Sexual intimacy within marriage is a beautiful gift from God. It’s an outlet for play and passion, and it nurtures closeness with your spouse, supplying a unique context for giving and receiving love. As a father, I long for my children to enjoy the bond of marriage without the baggage of past sexual sin, yet I know full well how rarely people maintain purity.

Glorify God in Your Body

Many medical professionals treat masturbation as a natural part of human development, and some church leaders have attempted to supply practical and theological reasons to masturbate. However, I do not believe this approach pleases God, and I have seen the devastation that such a practice brings to both singles and marrieds alike. My focus here is to clarify biblically why engaging in such activity outside the marriage bed is sinful and should therefore be avoided. Elsewhere I have expanded on my arguments.

Christ Purchased the Power for Purity

Jesus said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Matthew 5:30). We cannot stand against sexual temptation in our own strength. But with God’s help, all things are possible (Mark 9:23; 10:27). Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). This is our plea and our confidence in the new covenant light of Christ: we can overcome with God’s help (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 32:40; Ezekiel 36:27)! In Christ, we become a new creation.

Controlling Our Bodies in Holiness and Honor

From this perspective, I offer the following thoughts about the practice of masturbation in the life of one who is in Christ:

1. God purposed that all righteous forms of sexual expression be for the marriage bed.

Sexual expression manifest in orgasm is a good gift of God (1 Timothy 4:2–5) that men and women are to enjoy only in the context of marital intimacy (Genesis 2:23; Song 8:4–6; 1 Corinthians 7:2–5; Hebrews 13:4). When people reach orgasm outside the covenant-confirming act of lovemaking in marriage, the act expresses a lack of self-control and becomes solely self-seeking, divorced from its purpose of creating intimacy.

2. Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife points to the love between Christ and his church.

The most ultimate reason sexual expression manifest in orgasm is to be enjoyed only in the context of marriage is because God gives the sexual drive that leads to sexual expression to picture the intimate “one flesh” nature of covenant love between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31–32).

3. Masturbation outside the marriage bed does not glorify God because evil desire always fuels it.

Any desire is evil that we exert at a wrong time or for a wrong object, and God focuses the proper time and object of sexual desire in marriage. As such, evil desire fuels all sexual expression outside the marriage bed, including masturbation, so we must treat all such acts as sinful and as deserving of hell (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 7:20–23; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:17, 19–21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5–6).

4. One’s thoughts and actions display what one treasures. It’s impossible to say, “Follow me in masturbation as I follow Christ.”

Because we unceasingly should be modeling for our children, and to others, what it means to be a Christlike man or woman, we must consider, “Can I comfortably and justifiably declare, ‘Follow me in masturbation as I follow Christ’?” (1 Corinthians 11:1; see also 1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17).

He Who Calls You Is Faithful

In light of these realities, I believe that anyone who masturbates outside the marriage bed sins and insults God’s glory in Christ. As men and women of God, therefore, may we not engage in it. Instead, may we look to our Lord for help and seek to honor him with our bodies by allowing our only outlet for sexual desire to be the covenant-nurturing intimacy of marital lovemaking (Job 31:1). The one who calls us to holiness is faithful, and he will surely bring it about (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).

For a more developed version of my argument, see “If Your Right Hand Causes You to Sin: Ten Biblical Reflections on Masturbation.”