18 Jan 2018
One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.
As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.
God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.
As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say, “In this moment, what matters most is that I experience the most intense pleasure possible.” This is radically against the call of discipleship described above.
And there are practical considerations here as well. Even if it’s possible to masturbate without the use of porn or sexual fantasy, a single person is programming him or herself with a self-focused sexuality. If the Lord provides a spouse, this individual will not approach marriage looking to selflessly serve another. The focus of sex will be getting “my needs” met. Admittedly, all couples need to grow in practicing God-honoring, selfless sexuality, but masturbation places singles in a more challenging position.
Similarly, a married person is defrauding his or her spouse through masturbation. A healthy sex life takes work in marriage, requiring selfless emotional and spiritual investment, as well as learning to physically serve someone built very different from yourself. Masturbation selfishly takes the easy road of personal gratification at the cost of deepening oneness and intimacy in marriage.
And that highlights another problem. Many Christians justify masturbation because our culture elevates sexual desire to a physical “need.” But the hard truth is, no one has ever died for lack of sex (unlike oxygen, water, food, or shelter). This is not to say that living with unsatisfied sexual desires is easy! We should have great compassion for singles living in celibate faithfulness to Christ and couples languishing in sexless marriages. The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself.
The reality is that sex is a wonderful blessing – a good gift from God – but it is not a source of life in and of itself
Are Christians just too uptight about sex? Isn’t this repressive? Not at all. We believe God invented pleasure and gave us the capacity to enjoy it in all kinds of ways. But he also prescribed the ways certain pleasures should be expressed. All pleasures can entice our hearts to supplant the Giver of the gift to worship the gift instead.
Finally, most secular therapists agree that masturbation is a means of self-soothing and finding comfort. Here’s the problem: God declares himself to be the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He wants to meet us in our sadness, loneliness, and frustration. He promises to satisfy “you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). There is a danger when we turn to things of this world to soothe the ache in our soul. Jonah 2:8 warns, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (NIV). When we embrace the false and fleeting comforts of this world to satisfy the deep longings of our soul, we will not find lasting satisfaction or a balm for our yearnings.
We should seek comfort in ways that can facilitate deepening fellowship with God. A helpful gauge of whether your pursuit of comfort is drawing you closer to the Giver or not is the lens of Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Does whatever activity you are doing invite you to engage God and give thanks to him?
Wise Christians will tread this road carefully; we don’t want to heap shame on those struggling with masturbation. If we are honest, the issue is virtually universal for all of us at some point in our lives. This should mean we show compassion as those who can empathize. But we never want to shrink back from calling out sin for what it is. We want to invite people to return to their First Love, the One who has promised pleasure forevermore at his right hand.
David talks more about this on his accompanying video: Is Our View of Masturbation Outdated? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
01 Jun 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity means that our focus needs to be on Jesus through every struggle we face and looking at the goal toward which God is calling us.
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 4.
01 Jun 2017
I hope my first three blogs in this series have helped you consider taking some practical steps to increasingly live with sexual integrity in your life and your relationships.
We’ve looked at how, by faith, we need to throw off anything that distracts or hinders us (blog 1); to learn how to persevere through tough times and not give up (blog 2); and to watch over our hearts to discern when discouragement and discontentment will set us up for failure (blog 3).
In this final blog on making progress in living a life of sexual integrity, here’s the fourth thing we need to do: to keep Jesus and the race he ran in the front of our minds and hearts. It’s this fourth thing that undergirds all the others in pursuing sexual integrity.
We need to take encouragement to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race.
It’s both an encouragement and a challenge for me to ponder this exhortation: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13, ESV).
Peter’s words encourage me when I’m weary or discouraged. Sometimes life feels overwhelmingly tough, even when it has nothing to do with sexual integrity! Or sometimes old temptations rise back up, and I can feel shame in finding myself struggling with the same thing again. But if I prepare my mind for action, I can turn towards God and trusted friends for help and encouragement right when I need it.
Just last week a friend helped me become “sane” again when I was struggling with the seedling of an old sin pattern that emerged again. Her text message to me read, “We need to pray together about this before it grows into something bigger!”
In pride, I hesitated at first but then welcomed the invitation to confess, examine, and pray with someone about the situation. My friend helped me set my hope on Christ, that he would give me what I needed, and that kept me from spiraling inward and getting stuck in examining my temptation, rather than fixing my eyes on Christ and his very present help for me.
Now, there’s everything right in examining our hearts and gaining clarity on the temptations facing us, but we can do that and not take the next step. It’s the next step that is crucial!
I needed to have my thinking reoriented by both the present grace and the future grace that Christ gives me. I needed to hope again in what God can do in and through my present struggles (read that verse in 1 Peter again).
