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.
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 if we use dodgy Christian web sites with their dodgy moral theology, our struggle against pornography is doomed to fail because they assure us it’s not sinful. So what chance do we have to resist something that attracts us so powerfully if we think the bible doesn’t even regard it as a sin? Every motivation is undermined before we even begin, and we ask ourselves why we are denying ourselves when God is not bothered by it.
Indulging the flesh
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 KJV, for example, “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, “…anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery with her in his heart”. The conclusion drawn from this by Christian web sites is over-simplified and distorted. They say that as long as the voyeur doesn’t actually desire or intend to have sex with the person he/she is looking at, it is acceptable to sit in front of a computer screen and masturbate while watching pornography for hours on end. How can this be acceptable?
What did Job mean when he said, “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). Did he mean he didn’t look at a virgin with the intention to deflower her? Is this statement about intent? I don’t believe so. Henry Morris comments, “Job deliberately refused to allow any thoughts of lust to enter his mind when he chanced to see an attractive young woman. Note Christ’s warning in Matthew 5:28” (Morris, H, 2012, p. 811).
This view is supported by “The Wisdom of Sirach”, also known as Ecclesiasticus, one of the books listed in the Apocrypha. Whether you accept it as a canonical book doesn’t matter. The fact is that it is an ancient Jewish writing and reflects their view. The verses are as follows:
“Do not look intently at a virgin, or you may stumble and incur penalties for her” (Sirach 9:5 NRSV-CE).
“Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, and do not gaze at beauty belonging to another; many have been seduced by a woman’s beauty, and by it passion is kindled like a fire” (Sir 9:8 NRSV-CE).
“Be ashamed…..of looking at a prostitute…..and of gazing at another man’s wife” (Sir 41:19-21 NRSV-CE).
So it is clear that we are not to look at a woman lest we become inflamed with lust which can – and more often than not does – result in sin. We can’t justify ogling women and sexual acts just because we don’t intend to have sex with them; these passages warn us against even looking.
Voyeurism and seeing nakedness is shameful and sinful
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; as is also looking on that nakedness.
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: thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged they bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it” (Isa 57:8). Again, I grant that this verse is about Judah’s idolatry and worshipping other gods than God; 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 naked – as it says here “discovered (uncovered) thyself” i.e. removed your clothing and revealed your nakedness. The spouse’s naked body is for the eyes of the other spouse only. Can you imagine a great oriental sultan or 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 cursed are those who steal a look at a person’s nakedness. “And [Noah] drank of the wine, and was drunken: and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan….” (Gen 9:21-24).
And “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!” (Hab 2:15). Drink spikers be warned!
When Adam and Eve sinned, we’re told that their very first realization was one of shame at the awareness that they were naked (Gen 3:6-8).
When Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, Israel was below, worshipping a golden calf under the direction and assistance of the high priest, Aaron. When Moses came back down to the camp and saw what was happening, he threw down and smashed the Ten Commandments; “And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?….And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies…” (Exod 32:21, 25). Modern bible versions omit the nakedness in this passage, focusing on the idolatry, and thus weaken the importance of the teaching of the passage.
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. “…the LORD will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover (margin: make naked) 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 (Isa 3:16).
And even at the end of time, when the vials of the wrath of God against sin and sinners are poured out on the earth, Jesus himself warns, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Rev 16:15). Yes, this is allegorical, but the message is that nakedness, whether physical or spiritual, is shameful and despicable.
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). Modern bible versions translate “pictures” as “figured stones (ESV), “cast idols” (NIV) etc. The Hebrew means images carved in relief on walls. They are, in effect, pictures in stone.
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), masturbating as you do so. God regards nudity as sin, except between spouses and in private.
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 for 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 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. Self-deception will be ripped away and reality will come upon you as an armed man, to misquote Proverbs 6:11.
One Christian website even says that because the husband is the head of the wife, and that because the Hebrew idea of the woman’s place amounts to the same as being a slave, he has the right to make her film pornographic movies with him to be displayed on the internet, and she has to conform to his will whether she likes it or not. As long as she is having sex with her husband, the author claims, she is not committing adultery, so it’s OK for her to be filmed copulating with her husband so that filthy men all around the world can watch her and masturbate to her.
But surely this is not what God had in mind when he put the wife under the headship of the husband! In the chapter on the roles of husbands and wives, Peter shows how the wife is to submit to her husband, Sarah even calling Abraham “lord”; but he also charges the husband to give honour to his wife, and to be aware that she is the weaker vessel: “Likewise, ye husbands,dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet 3:7). And Paul charges husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church; and to love their wives as their own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them, loving them as they love themselves (Eph 5:21-33). The godly husband is to protect his wife, not abuse her. God didn’t give him one of his children so that he could shame and humiliate her, abuse, expose, and defile her. He brought them together so that he would protect and shield her from all harm, even die for her; and to love her as Christ loves the Church. How then, can a godly husband force his wife to be filmed naked and engage in copulation and other sexual acts when her whole being recoils at the very idea of such a thing? How has he the right to trash her morality and humiliate her to such a degree? Surely the husband’s authority does not extend to breaking the so-called “Golden Rule”: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12). Christian marriage is meant to mirror the relationship of Christ to his Church (Eph 5:32). And although the scripture says a wife is to submit to her husband in all things, “all things” nonetheless has limitations so that they do not contravene other passages in the bible; and “all things” is not a blanket justification for abuse.
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).
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.
“This command forbids not only the acts of fornication and adultery, but all appetites to them, all lusting after the forbidden object; this is the beginning of the sin, lust conceiving James 1:15. 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 [lacks] nothing but convenient opportunity for the sin itself. This forbids also the using of any other of our senses to stir up lust. If ensnaring looks are forbidden fruit, [how] much more [are] unclean discourses and wanton dalliances, the fuel and bellows of this hellish fire. And if looking be lust, they who dress and deck and expose themselves with design to be looked at and lusted after are no less guilty” (Henry, M, 1997, p. 1440).
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.
We must 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, if applicable, is to confess it to another person: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas 5:16). This verse intends for people to confess to those against whom they have sinned e.g. a spouse. Don’t keep it from them 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. It may even be that the sexual relationship between you and your spouse is not healthy and this may have been the reason you initially got caught up in pornography; therefore confessing your addiction to it may be the catalyst for a healthier sexual relationship with your spouse. However, it is a sad fact that some spouses will not be open to receive such a revelation and confession, and confession could present more problems than would be solved. Every marriage is different and you need to think and pray about this step.
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” (Ps 103:12-14, 17). If you’re a believer, then there is no condemnation
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. “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. ….Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:7-10). And “Wherefore, my beloved…..work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Here we see partnership between God and ourselves, and that while we’re to resist as if the outcome depended on us, the outcome is certain because it is with God. And, “Delight thyself in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps 37:4).
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.
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.
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 Peter urged: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11). And Paul exhorts, “…put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:14).
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. Again, Paul writes: “Know ye not that they that 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). So exercise self-control and self-discipline.
And the Christian Web Sites….?
Ultimately though, for all the arguing back and forth as to whether or not pornography is sinful, the real problem with it is that it feeds the sinful nature and makes it stronger. It reminds me of the movie “Wrath of the Titans” where Kronos, imprisoned in Tartarus in the Underworld, grows stronger as Zeus’ power drains into him. Kronos, a Titan of unbelievable power, breaks free and comes to earth to exact vengeance, totally uncontrollable and unstoppable. The movie is a graphic illustration of the power of the sinful nature that is a fundamental part of we fallen human beings. If we feed it, it grows more powerful, but if we starve it and feed the new nature which we received when we were born of the Spirit, our spirit grows stronger and the fallen nature, or flesh, is weaker.
Paul puts it neatly: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God…..Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom 8:5-8, 12-13).
So even if you convince yourself by distorting scripture (2 Pet 3:14-16), as these Christians websites claim to be able to do, that pornography is not sinful and therefore you feel free to watch it and masturbate, you deceive yourself and are blinded to the fact that you are feeding the monster within you which is devoted to your destruction.
Commenting on the clause “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).
Henry, M. 1997, “The Matthew Henry Study Bible: King James Version”, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc., pub Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA.
Morris, Henry M, 2012, “The Henry Morris Study Bible”, copyright Dr. Henry M. Morris Estate, publ. Master Books, Green Forest, AR 72638
Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition, Anglicized Text, copyright 1989, 1995, 1999, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Publ. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, UK