No, not some kind of erotic teetotaling. Unhelpful and unnecessary prohibitions provoke us to moralism. But God’s grace changes that.
By: The Therapist / CAMFT
Romans 14 teaches us to love those who are weaker in their personal convictions by not showing contempt for them. Likewise, those who are weaker may not judge those who freely exercise their liberties to appreciate sexual beauty. Verse 17 tells us that being in God's kingdom is not about being religious rule-keepers or following someone else’s conscience, but rather it's about having joy and peace and a right standing with God. We are to obey our own convictions, not other’s. For as God also says in 1 Corinthians 10:29, why should our liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?
At the same time, God also doesn’t say we should stop engaging others altogether in these matters. Rather, we just shouldn’t practice them around those who are weaker, so they aren’t needlessly distressed. If you are married, live in a way that shows understanding toward the needs of your spouse. Don't ever flaunt the liberties you have, including the freedom to view those of the opposite sex. As well, if your spouse doesn’t share the same understanding of Biblical truths, or if they disapprove of your views about pornography or masturbation or some other God-given freedom, don't exercise your liberty in a way that will be hurtful to them. Instead, be discreet. Keep your own freedoms between yourself and God (Rom 14:22).
As well, do try to communicate about the way God made your sex drive and how certain freedoms will help give it balance. Even better, and if you're married, have more sex! Also, affirm your spouse that you will not love them any less by exercising your freedoms, but that your desire is to love them more. It's not one's admiration of beauty that fuels strife or kills a marriage, but rather it's the condemning judgmentalism and resentment from their spouse.
The answer to the problem of trying to fight battles with sin, including matters of conscience, is not piling more rules or shame on others and ourselves. The answer is Jesus. The good Lord tells us we should obey our conscience, which we don’t always like. But in addition, Jesus also transforms us and gives us new desires, empowering us with his joy. It’s out of gratitude, and not obligation or our best efforts, that we can obey Christ. If we know him, his grace changes us, and that is why we love him.
Matthew 5:28 is a notoriously misinterpreted verse with a complicated history, and a reputation of being a marriage killer.
Sin Is Whatever You Think It Is (sort of)
When it comes to immorality, what some think of as sexual "sin" is really a matter of conscience.
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A critical look at why people think pornography is wrong. However, the real problem is not porn itself. But rather, it's how we think about it.
People have a strong tendency to want to fill in the “gaps” of sexual theology where God is silent. And most probably do mean well. However, the fact that God doesn't even bother to comment on certain issues (such as masturbation, sexually provocative clothing, porn, etc.) infers that he doesn't regulate them. Instead, he gives us freedom of conscience in these areas. Everyone has a conscience and God tells us we all need to follow our own. But what does that mean? What is a conscience? And how can we follow it?
First off, conscience is not a cartoon angel on your shoulder or a cricket with a top hat. It is useful, though, in helping us know right from wrong. Likely a lesser-known subject for most, God mentions conscience directly, dozens of times throughout the New Testament. As well, much has been said and put into writing about it. Here is what Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley, authors of Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It,
and Loving Those Who Differ have to say. They define it, stating "The conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong. It's basically your moral consciousness or your moral awareness turned back on yourself."
When we feel convicted about something such as a sense of guilt or the temptation to sin, the source of that feeling is our conscience. As believers, we all experience the feeling of conviction of sin first from our conscience, which in turn ought to be informed by God. He then gives each of us the choice of how to respond. He tells us we all need to listen to our own convictions, as in the context of sex, and we also need to calibrate our conscience to what he tells us is right and wrong, or remain neutral if he gives us that conviction.
God lays out his standards for sexuality in Leviticus chapters 18 and 20 along with other places like 1 Corinthians. Then in Romans 14, he gives each of us additional liberty to obey our conscience about other personal convictions. In ancient Rome, issues included food sacrificed to idols and celebration days. However, today, though concerns may still encompass food and holidays, they also include other personal prohibitions such as alcohol, smoking, gambling, porn and masturbation, and others. Naselli and Crowley explain it like this.
“Conscience is personal. It is your conscience. It is intended for you and not for someone else. And the conscience of others belongs to them and not you. You cannot, must not, force others to adopt your conscience standards."
It is also important to note that what God doesn’t say is those with a weaker faith must change their convictions. In chapter 14, God could have told the Roman listeners to just start eating idol meat and to like it. However, that wouldn’t have been kind or loving towards many of them, nor would it have considered that they would have had to violate their consciences. On the other hand, he also could’ve told them that for the sake of weaker believers, they must stop eating meat altogether. But that would’ve negated the personal freedom he wanted them to have.
In verse 15, the appeal instead is not to commands and law, but to love. Paul is very clear that he disagrees with and even calls some believers weaker. Though at the same time, he also doesn’t shame them or require that they agree with him. Insistent, shameful condemnation is the response of moralists. And sadly, that is too often our response toward others who we disagree with on matters of opinion.
For something to be a sin, either God or our own conscience must inform us. Otherwise, it's not sinful, and no one can say otherwise. As Romans 4:15 clearly states, "Where there is no law there is no transgression." To state what for our context may be self-evident, there's nothing wrong with any man looking at swimsuit or lingerie ads - except to think it’s a sin for someone else.
Titus 1:15 tells us, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” If this verse is true, then that means for a Christian with a clean, undefiled conscience, pictures of mature, scantily clad members of the opposite sex are pure. So, looking at images of nearly or completely naked men and women is fine, barring it doesn't go against one’s conscience and it doesn’t become an addiction. To say it another way, if a man stares at any beautiful adult woman, clothed or not, and to do so doesn't violate his conscience or make things creepy, he can thank God for her without guilt, and in doing so he does not sin. In fact, he should absolutely thank God!
Moreover, it doesn’t appear that God condemns solitary sexual activity either. Individual acts do not seem to be sinful unless you personally think so, and then they are sin for you only. Neither would they be considered porneia (often translated as vague sexual immorality). The Bible never specifies that things such as lust, masturbation, or porn are sin for anyone, and because of that, we cannot judge those who believe otherwise. These are simply Romans 14 issues.
The problem then for the Christian when it comes to pornography and self-pleasure is not whether God says they’re sinful - for certainly, he does not. The real issue is whether one thinks these behaviors are personally sinful. If anyone thinks these are sin, then for that person only they are sin. And a close second is whether we stand in judgement of those who disagree. According to Romans 14, the temptation for Christians is either to scorn or judge each other based on conscience. Those with freedom might ridicule those without, and those whose conscience is damaged might resent those with freedom.
Ironically, it’s those with a defiled and weak conscience, those whose conscience is less calibrated toward God’s Word, who are more likely to sin, and not necessarily those who view beautiful bodies. We each ought to calibrate our own conscience according to what God says (or doesn’t say). That means we are not to sin and go against what our conscience tells us. If your conscience says don’t look at porn or don’t masturbate, then don’t do it. But just know that God never condemns either anywhere in scripture. And don’t judge others for it.
"I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean."
By: Andrew David Naselli, Ph.D. and J.D. Crowley, MA
Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ
The Myth of Sex Addiction
By: David J. Ley
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.
That Little Voice In Your Head
By: Andrew David Naselli
Christian Focus Publications, 2018.
Everyone knows that the Bible says sexual lust is wrong. Except when it's not. After all, Jesus lusted, so it can’t be that bad.
Christiansexdeception.com (via web.archive.org)
Sexual self-pleasure is a gift from God. Yet many Christians continue to condemn the practice. Why?
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