Pornography is now a plague of pandemic proportion, ravaging families and churches, and bringing men and women into bondage and degradation and, it seems, no person is immune to it. A while ago, for example, I heard about a pastors’ conference and retreat which was being held in a conference centre. About halfway through the week, two or three of the pastors thought it would be good to speak to the concierge and tell him about the gospel. As they spoke to him, they were met with a frosty reception and he wasn’t willing to hear what they had to say. Eventually he told them he wanted nothing to do with the church if the pastors staying in his convention centre were examples of Christianity. He said he’d been asked by many of the pastors staying there to switch on the X-rated pornography TV channel in their individual rooms.
The Apostle Paul’s Message of Encouragement
In this article, I’ve taken on the unenviable challenge of writing about pornography with a view to help those who are caught in its web and for those whose loved one is caught in it. But how does one go about such a controversial and tricky task? Perhaps a good place to start is to show how Paul struggled with sin. The description of his struggle so aptly describes the struggle with pornography that one could almost believe that this was Paul’s sin as well. However, the nature of his sin is not revealed, but the principles – or law, as Paul terms it – are, and they have a wide application. He writes, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom 7:14-23).
Here there is encouragement for those who are in bondage to pornography. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it is permission to sin – it is far from that! It is, however, a recognition of the reality and power of sin; it is an acknowledgment of the weakness of humans; it is an acceptance that, as human beings and thus fallen creatures, there “dwelleth no good thing”; and especially, it is an encouragement that Christians are still sinners and that we sin because we are sinners and, despite this, we are still God’s people.
So Paul continues, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24). Is not this the cry of one who is in bondage to pornography? Are there not those who are reading this now and whose heart is breaking because they are entangled so securely in this spider’s web of sin, bondage and shame and, despite their continual crying out to God are still trying to extricate themselves from the glue that binds them to the web, that they have given up hope of ever being free of it? Then read on and be encouraged because Paul doesn’t leave it there. In the very next verse he writes, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin”. He reiterates that he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and is no longer the permanent and willing slave of the “old man”. He reminds himself that he delights in the law of God after the inward man but there is another law at work within him which brings him again into captivity to this “old man”.
And then he immediately proceeds to the next chapter, where he writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…..And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken (give life to) your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom 8:1, 10-11). You may struggle constantly against your lust and attraction to pornography and be constantly failing, but if Paul, who was an apostle and who saw the resurrected Jesus in such a dramatic fashion, and who understood the scriptures and human nature so well, didn’t do the good that he wanted but did the evil that he didn’t want, then why should we be surprised when we struggle and fail repeatedly? He puts it more succinctly when he writes, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal 5:17).
But much of the rest of Romans chapter 8 discusses the necessity of walking in the Spirit in order to overcome the lusts of the flesh, and warning against the danger of obeying the lusts of the flesh. It is on this aspect, the danger of obeying the lusts of the flesh – in our case, pornography – that I now want to focus. And I particularly want to consider the arguments that some professing Christian web sites use to justify and advocate indulgence in pornography.
Bogus Arguments Used To Justify Pornography
The first thing needed to be able to overcome the temptation to pornography is to identify it as a sin. This may be stating the obvious but modern bible versions have removed or watered down all references to erotic pictures and art, as will be seen below if you check the references provided. If something is not listed as a sin in the bible, what chance do we have to overcome it?
Indulging the flesh
And it appears there are now Christian web sites which weaken the idea of the sinfulness of pornography and even encourage men and women to indulge themselves in it. I’m sure that if we surf the net to find such sites we will find them; as Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim 4:3). Indeed, one of the arguments that Christian proponents of pornography use to justify its indulgence is to take the argument that porn use is indulging the flesh, and then turn that around. They use as an example that eating chocolate is indulging the flesh, therefore eating chocolate is sin; but we know that eating chocolate is not sin. This over-simplified kind of argument is all that is needed and is welcomed by those who are looking for a way to indulge their lusts by looking at porn on the net (or any other place); but it is a wrong comparison. Eating chocolate cannot be legitimately compared to pornography – eating chocolate has no moral value, it is just food. It is only the excessive eating of chocolate (or any other food) that can be regarded as sinful; and this sin would come under the classification of gluttony. Whereas porn use is sexual sin and has a moral value because it is a perversion of the purpose and blessing that God gave to humankind. God himself placed a moral value on sex by telling us the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4), and that all other expressions of sex are sinful and corrupt. He did not do this with food.