Peter’s words challenge me that I must also put my hope in the grace which is to come: the ultimate redemption which will fill the earth upon Christ’s return. It’s so important to practice redemptive remembering both backward and forward: that Christ has finished his race and that the glorious and final overcoming of sin, death, and the kingdom of darkness is coming. It is still yet to come, but it IS coming!
OK, you say, how does looking ahead help me now in my present struggles with pornography, or sexual fantasy, or unholy relationships that I get myself entangled in?
Remember earlier when I said to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race? We need to realize that Jesus had us in mind when he endured temptation and suffering!
Hebrews 12: 2-3 says, “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…Consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Thinking about, reflecting upon, meditating on Jesus’ sufferings and his obedience through everything he endured is the key way we faithfully walk our race of faith.
Our mind is to have Christ in mind; our goal is to honor Christ, to glorify him, in how we grow to trust him and live for him.
Jesus’ mind was to have us in his mind; his goal was to anticipate the joy he would have when his death and resurrection secured our place with him.
“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”
There is a finish line. Look at it, like Jesus did. All of human history is moving toward Revelation 4 and 21, which speaks of Jesus sitting on the throne, the One who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. All sin, death, suffering, every struggle you have had in running this race of faith will be overturned; everything will be made new (Revelation 21:5).
And then you will fully believe that it was all worth it.
Sisters, don’t live and act like this life is all there really is. Don’t live out of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) and think and live sexually in ways that dishonor Christ because you are not getting your needs met.
RUN, sisters, RUN this race of faith with sexual integrity! Find running companions. Don’t try to go solo. As Hebrews 12 says, when our hands are drooping and our knees are wobbly and weak, God sends encouragement through other believers, other runners in the race of faith.
Let’s together help one another to grow in living with sexual integrity, urging one another to look to Jesus when this dark world distracts or entices us.
We can persevere in this life of faith by considering Jesus: our great High Priest, our Loving Savior, the One who sat down on the throne…and is coming again to complete the work he has started!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 4. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
25 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves what Ellen calls “staying in our lane.” God has marked out a path for us, and it is in that very path that we grow and prosper. Not outside of that lane.
25 May 2017
Running my race of faith well and with sexual integrity is tough! If I’m going to make progress in living a life of sexual integrity, I need to handle four things well. First, I need to intentionally throw off distractions and everything that hinders me (my first blog on this). Second, I need to persevere, learning that hanging tough in rough times is when I most experience Christ’s strength and comfort (my second blog).
Now, another thing: I’ve come to see how crucial it is to watch over my heart and be aware of when discontentment is hovering and lingering. I need to be honest about painful circumstances and deep disappointments that I’m facing.
Why these things? What do they have to do with living a life of sexual integrity?
Because disappointment tends to grow into discontentment, and discontentment can lead us in one of two directions. Which direction you go in is critical.
Positively, a growing sense of discontentment in my life can lead me to run to God, which is exactly what he wants us to do. Hebrews 12:1-13, which is the passage I’m looking at in all these blogs, says that I’m to run the path “marked out for us” (NIV). This path—filled with disappointments and discontentment—is the one God will use in my life to transform me.
I need to stay in this lane.
In other words, sexual integrity (living honestly and intentionally within God’s stated boundaries for sexuality) is not something that is just handed to us. It is pursued and embraced as we wrestle with the fallenness of our own hearts and all of life in general. God intends that trouble and pain would draw us to himself in dependence and humility.
Hebrews 4:16 says beautifully, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). I would suspect that, like me, millions of people throughout history have crumpled down at that throne with aching and disappointed hearts. The One sitting on the throne graciously welcomes disappointed and discontented people!
Look at Hebrews 4:16 again. Do you see it? Jesus embraces us when we run to him with aching and angsty hearts!
What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.
But on the negative side of disappointment and discontentment, it can lead us in a dark and dangerous direction. Instead of going to Jesus, we go anywhere and elsewhere. Why? Because our painful emotions seek relief, seek escape, seek comfort.
Recently a woman confessed how years of looking at pornography created a fantasy world in her mind. It was a quick and easy place of escape when trouble came. Her fantasy world was simply more appealing than the real world in which she lived. It was as if her heart said, “That path God marked out for me? I’m not going there!”
What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.
In the case of this young woman, emotional lust and a craving to feel good (loved, pursued, celebrated) propelled her towards the unreal world of sexual fantasy and pornography. The places in her life that were disappointing to her (her singleness, her loneliness in not having women friends, and some tough, physical trials) seemed to vanish in the hours she spent online.
So, what was this woman to do—just “sit” in her disappointment? Should she believe the lie that echoed in her heart: “This is your lot in life. Just deal with it!”?
