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For a large majority of men today, the ubiquity of porn on the Internet, and its ability to provide unlimited access to it (especially via search engines) means that the issue is no longer, “Have you looked at porn?” but rather, “Are you actively looking at porn?”  Many wives may already fear or suspect that their husbands are engaging in pornography.

Looking at porn is not harmless (see the short video of Bob Heywood’s struggle with porn and its impact on his marriage). But the problem is that pornography usage is usually hidden, a closely guarded secret. What if you suspect that porn is impacting your marriage (or your relationship with your boyfriend or fiancé)?  Here are some things you can look for, and steps you can take to bring healing.

Signs that may indicate usage of porn:

  • Unusual decreased sexual activity between you and your husband—and increasing relationship distance physically.
  • Mental distance between the two of you. He’s there, but “not there” when you seek to engage him.
  • Late night computer activity, especially a pattern of needing to use the computer after you have gone to bed.
  • He quickly changes the screen when someone comes into the room, and he is spending more and more time on the computer.
  • Secrecy regarding finances, like not letting you see credit card statements.
  • Any gaps in accountability for time and finances.
  • No history on the web browser after he spends time on the computer (keep in mind that private browser windows are pretty standard today, leaving behind no web history).

What steps can you take?

Viewing pornography is sexual sin and is not just what “men do.”  While painful and devastating for any wife to acknowledge, you must honestly face the reality of sexual sin impacting your marriage.  Now is not the time to be passive. You have a vital role to play in helping your husband break free.

  1. Know that the Lord has comfort for you! He has not abandoned you or your marriage. Feelings of grief, shock, fear, and despair are normal for the wife who’s just discovered her husband’s porn usage. God is your compassionate Father and source of comfort and strength. (read 2 Cor. 1:3-4.)
  1. See this as a real threat to your marriage. Don’t deny it or hope that it will just go away.  Now is the time for you to battle hard for your marriage through prayer, courageous confrontation and humble reliance upon the Lord.
  1. Talk openly with your husband about your concerns. You may need to acknowledge that this is a common problem for men today, even Christian men, so come alongside him rather than take an oppositional role.  Watch for his response to your inquiry—is there defensiveness, anger, deflection?  Check your own heart for self-righteous indignation.
  1. Pray for and seek helpers who can encourage you and pray with you. Seek out godly Christian women or any ministry leader who is a “safe” person for you to talk with (someone who has track record of godly living, is compassionate, and is trustworthy with confidences). Talk with your pastor.
  1. Don’t put yourself in the position of being his “porn police” or primary accountability partner. If he admits he is struggling, tell him to talk to one of his friends or his pastor to set up accountability.  If there is a group of men who meet regularly for these issues, encourage him to attend.
  1. Do not think or accept (if your husband suggests) that his porn issue is your fault. He is responsible for his own behavior.  His behavior comes from within his own heart (Matt. 15: 17-20) and your behavior cannot cause him to look at porn.
  1. Consider marriage counseling with a pastor, counselor or a trusted couple. This may be a perfect time for both of you to seek assistance to talk through ongoing issues or problems. Couples that do not talk openly about their struggles, needs and disappointments (especially sexual problems and disappointments) are wounding their marriage. They need to be willing to look deeply at motivations and past events that affect their relationship with each other. Since sexual sin is so dangerous and powerful, it is something which must be dealt with openly — with the help of other Christians. Your marriage will not survive if this is not dealt with, and if your husband refuses to seek help.
  1. Run to the Lord as your refuge! Psalm 16:1-2 says that God is your strength, hope and safe place as you navigate these painful and scary waters in your marriage. You cannot control your husband’s heart or his response to the Lord, but you can bring your own needs, pain and confusion to him, and you need to!

Christian couples dare not keep sexual sin hidden in the shadows. It will only get worse and its potential to destroy the marriage is real.  The hope of the Gospel is that in Christ we can find restoration, reconciliation, and victory, even over deeply embedded sin patterns. There is hope for deep change and profound healing through the power of Jesus Christ.

We have a great devotional book for wives dealing with this issue in their marriage.  When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography:  Healing Your Wounded Heart, by Vickie Tiede.  You can get a copy here.

 

This is the third of three posts that explore the connection between porn and personal and social injustice, and what steps the church needs to do about it.  The first post is here, and the second post is here.

As pornography becomes increasingly accepted as a part of cultural life today, we will continue to hear more stories about the impact of sexual brokenness in the lives of individuals, families, and even in the wider society. Christians will not be exempt from this brokenness.  The church needs to begin moving along four fronts in order to stop the drift and to begin healing the damage.  

One: Acknowledge that the problem exists—in the church

As stated repeatedly, take action about the porn usage epidemic in your church.  It exists. Remember, it’s a secret sin, so it won’t come easily to the surface. By admitting that Christians struggle with sex (it’s not just a problem “out there”), we give people hope that God’s gift of sexuality can be used for good.  Acknowledge that we all struggle with this powerful gift, and that help is readily available for strugglers.