Lawful sex is indulging the flesh
Or, even more fundamentally, they say that sexual intercourse with one’s spouse is indulging the flesh and involves sexual lust, therefore it must be sin. But, they say, we know lawful sex is not sinful. However, God gave lawful sexual practice as a gift to humanity for the well-being of the marriage relationship, both in the husband and wife delighting in each other through sex, and also for its protection against unlawful sexual intercourse (1 Cor 7:2-5). He also commanded Adam and Eve, the first humans, to “be fruitful and multiply” – thus it is also for procreation and the continuation of the human species (Gen 2:28). Pornography fills neither of these roles. Husbands and wives are commanded by God to have regular sexual relations and that it is a fundamental and essential part of marriage; whereas pornography is neither commanded nor essential. Not only is it not commanded by God, it is condemned by him, along with all other corruptions and perversions of his good gift of sex.
I can’t help it – I’m a man
Another way pornography is justified is to say that God created men to be aroused sexually by sight; when a man sees a woman whom he regards as beautiful or sexy, he responds with an involuntary, inbuilt, sexual arousal. Therefore, the argument goes, when men are aroused by the sight of a desirable woman or a sexual image, they are only responding in the way that God intended. And because beauty is also a creation and blessing of God, if a man looks at a woman and allows himself to become aroused to the point where he wants to express that sexually, usually by masturbation, he’s only doing what he was created to do. And he is glorifying God in the doing. This can also be applied to women lusting after men, of course.
Heart-adultery is only the intention
Further to this argument, some bible versions now translate Jesus’ words concerning heart-adultery as relating only to the woman in sight and not to adultery in general. Instead of the King James Version, “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her” (Matt 5:27-28), the ESV has, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. The Good News Bible has a similar translation of this verse. The conclusion drawn from it by Christian web sites is over-simplified and distorted because they limit Jesus’ command to the intention to have sex with the particular woman. They say that the sin is in the man’s intentions. If he desires to have sex with that woman and attempts or plans to do so; or if that is impossible but he would have sex with her if he could; that is the adultery which Jesus is highlighting and condemning. However, their argument goes, it is not wrong for a man who is aroused by the sight of a woman, to express that desire sexually with his wife (which it is not); or, failing that, to masturbate. Therefore it is acceptable for him to sit in front of a computer screen and masturbate while he watches pornography for hours on end. How can this be acceptable? Jesus said it is adultery committed in the heart (Matt 5:27-28). And no adulterer will inherit the kingdom of God: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers…..shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).
Voyeurism and seeing nakedness is sin
God does not allow such behaviour. He does not allow or excuse public nudity or nudity between people who are not married to each other. “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people; he hath uncovered his sister’s nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity” (Lev 20:17). Granted, this passage talks about incest, but part of that is seeing the nakedness of someone to whom they were not married. And yes, uncovering the nakedness of another is a euphemism for the sex act; but in this verse, the seeing itself is sinful, and brings God’s condemnation. Nudity and the exposure of one’s naked body to someone other than one’s spouse is sin.
This can be seen further when God complains to Judah, whom he calls his wife, that she has committed adultery against him and has exposed her nakedness to the eyes of others. “Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself (exposed your naked body) to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them” (Isa 57:8). Again, I grant that this verse is about Judah’s idolatry and worshipping other gods than Jehovah; and it is stated in symbolic language using marriage and adultery; but God was angry that Judah, his wife, had allowed another than himself to see her nakedness. The spouse’s naked body is for the eyes of the other spouse only. Can you imagine a great king or emperor allowing anybody to see his wife at all, let alone unclothed? That was one reason that royal wives were confined to harems and guarded at all times.
