The reason this very private act matters to God is not because it involves our genitals, but because it involves our hearts. And God is passionately committed to our hearts belonging completely to Him (see Deuteronomy 6:5).

Masturbation isn't a filthy habit that makes people dirty. It only reveals the dirt that's already in our hearts. It's an indicator that we're feeding the wrong desires. That's why problems with lustful actions are symptoms of deeper heart problems.

Now you might be thinking, What are you talking about my heart for? This is about my sex drive and is purely biological. Don't even little kids do this before they're old enough to lust?

Hear me out. I'm not ignoring the biological realities involved with this issue. It's true that God has made us sexual creatures with bodies that have the capacity and the urge to satisfy themselves through self-stimulation. Many of us figured out this trick before we were old enough to know what it was called. And as we grow into adolescence, these natural drives only increase. There's a real, physiological component to all this that shouldn't be ignored. A guy's body produces semen that at some point has to be released. This is why a male who doesn't masturbate will have wet dreams where semen is released during sleep. The majority of males are most sexually charged before sex in marriage is even an option.

So in a sense, masturbation is natural. But does natural mean good? As Christians we have to be careful about assuming that something that comes naturally to humans is morally insignificant. We live in a fallen world. Every part of this planet and our humanity has been marred by sin. So though none of the natural functions of our bodies are inherently sinful, we have to be aware that natural desires can easily become sinful cravings.

Because of sin, even if masturbation starts out innocently in a child, it inevitably begins to involve lustful desires and fantasy. For most people the act is impossible to separate from lust in the heart-whether this involves pornography or not. One guy told me that he and his friends use the acronym LIA to refer to masturbation. It stands for "lust in action."

I know there are Christians who claim they can masturbate without lusting. They say they think nonsexual thoughts and do it merely for release. It's not my place to judge the hearts of these people. I can only speak from my own experience when I say that I highly doubt this is possible. What I've seen is that lust was always present in a significant way either leading up to or during the act. And then I think of Jeremiah 17:9, which says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" In light of my own ability to lie to myself, I'm very hesitant to trust my own evaluation, especially on this topic. Maybe I can convince myself I'm not lusting in that moment, but the likelihood is that my heart is deceiving me.

New Thinking

Even if it were possible to masturbate without lust, I think a lifestyle of masturbation is based on a wrong understanding of God's plan for sex.

Masturbation is built on a self-centered view of sex. This wrong attitude says that sex is solely about you and your pleasure. Your body. Your genitals. Your orgasm. This is the natural tendency of sin. It isolates us from others and makes pleasure self-focused. When our lustful desires are given free rein, sex is pushed into a corner and made a completely self-centered, isolated experience that reinforces a self-centered view of life.

If you want to break free from a pattern of masturbation, the first step is to renew your understanding of sex. You must embrace a God-centered and selfless attitude toward sex.

What does this mean? First, it means acknowledging that sex belongs to God. He created our sexuality and is the only One with the authority to dictate how it should be expressed. Sex is for Him. All that we do as sexual creatures should be an expression of our honor, love, and fear of Him.

Second, a God-centered view of sex strives to honor God's purpose for sex. It's not enough to know God's rules for sex. We need to understand His purpose and plan for it.

Why Did He Create It? What Was His Intent?

Marriage and sex are inseparable in God's design. You can't have one without the other. In Hebrews 13:4, when God addresses our attitude toward sex, He starts by adjusting our view of marriage:
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

This passage tells us that a healthy attitude toward sex starts with a high view of marriage: "Marriage should be honored by all." To honor something means to hold it in high esteem or to respect it. God is telling us that before we can view sex accurately, we have to take marriage seriously. We have to understand that in God's sight, when a man and woman marry and join their bodies together sexually, something spiritual occurs-they really do become "one."

When a husband and wife make love, it is a living picture of the spiritual reality of marriage-two people melded into one. But this physical joining is only one part of the union. Marriage is the combining of a man and woman at every level-not just sexually but emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way.

In God's plan, sexual union was never meant to be separated from this total union. C. S. Lewis compares having sex outside of marriage to a person who enjoys the sensation of chewing and tasting food, but doesn't want to swallow the food and digest it. This is a perversion of God's intent. Food was meant to be chewed and also swallowed. In a similar way, the sex act was meant to be a part of the whole-life union of marriage. When we attempt to experience sex apart from this union, we're disrespecting and dishonoring marriage.

Jeffrey Black writes, "The goal of pornography and masturbation is to create a substitute for intimacy. Masturbation is sex with yourself. If I'm having sex with myself, I don't have to invest myself in another person. People who are `addicted' to pornography aren't so much addicted to lurid material as they're addicted to self-centeredness. They're committed to serving themselves, to doing whatever they can to find a convenient way not to die to self, which is the nature of companionship in a relationship."

If you cultivate a habit of masturbation, don't assume it will end once you're married. I know many married people who continue to be tempted. Sometimes "solo sex" seems easier, even more pleasurable, than the work involved with maintaining intimacy with your spouse and unselfishly seeking to give him or her pleasure. But a husband or wife who turns to masturbation in marriage becomes a rival to his or her own spouse. The act of masturbation draws them away from each other.

That's why my wife, Shannon, and I have committed to each other not to substitute masturbation for sexual intimacy even if we're away from each other. We want sexual pleasure to be something we're dependent on each other to experience. We want sexual desire to be something that draws us together as a couple.

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