I would like to ask you for a favor. I have a lot of friends on the Internet with similar struggles that I am facing. Can I advise them to contact you? I am especially concerned about one friend who is struggling with masturbation and has a lot of guilt about it. He would like to stay pure for God, he says, which I admire, but he is struggling. I do not know if it is from personal guilt or if someone has hurt him. What do you suggest?
In order to help another person in their struggles against sin, it is necessary that you understand the issues involved clearly. One of the things I have noticed over the years is that people tend to take things to extremes. They will go too far in one direction or another instead of staying with what God has actually said.
"Wisdom is good with an inheritance, and profitable to those who see the sun. For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it. Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.
"I have seen everything in my days of vanity: there is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all.
"Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city. For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others" (Ecclesiastes 7:11-22).
At first Ecclesiastes 7:16-17 seem very confusing. But what Solomon is speaking about are people who go to extremes.
There are people who in essence strive to be more righteous than God, though they don't realize it. Some people set themselves up with the goal of living a sinless life; thus, when they fail as all of us will, they cannot forgive themselves for their failure. When other people fail, they have little tolerance for their weakness. That is why there is the warning, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3). None of us are perfect. As Solomon stated, "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Now this doesn't mean we just give up in struggling against sin. That would be going to the other extreme. God wants us to work against sin. "Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves" (James 1:21-22). Nor should we take the attitude that we don't have to fight against sin because "God will take care of it." "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).
Some strive so hard not to sin that they place more limitations on themselves and others than God has commanded. The disciples of John made this mistake, "Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?"" (Matthew 9:14). They added extra fast days to their religion, possibly figuring that if a fast is good, then more fasts is better. But in their zeal, they overstepped their bounds. They ended up adding to God's laws and expected others to follow their additions. "Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6).
Similarly, you will find people focusing hard on one part of God's law and neglecting the rest of it. This was something the Jews of Jesus' time were guilty of doing. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matthew 23:23). In like manner some people will take a good command of God but bind it beyond its purpose and thereby making it hard or impossible to keep. "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4). An example of this is found in Matthew 15:2-9.
Finally, you will find many people using the court of their own opinion to decide what is right or wrong. "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other" (I Corinthians 4:6). Many people go beyond what God said and decide that their own opinion is what God meant. The Jews were guilty of this as well. "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:2-3).
The issue of masturbation is one that I've seen a lot of people go beyond what God has said. Instead of examining the Scriptures in regards to what God said on the matter and leaving it at that, they impose extra obligations and then beat themselves up when they can't keep their self-imposed rules. There is an answer to the question "Is masturbation unacceptable?" that I would like you to read. Also read "I'm still confused about masturbation. Is it right or wrong? What are your thoughts about it?" These should give you enough information about what is actually in the Bible so you can help others understand the issue as well.
You are more than welcome to recommend others to contact me. I am quite willing to talk about life's issues with anyone.