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.
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!