Teach about biblical sexuality to all age groups of people in the church. Don’t just focus on the negatives — teach about sexuality in a positive way because Christians today especially need to hear a compelling apologetic about why God’s design for sexual expression is for our good. Pray for and seek out men and women leaders to start and lead support groups for sexual strugglers. Contact us at [email protected] and we can help you get started on all of this.

Two: Begin to take action on injustice issues

The evangelical church can no longer be silent on social issues like the commercialization of sex and sex trafficking.  Scripture repeatedly talks about God as a God of justice and mercy, and that his people should reflect to the world what God is passionate about.  Isaiah 1:16-17 is only one of countless passages that direct us as God’s people to actively do justice and bring restoration to the broken.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

learn to do good;

seek justice,

correct oppression;

bring justice to the fatherless,

plead the widow’s cause.

Consider organizing a church committee or team that explores and teaches on justice and mercy issues. Ask God to develop in you and your church a heart of mercy to those who have been abused, mistreated, and manipulated into sexual sin. The scope of the problem is enormous, but don’t get overwhelmed.  Start small; start locally. Look for local resources to get involved in rescuing those who are abused and trapped. Shared Hope International is a good, national resource to start. VAST (thevast.org:  the Valley Against Sex Trafficking) is an excellent local resource in the Philadelphia region.

And check out this ministry that reach out to rescue men and women who work in the sex industry:  victoriasfriends.com and shelleylubben.com.

Three:  Start talking to youth—especially to boys and young men

Of all the demographics in the church, none is more critical to reach than our youth—but especially boys and young men.  Why?  Because our youth are almost universally immersed in looking at porn today, and they are being frightfully impacted by it. New research is showing how porn usage is shaping the minds and hearts of young men, “rewiring” as it were their brains toward aggressive and dysfunctional sexual behavior and addiction.  We need to reach this generation of boys and young men in particular in order to stop the demand for sexual trafficking that is growing around the world.

But don’t forget young women, as well!  They, too, are buying into the lies of the world when it comes to sexuality. The youth in our churches today know little about God’s design for sex, and are increasingly abandoning the Bible’s teaching on sexuality morality.  And the major reason for that is the church’s failure to talk openly and give a compelling reason for following God in this area of life.

Four:  Learn how to help by focusing on the heart—not just stopping behavior

Finally, it’s not enough to simply talk about the dangers and the personal/social implications of pornography and sexual brokenness.  There are reasons why men and women get hopelessly ensnared in sexual sin, as both offenders and victims.  All of our biblical teaching on sexuality must aim for the heart, where sinful behavior starts (Matthew 15:18-20).

Helping a sexual struggler means learning the unique contours of his or her heart.  When we see the broken idols that we live for, the idols that promise life but deliver destruction, and when we see them in the light of God’s mercy toward us in Christ, then deep repentance and   transformation begins to take shape—moving outward from the individual to family, church, neighborhood, and even to the far reaches of society itself.

Read Phil Monroe’s blog post, “Protecting Desires,” from his blog, Musings of a Christian Psychologist, to see how our desires function in our hearts to lead us toward belief or unbelief.  

This is the second of three posts that explore the connection between porn and personal and social injustice, and what steps the church needs to do about it.  The first post is here.

Pornography is the vehicle that drives lust forward, and porn spins a destructive message through its images, a message that dehumanizes, objectifies and enslaves—both the viewer and the ones who participate in it.  It does so in three primary ways.

  1. Porn disconnects sex from relationships—its subjects (usually women) become merely objects for sexual pleasure and/or a commodity for sale.
  1. Porn disconnects sex from love and respect—this especially has been shown to lead to aggression and violence toward women (many point to a “rape culture” on college campuses that some say is connected to the widespread usage of pornography among male students).
  1. Porn disconnects sex from human dignity—today, perversity knows no bounds when it comes to pornography.

While this is admittedly an extreme example, Ariel Castro, who imprisoned and sexually abused three women in his house in Cleveland for more than a decade, said at his sentencing:  “I believe I’m addicted to porn. . . to the point where I am impulsive, and I just don’t realize that what I am doing is wrong.”¹ As James Conley mentioned in his analysis on how pornography is reshaping the mind of American men, he says this: “Ariel Castro’s addiction is no excuse for his actions, but it points to a deep and sobering reality:  Free, anonymous, and ubiquitous access to pornography is quietly transforming American men and American culture.” (¹James D. Conley, “Ariel Castro’s Addiction,” First Things, August 2013, http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/08/ariel-castros-addiction.)

Nowhere do we see more of the destructive and dehumanizing effects that pornography produces than in prostitution and sex trafficking.  The image of the happy hooker (Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman) is a Hollywood lie. The vast majority enter prostitution (and other commercial sex enterprises like strip clubs, erotic massage, escort services, the production of porn movies, etc.) because of complex social, emotional, and economic reasons.  Divorce, abandonment, abuse, drugs, mental illness and poverty have long been the broken social fabric that propels women into such activities.  And sex trafficking is even more damaging, where through the use of manipulation or force a person (frequently a minor) is trafficked for sex, oftentimes kidnapped and transported for such acts far from their home environment.

