by Kevin /
Last week on this blog we wished ourselves a happy 5th birthday and recalled how the first book we published was Sexual Detox, by Tim Challies. It’s still one of our top sellers. As it turned out, Cruciform’s beginning coincided almost exactly with Tim’s ordination as a full-time associate pastor in his local church. Then, just this past Friday, he announced that he has resigned from that position. He’s doing this so he can be a full-time writer, 21st-century style (i.e., less time with quill pens in musty garrets and more time online).
So we thought we would mark this transition in Tim’s life by featuring Sexual Detox in our second 20Twosdays drawing, which takes place tomorrow. This is a brand-new weekly giveaway where we offer a $20 store coupon and two selected books (in any format) to the winners. Normally we choose only one winner, but this time we will choose up to five. This week, the other book in the drawing will be from pastor and author Brian Hedges. It’s called Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins. The final chapter of that book is on lust.
As promised, here is a lightly edited excerpt from Sexual Detox that answers the questions “Is masturbation always sinful?” and “Can the Bible condemn something without ever naming it?”
Condemned Without Being Named (when the Bible is silent)
by Tim Challies
Some Christians—authors, pastors, and radio personalities among them—say that masturbation is a normal part of adolescence. Normal is an interesting word, isn’t it? In this context it’s comforting, almost wholesome. But normal is not a synonym for morally acceptable. If all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, then sin is both absolutely normal and horribly wrong. None of us get off the hook because “everybody does it” and therefore (big sigh of relief) we’re just normal.
To be honest, such a view is very nearly humanistic. We all know that masturbation is extremely common. We all know that the natural response to it is guilt and shame. How can we conclude that the guilt and shame must be unfounded?
Teachers who take this position don’t seem to make much of an effort to look carefully at what Scripture says about this topic. They do have a conclusion, though. They say that masturbation is amoral, neither good nor bad in itself. Why? Because no Bible passage specifically allows or condemns it by name. On a website that takes this general view I recently read, “If masturbation is a sin, then it’s a little odd that Scripture would leave the believer guessing about its moral status.”
But the Bible is not silent on this subject. It does not leave us guessing. It’s true that Scripture never mentions masturbation specifically. However, because the Bible does speak thoroughly and explicitly about sexuality and sinful lust, it doesn’t have to speak explicitly about something so closely related as masturbation.
Let’s look at two ways we can know that the Bible condemns masturbation without ever naming it.
First, consider that if masturbation is extremely common (as are most sins), and nearly always associated with sinful lust, we can safely assume the same was true in the ancient world. So think of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. When he essentially said “to imagine having sex with a woman is a kind of adultery” (Matthew 5:28), do you think that maybe—just maybe—the men in the audience understood that masturbation was part of his point?
Second, consider that the Bible never refers directly to abortion. Yet, because Scripture speaks clearly about the value of human life and the sin of murder, we are right to conclude that abortion is sin. In almost precisely the same way, because Scripture speaks clearly about the power of sexuality and the sin of lust, we can conclude that masturbation is nearly always sinful. In each case the specific action is so closely linked to the larger category of sin that the connection and shared moral status are simply obvious.
Technically, it is accurate to say that masturbation is amoral: You can’t say it is always bad or always good. This is because on very rare occasions masturbation may not be sinful. But the same is true of abortion. In rare, extreme cases, taking the life of an unborn child may be the best course of action: if a fetus is allowed to continue developing within a woman’s fallopian tube, for example, both the baby and mother will die. But the rare exception does not and should not stop us from confidently asserting the general rule that the Bible teaches abortion is sinful. So let’s not hesitate to say this, either: The Bible teaches that masturbation is sinful. †