It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
(1Thessalonians 4:3-7 NIV)
Speaking frankly, the area of sexual purity has probably been the most difficult area of my life to deal with. I suppose I am “normal” in this regard by many measures. However, I think I have more difficulties than some men, due to allowing my mind to follow after immoral fantasies before I chose to follow Jesus (and occasionally thereafter!). By the same reasoning, my difficulties are probably less than many others who have participated more directly in sexual sin.
Paul apparently had a gift of celibacy, yet he was able to sympathize with those of us who don’t:
I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1Corinthians 7:7-9)
Paul acknowledges that it is not abnormal for followers of Jesus to “burn with passion” and to have difficulty controlling themselves. Our sexual desires are part of how God made us. Many, perhaps most, followers of Jesus are not able to simply turn their sexual desires off. God made us with such desires to promote marriages and families. Satan seeks to twist those God-given desires to lead us into sin.
While a good marriage relationship is the preferred means of sexual fulfillment, that is not an immediate option for many people. For those who are not married, or are not with their spouse (due to circumstances or relational problems), if you are able to control yourself in this area, then thank God for a gift of self-control. For those who have more difficulty, it appears to me that scripture does not condemn self-gratification. While self-gratification can be done in ways that are sinful, I don’t believe that it is inherently sinful. Ask God to show you how to live in a way that is pleasing to him.
I believe that there are degrees of sin (based on verses such as Genesis 18:20-21, Exodus 32:30-31, 1Samuel 2:17, Mark 3:29, and John 19:11). I believe it is a greater sin to physically commit adultery than it is to look at someone with lust, even though both are a form of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). It is a greater sin to actually seduce someone than to merely think about it. It is a greater sin to murder someone than to just hate them. Don’t allow the idea that “all sins are equal” to lead you into ever-greater sins. Don’t use that idea to justify actually doing something you’ve only thought about doing.
Many can testify that lesser sins tend to lead to greater sins. Softcore pornography leads to hardcore porn, which leads to even worse sin. Flee from sexual immorality! (1Corinthians 6:18).
For Further Reflection
Genesis 18:16-19:28: They looked down toward Sodom.
Numbers 25:1-18: While Israel was staying in Shittim…
John 8:1-11: The woman caught in adultery.
Romans 1:18-32: The wrath of God is being revealed…
1Corinthians 5:1-13: It is actually reported…
1Corinthians 6:9-20: Honor God with your body.
1John 1:9: If we confess our sins…
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