The Porn Pandemic and the Only Vaccine
Disclaimer: Though I speak of the evils of porn addiction firmly, I speak from a place of experience, compassion, and love. Brothers and sisters, I suffer with you. Jesus suffers with you, and more importantly, suffered for you. The nails in His hands replace the nails in ours. We aren’t called to be under the soul-crushing weight of sin anymore
You don’t need to be informed of your addiction. A prisoner can deny his limbs are bound in shackles, but when the cold, concrete cell grows dim as the daylight fades, the misery of his reality is unavoidable. And sadly, as with most dependencies, that’s where it thrives. Even worse, that’s what it feels like. Soaking up every last minute of dispersed light through a window, knowing sundown is imminent — and further, knowing that darkness exposes what light hides.
Evil often relies on the victim’s weaknesses, as opposed to the perpetrator’s strengths. Do monsters only exist at night? Surely not. Rather, it is there in the concealment of evening they lurk about undetected as their victims lie asleep defenselessly. And so it is with addiction, namely — pornography.
Millions of Christian men and women are actively addicted to porn and are completely aware of it. Second, many of these same people are asleep to the spiritual tools God has given us to defeat slavery to sin. The Enemy knows this too, which is why the most deadly drug in America today is porn. We’ve discovered shaming doesn’t work. Trying harder doesn’t work. Acceptance and complacency don’t work. Getting married doesn’t work. So, what works? First, I want to address sin, and reiterate God’s intolerance of our slavery to anything but Him.
Is Porn a ‘thorn in the flesh’?
Certainly the God who says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6) makes no allowances for sin. Further, we know that “The Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Scripture makes it clear: the rebirthed man or woman is no longer tethered to sin. Addiction is a tethering of sorts. So then, if one believes in the trinitarian God who by His Spirit conquered sin and death through the cross and resurrection, how shall we who died to sin with Him still live in it? (Romans 6:2)
A common refrain Christians use to subtly allow sin’s continual reign is this: perhaps this is my “thorn in the flesh.” This misquoted phrase is from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth:
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-92 Corinthians 12:7-9
It is clear in the text that God gave this thorn to Paul. Whether the thorn be physical, mental, emotional, relational, or spiritual, we don’t know for certain — but it wasn’t a sinful dependence. God allows evil and uses the requisite existence of it to accomplish His purposes, but God does not author evil at a corporal or individual level. A porn addiction is not a thorn from God and it’s not a weakness, it’s a denial of being under the dominion of grace (Romans 6:14). In short, God is not glorified in any and all interactions with pornography.
Further, we can never be under the illusion that our sin is glorifying to God because it magnifies His grace in forgiveness. Paul dealt with this same argument in His letter to the Romans: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience (Romans 6:15), there is no both/and loophole once we’ve been delivered from death to newness of life.
Let the Son Shine
In God’s upside down kingdom, good news often sounds like bad news at first glance. With that said, one of the most crucial spiritual actions that flows out of a repentant heart is that of confession. Confession you say? As in, exposing the wretchedness of my hidden behavior? Precisely. To your spouse, your elders, your pastor, your spiritual mentor, your biblical counselor, and most of all — to God.
Remember the monster analogy from earlier? You need to turn on the lights and expose what’s hiding under your bed. Confession isn’t only a genuine reaction to repentance, it’s necessary to seek forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). That which is hidden cannot be healed.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:6
Jesus, the exact image of God, presents the Gospel as a light into a gloomy world — which is Himself. Along with spiritual conviction, our desire to repent and confess sin is further assurance that our dying souls are being renewed and transformed daily by the light of Christ. The presence of darkness and lack of proclivity to be exposed by a holy God are gracious warnings from a loving Father.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world.1 John 2:15-16
Confession is a frightening step, and is only made possible through the grace and mercy of God. The admittance of porn addiction will have many consequences: relational turmoil, communal embarrassment, and both spiritual and emotional pain. Yet, I fear the opposing consequences are much more dire. We can sever the limb to save the body, or we can allow the infection to spread invasively until it reaches the vital organs. Brothers and sisters, it’s time to become an amputee.
Band-aids Don’t Cure Cancer
There’s a constant balance and counterbalance found in God’s Word — and hence, also in the life of Christ followers. In other words, God works out His will for human redemption and kingdom building in many paradoxes. For example:
- Jesus is reigning but also will reign
- We are made alive but we must also die daily
- We are given water yet we thirst
- Jesus’ burden is easy yet we must be crucified daily
- Jesus is judging the world but also not condemning the world
- We are given new sight yet we see dimly through a glass
These examples are not exhaustive, but I hope they provide proper context for another paradox found in relation to sin in the believer’s life: the conflict of two natures.
“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into bondage of sin.”Romans 7:14
Before we receive the sovereign grace of God and are empowered by the Spirit to repent and believe, we are both spiritually dead and physically dead. The inner person is spiritually deceased, and the outer person is decaying, or in other words, destined to die as a result of sin. Understanding our nature is key to conquering sinful addiction through the Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Galatians highlights the conflict between our physical (outer) and our spiritual (inner):
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”Galatians 5:17
Here is where the majority of pornography addicts take aim and hit the mark, yet misunderstand that they lined up the barrel and sights at the wrong target. When we feel convicted by our sin (praise God), our instinct is to keep plugging the leak rather than repair the pipes. With regard to porn, these behaviors include anti-porn software, “accountability” groups, avoiding boredom, and replacing it with another mind-numbing activity. These actions, though potentially useful, communicate two truths: “I alone have the power to overcome this.” And second, “I don’t need to change my heart posture and affections toward God, only my external actions.”
Please hear me, I’m pleading with you dear brothers and sisters: addiction is a terminal disease, don’t reach for the medicine cabinet! The sinful outcome on the outside is a mere reflection and consequence of the sin dwelling in our hearts. One of Satan’s craftiest ruses is to turn our focus to external performance, distracting us from Gospel-induced healing of the soul.
“For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Do you see the process here? By the Spirit the deeds of our flesh will be crushed/conquered/exterminated. It is only through a sole reliance upon the Spirit to renew from the inside that any mortal will find absolute victory against pornography. Hold tightly to the cross, knowing that internal sin need not reign any longer. Cling firmly to the resurrection, knowing that your outer body will be glorified as Christ’s.
I leave you with a simple, yet powerful prayer as we fight this battle alongside one another:
Lord, I cannot do this through my effort. Increase my faith to trust in Your strength.