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Breaking Sexual Idolatry (Part 1)

(Steve Gallagher of Purelife Ministries)

Deeply embedded within the heart of man is a spiritual altar. Every human has the capacity—no, the need—to worship. The objects of that worship are the things or persons which have taken the preeminent position of importance in the person’s life. Whatever they may be, they cast their looming shadow over all of the other aspects of his life.

It is this position in the human heart that God demands to occupy. Jesus said as much when He cited Deuteronomy 6:5 as being the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) This intimate relationship with Him was to form the basis of all religion.

Unfortunately, in his fallen spiritual condition, man’s natural tendency is to give that affection to something else. People prostrate themselves before all kinds of things in this earthly life: careers, homes, personal attractiveness, other people, food, entertainment, sports, drugs, etc. Truth be known, most people have acquired several idols. Even churchgoers crowd God into a secondary or even nonexistent position in their lives. Jesus rightly said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

For many, the powerful human drive for sex becomes the overriding passion of life. Kept in its proper place, sex is a marvelous means for a married couple to physically express their love to each other. However, when a person begins to indulge in some form of illicit sexual behavior, this passion can quickly get out of control.

As the neighborhood drug pusher entices someone with free marijuana in order to lead him into hard core drugs, so will Satan subtly lure an unwitting victim into bondage with a few satisfying sexual experiences. Gradually the object of the person’s fantasy—whether it be some particular act (oral sex, orgies, exhibitionism, etc.) or a specific type of person (blonde girl, men, children, etc.)—grows into a monstrous idol which lodges itself within his heart.

Over time this ravenous beast takes over and begins to drive the person’s life. Eventually he loses control of how often, with whom, and under what circumstances he will engage in sex. He has become addicted* to the euphoria associated with sexual activity in much the same way others become addicted to the high of alcohol or drugs. Thus, his sexuality and capacity to worship become fused into a corrupted, nearly irresistible drive to worship at the altar of sexual idolatry.

Special Routines

As the addiction tightens its grip on the victim, he enters into special routines or rituals to which he becomes accustomed. The addict’s personal fantasy is what dictates his particular routine. The resultant behavior can range anywhere from simple masturbation all the way to sexual serial killing.

I personally spent nearly 15 years of my life during the 70’s and early 80’s obsessed with sex. In those days one had to go to an adult bookstore to see hardcore pornography. My routine usually began by browsing the magazine racks for awhile. As my lust heightened, I would venture into the movie arcade, a dimly lit area located in the rear of the bookstore containing a number of booths where a man could watch a pornographic film in private. I would “size up” the movie advertisements for each one, determining which one most appealed to me. Then I would go from booth to booth, saving my favorite for last. Other times I would view pornography as a precursor to visiting a prostitute or going to a strip club.

These days, men are more likely to do their cruising online. They can easily spend hours in a sexual trance, going from one explicit website to another, vainly searching for some powerful image that will really fulfill their greatest fantasy.

But not everyone is satisfied with simply looking at dirty pictures. Their addiction has taken them much further than they ever imagined they would go. Once a person gives over to sexual sin, there is no telling which direction it may take him. There are all kinds of different ways people act out their sexual fantasies.

For instance, an exhibitionist will often drive around for an hour or more in a sexualized state of mind looking for a victim. Sam was a young teenager when he began sensing a desire to expose himself. Every morning, when a group of teenage girls would walk through his backyard on their way to school, he would masturbate while watching them through his window. Although he never dared to make himself visible, the thought of the girls seeing him masturbate would arouse him. As he grew older, this nagging urge continued to plague him. He would repeatedly dismiss it, yet it would not disappear. One day, he pulled his car over and masturbated while a woman walked by. He did a good job of concealing himself, but the thought of her seeing him was what really excited him. He repeated this same routine occasionally over the next several months until finally his lust overcame him, and he gave in to the temptation. He allowed a woman to see him as he climaxed. Even though it frightened him terribly, he found himself repeating the act over and over again. He could no longer be satisfied with masturbation alone.

The indecent phone caller’s routine closely resembles that of the exhibitionist, except that his ritual is done over the phone. As he dials telephone numbers, the caller will become aroused at the thought of reaching some woman who is naïve enough to listen to what he says. This is when his lust will be fulfilled.