It is imperative that Christians look below the surface of sexual sin to what may be driving its use in the lives of those in it.  So many porn actresses and actors, prostitutes, and others who work in the sex industry, are there because of other major brokenness issues in their lives.  It is inaccurate, unhelpful and judgmental to merely condemn those in it apart from seeing and understanding the numerous factors that contribute to it.  On the Shared Hope International website (sharedhope.org:  a Christian organization working to help victims of sex trafficking and eradicate the demand for it), a young girl named Robin tells her story about her descent into prostitution, a story that is not uncommon:

I became alcoholic after my first drink at 14-years-old. Gradually through my adolescence, I began experimenting with other substances and they became more important to me than school.  After miserably failing almost two years of college, I dropped out. I had just turned 21 before I met the man who sold me a dream. The dream turned into a nightmare and the nightmare lasted six years. In those six years I was prostituted up and down the I-5 corridor from Seattle to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Honolulu, Hawaii. . . I was 21 years old when my pimp walked into my life and because I was an “adult,” I always carried the guilt and shame for “choosing” this lifestyle. . . Telling my story and backing it up with truths, rather than misconceptions about prostitution, allowed me to heal. (Survivor Story:  Robin’s Journey to Redemption and Restoration,” March 7, 2013, http://sharedhope.org/2013/03/07/survivor-story-robin/.)  

Pornography also fuels the demand for such sexual services.  Far from quenching lust and reducing sexual exploitation (as many proponents of pornography contend), it radically distorts sexuality and relationships.  Pornography feeds the mindset that contributes to abuse, exploitation, oppression and victimization.

True, not everyone goes from viewing pornography to buying sex.  But we must see the deeper connections that viewing pornography facilitates. Participating in the “business” of just looking at pornography keeps the industry going.  Whether the pornography is free, paid, professional or amateur, people are being used.  As prostitution was once erroneously called “a victimless crime,” pornography is equally not a victimless activity. Somewhere along the line, somewhere in the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers, the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced.  Viewing it, engaging in it, contributes to the entire “system” of broken sexuality throughout the world.  Those looking at porn are “served” through the oppression of many.

Somewhere along the line, somewhere in the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced.

While it is beyond the scale of this article to lay out everything that ought to be done, there are a few steps you and your church can take to do justice, and to bring healing to those caught in the fabric of sexual brokenness.  We’ll look at this in the next post.

Michael kept insisting that his viewing pornography wasn’t hurting anybody. “I’m divorced, and what else am I going to do with my sex drive? This isn’t hurting me; it’s actually helping me.”

This was a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. Not long after that, he remarried, but the years of porn usage poisoned his second marriage, and it failed. The messages and attitudes of porn distorted his view of sex and relationships. But Michael’s porn usage didn’t just impact himself and his marriage. He failed to realize that his porn usage hurt far more people than he was willing to see or admit.

When people think of pornography and those who look at it, they usually respond in one or two ways. Either, “Look, it’s a personal, private activity; it’s not harmful,” or, “That’s terrible. Looking at that stuff messes up people’s lives.”

Both of these responses are inaccurate. The first one ignores the growing evidence that pornography is, in fact, harmful to the viewer. Those who engage in it absorb an insidious message about sex, relationships, and life that can lead to serious emotional, relational, behavioral and spiritual consequences. That’s what happened to my friend.

The second response, while true, doesn’t capture the total picture. It ignores the fact that viewing pornography impacts more than just the one who uses it — it hurts and victimizes scores of people, seen and unseen.

The reality is that the making and viewing of pornography has deep, worldwide social effects. In our Fall 2013 newsletter (Fall 2013: The Normalization of Porn in the Church: What the Church Needs to do Now), we highlighted the fact that pornography usage by Christians is a much bigger issue than merely that of personal piety.

There are broad cultural implications to the porn epidemic that go far beyond individual sexual integrity. . . The bottom line is that our (the church’s) silence on this issue is perpetuating injustice. Like those who use illegal drugs and who, by their usage, are linked to the violence and social discord found in countries where drugs are grown and produced, so engaging in porn equally contributes to global injustice… We need to speak up and connect the dots, letting people see the human brokenness that is behind the glossy images and videos.

Helping sexual strugglers break free from crippling sexual sin… has far-reaching implications beyond the impact it has on them alone.

