Pornography and Gospel Community

One of my elders at church taught a class Sunday on pornography. He was vulnerable and honest about his own serious struggle with pornography after being exposed to it at a very young age through sexual deviancy among the adults in his home. I found his lesson relevant to men who’ve struggled with pornography, women who’ve struggled with pornography, men who haven’t struggled with pornography, and women who haven’t struggled with pornography. Since that probably covers all the readers here, I thought I would share the progression of his thoughts.

1. Pornography is sin. Despite the near mainstream acceptance of pornography in many cultures (certainly here in Seattle), we need a Biblical framework for understanding the issue.

Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

See also 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 and Galatians 5:19-21.

2. However, don’t elevate the sin above what it is – simply sin. Adam, the elder teaching this lesson, shared how in a moment of deep angst over his use of pornography yet again, he was confronted by another elder at our church. Did he have the same angst when he yelled at his wife? When he was angry with his children? The elder exhorted him to not minimize the sin, but also not to allow it a place of importance above other sins. In a twisted way (because we often do twist such things), elevating the sin of pornography can make fighting the struggle a legalistic idol and source of pride for those who struggle less than others.

Romans 1:29-32 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

3. Hate the sin, and speak truth with patience and grace to yourself and others with overcoming the struggle. Paul’s words in Romans 7 don’t excuse our sin, but it does explain our sin.

Romans 7:15-8:1 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Adam shared his story of his wife’s response to him when he first confessed his use of pornography to her. He waited until late in the evening to tell her. Then he got up off the bed to leave the room in shame. She asked him where he was going, and he told her he figured she didn’t want to be around him right now. She said, “Why would I want that? I love you!” Adam recounted with tears how her words ministered grace to him that kept him walking his struggle with pornography in the light. In contrast, he knew another man who told him his wife’s response was along the lines that if she ever caught him using pornography again, she would immediately divorce him. This further pushed this man into isolation and shame when he needed to admit his sin and walk in the light with his wife. Adam pointed out how his own wife’s gracious response helped him walk in the light and confess his sin, which has been key to moving forward in his struggle successfully.

There is a tension here. We need to make sure that in our patience and grace we remember that grace also means to speak truth. Consider Bonhoeffer’s words in Life Together: “Reproof is unavoidable. God’s word demands it when a brother falls into open sin…Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.”

4. If you struggle with pornography, you are not alone. Pornography is impacting all kinds of things in our culture—fashion, crushing expectations regarding physical appearance and sexual performance, and so forth. Many believe it is now the number one educator for teaching American children about sex. One survey showed 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women said they were addicted to pornography. 60 percent of Christian women said they struggled with lust. This is a big struggle affecting many people you know.

When Adam first introduced a class on sexual immorality during announcements at our church 10 years ago, a number of wives and girlfriends came up to him after the service to thank him for giving them the freedom to talk with their significant other whom they thought was struggling with pornography. Many men talked with him in the weeks afterwards as well, though not immediately after service. It was a widespread struggle, and one man speaking in the light gave freedom to others to join him.

5. Work out the sin and struggle in community. Adam recounted leaving work after a particularly stressful day feeling a strong desire to watch porn and masturbate. He texted another elder exactly that. That elder had struggled as well, and the power of the temptation each felt seemed to dissipate when they brought it into the light. I am thankful for a gospel-centered church that is safe for people to struggle in the light with their sin. We need to be safe places where others can be honest about their sin. No struggle with sin can be won in the dark.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

6. Know that you are defined by Jesus, not your sin! Consider these truths from Scripture on how God thinks of and speaks of you regardless of your struggle.

I am God’s child (John 1:12)
I am confident that God will perfect the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6)
I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)
I am chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 11)
I am adopted as his child (Ephesians 1:5)
I am given God’s glorious grace lavishly and without restriction (Ephesians 1:5,8)
I am in Him (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 1:14) I am included (Ephesians 1:13)
I am sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
I am alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
I am raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12)
I am God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
I am a dwelling for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)
I am not alone (Hebrews 13:5)
I am His disciple (John 13:15)
I am set free (Romans 8:2; John 8:32)

7. In conclusion, hear this encouragement from Galatians whether your struggle is pornography or other sexual sins, anger, greed, or something else.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

If you struggle, bring it into the light. And if you don’t struggle, be ready to walk with those who do bring it into the light. They need safe places to be honest about the temptations they face and the sins they commit, because light heals.

11 Responses to Pornography and Gospel Community

  1. Anonymous June 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    “mainstream acceptance” “impacting all kinds of things”

    thank you, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, yet, another insidious evil whose impact His body must acknowledge, confess, cry out to the Lord about

    Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 1 Cor 6:18

    He rescued righteous Lot oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 2 Pet 2:7

    set free those who are oppressed Luke 4:18

    your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. Isa 59: 2

  2. Natalie June 10, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    I do have a few friends whose husbands chronically struggle with porn. These women have stood by them for years—with patience and grace. Even when they've been told if they would just be more available and cooperative in bed their husbands wouldn't have have such a problem with it. Some are wondering if this is similar to chronic adultery? They feel guilty for supposedly causing their husbands to sin – especially when they are pregnant and exhausted and just can't perform the way they “ought to.” They feel betrayed constantly – and grace is poured out on their husbands with little left over for the wives who now struggle with anger and frustration after so many years of trying hard to be grace-filled toward them. There is a time for grace, but sometimes this mantra is thrown in the faces of women who are forced to live with the increasingly deviant behaviors of husbands who refuse to change or grow. Sexual sin grows and worsens – even changing personalities and causing all kinds of other abuses. I react a little when I see all sins put in the same category as simply “sin.” I understand that all sin separates us from God in the same way. But some sins (pornography, murder, domestic violence) destroy generations of human lives in profound ways. Grace might better be applied, at times, in the context of justice for the ones the Bible calls “innocent.” (The innocent also sin.) I'm pretty sure from other things I've read here that we are on the same page, but I wanted to clarify for others because based on many things I read in the blogsphere, I think there is a lot of confusion about this.