Take Stan for example. His problems began with “dial-a-porn.” He would get himself worked up with pornography and then call a special number where a girl would talk sexually with him. But this was too easy. Rather than allow himself to end it with her, he would start breezing through the local telephone book calling numbers until he found a woman who would listen to his lewd suggestions and the graphic description of his subsequent climax.

The voyeur, or “peeping Tom,” will cruise streets for hours in hopes of finding a window that might provide some excitement. After he anxiously waits, for perhaps hours at a time, finally a glimpse of flesh will enter his visual field. This eyeful brings about the culmination of his lust.

Bob would be sitting in his house at night watching television when the thought of all of those potential windows would start to entice him. After everyone went to bed, he would sneak out of the house and down the street, searching for a window with open curtains. After finding one, he might stay for a long period of time until he scored a glimpse of anything exciting.

A “john” may act out his routine by cruising the “red-light” district, a haven for prostitutes. Captivated by the whole scene, he slowly cruises by each girl, carefully examining her. He begins to fantasize and lust builds up in his heart. Finally, one will catch his interest for whatever reason, and he will seek out her services for the evening.

Jody would spend hours driving down streets teeming with prostitutes. This was half of the excitement for him. Occasionally, he might pull over and talk with one for awhile, but usually he was not ready for his routine to end yet; so he would drive on and continue his cruising. Finally, after his desire to have sex approached its peak, he would select one of the girls to take back to his hotel room. This is where his routine would find its climax.

A more recent form of sexual addiction that has become prevalent revolves around Internet chat rooms. These online communication venues can range from the innocent interaction of teenagers playing electronic games to sites that host personal message boards of those seeking romantic relati
onships.

Virginia’s job required a working knowledge of the Internet. Being socially awkward, she found it difficult to interact meaningfully with guys—even those in her singles’ group. However, her inhibitions dissolved in chat rooms. She was in her element and could confidently communicate with others. She convinced herself that this would be the best way to find a Christian husband. But she gradually found herself spending more time in secular chat rooms where the language often became racy or even vulgar. At first, this scared her, but as she continued to cautiously dabble, she got to where she enjoyed being the object of attention from so many men. Before long she was spending all her spare time trolling for lusty partners who would engage in sexual conversations with her.

The compulsive homosexual might act out his routine in one of several ways. Usually he will go to the local gay bar where he will flirt around until he finds the right person. Or he might choose to go to an adult movie arcade where there will be straight or bisexual men who will welcome his services. There he will go from man to man throughout the night until he finally tires and finds some way to achieve enjoyment for himself.

Rick did both. Some nights he would go to the gay bars or gay bathhouses, seeking out another homosexual who attracted him. The two of them might have several drinks together as they got to know each other, and would then end up in bed for the night. Other nights he would go to the adult bookstores. He would offer to “take care of” straight men who were watching pornographic movies in small booths. In any given night, he might have sex with a dozen or more men in that booth. Although he was driven to do this, he was surprised at how little satisfaction he received from it.

A stepfather who is a practicing child molester would have a completely different routine. He may (or may not) start off by looking at pornography. Eventually, though, he will sneak into the child’s bedroom where he will act out his lust.

Lew began molesting his oldest daughter from the time she was ten. Each time he would spend several moments coaxing and comforting her to convince her that it was his way of showing his “special love” for her and that it would be their little secret. She reluctantly went along with it until he tried to molest her younger sister. Having lived with the horror of molestation, she could not bear to see her sister go through what she had endured. Out of desperation, she told her teacher, who immediately alerted the authorities.

All of these different people share one thing in common: they have allowed unbiblical thinking to dominate their lives to the point that they have become addicted to their behavior. Their actual routines may differ but they all have a distinct or observable pattern which eventually led to their “acting out” sexually.

Life for the Addict

Once an individual becomes addicted to sex, he enters into a vicious cycle of self-destruction and degradation. It appears that the more compulsive or perverted his sexual behavior is, the harsher society is in labeling and judging him because of it. Consequently, his whole life is consumed with guilt and shame. This is especially true of those persons who come from a Christian background or who are actively involved in their local church.