And when Judah was finally punished by God, part of that judgment and punishment was that the nakedness of the women was exposed for all to see. “Therefore the LORD will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover (uncover) their secret parts” (Isa 3:17). Because the women of Judah were so promiscuous and free with their bodies, allowing many lovers to see their nakedness in what they thought was the privacy of their bedrooms, God would ensure that every eye would see them as they were carried into captivity. All their jewellery, their finery, their hairdos, their perfume, and their gorgeous clothing, would be stripped away, and they would be unclothed to such a degree that even their private parts would be exposed and visible.
Sinful pictures in the bible
God also condemns erotic pictures and images and looking at them; in those days there was no internet or magazines etc.; they displayed their erotic images and sex acts on their temple walls, both inside and outside. Examples of these pictures can be seen on many ancient Hindu temples which still stand today, as well as on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs or temples. God condemns such “art”: “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty……and upon all pleasant pictures” – margin reads “pictures of desire” (Isa 2:16 KJV). This may appear to some to be stretching it, trying to make a simple statement about art to that of erotic acts; but it is a legitimate and reasonable understanding of the verse, especially when we see it in the light of God’s command to destroy the people of Canaan: “Then shall ye drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places” (Num 33:52 KJV).
The religion of most ancient peoples was sexual and the worship was also sexual. There were temple prostitutes, both female and male, and their role was to copulate with worshippers of the gods to ensure the fertility of their land, their crops, their livestock, and their families. Thus, the pictures referred to in these passages displayed sexual acts and naked figures, as we see on said Hindu temples.
So take no notice of these so-called Christian web sites which advocate ogling pictures of nude women (or men) while masturbating (or even just looking). God regards nudity as sin, except between spouses and in private. “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure. Thine eye shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off” (Isa 33:15-17).
Watching married couples have sex is not sinful
But these Christian web sites not only encourage looking at naked women and men, they also approve of watching men and women having sex with each other, as long as they are married. But where do the authors of Christian web sites get this bizarre and ungodly idea from? It certainly can’t be found in the bible. It’s just a pious gloss on a sinful practice, and there is absolutely no permission given in scripture to allow it. But those people with itching ears will accept it and act upon it because they want anything they can get hold of in order to justify and indulge their sinful lusts (2 Tim 4:3-4). What does the married state of the “performers” have anything to do with committing sexual acts for public display? What a married couple does sexually is not for perverts to leer at and masturbate while doing so; it is (or should be) a very intimate act of love conducted between a husband and his wife in the privacy and security of their own home. Do not think that when you stand before God to give account to him for what you’ve done in your life, that he will excuse you because the pornography you watched was between married couples only. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall reap corruption…..” (Gal 6:7). Self-deception will be ripped away and reality will come upon you as an armed man, to misquote Proverbs 6:11.
Purity of heart and mind
And how do watching pornography, looking at pornographic and erotic sexual pictures, or reading pornographic and erotic literature, fulfil the command to have pure thoughts? Surely there is a natural and irreconcilable antipathy between these two? “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).
“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children…..But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient (appropriate; proper); but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person…..hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words (e.g. Christian web sites): for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them…..And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Eph 5:1-11). Using pornography to arouse or enhance sexual lust means you become a partaker of the same sin which you are watching others indulge in or perform. It pollutes the mind and the heart and draws the Christian into a murky world, a world that is not of God but set on fire from hell.
Walking the tightrope between heaven and hell
Yes, it is true that God is long-suffering and merciful, and that we are saved by his grace alone. But who is bold enough or mad enough to risk the loss of eternal life and joy for the sake of a few minutes or hours of fleshly delight? To make sure that we don’t take God for granted and abuse his kindness, Paul also warned that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10). Will you take that risk? Is it not better and safer, as Jesus urged, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not the whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt 5:29-30). Who will you believe; Jesus, or those Christian web sites which advocate the sins which he condemns?
