Does the Bible tell us that masturbation is a sin? If not, how can we determine from Scripture if it is or not?
Sinning in the Heart
Jesus once said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28). What Jesus was saying is that we can sin in our hearts without actually doing the physical act. Just like we can hate someone and God sees it as committing murder in our hearts as Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Why would Jesus see our desires, thoughts, motives, and intents as being the same as sin? Because if we hated someone we’d seek to take their life if we could get away with it and in a similar fashion, if we’re lusting after someone, it is very likely that if we could have sex with that person, whether it was outside of marriage (adultery) or as a single adult (fornication), we’d likely do it.
Temptation leads to Sin
I have heard many Christians say that they sinned because of the enemy or some evil influence but James, Jesus’ half-brother, tells us where sin actually begins in James 1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” The phrase “the Devil made me do it” is not a biblical idea or belief. Yes, Satan or his demons might tempt us to sin “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” meaning we are responsible for our own thoughts and actions. If we don’t flee or resist this temptation to sin then “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” In other words, we can’t blame God or the Devil or his minions but only ourselves. If we allow temptation to stew, it will boil over into desire which can lead to sin.
Lusting in the Heart
We have already read that Jesus equated the desire to have sex with someone who is not our spouse as adultery of the heart but this doesn’t mean that the physical act is not worse. When we commit adultery or fornication, we are actually joining ourselves with that person as Paul writes “do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:16-18). Paul puts it this way: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never” (1 Cor 6:15)! This is why we should “Flee from sexual immorality.”
I love what Job said in Job 31:1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” In other words, when Job even saw a woman who was not his spouse, he would immediately look away. The same principle is that when I watch TV, which is not all that often, and I see an image on a commercial or a promo of a show that is sexually explicit, I either turn the channel or I turn the TV off. I won’t sit there and stare at it until it’s over. This allows me to become tempted and immoral thoughts can easily creep into my mind. Once again, Paul reminds us that “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity” (Eph 5:3) and so “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1st Cor 10:31). The fact is “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). You and I must realize that our “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
Even though the Bible doesn’t expressly say that masturbation is sin, the principle of our thought life is that we can sin in our hearts and if we sin in our hearts and don’t flee the temptation, the temptation can conceive sin and sin then brings the consequences and that is death for those who have never repented and trusted in Christ.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.