As time progresses, many things begin to happen in the sex addict’s life. His sense of confidence and self-worth continually diminish, and the emptiness inside of him is magnified. As a result, he begins an intense and desperate search to fill this void in his life. Since sex has been his personal elixir to which he has turned during previous times of despair, just as a drunk turns to his liquor bottle, the sex addict will pursue the object(s) of his desire. Unfortunately, after fleeing to sex to find comfort or simply a “quick-fix,” he only manages to heap more shame and despair upon himself—the pit becomes deeper, the darkness even blacker.

The typical “sexual addict” can maintain basic disciplines such as holding down a job and paying the bills. But as he continues to cater to his pet sin, his world becomes increasingly smaller. Before long, there is very little room for anyone or anything else but his beloved object of adoration. He becomes increasingly selfish in every aspect of life.

He starts building up walls around himself, alienating himself from others. Loved ones usually feel an inexplicable separation growing between the addict and themselves. Unaware of his addiction, they cannot understand what is happening to him or why they are unable to communicate with him. Hal describes what happened in his family:

The alienation of my family began long before I ever realized it. It was only in retrospect that I could see the situation for what it really was. Initially, this involved only my immediate family. My self-centered obsession with sex resulted in my wife not getting the love and attention which she truly deserved. Her understandable frustration with this void in our relationship resulted in countless arguments—many of them severe.

Another common trait of an addict is blameshifting. To accept responsibility for his life and his own failures would mean having to come to grips with his addiction. Unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions, he must find others to blame. He is in a constant state of denial, even if he understands his addiction. The more he denies the sinfulness of his life or actions, the more he blames those around him. “It’s my dad’s fault.” “It’s because my wife doesn’t take care of me.” It seems as though the problem always lies elsewhere.

This blameshifting process might be taking place only in a sex addict’s mind, as he seeks to justify his actions or shift responsibility toward those around him. But each time he is approached about any issue or behavior that relates, even indirectly, to his addiction, he inevitably resorts to some form of blameshifting. He not only fails to admit the wrongness of his sexual behavior, but he is likely to deny any other wrong-doing in his life. The writer of Hebrews understood this phenomenon when he wrote about “the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

In addition to blameshifting, the addict becomes manipulative. Manipulating others through “mind games” and verbal gymnastics are essential tools that allow him to maintain access to his sexual sin and minimize impending consequences. Since it is always someone else’s fault, he justifies both his actions and his manipulation. His selfish maneuvering might include laying “guilt trips” on his wife every time she questions his behavior. “You’re always on my back about something!” “You just don’t trust me!” These are favorite responses of anyone in habitual sin. Often the poor wife thinks that she is losing her mind. His guilt trips are so convincing, even he himself believes them. If he should somehow fail to convince himself that his problems are everyone else’s fault, he would have to deal with his own guilt.

The sexual addict will also become very critical and judgmental of those around him. Inside he knows that what he is doing is wrong so he lashes out at others with criticism. His insults keep others beneath him, thereby making him feel better about himself as well as convincing others (at least in his warped thinking) that they are more to blame for any problems that might exist than he is. As a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff assigned to a maximum security jail facility, I often became a dispenser of vigilante justice. I did not spend much time examining the filth in my own life, but I was quick to inflict punishment on troublesome inmates for their infractions!

The sex addict also lashes out at loved ones in order to protect himself from their probing questions. If he is unapproachable, he will not have to answer for his actions. If his wife attempts to question him about his personal life, his nasty defensiveness
wilts her best intentions, and she quickly learns to keep her mouth shut. In the back of his mind, he knows that his temper is his “ace in the hole” if she starts scrutinizing his behavior. Surely Solomon saw all this when he said, “He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:7–8)

The Inner Life

These outward characteristics of the addict’s life, his alienation, blameshifting, manipulation, critical spirit and unapproachable façade, are supplemented by an array of internal characteristics. The man who is being controlled by sin will often be overly sensitive to criticism, blowing every imagined slight out of proportion. All the while, his deep sense of shame over his actions reinforces his sense of unworthiness. However, instead of coming to the cross of Jesus Christ with that great need he will try to deal with it by mentally inflating the sense of his own worth. His sexual sin creates a vicious cycle that stirs up a whirlwind of destruction. The more sin the sex addict indulges in, the deeper the shame and the worse he feels about himself. He overcompensates for the shame by becoming more prideful. Dominated by pride, he becomes extremely touchy, perhaps prone to intense bouts of self-pity. As we will discuss in Chapter Six, much of this arrogance and self-centeredness dissipates as the man begins to humble himself.