Many people have an erroneous view of ministries like Harvest USA. They think we are only about helping individuals break out of sexually addictive behaviors that are impairing their personal lives. But that is only partially correct. Helping sexual strugglers break free from crippling sexual sin as a result of pornography or other out-of-control sexual behaviors has far-reaching implications beyond the impact it has on them alone. The sin of one person always impacts others, and when the struggler begins to confront the issue and start changing, it also brings healing to more than himself. When even one person is no longer enslaved to deeply rooted patterns of sexual brokenness, the impact is substantial, something that we again noted in our Fall 2013 newsletter:

Dealing with this issue (pornography) forthrightly means we can help save marriages and keep children from experiencing the socially debilitating effects of divorce. Sounding the alarm and giving practical help will protect children from the scars of broken sexuality that result from early sexualization. The positive effects of dealing with these issues will have even broader societal implications. People living within God’s design will not be supporting the porn industry, whose performers, both paid and amateur, are being exploited for someone’s economic gain. A large number of porn performers come from tragically broken backgrounds, and it is not surprising that a great number of them experienced early sexualization, abuse, rape, and incest, as well as continue to be abused on multiple levels while performing. 

Pornography has become increasingly “normalized” in our culture, or just accepted as being a fact of life today. Even with that, we are finally hearing reports that show a connection between the production and usage of pornography and the explosion of commercial sex enterprises, like prostitution and sex trafficking. Covenant Eyes, a ministry offering accountability software for computers and mobile devices, has a number of excellent articles on its website (covenanteyes.com) that show a link between pornography and sex trafficking. One article, “The Connections between Pornography and Sex Trafficking,” refers to a report that states, “Pornography is the primary gateway to the purchase of humans for commercial sex.”

In a compelling Newsweek article that describes how pornography usage increases men’s aggression and fuels the demand for commercial sex enterprises, the author writes:

Many experts believe the digital age has spawned an enormous increase in sexual exploitation; today anyone with access to the Internet can easily make a “date” through online postings, escort agencies, and other suppliers who cater to virtually any sexual predilection. The burgeoning demand has led to a dizzying proliferation of services so commonplace that many men don’t see erotic massages, strip clubs, or lap dances as forms of prostitution. (Leslie Bennetts, “The Growing Demand for Prostitution,” Newsweek, September 1, 2011, http://www.newsweek.com/growing-demand-prostitution-68493.)

Once Lust gains a foothold in the mind and hear, it becomes an enslaving idol  that destroys not just the lustful person, but equally harms the victims it uses to satisfy its desires.

Regardless of the studies, research, and individual stories, the connection between pornography and sexual exploitation is just common sense, biblically speaking. Lust and pornography are mutually destructive partners. Pornography ignites sexual lust, but rather than being satisfied, lust demands more and more. No wonder Jesus spoke metaphorically of the need to take extreme measures to combat sexual lust (Matthew 5:27-30). Once lust gains a foothold in the mind and heart, it becomes an enslaving idol that destroys not just the lustful person, but equally harms the victims it uses to satisfy its desires. That’s because sexual lust is more than just sexual desire and its temporary fulfillment. Lust is the strong desire to possess something or someone that is not yours to have. Lust isn’t satisfied until it owns or controls what it wants. Lust refuses to look at the object of lust as anything other than a “thing” for its own pleasure. Pornography takes that basic aspect of lust (“I want!” “I need!” “I must have!”) and spins a destructive message through its images, a message that dehumanizes, objectifies and enslaves—both the viewer and the ones who participate in it. It does so in three primary ways.

And that’s what we’ll look at in the next post.

With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack, and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood, who lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage, gives his thoughts on what the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. This 3-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and hopefully grow, these first few steps will be critical.

In my first two blogs (Part 1 and Part 2) I mentioned two initial steps you need to take to bring healing to your marriage: Own fully the damage you caused, and let your wife heal at her own pace. Now for the third initial step you must take.

You have to move toward your wife as a forgiven man. Not forgiven by her (you can’t control that or make that happen). No, forgiven by God. If you have given your life to him, then hear the good news of the gospel: that God has taken your sin upon himself and given you his perfect, flawless life-record as your own. It’s this new foundation that you need to begin to grasp. God sees you as clean, washed, even when all the pieces of your life are still scattered all around you. Even when the pain of your sin is still vividly in your mind and heart.

Why is this so important? Because you really can’t do the first two steps I mentioned apart from this one. You will not be able to fully face the truth of what you did, nor will you be able to let your wife heal at her own pace (with or without you), unless you begin to see that no matter your sin, Christ has paid the ultimate penalty for it. This alone is the foundation for your own healing.

This healing is not being accomplished by your sorrow, nor by your new-found good intentions or works, nor by the hope you have in wanting to heal your marriage. It’s because Jesus was willing, on one gruesome day, to die in your place—In order to give you life, to set you free, to place upon you a love so deep that you now belong to him as a cherished child.

You see, your sin exposed the lovelessness of your own heart. But by grasping with an open, empty hand (that’s faith), God’s love for those with broken hearts, you will now be able to learn to love as you never have before.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

This is what living by faith looks like. Not a cheap grace, but a substantial grace that now gives you the love you need to move forward in total transparency, hiding nothing, admitting to everything. I don’t know your wife. I don’t know how she is going to respond. What I do know is that you need to know that God loves you and that his promises never change. This should help you with my next point.

And this is what your wife needs—she needs to see you growing in this grace. You will still fail. You will still stumble and fall at times. Your wife is going to need her measure of grace from God to survive the destructive self-centeredness that brought you both to where you are now at.