Matthew Henry on Mathew 5:28-29
The famous and well-loved Puritan commentator Matthew Henry gives a very appropriate commentary of Jesus’ explanation of what constitutes adultery, as found in Matthew 5:28-29, and abbreviated here. His view, incidentally, was that held generally by Protestant churches until relatively recently, which is nevertheless still held by many churches; and rightly so.
“We have here an exposition of the seventh commandment, given us by the same hand that made the law, and therefore was fittest to be the interpreter of it: it is the law against uncleanness, which fitly follows upon the former; that (commandment) laid a restraint upon sinful passions, this (commandment) upon sinful appetites, both which ought to be under the government of reason and conscience, and if indulged, are equally pernicious. 1. The command is here laid down (v.17), Thou shalt not commit adultery; which includes a prohibition of all other acts of uncleanness, and the desire of them……We are here taught, that there is such a thing as heart-adultery, adulterous thoughts and dispositions, which never proceed to the act of adultery or fornication; and perhaps the defilement which these give to the soul, that is here so clearly asserted, was not only included in the seventh commandment, but was signified and intended in many of those ceremonial pollutions under the law, for which they were to wash their clothes, and bathe their flesh in water.
Whosoever looketh on a woman (not only another man’s wife, as some would have it, but any woman), to lust after her, has committed adultery with her in his heart, v. 28. This command forbids not only the acts of fornication and adultery, but, (1) All appetites to them, all lusting after the forbidden object; this is the beginning of the sin, lust conceiving (James 1:15); it is a bad step towards the sin; and where the lust is dwelt upon and approved, and the wanton desire is rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, it is the commission of sin as far as the heart can do it; there wants nothing but convenient opportunity for the sin itself……What have we the covering of the eyes for, but to restrain corrupt glances, and to keep out of their defiling impressions? This forbids also the using of any other of our senses to stir up lust. If ensnaring looks are forbidden fruit, much more unclean discourses, and wanton dalliances, the fuel and bellows of this hellish fire……
……That such looks and such dalliances are so very dangerous and destructive to the soul, that it is better to lose the eye and the hand that thus offend than to give away the sin, and perish eternally in it. This lesson is here taught us, v. 29, 30. Corrupt nature would soon object against the prohibition of heart-adultery, that it is impossible to be governed by it……’Flesh and blood cannot but look with pleasure upon a beautiful woman; and it is impossible to forbear lusting after and dallying with such an object’. Such pretences as these will scarcely be overcome by reason, and therefore must be argued against with the terrors of the Lord, and so they are argued against…..
……It is a startling argument that is made use of to enforce this prescription (v 29), and it is repeated in the same words (v 30), because we are loath to hear such rough things; Isa 30:10…..There are some sins from which we need to be saved with fear, particularly fleshly lusts, we ought to consider how much harder it will be to lie for ever in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone”.
Sin has Consequences
Pornography is not simply a sin that, because it is committed in secret and nobody knows about it, won’t do any harm. It is not a sin that can be committed without affecting others, even though you think it is just a personal indulgence – that because you only get aroused by videos or pictures or text, it is therefore inconsequential and harmless; that it isn’t really adultery. Secret sins can be the most damaging and have the greatest consequences. The secretive nature of pornography is one of the things which gives it its power, and which enables it to bring people into bondage, degradation, guilt, and shame.
A classic example of this is the story of David and Bathsheba. One evening, as King David was on his rooftop, he saw a beautiful woman bathing. Had he turned away and fled the scene, or even exercised self-control and abstained from acting on his lust, knowing the potential danger, he would have been safe and history would have been different. If he had been a New Testament believer, he would have been aware of Paul’s exhortation to the youthful Timothy to “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim 2:22). But he wasn’t. However, he did know enough to write “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Ps 119:9). But he didn’t flee. He didn’t heed God’s word. He didn’t avert his eyes. Instead, he looked and watched. He watched the beautiful Bathsheba bathing her beautiful body, and he was inflamed. His lust was aroused and it demanded to be satisfied – not with one of the wives in his own harem which was close by. No, he had to have his way with Bathsheba herself. Anyone else would not do; his lust demanded her and her only. He sent word to her to come to his apartment and messengers to bring her to him. And he had sex with her. She was a married woman and he committed adultery with her. He defiled the wife of one of his faithful and loyal servants. And then he sent her back to her own home, used and humbled, to face living for the rest of her life with her husband whilst concealing her guilty secret.