Another phenomenon the sexual addict faces is paranoia, imagining that others know about his secret behavior. I remember once leaving an adult bookstore, after committing an act of lust, when a police car went screaming by me in the direction from which I had come. In my twisted thinking (where I was huge in my own mind) I imagined that they were after me! Another time, while on the way to an adult bookstore, I saw a carload of my friends. Although I steered the car away from the bookstore, I just knew that I would be branded a pervert from that day on. In reality, neither the police nor my friends had any idea of what I was doing.

Ted was really paranoid of people knowing about his secret life. He was convinced that everybody on his job knew about his abnormal behavior. He would describe in great detail the things that had happened at his work to convince himself that they knew. He was also sure that the police had him staked out, twenty-four hours a day. It took quite a bit of talking on my part to convince him that the police cannot afford to set up surveillance on one exhibitionist!

In addition to paranoia, there is the deep shame that sexual addicts live with daily. I felt like such a hypocrite when I would go to church. I always had a nagging feeling that the people in church somehow knew what I was doing in secret. When I finally began walking in victory, it was liberating to be able to look people right in the eye, knowing I had nothing to hide. As Solomon describes, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1)

All Groups Affected

Sexual addiction/bondage transcends all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups. The idea of the sexual deviant being a filthy little man that crawls out from under some rock has been dispelled in recent years as increasingly more “respectable” personalities are discovered in compromising situations. In fact, the more highly respectable an addict is in his outward life, the more shame he is likely to incur and the greater his fear of discovery and exposure.

Sexual addiction also goes beyond sexual preference lines. Not all homosexuals are addicted to compulsive sexual behavior. Some live with one mate and have no need to venture out into the life of multiple partners. However, this is generally a rare exception. Homosexuality, by its nature, promotes variety in sex. The homosexual who wishes to repent of his behavior must face additional problems. He has viewed himself as being “gay” for many years. It is his identity as a person. When I was in the midst of my sin, I simply viewed myself as a normal, albeit oversexed man. However, a man who has been involved in the “gay” lifestyle often views himself as a homosexual first and a man second. He must not only overcome the sexual addiction, but also hope that somehow his sexual preference will change. His mannerisms and often his entire self-identity will need to be transformed. Can it really happen? Absolutely! Promise of change and freedom from sin is at the very heart of the gospel. “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Developing Convictions about Lust and Masturbation

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, blameshift or otherwise justify continuing to live in his sin.

On the other hand, the believer with a tender conscience is keenly aware of every infraction against the Lord. He recognizes sin for the ugly thing that it is. Immoral deeds, though seemingly insignificant to others, are viewed by him as monstrous crimes against a holy God. The person with a soft heart also remains consistently open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction. He is not looking to push the limits of sin—to see how much he can get away with—but to avoid it altogether. Sin, to him, is a poison which must be eradicated at any cost. This man will be able to make the necessary commitment to find victory over sin.

The place to begin this journey into purity is to better understand the realm where this great struggle must take place.

Heart Issue

The first thing which must be understood is that Christianity begins and ends in the heart. That is true because every action a person takes can ultimately be traced back to the heart. It also explains why Satan puts such a premium on influencing, clouding, seducing and winning people’s hearts.

The heart is primarily the realm of a person’s emotions, feelings, affections, motives and attitudes. Just as the physical heart pumps life-giving blood throughout the entire physiological being, so too the inner heart of man functions as the nucleus of all that goes on in a person’s life. It is the breeding ground for all of one’s thinking. Its Creator said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts.…” (Mark 7:21)

In many ways, a human functions like a computer. The human computer operates with the information that is stored in the “hard drive” of the heart. The heart could be called the seat of influence for a person’s life; the seedbed where ideas are formed, attitudes developed and out of which thoughts spring forth. It is the essence of man’s being.

Another good way to illustrate this is to think of a person as a city and the heart as the seat of government. It is within this administrative center that public policy is formed and established. In turn, that policy permeates and directs the affairs of what goes on within that community.

