*The following transcript has been slightly edited from the original audio text for readability purposes. All speakers’ original intent has been maintained to the best of our ability.
Today we want to talk about developing convictions about lust and masturbation. Steve Gallagher wrote on this subject in his book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry. I want to start off by reading a brief paragraph from his book. He writes:
“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."
Brad, as we go into this discussion, talk to us about the two types of believers and what the responses might be to hearing a quote like this.
Brad: The two types that you have are: the person who is definitely convicted about their struggle with lust or masturbation, but they choose to take the path of least resistance; and you have the other person who has more of a tender conscience and responds to the guilt feelings differently, by crying out to God "Lord, I want to be free of this! I know how you feel about this bondage, and darkness that I'm in. God, please set me free."
I do want to say, because we deal primarily with men in our Residential Program, that we tend to say guys, but this is an issue that women deal with as well.
Kathy: Yeah, and we don't want to leave them out because it's a huge issue for women that are struggling with sexual sin; and it's so easy for men or women to justify, you know. A lot of people get weary - battle weary. You get tired of just the constant bombardment of sexual images, and in our culture you can hardly get away from it. But some people just give up and they use “grace” to justify their behavior. I've talked to a lot of women, and those that have that attitude never really have what I call freedom - not just freedom from sin, but freedom inside as a person. It's prison-like. You don't realize how much it binds your relationships and your life. Everything that you do in life is so affected by it.
Brad: Also, we live in a culture - both in the church and outside of the church - where leaders are saying it's ok, “Masturbation is ok. If it's just you and your self, it's ok. Hopefully once you get married it’s something you grow out of.” But that's so deceiving to people. To a person who may initially be trying to resist, it’s saying "Stop fighting. It's ok. You can still be a Christian and give over to this from time to time.” This really gives a person no hope. When any believer that is sincere about the Lord gives over to masturbation and lust there has to be a sense of conviction that tells them this is not right, regardless of what they're hearing.
Let's look at this issue in two different ways. Steve, in his book, talks about masturbation in the practical aspect that we know how the body works. We know all of that. But he also makes the point that I think is so important - that is we're not just talking about the physical behavior; we're talking about a behavior that begins in the heart. Brad, what do we mean when we talk about the heart?
Brad: It should be clear that Christianity begins and ends in the heart. As we look in the New Testament and even in the Old Testament, God has always been targeting men and women's hearts. That's where God wants to deal with. The heart is basically a person's emotions, feelings, affections, motives, attitudes - it's the seat of influence for a person's life.
I know the mistake so many guys make is that they try to ‘white-knuckle’ it. They say "Ok, I'm just going to stop doing this.” But inevitably that is probably going to lead to failure because the heart issue has to be dealt with.
Brad: Definitely. One of the major things in counseling is to get a counselee to see that something is wrong with your heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" Jesus is an expert of the heart and that's what he targeted when he addressed people. So a man struggling with lust or with masturbation is a clear sign that something is not right in his heart. His affections are drawn to the wrong place. There is an idol (or idols) there, that is blocking his view of God and separating him from the Lord at the heart level.
And we can really say that about any sexual sin, or all sin really - that there's something in the heart that is a problem. Well what is it in the heart of a man or a woman, Brad? What is really the core issue that they need to deal with when dealing with masturbation?
Brad: Well the biblical issue is lust. Some temptation is presented - whether it's something they see in the culture, or maybe they stumble upon pornography on the internet. Whatever the case may be, it's lust that's in the heart. They're tempted and drawn away because of their own lust, as it says in James 1. And Once they're enticed, sin is conceived, they give over and they're drawn away.
There tends to be a reactive kind of lust, and a kind of lust where I'm actually making it happen. When a person is dealing with lust, do they need to differentiate between those two?
Brad: I think it's helpful. A guy goes to Wal-Mart. He's going there to go shopping. He's not going there to lust or whatever. He's in the line and a woman walks by who is scantily dressed. There is a natural response to seeing an attractive woman that occurs. But if that man is a Christian, and he turns away, looks the other way, or maybe prays for this woman that she'll come to know the Lord or learn not to be a stumbling block to other men, then he's made a right choice; and he's not given over to lust. But then you take another guy who sees a woman dressed that way and he stares her down - that's something totally different than just ‘reactive lust’.
I notice that the Enemy will perpertrate the lie that if it's natural lust - if I'm having a natural reaction or whatever - then he will condemn me for that.
Brad: Right. Well it's important for men and women to know that temptation is not lust.
Kathy: That's right.
Brad: It's what you do when you're tempted. If you're tempted and then you stare and you gaze and you fantasize, then you're crossing a line into sin. But if you're tempted and you're grieved or you turn away from it, that doesn't mean that you've sinned.
OK, we have a better understanding now of what lust is. How do I deal with this? It seems at first glance that giving up masturbation, since that's what we're talking about, is not a hard thing to do. Just stop doing it. But how do I stop my heart from going in the direction of lust. How do I change my heart? What do I do with that?
Brad: I don't believe we're capable of changing our own hearts. I believe we have available to us a great High Priest that we can run to daily to look for mercy and grace to help us when we're tempted. Jesus was tempted at all points as we are tempted, but he never sinned. So he's an expert at helping us deal with temptations and things that come our way. The way I see it, and it's been my experience, is that the person has to be honest with themselves. They have to be honest with God; and confess; and there has to be a cry "Lord I want to be free"; and to know that freedom is available. It's not just something you say and then spend the rest of your life struggling with no results at all.
How important is contentment when dealing with lust?
Brad: Contentment is very important because it actually puts out the flame of lust. Since I've been here are Pure Life Ministries, I’ve learned the importance of a grateful heart. Look at Romans 1. People go down that spiral of degradation because they refuse to glorify God with their bodies and because they weren't thankful.
So when we're talking about masturbation, what we're saying then is that the fundamental issue is an issue of the heart - that it is rooted in lust and covetousness; and that it is wrong because it is a completely selfish act.
Brad: Exactly. And I would like to say to anyone who is struggling with masturbation: they need to ask themselves if this is something that brings glory to God. Is this something that pleases God? I've had people tell me "you know there are a lot of things that we do that are selfish"; but just consider masturbation. When I brush my teeth, I don't feel condemned. I feel like I'm doing the right thing.
And it's not selfish either. We're glad you brushed your teeth today.
Brad: Years back, when I struggled with masturbation, there was always the sense that I failed the Lord and that I wasn't right with Him. I think that if you're honest with yourself and with God, you've got to say that masturbation and lust are wrong. They don’t please the Lord. They don’t draw me closer to God. They actually push me further away from him.
Brad, you counsel many men that come into the program. You've heard many stories from men of how they got into sin. How often have you seen that masturbation is the thing that opens the door to much greater depravity?
Brad: You see it a lot. Most of the men that come started out looking at pornography, then masturbation came in. The porn, the masturbation, and the fantasy increased, increased, and increased until eventually many of the men that come to us have acted out their fantasies with someone. And it's taken them further than they ever imagined going.
Brad, thanks for coming in and shedding some light on lust and masturbation. I know it's a subject that is uncomfortable for many, but it is a subject that we need to be honest and open about in the body of Christ because it is a tremendous roadblock to what God wants to do in the lives of many men and women. So thanks for talking to us about that today.
Brad Furges worked for Pure Life Ministries from 1999 to 2015, the last seven years of which he served as Director of Men’s Counseling. Brad holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia (UVa) and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Master’s Divinity School.
Kathy Gallagher is the Co-Founder and Senior Administrator of Pure Life Ministries. She has been ministering to Christian women for over 20 years and has a deep desire to see them living a fulfilled life in Christ.
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