He thought it would end there, but it didn’t. Bathsheba had gotten pregnant as a result of the adulterous dalliance. This was only the beginning of a series of consequences that resulted in betrayal, murder, lies, deception, the rape and public humiliation of some of David’s wives, the rebellion of his son and attempted usurpation of the throne, civil war, and the death of Absalom his son, as well as the many casualties and deaths resulting from his rebellion. This entire catastrophe resulted from a look – that fatal second look. St. Augustine said that the first look, the first sight, can’t be helped, but the second look is the sinful one. That second look brought immense suffering to the family, the people, and the kingdom, of David.
Let us take David as our example and recognise that we cannot continue to be involved with pornography and not ultimately want to express our sexual desires (sinful lust) in ways akin to what we fill our mind with. Pornography may seem harmless to begin with, but all sins do. Pornography is not a destination in itself; it is a road to deeper and more serious sin. The sin of heart-adultery will inexorably lead to actual adultery or other sinful sexual acts. The sexual sins that we fill our mind with will want to be expressed in actuality. Constant feeding our lust with images or videos breaks down the walls of naivety and conscience that protect us and will result in a more tangible expression of that same sin. “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Prov 25:28).
One of the strengths of pornography is its secretive nature. Sin that is hidden has power. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (Jn 3:19-21).
Confession is good for the soul
So an important step needed to be taken towards coming out from under the domination of pornography is to bring it into the light. It needs to be confessed. First, confess it to God to be forgiven: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9; Ps 51). The next step is to confess it to another person: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas 5:16). This is not the sacrament of Confession practiced by some churches, but if that is there for you, then use it if it helps; however, the verse intends for people to confess to those against whom they have sinned e.g. a spouse; or else a close friend, or a pastor. But before confessing such sin, you must be very sure of the person to whom you are revealing it because some people will react negatively and condemn you (possibly because they are guilty of the same sin but don’t want to be exposed), and others may not be able to keep your secret and will give in to their burning desire to tell “just one person”; and the Chinese whisper has begun. And don’t keep it from your spouse just because you think they will be too hurt to cope with finding out what you’ve been doing. In confessing your sin, you need to take God with you and trust that no matter what happens as a result of your confession, he is there with you and with your spouse.
Resistance is not futile
Being free from the bondage of pornography may seem impossible when one is caught up in it. But despite the seeming futility of resisting the temptation, don’t go belly up and surrender to it or give up the fight. As long as there is resistance in your heart, a refusal to accept its indulgence as acceptable or inevitable, you have not been overcome, despite the fact that you fall over and over again. Remind yourself that you belong to the Lord. He died for you; therefore, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust…..the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him” (Ps 103:12-14, 17).
God and the sinner together
Despite the daunting battle involved, God requires that you take action; but he doesn’t abandon you to fight alone – he will be there with you. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:7-10).
And pray that Jesus would break the power of sin in you; that he would change the way you think; that he would open your eyes to see the lie of Satan and the Christian web sites who would have you believe that pornography is just a little thing, a non-issue, and that you can see it in all its heinousness and filthiness and degradation of you and of those who perform it.
I suppose some people are delivered instantly from pornography, but that isn’t the norm. While God remembers that, as humans, we are dust, as we read in Psalm 103, he still knows that it is possible for us to overcome our lust and other sins. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13). He doesn’t accept that we’re unable to defeat our sin, especially when he’s promised to be with us. Paul, who himself had his own battle with sin, urges: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13).