The important position the heart occupies within a person can be seen in Scripture. We are told of a “tender heart” (2 Kings 22:19), a “proud heart” (2 Chronicles 26:16), an “unfeeling heart” (Psalm 17:10), a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17), a “humbled heart” (2 Chronicles 32:26), a “broken heart” (Psalm 34:18)
, a “wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12), a “hard heart” (Ephesians 4:18), and a “clean heart.” (Psalm 51:10) People are told to “rend” their hearts (Joel 2:13), seek God with all their hearts (Psalm 119:2, 10), and pour out their hearts before Him. (Psalm 62:8) We are told of those who deceive their own hearts (James 1:26), backslide in heart (Proverbs 14:14), spurn reproof in their hearts (Proverbs 5:12), and regard wickedness in their hearts. (Psalm 66:18) It’s no wonder then that we are admonished to “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 KJV) Surely it is true: “…the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep.” (Psalm 64:6)

Defining Lust

There are a number of biblical terms which are used (in varying degrees) to portray sexual desire. The Greek word epithumeo is the one most often employed. Strong defines it: “to set the heart upon, that is, long for…”1 Easton says it is, “sinful longing; the inward sin which leads to the falling away from God.”2 Another says it is “a longing for the unlawful, hence, concupiscence, desire, lust… the sensual desire connected with adultery, fornication.”3 While it really describes the fallen nature’s longing for any kind of sin, it is most often associated with sexual immorality.

For the Christian man living in a sexualized culture, the temptation to lust can be separated into two primary categories. First, there is reactive lust. This occurs when a girl* comes into view. The man’s response may range from a quick glance to a longing, sinful gaze. It goes without saying that if she is wearing revealing clothing there will be a greater temptation to think of her sexually. However, it should be noted that when Jesus defined lust as looking “at a woman with evil desire for her” (Matthew 5:28 AMP), He didn’t absolve the man of guilt based upon the girl’s clothing.

In the First Century, women wore long, loosely flowing robes. Christian men out in public didn’t have to deal with what men must regularly face today. There were no televisions, magazines or Internet either. Nevertheless, as we will discover later, there are concrete things the man can do to minimize the power of the Enemy to allure him into sin.

The second type of lust could be termed proactive. In other words, the man purposely uses the faculties of his mind for immoral purposes—with or without outside influence. This happens primarily through the imagination, one of the most fascinating and mysterious operations of the human mind. For instance, a person can be sitting in a prison cell and imagine himself in any exotic location on earth. Physically he might be in a rat-infested, dank hole; but in his mind he can be sipping iced tea on a beach in Hawaii.

For the man given over to sexual sin, this imaginary life revolves almost exclusively around sex, and in his sexual fantasy world everything always transpires just the way he imagines it. The girl (or guy) in the fantasy is extremely attractive. She acts exactly as he wants, and her only wish is to satisfy his every desire. The girl’s features can be changed in an instant. One moment she is a tall blonde. A few minutes later she becomes an exotic Oriental. Perhaps later she is a vivacious Black girl. The variations are as numerous as the world’s female population itself. Not only can the partner be changed instantly, so, too, can the scenario. It may be the girl that he saw at the store that day “coming on to him.” Later, it is his own personal harem. Again, the possibilities are endless.

In a man’s world of imagination, everything is perfect. He does not have to deal with rejection. These dream girls all love him; none refuse to be with him. He never has to deal with impotence or nervousness either; everything goes smoothly. The girl is always flawless. There are no obnoxious odors, menstrual periods, diseases, or lack of interest. She does not act rudely, and she is not critical of him. She is not looking to take advantage of him or get his money. She will be willing to perform any desired sexual act because she exists solely to serve him. Finally, he does not need to worry about being caught by his wife or arrested by the authorities. In his perfect little dream world, nothing ever goes wrong. Merlin Carothers says this:

There is something intriguing and mystifying about our ability to imagine things known and unknown. To God, that ability is sacred. He does not want it misused. And that is exactly why evil forces have an intense desire to see that ability misused. Our minds are the battleground; our imaginations are the trophy to be won.