Absolutely not! Jesus calls her to himself, not to a fatalistic resignation about her life. As I said in my second blog, God isn’t calling us to merely gut it out.
Jesus wants her to fix her eyes on him, trusting that he is with her on this path and that he will provide what she needs. Her life is filled with trials and temptations, but also with an abundance of mercy and comfort from God that is readily available to her.
He wants her to stay in her lane, fixing her hopes on him rather than frantically escaping her troubling emotions. Jesus, who is with her on this path, is the reality her heart really needs. Made-up worlds in our minds, sexual or not, can’t offer lasting comfort or peace!
To run the race of faith with sexual integrity, we must be honest about how we struggle with discontentment. I struggled for years with my own escape to fantasy life, but I’m thankful that I’m not tempted to look at porn or to rent movies that are sensual or sexual. I’m saying this to encourage you, that it is possible to overcome deep-seated sin patterns!
However, when the stress of ministry and responsibilities are high, I can be tempted to run after Netflix, Redbox, or the hundreds of free DVDs at the public library. And when I give way to escaping into entertainment in an unplanned way, out come the salty snacks. Unplanned eating leads to overeating for me.
Running in the path marked out for me means fixing my eyes on Jesus when life is simply hard, when nothing seems to go well. It means calling out for help to Jesus and to his people, confessing my weaknesses, burdens, and the sinful temptations that lurk all around me.
Staying in my lane also means that in the toughness of life, I submit to God’s authority as my loving Lord and allow my heart to go where Mary’s did. When faced with an unbelievable task, to do something that was impossible because of who she was, she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Oh, to grow in that kind of peaceful trust of God when the path marked out for me is different from my plans and even my desires. With Christ in us and beside us, we can run this race well! We can stay in our lanes with our hearts fixed on Jesus.
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
17 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves perseverance—and that is something Jesus enables us to do.
Click the following link to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on in this blog: Women: Running the race well—Part 2.
17 May 2017
For women who desire to run their faith race well—and that includes living a life of sexual integrity—it’s important to know that Jesus doesn’t expect us to just gut it out. No, as I said in my first blog, Jesus enables us to throw off distractions and to run the race with perseverance when it gets tough.
1 John 3:8 says Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil—and that means our unbelief and all the sin attached to it. Living a life of sexual integrity, particularly during times of struggle, shows our commitment to cooperating with Jesus in what he wants to accomplish in us.
And that is, that we persevere, that our faith is for the long haul.
But how do we persevere? How do we run and hold on over a long distance?
First, we need God’s strength to do it. We need to know that the Holy Spirit pours out strength and courage when we are fearful and weary in the battle against sexual sin. I remember a woman I met two years ago who boldly took a step that she knew would be extremely costly to her. She went to a mentor in her life and was honest about being emotionally involved with a married man. In the days following her confession, she felt the anguish of letting go of something which had become intoxicating to her. Intoxicating and dangerous.
But she still had the desire, although weak by that time, to persevere and to walk in sexual integrity. She knew that faithfulness to Jesus meant being willing to part with anything that could hijack her heart from love and obedience to him. That was a costly obedience! When we persevere like this, not only will sexual integrity grow in our lives, but we will also experience Christ’s strength and comfort through our costly obedience.
Secondly, we need God’s discipline to reshape us. Discipline, as described in Hebrews 12:5-11, doesn’t mean a scolding or bearing the brunt of harsh punishment. When Hebrews 12 talks about God disciplining us, it describes God as a father caring for his child.
The goal of God’s fatherly discipline is our holiness; that is, we increasingly become Christ-like in our character, growing in maturity and bearing good fruit throughout our life.
His discipline can come in a number of ways. It might come in the form of someone asking you difficult and humbling questions about your online life or about a relationship in which you’re involved. It might be someone challenging you about a relationship that isn’t good for you. It can be through God not giving you something you desire because what you want might lead you far from him. God’s discipline is tough love! But you have to see it as love!
“God’s discipline is tough love! But you have to see it as love!”
Thirdly, we need to be changed from the inside out to persevere. We need to see that God’s discipline does not just mean outward changes in behavior. God is always targeting our hearts first! God is always wooing us back to him. Yes, discipline should result in changed behavior, but for it to last, for it to deeply please him, for it to be real in our lives, it must flow from a heart that is being changed from the inside out.
Finally, we need to humbly recognize that sometimes God will allow us to experience the consequences of sin when we refuse to turn from it. This is also a form of his loving discipline: to convince us that when we turn from his path, we are in a danger zone.
I think of someone I knew who held on to her sin until all was lost: ministry, marriage, relationship with her kids, and all of this in a very public way. Into this person’s life came God’s rod of loving discipline. The sin was found out, her marriage crumbled, her children left her, her job was lost. All of it so painful, but all of it was allowed by God as a loving and rescuing wake-up call.
