. It is true that God will afflict us to bring us to Himself (Psalm 119:71 is a good example) He won’t allow that throne to be sin. Sin separates us from God, not draws us closer. The same Paul who said we cannot go on sinning so that grace may abound or that we can walk in newness of life, no longer slaves to sin but to righteousness, would not say that his thorn in the flesh was some habitual sin.

      that’s my nickle, for what it’s worth. I’m glad you are here and hope you’ll find some hope and healing in what follows. peace to you!

      • Chad,

        Thanks again for your insight. I do wonder though that when Paul mentions his thorn in the flesh, he is very clear that it is sent from a messenger of Satan. See 2 Corinthians 12:7. So, I do believe the thorn in the flesh is of Satanic and evil origin. And, as we all know, sin is evil. Knowingly sinning in order to receive God’s grace is one thing. But, being bothered, held back, and stumbling to a thorn in the flesh beyond one’s control is another. And, I think this is what Paul is referring to. Again, I want to be very clear… I am not justifying sin. There is nobody more desiring and wanting for God to take this away from me, than myself. I have examined my own heart, prayed, fasted, cried out to God to take it away. And, for some reason He hasn’t. While I don’t think God himself creates evil to draw people to Himself, I am convinced that God is capable to take what is meant for evil and make it into good. Somewhere in this mess God is glorified. It’s beyond my capability to try and understand it.

      • Greg,
        Yeah, I hear you. I have read some scholars argue that the thorn was Paul’s failing eyesight. Or some other physical ailment. It wouldn’t be odd to attribute such things to Satan.

        I don’t believe God wants you, or any of us, enslaved to anything. He has come to break the chains of sin, not keep us bound in something, whatever that something may be.

        forgive me for seeming pushy on the subject, but I don’t want to be guilty of sugar coating things for any of us. I’d caution against writing this off as something that somehow brings God glory or that it’s a thorn you will just have to endure for life. Thinking that way makes the battle already lost. God died for us to make us more than conquerors. I believe God wants you to have complete victory over this rather than live wounded by it.

  8. Pingback: The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part II) | Desire Mercy

  9. Another way of framing this, given that we agree this is sin, is to ask how we might counsel someone who said they can’t help sleeping with other men or women. They might very well (and I speak from experience here) suggest that this is their “thorn in their flesh” and that no matter how hard they try they can’t seem to stop. Would we shrug our shoulders and commiserate with them over their brokenness and hope that in some way God would be glorified through their habitual adultery? Or would we call them to something higher, as Jesus calls all who would consider the cost to be his disciple? Just a thought.

  10. Pingback: How to Be Set Free From the Sin of Self-Gratification | Desire Mercy

  11. Pingback: Sin: Is it just a matter of harming others? | umc holiness

  12. Pingback: You Can Be Free, Completely Free, from Self-Gratification | Desire Mercy

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