Remember that your sin is against God first! He felt it first! It was his law you broke! It was his grace that you trampled underfoot. That to me is what God is trying to communicate to us from the cross. “This is how your self-indulgence has impacted me” He is saying. “You broke my heart!” That is deep! That is love at a whole new level! He made an open display of your sin so that you don’t have to hide anymore. If you can honestly face the cross you can honestly face your wife, and hear whatever she needs to say, and own all the damage you have caused, and patiently wait for whatever healing she needs to experience before she can even think of getting close again.

Finally, I would say, with Paul, “Love… hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). You don’t want to give up hope. You want to continue to believe that God will do a work. And he will do a work in your life and in your marriage. It just might not look like the way you want it to look! You have to trust him no matter what the outcome.

With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack, and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood, who lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage, gives his thoughts on what the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. This 3-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and grow, these first few steps will be critical.

I mentioned in my last post (here) that one of the most devastating things that impacted your wife when your sexual sin finally came out in the open was this fact: You were living a double life. You lived one way in front of her, and you lived another way behind her back. That type of secrecy in a marriage causes great damage.

One of the first things you need to do to rebuild your marriage is to learn—carefully and with sincerity—how to rebuild the trust that you broke. I’ve already said a few things about the first step you need to take: take a hard and honest inventory of the damage you have caused to your wife and marriage.

And if your wife is still willing to stay in the marriage, here’s a second big step you must take:

Give your wife space to walk her road of healing. At her pace.

Don’t move toward your wife, trying to do all the right things this time, as if lots of doing good activity is going to fix everything. If this is your new focus, you will put a crushing weight of pressure on her. How? Because most likely underneath all your “good” activity, is an unspoken demand that she should respond and accept your earnest steps to change.

But when you do this, you are shifting the dynamic of the relationship, off of you and onto her. Now the future of the marriage depends on how she responds to the “new” you. Oh, this is subtle! You may not be aware of it. But if this is happening, and if your wife is having big problems accepting the new you, then you can justify that, whatever happens, at least you really tried. After all, marriage involves two people working at it, right?

Yes, start changing your behavior, begin relating to your wife as a man of honesty and transparency, but you have got to disconnect your behavior from expecting a response to it. You must.

The most important thing she needs from you right now is to give her all the space she needs to heal at her own pace. Not yours. She is disoriented from living with a man who lived two lives. Jesus said sexual sins were legitimate grounds for divorce. You need to face the reality that you crossed that line—whether your sexual sin involved a physical encounter or “just” a virtual one.

Your wife will be struggling with the reality that you crossed sexual boundaries; that you took your heart and your body outside of your marriage. That’s bad enough. But she will also be struggling—more so— with your deception. Your wife can’t fix that. You’ll have to give her emotional space as she struggles with how to move on. How to learn, slowly, whether she can begin to trust the person you are now showing her.

One thing that God will work in your heart is this: your desire to control things and make them work out your way. That’s what your sexual sin was about. Your desire for control is what plunged you into porn, or whatever you did to seek emotional or physical intimacy outside of your promise to your wife. Control, to be in charge, to make sure you got what you wanted—and avoid whatever it was that you hated—is what kept your deception going.

Your idolatry to control your life is one giant lie that God cannot satisfy you. Your refusal to seek him led you to seek something else that promised no disappointment, no pain, no struggle, no problems.

But now what you need to learn from God is that your control was an illusion. You thought being in control would give you what you needed. And now your continued desire for control will also give you what you think you need—to fix this relationship and get it back on its feet. And that’s not going to work this time.

This time, you are going to have to deeply rely on God to fix this. You can’t fix this on your own. Your promises, your new intentions, your new behavior, at this point, are going to have to be seen to be believed. Over time. Over a lot of time.

You must now learn not to depend on yourself—your “wisdom,” your schemes, your manipulations. You can’t make this thing work. It’s in the mess that you have made of things that God is trying to make himself real to both you and your wife. It’s in the brokenness that God slowly brings new life.

Don’t push this, don’t rush this, don’t expect things from your wife. Don’t pressure her to heal faster than she can. Love is a long road. It’s worth the trip. She needs to go at her pace, and you will need to learn to love her at that pace.

God is in the business of redeeming lives but he also insists in doing it his way. You’ve got to learn this yourself. Are you willing to be a disciple, willing to walk with him at his pace? Then realize that his pace for you includes the time your wife needs to heal, at her pace. When you give her space, you walk at the Master’s pace.

With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack, and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood, who lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage, gives his thoughts on what some of the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. This 3-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and grow, these first few steps will be critical.

You’ve been found out. You’ve messed up and you’ve messed up big time. You have violated the boundary lines of sexual activity that God has put in place, and you have crushed your wife. You think you know how bad it is. But chances are good you still aren’t thinking clearly right now. You haven’t a clue how deep sexual betrayal runs. You can feel the pain you caused, but you still don’t know all the ins and outs of your sin.

