How Not to Fight Pornography

June 02, 2018

by David E. Briones

First things first. Do you want to fight pornography? 

Many who “struggle” really just want to be assured of God’s love for them as they enjoy a love-hate relationship with pornography. Like so many spouses in abusive relationships, they hate pornography, but can’t imagine life without it. They hate what it does to them, but love what it provides: a short-lived moment of escape, a false sense of worth, an unsatisfying feeling of love. But after giving in, guilt sets in. They realize they’ve been dehumanized. Longing for pleasure, they run back to their lover again and again and again. Love never felt so wrong.

If that describes you, then you first need to realize that your “struggle” is no struggle at all. You need to admit that you are participating in blatant infidelity. You’re married, but you take off your ring for a moment and indulge yourself. You’ve been united to Christ, but you unite yourself to prostitutes. And let me assure you, your jealous Husband will not long tolerate another stealing your affection. Until this is understood, any approach to fighting sin will fall on deaf ears.

But assuming you do actually struggle against pornography, you need to know how not to fight pornography.

How Not to Fight Pornography

To “know God” is covenantal language.

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to fighting pornography among Christians which, if taken by themselves, are insufficient. Some Christians deal with the external and not the internal. They fight sin on the outside, but neglect the deeper affections of their heart. They have Covenant Eyes, or some other accountability program, on their devices in order to assist their battle against the flesh.

Perhaps they even take drastic measures and decide to throw their laptop out of their second-story window—hoping, wishing, praying that their internal desire for pornography will similarly be dashed to pieces. But over time, they quickly discover that their internal desires and sexual impulses, so conditioned to getting what they want, remain. In fact, they are heightened. Neglecting to dethrone pornography as king over their hearts, it continues to reign, demanding their time, loyalty, and affections.

Other Christians deal with the internal and not the external. They fight to have greater affections for the Lord Jesus Christ than for pornography, but they do nothing externally to prevent themselves from giving into sin. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with students about sexual sin. Some have been really encouraging, but others have been quite shocking.

In the course of a vulnerable conversation, I gently assess the nature of the student’s struggle, whether this is a one-time occurrence or an ongoing issue. I gradually gauge whether or not he is repenting, believing, and embracing the gospel of grace, and whether he longs to treasure Christ more than sin. Ultimately, I come around to ask a more forthright question: “Do you have the internet on your phone or device without a filter or accountability software?”

“No, not yet. I’ve been meaning to do that.” With eyes as big as saucers, I usually respond by saying, “You can’t ever expect to be liberated from the grip of pornography as long as you continue to make excuses.” That may sound harsh, but it’s true. To overcome a heroin addiction, you can’t be okay with carrying around heroin in your pocket.

Fight with God’s Warnings

So, how should we fight? Put broadly (and drawing on 1 Thess. 4:1–8), it consists of coming under two words: the word of command and the word of promise.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Paul makes known to the church how she “ought to walk” or how it is necessary to live. This general statement becomes a specific command in 1 Thessalonians 4:3–4: “Abstain from sexual immorality,” knowing “how to control [your] own body in holiness and honor.” Apparently, some in the community were struggling to master their body or “vessel” (which may be a euphemism for genitalia). They acted out in lustful passion like the pagan Gentiles “who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:5).

God’s word of promise enables us to fulfill God’s word of command.

To “know God” is covenantal language. Acting as those who “do not know God” is to live as if you’re not in a covenant relationship with God. It is to live a life of infidelity, without the slightest concern for how your spouse will respond; in this case, the God who “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). This ungrateful lifestyle leads to destruction— not only of one’s self, but also others. That’s why Paul further commands us not to “transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1 Thess. 4:6).

Pornography not only hurts you. It severely hurts others. It dehumanizes real people into images for one’s own sexual gratification, and it completely “destroys life-sustaining relationships” (Gabriele Kuby, The Global Sexual Revolution, 127). You lose interest in your spouse. You emotionally distance yourself from your family. You lose your ability to love. You cause your spouse to leave you. You entertain a false view of sex no one can meet. You develop a degrading image of the opposite sex. You become a recluse who can’t wait to see pornography one more time. Please don’t be deceived, Paul continues, “the Lord is an avenger in all these things” (1 Thess. 4:6).

Does that shock you? Is it surprising to hear that God is an avenger who will punish those in the church who persist in sexual immorality? It probably stunned the Thessalonians. Earlier, Paul mentioned that Jesus delivers the church “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10) and he later speaks about God’s people not being “destined for wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9). But to demonstrate the seriousness of sin, the holiness of God, and the ultimate outcome of sexual sin, he declares that the Lord Jesus will punish those who unrepentantly “struggle” with pornography in the church.

This inescapable reality of judgment should cause the unrepentant to repent and flee to Christ. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us with wrath hanging over us. He also gives a word of promise.

. . . continue reading at Desiring God.

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