A day at a time
There is an old Chinese proverb which says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. In the same vein but more significantly for the Christian, Jesus tells us, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt 6:34). Overcoming pornography should be seen as a long-term battle, or a journey of a thousand miles. As I said, it is not impossible to overcome it overnight, but this is not the norm for such a problem. There are issues with the brain, habit, patterns of behaviour and other psychological and medical issues involved here, so one should begin the fight with the understanding that it will take a longish time; just as weight loss is a long-term programme.
And, just like weight loss, dealing with pornography is particularly difficult because it requires self-denial. Jesus did say, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Self-denial, especially when it comes to unlawful sexual gratification, is particularly difficult, because you have to resist yourself; you have to argue with yourself. And this is not made any easier when our own heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). So we see that our opponent is the most powerful we can face – our self with our own lust and a deceitful and desperately wicked heart and the oftentimes overpowering urge to gratify them/us. And we have to do it every single day for the rest of our lives. However, instead of looking at the struggle as being life-long and never-ending, the comfort that Jesus gives us is that it is only for one day – today. He doesn’t want us to try and see every day as an endless expanse of time and struggle; he reduces it to one day at a time. Forget about tomorrow – tomorrow is another day; and it will take care of itself. Just focus on today and get through it unscathed.
You will also need to remove every trace of pornography from everything you own or use. You cannot be soft with it and allow any so-called harmless things. A preacher I once knew used to say “soft surgeons make stinking wounds”. If you’re not ruthless and relentless in removing all traces of porn, all provocation to it, all connection to it, you’re not being serious and are planning to fail. You can’t ask God to help you if you haven’t shown him you’re serious.
A wonderful and encouraging example of such zeal can be found in 2 Kings 23:1-25 where the godly king, Josiah, after hearing for the first time the words of God’s law being read to him, immediately responded by rooting out every trace of idolatry and false worship from the whole country and also from the neighbouring country of Samaria and surrounds (2 Chron 34:33).
Those who struggle with their lust cannot make excuses; this is an admission of defeat and also a lame justification for self-indulgence. You cannot keep looking at pornography while excusing it and expect the victory. As long as you breathe the toxic atmosphere of lust, you will be poisoned by it. As long as you inhabit its world and make it part of yours, you’ll be overcome and destroyed by it. You cannot make allowances for porn because it is your enemy, and Satan uses it with deadly efficiency against all humanity. To be soft on porn is to be defeated by it. No wonder Paul urged Timothy to “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim 2:22). He also exhorts, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:14). And wise Solomon, who also had his battles with lust, counsels, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and his feet not be burned?” (Prov 6:27-28).
Victory is achievable – the bible says so. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist or trained counsellor or medical practitioner (however, a component in my theology degree was Pastoral Counselling, which included Counselling and Psychology), but I am a Christian who reads his bible. And what I read therein gives me all I need to know and understand the problems associated with pornography and the solutions for it. “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (Ps 119:100). So exercise self-control and self-discipline. Again, Paul, that champion against sin, writes, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor 9:24-27).
And the Christian Web Sites….?
Commenting on the phrase “having eyes full of adultery” in 2 Peter 2:14, Matthew Henry writes, “Such sinners as sport themselves in mischief deceive themselves and disgrace all they belong to, for by one sort of sins they prepare themselves for another. Their extravagant feasting bring them to commit all manner of lewdness, so that their eyes are full of adultery, their wanton looks show their own impure lusts and are designed and directed to kindle the like in others.. This is what they cannot cease from – the heart is insatiate in lusting and the eye incessant in looking after what may gratify their unclean desires. Those who are themselves impudent and incessant in sin are very diligent and often successful in deceiving others and drawing others into the same excess of riot” (Henry, M, 1997, p 2142).
Although this passage speaks of unsaved false teachers in Paul’s day, it applies equally well to the authors of Christian web sites which advocate and justify indulgence in pornography. It is a warning that they would do well to heed, and to repent of their sin and pull down their web sites which have caused untold damage to many of God’s people – and God does not take this lightly. He has expressed his displeasure with them, and he will not leave them unpunished. Jesus said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matt 18:6-7).
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11).
Henry, M. 1997, “The Matthew Henry Study Bible: King James Version”, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc., pub Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA.