I’ve heard that argument that “lust” only refers to sexual desire directed towards another person. So masturbation is okay as long as you’re not having lustful thoughts about someone you know or a real person. What do you think of this argument?
In Biblical times it was taught that sins were the result of actions and therefore by avoiding certain actions people could avoid sinning. In Matt. 5 the Lord was explaining that sin begins with an improper desire, whether we act upon it or not. Speaking of adultery, He said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28)
The Greek word translated lustfully in that verse is most often translated “to desire”. Sexual relationships are only permitted within the confines of marriage. Therefore, having a sexual encounter outside of marriage is a sin, even if it only involves an imaginary partner.
James 1:14-15 makes it clear. “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
Desire is conceived and gives birth to sin when we start thinking about acting on it. Therefore, as soon as we think about masturbating we’re sinning, whether we follow through or not.
It’s important to remember that God’s purpose in sending His Son was not to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). He wants us to understand that even if we could control our actions, we can’t always control our desires. Therefore we can not live the sin free life God requires. We all need a Savior who can pay the price for every sin, even those we only commit in our mind. The Good News is that God sent such a Savior, and His name is Jesus.