If we use our imaginative power to visualize anything that represents lust or impurity, we are in direct conflict with God’s will. Men enjoy using the power of imagination to create a multitude of images that God has forbidden. For example, when a man sees a woman who is attractive to him, he can disrobe her in his mind, bit by bit, until she is completely undressed. He then can use his imagination to feel what it would be like to touch her body. He can continue this mental activity until he has experienced every possible sexual act. He has taken God’s special, holy gift and consumed it upon the altar of lust.…4

Dealing with Lust

When Jesus began His ministry in Israel, He faced a wall of unbelief that had formed from years of cold formalism. The Sermon on the Mount was a fresh word from heaven to people who had lost the sense of reality about God. Theirs was a dead religion which stressed outward actions and de-emphasized what was going on inside the person. When addressing the important subject of morality, Jesus went right to the “heart” of the issue.

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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27–30)

Before we just skip over these well-known (and to many, worn out) words, we should stop to examine an important term Jesus used in this passage which the NASB translates as stumble (Gk. skandalizo). It seems as though Jesus is saying, “If you occasionally have a spiritual lapse, you must sever the cause of it lest you be sent to hell.” How could that be the case? Would Jesus really send a man to hell because he “stumbles” in sin every now and then? Since these words don’t seem to line up with current views on God’s grace, most people tend to think that Jesus really didn’t mean what He said. But I want to say that Jesus made no mistakes in His statements. He said exactly what He meant to say and it is very dangerous to put oneself in the position of explaining away His words.

One of the reasons these words aren’t taken very seriously by many men today is that the English translation used here is very weak. The Greek term skandalizo is much more alarming than our English term stumble. Perhaps glancing at a couple of other verses where this Greek word is used will give us a better sense of what it really means:

And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they he
ar the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away (skandalizo). (Mark 4:16–17)

And at that time many will fall away (skandalizo) and will deliver up one another and hate one another. (Matthew 24:10)

In the context of these two passages, we can see that this term refers to spiritual apostasy. But is that really what Jesus is talking about? Isn’t this term also used in a less dramatic way? Yes, and that is precisely the point. The strength of Jesus’ statement about lust and masturbation should be understood in direct correlation to each individual’s situation.

For instance, if we are talking about a godly man who “walks with the Lord,” but then—in a moment of uncharacteristic weakness—succumbs to temptation and lusts or masturbates, but repents and gets back on track, that would rightly be termed stumbling. On the other hand, the word stumble would not be the appropriate term to use for the man who regularly indulges in lust or masturbation. His sin is causing him to fall away from the living God.

Many men I have dealt with over the years have deceived themselves about their sin. They like to say that they “struggle” with lust or masturbation, when the truth is that there really isn’t any struggle going on at all: they regularly give over to the passions of their flesh. Peter described men like this in the Church of his day: “They have eyes full of harlotry, insatiable for sin. They beguile and bait and lure away unstable souls. Their hearts are trained in covetousness (lust, greed).… Forsaking the straight road they have gone astray.…” (2 Peter 2:14–15 AMP)

This is the sort of man whom I believe Jesus is addressing in this passage: men who are habitually sinning. They don’t occasionally slip into the gutter; they live there. It would be very foolish for such men to minimize the gravity of Jesus’ words in this passage. Twice He declares plainly: “It is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus only used the term hell on a handful of occasions; in this case he used it twice. The implication of His words is unmistakable and it would be exceedingly foolish to impose one’s doctrinal system upon His statements in order to keep one’s sin.

The deception many fall prey to is that since they remain faithful in their church attendance, they can’t be considered as apostates. To them, a backslider is someone who has thrown off all semblances of Christianity and is living in open sin. However, much of the Bible is taken up with the hypocrisy of those who “honor [God] with their lips but their hearts are far from [God].”

The context of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 revolves around the heart, the inward life. The point Jesus made is that even though a man may not be committing actual fornication the very fact that his heart is full of lust makes him just as guilty as if he were actually practicing it. Thus, it is possible for an individual to be very far from God in his heart even though he still maintains an outward semblance of religion.

Masturbation

Throughout most of Church history, Christian leaders considered any form of extra-marital sexuality to be sinful. Masturbation was rarely discussed openly. When it was addressed, it was usually cloaked in terms like “self-abuse,” or biblical words such as uncleanness (Gk. akatharsia) or lasciviousness (Gk. aselgeia). Only during the past 30 years, as psychology has gained ever-increasing credibility within the Church, has it been suggested that masturbation is morally acceptable for a single person.