The worst first step you can make is to say, “I’m sorry” and plead that you won’t ever do it again. Sorry is not going to be enough this time, if you think it will ease the pain. But whose pain are you trying to heal at this point? If your goal is to get rid of the pain, and move on, then you are just doing what your sexual sin was trying to accomplish in the first place: rid yourself of pain.

As much as you might want to put your marriage back together, I believe the real issue is not: how do we move forward again, how are we going to pick up the pieces?

The real issue right now for you is: will you honestly look at the damage you have done to your wife, and to your marriage? Will you name it and own it?

You have to own up to the fact that your behavior has crossed lines that bring death to a relationship. We can speculate about what Adam and Eve were thinking about before they ate the fruit. But it was when they ate the fruit that death occurred. They crossed the line, and everything changed.

By doing what you did, you crossed the line; you’ve eaten the forbidden fruit. Everything has changed now. The fallout is deeper than you think. Maybe Adam and Eve wouldn’t have eaten the fruit if they could have seen the possibility that their one action would eventually lead, through uncountable years of human history, to a world overrun with violence and suffering. But that doesn’t really matter right now. We are living in a world that they created, and we keep sustaining. So you must face your own self- made catastrophe because you didn’t consider the consequences.

No matter how your wife found out about your sexual sin (whether you got caught or you confessed) she now needs to process the fact that she doesn’t really know who you are. A whole chunk of your life has been lived in secret—from her. Now she feels like she has been living with a stranger all these years. You may think this isn’t so big a deal, but it is. Can you imagine what the wife of Dennis Rader felt after finding out that she was married to a serial killer for 30 years—and for three decades she related to a man that lied to her every minute of every day? I know that sounds like an over-the-top example, but do you get the point? How can your wife easily trust you again, when for (how long? how many years?) you presented a part of yourself to her, every minute of every day, that was a lie?

You shouldn’t be surprised that she is now asking herself questions like, “Does this mean that every time he walked out the door and said he was just going to the store he was really going somewhere else?” She feels like she has to turn into some sort of private investigator or detective. This wasn’t her calling when God asked her to be your wife. She is wondering what these women on the Internet have that she doesn’t have. She struggles with wondering what is wrong with her, even when she isn’t to blame at all for what you did. She wonders if her husband ever really loved her at all, or was that just another lie.

I know I’ve been very negative up to this point. But one thing I’ve learned in my own journey is that God works in real-time. He does his work in reality. It does us no good to paint the picture different than it really is. The corner we’ve painted ourselves into looks bleak.

But there is hope! And it can only start when we get real with what our behavior has done—how it has deeply hurt—our spouse, and honestly face up to the damage we have inflicted. It can’t start any other place. Start naming the damage—to God and to her.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).

“I never realized how frivolously I have treated what sex is. I never saw it as something magnificently created. I know that sex is something that God wants us to control, but it’s out of control in my life. How did I get to the point that I both want it and loathe it at the same time?”

Matt (name changed) voiced this opinion following our presentation of “God’s Design for Sex,” which is one of our teaching segments of our Finding Sexual Sanity seminars. In that section, we try to get across the biblical view of sex and sexuality. So many Christians think that the biblical view of sex is predominantly negative: “Don’t do that until you’re married.” And then, if or when you are married, keep it under control, and don’t get too caught up in its pleasures.

How in the world did we, in the church (and not mention those outside of the church), get to this pathetic conclusion?

Lots of reasons, but I think one thing we continue to miss: we are not doing a good job of proclaiming the wondrous gift that sex is, and so, too many Christians are falling into sexual sin and disorder as they wrestle with strong sexual desires and relational desires.

In Matt’s case, it was pornography. He knew that engaging and looking at pornography was wrong, but its pull on his mind and body was overwhelming to the point of addiction. Saying “no” to his desires, asking God for forgiveness, and forcing himself to stay away from the computer were failed strategies. His marriage was suffering, too.

It was important for Matt (and it’s crucial for anyone finding themselves caught in an obsessive (if not addictive) downward spiral of looking at porn, to discover what are the underlying “idols of his heart” that fuel all this. Sexual sin is a “marker” for deeper issues. And those deeper issues “use” sex as a means to gain what the struggler feels he or she must have in life. (Look at our blog postings on 1 Thessalonians 4 for a quick overview of the power of idols and desires: click here)

Matt needed, and continues to keep needing, to pinpoint those non-sexual wants, desires and longings that set him up to turn to pornography. Success is never measured by what we have stopped doing in our life that brings harm. Looking at the “negatives” is never enough to give us a desire to want to change. We need to know what is ahead—what is the thing that will really give us freedom and joy. In other words, what is the thing to replace what we want to stop?

Listening to his support group talk about the beauty of God’s design for sex struck a chord of hope in Matt. He never considered that grasping a high view of sex might cause him to see sexuality as a gift from God that God wanted him to use to its fullest delight. That God was not prudish about sex. That God had good reasons for designing its rules and boundaries, and they were not so that we would not enjoy it. (As one writer recently described the Christian view of sex: “Not to mention the core Christian idea that sexuality is, itself, a necessary evil, and something that must be repressed.”)

