Masturbation: The Unforgivable Sin?

At an OPC youth camp over a year ago I had the privilege of addressing young men and women on the topic of masturbation, among other topics (e.g., Machen, Machen, and more Machen). As some of you may know, the OPC are notorious for letting the PCA do their theological dirty-work. But I digress...

So, what do you say to young men and women who, if they have hit puberty, are likely to have already masturbated or find themselves enslaved to the said practice? Do you quote Genesis 38:9 and move on quickly?

Those in the flesh have "eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin" (2 Pet. 2:14); they are given to sin. But even those in the Spirit still sin. And even the most sanctified saint, if there is blood running through his or her veins, probably has a problem with lust of some form. A former colleague - now excommunicated from the church - admitted to me that each morning the first thing he did was masturbate in order to get his lust out of the way! (There's nothing like killing sin by sinning.) I wish I was as appalled at his sin as I was at the fact that I had once hosted him in my house for two nights. But I digress, again...

In addressing the problem of masturbation we cannot adopt a certain type of Baptistic hermeneutic - i.e., "show me just one text where it says we must baptize babies or cannot masturbate" - if we are going to get through to young men and women. Instead, "good and necessary consequence" enables us to address this sensitive issue.

One way to deal with the sin of masturbation would be to describe the isolationism of a man or woman pleasuring themselves as utterly ridiculous.  After all, a man or woman, hidden alone in a bathroom/bedroom, masturbating is a tragedy. A married man doing the same thing is an even greater tragedy. But, as pathetic as the picture looks, that won't stop a person from self-gratification. Self-gratification usually wins over decency, unless you're English. 

Then there's the inevitable problem that masturbation naturally and quickly leads to unclean thoughts. Sure, these types of thoughts can happen anywhere at any time, but you are deluded if you think you can keep your mind morally neutral while masturbating. 

In terms of whether masturbation is wrong, we might ask the following questions of all practices where we don't have an explicit text:

1. Am I given to it, or is it given to me? (For Christians, the dominion of sin is broken; sin no longer has mastery over us, Rom. 6)

2. Does this create an invisible barrier between me and God? (i.e., hinder your prayers)

3. Can I give thanks to God after doing this or that? (we are to give thanks in all circumstances, 1 Thess. 5:18). 

For Christians, these are compelling questions that require answers. I imagine that it would be very hard for a Christian to masturbate and then thank God for the experience.  

But, there is more. We need to understand that masturbatory isolationism strikes out against the Trinity, which is a loving communion of persons. Masturbation is Islamic or Unitarian, certainly not Christian. 

The incarnation makes union and communion with God possible. The Son himself desires loving fellowship with his bride. Where would we be if Christ adopted his own "masturbatory isolationism"? The intimacy we shall experience in heaven will never be fleshless, but it will also never be in isolation.

Sexual gratification is a gift given by God for the mutual pleasure of a man and woman in the estate of marriage (Songs; Heb. 13:4). Masturbation highlights all that is wrong with marriages: instead of sacrifice for someone else, the person has chosen the path of self (cf. Lk. 9:23).

Fleshless intimacy in the form of masturbation does not prepare a man or woman well for the intimacy they will hopefully one day experience in marriage. Moreover, for men who are married, they will sometimes experience sexual problems with their wives if they have a history of chronic masturbation. Women, too, may suffer from the fact that their spouse is unable to satisfy them.

If pastor-friends of mine are to be believed, masturbation may also be a training ground for homosexuality and other deviant practices like sodomizing one's wife. After all, once selfishness kicks in, a man will do all sorts of things to his wife that pleases him at her expense.

What is the solution to the sin of masturbation? Well, that's where our doctrine of God, justification, sanctification, etc., enter. It's one thing to argue about a supralapsarian ordo decretorum, and quite another thing to deal with someone who cannot stop masturbating. I know which topic I've found easier to address. 

Does God forgive a person who masturbates? Only if that person first recognizes that masturbation is sinful and then repents. Masturbation is not an unforgivable sin because it is a sin. If it weren't, then it just might be the unforgivable sin.

Pastor Mark Jones ran this article by several pastors and friends before posting it, and only one friend said he "puked in his mouth" after reading this article. But he's in the OPC.