  3. Wendy June 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    2 things.

    1) Pornography can NOT be solved by a more available wife. It isn't about the wife. Sex as God intended is distinctly different than the narcissism that pornography inspires and feeds. No wife bears responsibility for her husband's sin, nor is he more likely to not struggle if she attempts to become his own personal porn star. As Adam said in his lesson, pornography feeds crushing expectations that are unrealistic.

    2. We are talking about those who own their sin and want to battle it — not the general person using it in the church.

  4. David J. June 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. One of the best entries regarding pornography I've ever seen. Thank you for sharing this. I wish your church weren't 2,700 miles away.

    It takes guts to say not to elevate the sin above what it is. I see you're already getting pushback on that. I expect you'll get more. It's too easy for that truth to be taken as an attempt to minimize the sin.

    Adam's wife's reaction to his sin and confession brought tears. God bless her. The contrasting example Adam gave could have been my wife, whose response was definitely along the lines that if she ever caught me using pornography again, she would immediately divorce me. As it played out, the pornography became her trump card — whatever issues we subsequently had, she had no responsibility to make any changes; any sin on her part (if acknowledged at all as such) paled in comparison to mine. I was the only sinner in the marriage because mine was a “gross” sin rather than a “regular” sin. My sin came to light in 2001. With accountability, monitoring software, personal and marriage counseling, etc., the sin did not recur other than a one-time relapse in 2003, which I confessed to her, my accountability group, and my counselor immediately. She divorced me in 2010. When pressed for a biblical ground for the divorce, her response was “You were unfaithful to me.” Trump card and get out of jail free card.

  5. Wendy June 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    David, I admire that you took the serious steps you needed to guard yourself. I'm sorry for how things played out in your marriage.

  6. Amy Stuart June 11, 2014 at 12:34 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this! And thank you so much for acknowledging that the wrestle with pornography is not solely a “man's problem.” There is so much discussion within the Christian community regarding pornography as an issue that men deal with and so little is said regarding women who may find it tempting as well. This is incredibly isolating and (I believe) discourages women from confession and accountability. Thank you again.

  7. Wendy June 11, 2014 at 12:42 am #

    Amy, absolutely! I wrote some very old stuff a few years ago on this. I should see if I can find it.

  8. Curious Thinker June 15, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    I agree pornography is a taboo subject among the Christian community, and many Christians can be squeamish about addressing very taboo subjects. I think it took a lot of courage for the elder to express honest details of his own life no matter how sinful admitting his own weaknesses in the past. I do believe, Christians shouldn't overlook a serious problem in order to seem non-judgemental but rightfully address to the person handling it in a sensitive and firm way helping the person see the errors of their ways and seek professional help if needed. But we also shouldn't constantly lord their sins over them in a self-righteous or arrogant matter condemning them as unredeemable as some Christians have done. I'm glad your elder as dealt with his addiction and agree many other Christians facing this problems need not feel alone and can also reach out to seek help.

  9. Anonymous June 17, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    Good and important clarification.

  10. Jennifer Sabin June 28, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    I was in counseling recently to work through many things, one of which was the ways in which we deceive ourselves. As I struggled to wonder if the lies I believed about myself could really be true, and face my fear to address the lies in case they really, really were true, my counselor looked me in the eye and told me these two things, which I knew where true because I believe the Bible.

    1 – You are a child of God.
    2 – You were made in his image.

    The straight forward delivery of these two truths at the moment I needed them most, literally changed my life. Speaking to your 6th point, I can vouch for how incredibly important it is to seek out the truth that Scripture gives us about who we are.

    The freedom those truths gave me is immeasurable. I feel more secure (though I still struggle on occasion… old thought patterns take time to fix) and can repeat these biblical truths to myself. The word literally is a light unto my path!

    I praise God for the healing power of His word!

  11. Anonymous July 18, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    I have also seen it help some of these men if you encourage them to research it – if you encourage them to take part in ministries that help the victims of human sex trafficking. Most porn is not “glamorous” but many of them are videos of women (and children) who are victims of life circumstances. Some of these women have even been kidnapped from their homes, their spirits broken. Many of them are not experiencing any pleasure, but are “faking” it because that is what they are told to do. For some of these men, when they have researched the dark side of pornography, pornography will then be seen as disgusting – not because of the act of “sex” – but because of the hurt, sorrow, and hell-filled lives of these women. And then if they start to take part in real ministry and begin to want to help these women (there are many websites and local in-person ministries) then that will usually help them the most in their struggles.