Amazingly, the discipline worked! She persevered through the valley of humiliation and is now growing more and more as a humble, Jesus-loving person who is running with integrity in her life.
Jesus said to his followers in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV).
Perseverance is costly obedience over the long haul, but it’s empowered by the ongoing rest we receive in leaning into Jesus.
Are you weary, sister, in your battle against temptations and sin? Go to Jesus, who welcomes the weary and gives strength! Are you hurting and perhaps feeling the anguish of having let go of a person or situation for the sake of holiness? Run to Jesus; he is gentle and desirous to give you rest!
You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Women: Running the race well—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
10 May 2017
In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well. One part of our life to run well is how we live with our sexuality. A life of sexual integrity doesn’t just happen—it takes serious steps to run this race well!
Click here to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on Ellen’s blog here: Women: Running the Race Well—Part 1.
10 May 2017
In 2013 I finished the Philadelphia half-marathon with integrity, even though I wasn’t on board with the race’s motto: “For the Love of Running.” I don’t love to run, and in fact I walked the entire 13.1 miles! My form was less than professional, and my running clothes were not high-end gear, but I did finish the race. I finished what I started. That was my integrity, the principle for which I strove for: Finish well what you started.
I did it by keeping the finish line in mind. One step at a time. Not getting distracted by the scenery along the race, like the beauty of Rittenhouse Square or the exotic landscape of the Philadelphia Zoo.
Women who desire to live with sexual integrity—with themselves and in their relationships with others and with God—also need to run the race of faith well.
Which means throwing off distractions and hindrances, like how I finished the half-marathon.
Hebrews 12:1-13 gives us many rich truths to consider in this regard, but let’s start this discussion with the importance of throwing off the endless distractions we all face in this world and the sins that easily trip us up.
After the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, there were four tons of discarded clothing collected along the marathon route!¹ Serious runners start the race wearing gear that can be tossed off in the first miles as their bodies warm up. These articles of clothing are helpful at the start but a heavy hindrance once underway.
Similarly, we need to recognize and be willing to part with not only obvious sin but also influences in our lives which distract and hinder us from loving Jesus in our pursuit of sexual integrity. We need to take seriously the influences which can weigh us down and make it easier to walk into sinful situations.
“The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!”
People, forms of recreation, activities, and so on may be good things but may also have a power in our lives to pull us away from following Jesus. A person or relationship can easily hijack our heart’s contentment in Christ. A form of entertainment can quickly become our default source of comfort or escape from the stresses of life. A ministry or work scenario can put us near someone to whom we’re growing in an unholy attachment, even to the point where we feel we need that person’s affirmation to be okay or feel secure.
The key here is not so much the thing itself but the impact it has on us. Sexual sin most often has a seemingly ‘innocent’ beginning—when a potential hindrance or distraction is given room to grow, when a temptation is managed rather than run from!
Hebrews 12:1 says that not only are we commanded to throw off hindrances, but the sin which so easily entangles us” [emphasis mine]. The idea here isn’t sin in general, like “Lord, please forgive me of all the sins I’ve done this week,” but rather the specific sins that we are more likely to give into—our characteristic sins that easily tempt us.
In my life, I’ve not generally been prone towards anger, coveting things, or lying, but I have at times been prone towards people-pleasing, worship of comfort, selfishness with my time, fantasy, and abuse of food. And that’s just for starters!
Over the years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had my fantasy life cleaned up, food has now become an occasional distraction, and I don’t crave people’s approval of me anymore. I’m not entangled by these things anymore. However, worship of comfort and possessiveness with time? Those are an ongoing part of my race of faith in which I need the throne of grace to be open for heart-business 24/7, and I need others to help me grow.
What about you? What are the sins that easily trip you up? What are the sins that seem to precede sexual sin in your life? Women who battle against various forms of sexual sin usually give way to other things first: things like unbelief, laziness, exposure to questionable entertainment, dabbling in inappropriate physical affection with someone, and withdrawing from other believers.
No one floats or coasts into holiness or Christian maturity. Years ago my battle against fantasy had to be serious: meditating upon God’s Word, not allowing my eyes to take in things which tempt me, prayer, confessing immediately to others. I had to lay aside many hindrances and potential distractions so that they wouldn’t grow into sin.
In 2013 I wasn’t a fast runner or a top finisher in the Philly half-marathon, but I did cross the finish line! You can run your faith race well and increasingly grow into being a woman of sexual and relational integrity—persevering one step at a time.
Running the race of sexual integrity well is possible through the love and grace of Jesus! But experiencing that love and grace means we commit to throwing off sin and distractions. This process of laying aside must be intentional sisters!