Really? Where do you find that in Scripture?

Matt left the support group that night encouraged that his struggle with sex had a new angle that could help him. While he still needed to actively repent of his deeper idols, and engage in effective accountability with others to overcome his sin, he could now learn to look at the good reasons for God’s design for sex, and begin to desire to protect something so good—so that he could begin to experience the goodness, beauty and wonder of sex with the person God gave him to do so with: his wife.

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Three—The damage of sexual slavery: living for our desires

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

If you are just picking up this post now, click here and here for parts one and two.

Paul’s plea to the Thessalonians is that they not live sexually as if they are free to do whatever they want. As he said in another letter: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6: 19-20).

And his point in verses 4-5 is this: If you are not serving God by living for him, learning to control your body’s powerful sexual desires, you will be a slave to desires you will not be able to control. And if that is what is happening in your life, if you are living sexually anyway you want, what you think is sexual freedom is, in God’s economy, slavery.

You will be living as if God doesn’t matter to you at all.

Here is what we need to know about desires and wants and how they are closely connected to our sexuality. Our sexuality is fed by desires that often are not sexual at all: like loneliness, fear, anxiety, depression, inadequacy, power, control, wanting to be loved, known or valued, fear of missing out, peer pressure—there are an unlimited number of wants and desires that become “over-desires” and rule over us. They become things we think we absolutely need in life; they become ultimate things; they become idols that we live for—to have or to avoid.

And if we use our sexuality to erase our loneliness, combat our anxiety or fears, or to convince ourselves that somebody now loves and wants us, then we will keep doing so in order that life gives us what we think we need.

But what they give us is an illusion of control when in fact they give us slavery; they control us.

And when we find ourselves at that place in life, Paul’s description of non-believers becomes true even for believers: we become like the Gentiles who do not know God. When our hearts are given over to something or someone else, Jesus is pushed aside. He simply is not enough for us—to give us what we need in life. So, we begin worshipping a false god of our own making.

Our sexuality reveals our spirituality; it reveals the allegiance of our hearts.

Today, pornography is a clear example of sexual-freedom-is-really-sexual-slavery.

Let me show you four ways our struggles with sexuality brings slavery—and how it hurts us and others.

One, it brings crippling self-doubt about salvation

Many Christians live defeated lives of fear and self-loathing. Their struggles with sex drives them away from God. They hide from him and from others. When they look to God all they see is a Judge, not a Savior who came to rescue them from the very slavery that binds them.

A man from a support group wrote this for our latest newsletter:

“When does the healing from a life time of viewing porn begin? How do I measure victory over a sin that has dogged my footsteps for decades? These are questions I struggled with for years …. I have spent most of my life in fear of being discovered. This sin warped and twisted all my relationships, from God, to my wife, to my children, to my friendships.”

People like my friend here think: “If I struggle here, I must not be a Christian.”

Two, sexual strugglers live double lives

I’m talking here about compartmentalizing, about splitting your life into separate parts. I can be a Christian at church and be someone else at school, at my workplace, etc. Sexual strugglers live double lives. Our organization’s president, John Freeman, just published a book called: Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex. He uses this phrase about sexual strugglers: They become game-players. They put their game face on when they are in public with other believers, but underneath the mask there is tremendous fear and shame and guilt.

Compartmentalizing, however, slowly bleeds into every area of your life. Another man in my support group said he’s been a liar all his life. Now in his 50s, his early encounter with porn as a child led him for decades to hide his sexual addiction, first from his parents and then from his wife and children.

He got so used to lying to cover up his porn addiction. He soon didn’t realize that he unconsciously lied to cover up all his behavior, no matter what it was. He could never relax and just be himself—his constant fear was being found out.

Three, the slavery Paul talks about leads to hopelessness

Crippling doubt about salvation, and living a fear-driven double life ultimately brings hopelessness about ever being able to be free. Many men and women give up—they either give up outwardly and leave the church or they give up silently and just go through the motions of living their Christian faith. But they distance themselves from church, and from family relationships, and those closest to them sense that something is amiss, but they can’t put their finger on it.

Slavery gives you the feeling that the gospel has no power. It is utterly useless to help you with the problems and struggles you face once you leave church on Sunday. And if you feel God himself can’t help you, you are indeed hopeless.

Four, slavery to our desires leads us to harm others

In verse 6 Paul slips in this: that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Paul is referring to the relational damage of sexual sin. He connects it with sexuality: “in this matter.”

Here’s the point: Sexual sin is not a private matter. It is not a harmless, private activity. When our desires control us, we become intensely self-centered. Sex was designed by God as a means to bless our spouse. But when our focus is only in ourselves and what we can get out of it, we hurt people and relationships.

A husband who looks at pornography hurts his wife, as he prefers a fantasy life over his real one. At best, his wife becomes merely an object of his own pleasure like all the women he sees on the screen. He uses people.

