I once lived in an apartment where the water heater exploded, flooding my bedroom, the dining room, and the living room. Although water was suctioned out of the carpet and padding that night, the apartment management neglected to remove and replace the padding and the carpet – for two weeks! The apartment smelled like musty, dirty gym socks, and mold began to grow on the baseboards and walls. Instead of addressing the problem when it first occurred, management ignored it, so the problem – and the damage – increased.
In a little over a month, six college girls whom I disciple confessed to struggling with masturbation, and each girl informed me of others in her friend group or family who also masturbate. Yet how many pastors preach on the sin of masturbation? What parent talks to their child about this topic? Or if it is mentioned, the assumption is that men are the ones who grapple with this sin. When Christ-followers refuse to name and address specific sins, we give license for them to continue, and like the mold in my apartment, the problem and the damage grows when the sin goes unchecked.
Masturbation cannot remain a taboo subject in the church – not if we want to help sinners find forgiveness and freedom in Christ. Feeling the need to whisper the word “masturbation” reinforces a sinner’s inclination to hide the sin because of shame. Satan desires to keep us in bondage to our secrets, and we can be so scared to shine light into the crevices of our soul because (A) we are not sure what will be uncovered and (B) while God will have grace with us, we do not necessarily trust other believers to demonstrate that same grace when they learn what we have done. We fear rejection, condemnation, and disapproval, so we remain silent, allowing the sin to fester.
For all of these college girls, masturbation is not the root issue. It is only the symptom. What is the root? This differs for each person. Lust, pleasure, and physical satisfaction. Comfort. Anxiety. Fear. Insecurity. Anger at God over a broken relationship. These are all root issues. Therefore, as we discuss the sin of masturbation – and it is a sin – let us not do so without asking why the person engages in the sin. What motivates them to masturbate? Why is masturbation such a temptation? What beliefs does the individual have about what masturbating will accomplish? These types of questions assist in determining the heart issue, and while we address the heart issue, we must also tackle the symptom by equipping believers to know how to fight against temptation and how to renew their minds.
- Address ignorance. One of the girls did not know that masturbation is a sin, and how would she if no one ever talks about it? The word itself does not appear in Scripture, so we have to understand God’s design for sex as a fruitful, selfless, and relational union in order to grasp how masturbation is a perversion of God’s design and is a personal homosexual act. Masturbation might be considered uncomfortable or too racy to discuss, but better to have discomfort or awkwardness in a conversation or sermon then to overlook sin. (And for further discussion on why masturbation is a sin, listen to this sermon by David Platt and read this article by The Village Church.)
- Identify truth. This first involves reflection on why one masturbates. As the believer identifies the thoughts and beliefs that prompt them to indulge in such sin, the next step is to distinguish between truth and lies about their beliefs. So if someone masturbates because they see it as an outlet for stress and anxiety, then they are depending on themselves to cope with pressure instead of going to God. When tempted, they can identify why they want to sin, recognize that masturbation might provide momentary comfort but does not actually relieve any stress, and recall that the Lord is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). What is the truth about why they want to sin, and what does God’s Word have to say about their desires, beliefs, and the sin itself?
- Teach defense. It is not enough to identify truth. We must teach believers how to play defense, so they know how to respond when they are tempted to sin. What is our exit strategy for when we are tempted?
- Wage offense. We cannot just play good defense – SEC football, the NBA, and the NHL teach us this. We have to excel at both offense and defense in waging war against our sinful flesh. Do we pursue the things of God? Are we studying, memorizing, and arming ourselves with God’s Word? Are we cautious about our influences and what we are allowing to fill our minds.
- Depend on the Holy Spirit. We cannot do any of this on our own power. We need the Spirit to convict us of sin, to give us a hatred for our sin, and to provide strength to fight temptation. Do we ask Him for help in resisting temptation, or do we rely on ourselves?
- Seek accountability. Confess sin to a mature, trustworthy believer of the same gender. Doing so weakens the sin’s hold because no longer is it a silent sin, and it provides someone who can pray for you, encourage you, and equip you in resisting temptation. With my college girls who struggle with masturbation, we discussed what questions I can be asking them when we meet and how I can come alongside them in this journey.
In your ministry, your relationships, your home, and in your own life, do you address sin? Do you identify sin by name? Or are you ignoring certain sins like my previous apartment complex ignored the water damage in my apartment? Let us be a people who pursue righteousness and who trust the promises of God to forgive us of our sins when we confess them (1 Jn. 1:9) and to strengthen us when tempted (1 Cor. 10:13).