Is the modern Church’s progressively open-minded, liberal position regarding sexuality simply a relaxation of stodgy, unnecessary rules of conduct from the Victorian age? Or could it be that today’s moral laxity is further proof of the Church’s relatively backslidden condition? While occasions do exist wherein believers remain needlessly old-fashioned regarding particular issues, for the most part it seems that Christendom has become enormously contaminated by the sexualized culture in which we live, following one step behind an increasing wave of decadence. In my opinion, the acceptance of masturbation by some prominent church leaders is a vivid illustration of this.

Seemingly, most of these relaxed standards have entered Christianity through the psychological community. Please understand that psychotherapy, by its very nature, is based more upon human empathy than biblical mandate. A counselor can sympathize so much with a person’s struggles that he loses sight of God’s expectation for holy living among His people. This approach can solidify itself in the counselor’s heart if the power of God isn’t actively at work in his counseling. Lacking any hope that the person can really overcome these overwhelming temptations, his only answer is one of acquiescence: “The Lord understands that the habit of masturbation is too powerful for a young person to conquer. Therefore, it cannot be wrong.”

Those with this mindset apparently overlook or minimize the truth of what Paul stated: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) A counselor or teacher who condones a habit simply because it seems too strong to overcome demonstrates a lack of understanding and experience of God’s power to set the captive free.

Be that as it may, there are a number of reasons why I believe masturbation is wrong for the believer. First and foremost, God created sex as a means for a married couple to physically express their love to one another. It is a very special act, providing the closest possible intimacy two people can enjoy together. Marital sex affords the opportunity for a husband and wife to unselfishly provide mutual pleasure, and, of course, is also the practical means for a couple to have children. Underlying all of this is the lifelong commitment and deep devotion that only a married couple can share. This is God’s idea of sexuality.

Our modern, pleasure-driven culture holds an entirely different mindset toward sex. Those who purpose to fill their lives with the temporal gratifications of this world view sex as simply one room in the vast pleasure palace of life. Masturbation is considered a person’s right—as are nearly all the various forms of pleasure available in our day and age. The difference between the mentality of God’s kingdom and that of the world can best be summarized by the words of Jesus: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself.… For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24) This is a perspective that worldly Christians refuse to embrace.

Whatever else may be said about masturbation, it is by its very nature a completely self-centered act. On a routine basis, the person isolates himself and enters into total self-indulgence. This kind of activity represents the very antithesis of the disciplined life Jesus expects from His followers, and its selfishness is utterly foreign to the Kingdom of God.

Furthermore, masturbation is driven by lust and fantasy. Sex is not meant to be a mechanical, physical activity comparable to relieving oneself in the bathroom. Inherently, it must involve another person—if not physically then mentally. To generate the sexual excitement necessary to bring oneself to orgasm requires that a person focus his thoughts upon someone else—a pornographic picture, the mental image of someone he has seen, or some sexual fantasy.

There are those who advocate fantasizing about
some vague future mate as the solution to the masturbation dilemma. Of course, even if this notion was acceptable to God it is pure folly to think it is something that can actually be done. A young man has a hard enough time controlling his thoughts in everyday life. When he enters the highly sensuous mindset that materializes as he begins to touch himself sexually, it is next to impossible.

Lust and masturbation are not only wrong in themselves, but, perhaps even worse, they open the door to all kinds of deeper perversions. I cannot begin to count the men I have ministered to over the years who never imagined where their indulgence of lust and masturbation would lead them. Anyone who starts down this road can quickly find himself veering out of control.

* I am hesitant to use the term “addict,” as worldly-minded teachers promote the concept of addiction being some sort of mental disease of which the person is a victim—through no fault of his own. I will use the term addiction in this book with the understanding that it is a constellation of unbiblical habits of thinking and acting that have become a lifestyle.

1 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).

2 The Bible Dictionary (Norwalk CT: Easton Press, 1995).

3 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

* For the sake of ease, throughout this book I will refer to the object of lust in the feminine. It should be understood by those who struggle with same-sex attractions that the same principles apply.

4 Merlin Carothers, What’s On Your Mind? (Escondido, CA: The Foundation of Praise, 1984) p. 30.

Steve Gallagher, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry–20th Anniversary Edition (Dry Ridge, KY: Pure Life Ministries, 2007), 25.

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