This is the second post in a three part series about the types of issues I see the most in pastoral counseling. Those three are: Anxiety, Pornography, and Marital Oppression. Here is the Introductory Article which began the series.
The need is real—the battle is vicious. Pornography is rampant. 96% of adults and teens today are ambivalent at best about the use of pornography, with most either encouraging or accepting its use. And though the church fairs better than the world, the stats are still alarmingly high. 64% of Christian men view pornography at least once a month—and while Christian women are much lower in prevalence than believing men, they too are not unaffected by this ensnaring sin.
So what are we to do? How can the church be set free, and what helps are their in combating this idol of the heart and lust of the eyes? There are two primary means of response—and the one without the other will fail.
The first is radical accountability. Jesus, speaking on the topic of lust, says that we must be willing to gouge out our eye and cut off our hand in resisting sin (Matt 5:29-30). Far from advocating literal self-mutilation, our Savior is calling upon us to take drastic measures in ridding our lives of sin. He says “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” and on that point, he’s being dreadfully serious! Our Lord means for us to remove all means which are causing us to stumble. Here particularly speaking of what we view (the eye) and how we use the members of our body (our hand)—and understood in the context in which he was speaking, this is shockingly evocative language! The point is clear, whatever is in our lives which is a source of temptation to sexual sin—remove it! Is it the smart phone, the tablet, the computer, Netflix…whatever the case may be…rid one’s life of such temptations immediately.
A well known counseling professor of mine says the first question he asks young men who want to be free of pornography is “are you willing to get rid of your smartphone?” and if they don’t say yes, he effectively tells them: “come back to me when you’re ready to get serious about your sin.”
In this first category, here is where accountability partners, accountability software, computers used only in plain sight of the rest of the family, regular accountability groups, etc., all come into play. These are good things and solid helps in this arena. If you are married, are you willing to tell your spouse of your struggles and live in the light, as Ephesians 5:8 would call us to live? If not, why not? If fear of the consequences is preventing you from radical accountability in this area, like my counseling professor might say: “let me know when you’re serious about killing your sin.” For this sin cannot live long in a marriage of complete transparency and openness in this regard. And if you desire to further equip your accountability partners to ask robust and rigorous questions, might I suggest the series of questions in the middle of this 9Marks article from a few years back.
But this first category of rigorous accountability is often where we stop. We think that if we invite enough scrutiny in our lives, surely the sin will be put to rest. Yet we all know that if we desire something enough, there is no amount of roadblocks that will prevent a corrupted heart from getting what it desires.
Over the course of a week of counseling, I was working with 3 men in various degrees of pornography enslavement. I asked all three men that week: “are there any loopholes you can see in your plans for accountability?” wondering if they were being rigorous in mortifying their sin. Two men said “no”, and one man said “yes”. There was one person who was honest with me that week. There are always loopholes. There are always possibilities to get what our sin desires. Software will never be enough. The number of friends holding you accountable will never be sufficient. There must be the second category of replacing your love of pornography with a greater affection. You must put-off your lust for porn, and put-on a love for Christ.
There has to be a greater affection than your desire for sin, otherwise, you’ll keep going back to your deepest desires. The moment you begin desiring lust in your mind, long before you ever open up the videos or images, repent for even the desire to sin. Flee to Christ immediately, hours or days before you ever stumble back into this sin. If you do flee to your Lord in this way, something profound is taking place. The trap that the enemy has set (temptation) has sprung back upon him instead. For the temptation itself has driven you to your Savior. The snare has been the trigger to further cultivate your walk with Christ. But don’t stop there. Keep communing with Jesus. Run to him in his word. Instead of filling your mind with illicit images, fill your mind with his person and work. Fill your heart with his truth. But continue to do so prayerfully. This type of warfare against sin is the kind that our merciful God will not despise. It’s one thing to be held accountable. It’s another thing altogether to replace your lust with a far greater love—a living and active relationship with Christ the Lord!
For a rich resource on this topic, I would highly recommend the excellent little book by Heath Lambert, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. At what feels like a brief 170 pages, this resource can be worked through quite quickly, but putting these pages into practice is what will take effort. If you pick this book up to rid yourself of this enslaving sin, commit to actually taking Heath’s advice and living by the wisdom of the book. Your growth in grace will thank you!
I had the privilege to interview with Pilgrim Radio on these three prevalent counseling issues, pornography included. You can listen to that full interview here.