Have you ever wondered why you struggle with your particular sins? Why does one person struggle with anger and another with crippling shyness? What about sexual struggles? Many women I’ve counseled lament why they look at this type of porn or why they’re attracted to that guy or girl.
At Harvest USA, one of the ways we conceptualize the complex interrelated factors—or the “why” behind our patterns of life—is the tree model. Luke 6:43–45 says,
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good fruit, and the evil person, out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
This passage is teaching that the heart of a person is what produces the outward behavior. The good news is that those who are in Christ have received a new heart (Ezek. 36:26–27). Though you may see very little good fruit on your tree, take heart! Any godly affections such as hatred for sin, love for others, and a desire to live in the light is evidence of that new heart—even on days when you feel crushed by the weight of your sin.
Deeper than Outward Behavior
In our ministry to those who struggle with sexual sin, we seek to bring the deeper issues of the heart before the light of Christ for help and hope. Jesus saves. His salvation and rescue extend beyond mere outward behavior. He changes his people from the inside out.
With habitual pornography use, it is no small thing when a man or woman turns from that outward sin to Jesus in the time of temptation. God is pleased when his children cast off things like pornography and using others sexually. There’s great freedom in being able to say, in full transparency, “I don’t look at porn.”
Porn trains the heart and mind to disregard another’s humanity for the sake of sexual gratification and a quick exit.
But even after the outward behavior is gone, men and women must face the ways pornography has shaped their hearts, minds, and (especially) the way it has shaped their relational world.
A Pornographic Style of Relating
Andrew J. Bauman brilliantly articulates some of the ways in which habitual porn use can result in a pornographic style of relating. Porn has begun to shape an entire generation’s expectations of sex, power, and love and the meaning (or meaninglessness) of bringing two bodies together. Bauman identifies several styles of relating that can develop out of porn use. Within a pornographic style of relating, Bauman explores dynamics like control, objectification, fantasy, and isolation.
We know porn use impacts sexual behavior, but what about relational intimacy, friendship, gender, and beyond? How might a porn habit affect the way you interact with an unattractive older woman in the church lobby, how often you visit your grandma, or your willingness to wake up early to help a friend move? These things are not as disconnected as they may seem.
A former colleague of mine told me that even after he stopped looking at porn, he still engaged in “things that were pornography-ish—like not helping my wife around the house or expecting her to respond to me in exactly the way I demanded in my heart.”
We know porn use impacts sexual behavior, but what about relational intimacy, friendship, gender, and beyond?
Many husbands and wives of pornography-users experience the relational fallout of their spouses’ seeming inability to see them as a person rather than a thing to be utilized. I’m not talking merely about objectifying your spouse in the bedroom—though this is also a fallout. I’m saying that an inability to understand that your spouse is a whole person (with emotional needs!) can be an indication of a pornographic style of relating. Lacking empathy, being harsh, showing impatience, and being emotionally stunted are all signs of a pornographic style of relating.
Porn trains the heart and mind to disregard another’s humanity for the sake of sexual gratification and a quick exit. When everything is on the terms of the viewer, he or she assumes a God-like role, overseeing the entire scene to maximize their selfish desires.
Should we be surprised when this “heart-training” extends to friends, spouses, children, coworkers, and church? This impact is to be expected.
The Path of Repentance
For men and women who have indulged in porn, repentance must involve seeking Christ and others to help you see the ways your porn use has impacted other non-sexual parts of your life. Expect grief, expect to be surprised, but also expect God to meet you in these areas with unshakeable love.
Brothers and sisters, this is our hope: Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, changing all of you—your sinful sexual behavior, yes, but also the ways you relate to others.
Have a posture of humility, recognizing that you don’t yet know the ways your porn use has impacted your heart and mind. But also, take heart! Jesus has given you a new heart, and he promises to discipline you and tenderly shepherd you that you might “share in his holiness” and begin to evidence new fruit—the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:10–11)!
Brothers and sisters, this is our hope: Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, changing all of you—your sinful sexual behavior, yes, but also the ways you relate to others. As Jack Miller so pastorally said, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”
Director of Women's Ministry
Caitlin McCaffrey is the Director of Women’s Ministry at Harvest USA. She holds a BA in liberal studies from The Master’s University and an MA in teaching with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis from National University. She is a board-certified behavior analyst and certified brain injury specialist with training in trauma recovery and biblical counseling.More from Caitlin McCaffrey