Handling The Guilt

From the LYWB.com team: Yesterday, pastor and author Tim Challies weighed in on why masturbation violates God’s standard of holiness. If you’ve struggled in this area, God’s truth on the matter may be a bitter pill to swallow. What now? Here’s Tim with the answer …

But what about the guilt? What about the shame that makes young girls fear being caught and found out and shamed? Should we try to just sweep the guilt away? In the name of preserving us from pain, too much of the advice we receive teaches us to ignore our moral conscience. Better to warp our souls, it seems, than to stress our psyches.

Speak honestly and openly to young people, however, and they do want to talk about their struggles with masturbation. They do want to be reassured that it is wrong and that they can and must overcome it. The guilt they feel is not irrational, but a manifestation of God’s grace. Like a nerve ending that tells you to take a stone out of your shoe before you begin to bleed, such guilt is pain with a corrective purpose.

It’s important to clarify what we should be guilty about in the first place. (As John Piper might say, “Don’t waste your guilt!”) Masturbation is obviously a very graphic act, so it can be natural to focus on that act as the essential problem. Young people generally feel bad because they have masturbated (or been strongly tempted to). But masturbation is really only an outward manifestation of an inner problem. There is guilt and emotional pain and a sense of being dirty within, because the act of masturbation has revealed the corruption continually dwelling within us. Yes, the act of masturbation is wrong in and of itself, as reflected in Paul’s command to cultivate self-control. But the only reason it happens to begin with is because of indwelling sin.

As Josh Harris writes in Sex Is Not The Problem (Lust Is), “masturbation isn’t a filthy habit that makes people dirty. It only reveals the dirt that’s already in our hearts.” So while masturbation does not make anyone filthy, it does take a mental and spiritual toll as girls struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame. Unfortunately, for most people, guilt alone is not enough to curb our sinful behaviors.

Sadly, though, for many Christian young women, guilt over masturbation can become so extreme that it begins to define their spiritual state. Some even begin to question their salvation, seeing themselves exclusively through the lens of this persistent sin. There is no doubt this is a serious sin, but it does not begin to deserve such prominence. “When we inflate the importance of this act,” Josh Harris writes wisely, “we’ll either overlook the many evidences of God’s work in us or we’ll ignore other more serious expressions of lust that God wants us to address.”

If you struggle with this sin, know for certain that there is hope for you, hope for real change. Do not seek reassurance in the cold comfort that “everyone does it.” The way to avoid the agony of guilt is not to ignore sin or make some vain effort to convince yourself it’s innocuous. The solution to guilt is to focus on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Take comfort in the good news of the gospel. The blood of Jesus was shed for sins like this one, and the power of the Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we can overcome sin. Masturbation is not a sin beyond the power of God. You can be set free.

(To read part 1 of this post, click here.)

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