Someone who engages in porn contributes to the sexual exploitation of the performers and the widespread damage to the minds and hearts of others who are in slavery to this. Increasingly the evidence is growing that sex trafficking is embedded in this porn epidemic.

And then there is sexual abuse. Child porn, and the awful tragedy of church leaders abusing men and women under their pastoral care, is the extreme display of all this sexual slavery.
Lust is not something that is easily contained. There is a reason Jesus said, in exaggerated language, in order to make a point: If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out.

When we feed our lusts, they will control us. Consume us.

Can you hear Paul’s plea: Don’t live by your desires, now that you know something of what this slavery looks like!

But if that warning is not enough, Paul gives a stronger one: the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

(Looking ahead: is there a way forward through all this, a way for us, individually, and for us, as a church, to live our life in sexual integrity before God?)

Link to Part 4.

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Two — How we deal with our sexuality will lead us to freedom or slavery.

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

In my first post on this amazing passage by Paul, I pointed out how God places a high value on how we live before him in these bodies we have. You can read that first post here

Again, Paul’s intent in this passage is to make it very clear that those who name themselves as followers of Christ cannot engage in whatever sexual behavior they wish as the surrounding culture promoted and permitted. But he also understood the struggle they were having in reining in attractions, desires and behaviors which were formally OK for them.

So, after he tells them that what we do with our bodies matters to God, he gives them another compelling reason for fighting sexual sin:

That how we deal with our sexuality will lead us to freedom or slavery.

There are two powerful cultural forces in play regarding sexuality in our world today.

The first one is that we no longer agree on what is right and wrong. The old rules and boundaries regarding sexual behavior are now considered repressive, confining, antiquated. What matters is love, however it is expressed. As long as there is agreement between consenting adults and no one gets hurt, everything is OK.

The second cultural force is that since there is no standard of truth, we all make our own truth. Personal stories are how we discover “truth” today. The individual—me—is the primary point of meaning and fulfillment. We don’t look outside of ourselves, to God or some sort of external standard, to find truth or meaning. We look inside, to our own feelings and experiences. I discover truth; this is “my truth.” No one has the right to say my truth is wrong. My story, the way I experience life, validates what is true.

These two cultural forces—that there is no right or wrong other than what I say is right or wrong, are reshaping sexuality today. Sexual expression, sexual attraction, sexual desires, sexual identity, sexual rights—it’s an anything-goes-sexuality culture. This is what is called sexual freedom.

But Paul—and indeed the entire Bible—calls this kind of life, not freedom, but slavery.

Look at verses 4 & 5, where Paul says: that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

What is Paul saying here? He is making clear that believers must not live lives of uncontrolled sexuality the way unbelievers do. Now, Paul is making a worldview statement here. He is not saying that all unbelievers live licentious sexual lives. Rather, he is saying that the world outside of God’s influence promotes living according to one’s passions.

He is saying to the young believers in this new church community, that though this is the world you came out of, and though you may still struggle with your sexuality, don’t give in to those desires as if it doesn’t matter what you do with your bodies.

Because it does matter.

Why? Because when you give your body over to your desires, you will find out what slavery is.

Now where do we see this? It’s understanding the key word here that Paul uses: “lust.” Not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.

Lust is an interesting word. It’s typically a word used in a sexual context, but it’s not limited to that. The Greek word that we translate lust, epithumia, simply means “over-desire” or “strong desire.” The general meaning in the NT when it is used in a sexual context is that of a “ruling desire,” or an “inordinate desire.” A “controlling desire.” A desire that enslaves.

In other words, our desires, which arise from what entices us and what we ourselves want, eventually come to enslave us. And Paul is pleading: Don’t go there! Don’t give in to those over-desires. Don’t let yourself be a slave, controlled by something that brings destruction to your life. Don’t live as if God doesn’t matter to you.

We see this idea of behavior and slavery in another passage—James 1:13-15: It says, 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Now what is James saying here?

James is answering the question: What causes us to sin? His answer is that everyone is tempted from within (“by his own desire”), and that our desires, when we cultivate them, and focus on them, they eventually give birth to sin.

The word that is translated desire is the same word Paul uses: epithumia. And James is clearly using this word in a sexual context, also. In fact, James uses a sexual term that is translated “lured and enticed.”

Now what does this all mean?

It means this: We want what we desire—all behavior is based on my free will. I choose it. But at the same time our desires rule us. The NIV translates this passage in a vivid way: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

Do you see? Behavior always has this ongoing dynamic of being my free choice while, at the same time, I’m being dragged toward it or controlled by it. A modern interpretation of this was penned best by Bob Dylan: “You’ve got to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’ve got to serve somebody.”

You are free to do what you want—but you will be serving somebody. And if you are not serving God, living for him, you will be a slave to desires you will not be able to control. And if that is what is happening in your life, if you are living sexually anyway you want, what you think is sexual freedom is, in God’s economy, slavery.

You will be living as if God doesn’t matter to you at all.

(Looking ahead: What effect does living in slavery to my “ruling desires” hurt me and others?)

Links to Part 3


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