10 Sep 2020
Do non-Christians care about sexual sin, particularly behaviors like masturbation that our culture views as benign? Believe it or not, many do! There are even online support groups for unbelievers who are particularly focused on stopping behaviors like masturbation and pornography. Groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous have very stringent standards for sobriety, and yet many of the people who regularly attend would not claim to follow Christ.
Through the biblical category of “common grace,” we can acknowledge that someone can overcome addictive sexual behaviors and still be dead in their sins. What this means is that a biblical approach to repentance must have a deeper aim beyond mere behavioral change.
At the root of all true Christian ministry stands not a technique, but the person and work of Jesus Christ. Whatever good people may attain through techniques, they are of zero lasting benefit if those techniques do not lead them to Christ. Jesus said as much in John 5:39–40:“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (ESV).
At some point or another in our lives, aren’t we all guilty of reading Scripture merely to check it off our lists? It is a sobering thought that even reading the Bible can itself become a technique devoid of Christ and therefore have no power to give life to the reader. If you are seeking to offer hope to someone stuck in slavery to sexual sin, or if you yourself need hope, you must keep their—and your—eyes fixed on the only person who can give eternal life in whatever techniques you offer.
Your goal in helping a brother or sister should be the same goal of the apostle John in writing his gospel. John said, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
At first glance, you might hear John’s words only in an evangelistic context. You might say, “My brother or sister already believes in Jesus, but they still struggle with sin.” Certainly, if you only see belief in Jesus as an entrance into life and not the way of life, then you will forfeit any power to fight sin.
Faith in Christ unites us to him and all of his saving benefits. Through Spirit-wrought faith, a believer has passed from death to life. Their old nature died with Christ, and their new nature was raised to walk in newness of life. The believer’s new life is fundamentally sustained by the one who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
This life that Christ gives is not limited to the moment of regeneration but is instead a constant wellspring that sustains you through your eternal union with Christ. Every second of eternal life that you enjoy both now and forever will be inextricably linked to your union with Christ.
John uniquely highlights Christ’s life-giving power in almost every chapter of his gospel. Jesus frequently speaks of eternal life that he alone can give. But this gift is not something outside of him; Jesus offers himself. Here is a sample of these statements:
- “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
- “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21).
- “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”
- “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Without specifically using the word “life” in John 15, Jesus speaks of the utmost necessity of abiding in him for bearing any good fruit. He says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus uses the metaphor of a vine and branches to clearly illustrate that a branch cut off from the vine has no life.
What this means practically is that your primary aim as a helper for those struggling with sin is pointing them to the way, the truth, and the life. Are other things needed to overcome sexual sin? Yes. People need community. People need to cut off access to temptation. People need to confess their sins and learn how to love others instead of consuming them. But all of those efforts and means of repenting have no eternal power if they are cut off from Christ.
In response to Walter Marshall’s classic work, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Bruce McRae writes in a footnote about the spiritual disciplines, or means of grace, “These ‘means of grace’ are not what you do to attain holiness; they are what bring you into a deeper fellowship with Christ who makes you more holy.”¹
Your life, Christian, is only found in Christ. More than any other activity or responsibility you have today, may your first and primary goal be to abide in Christ. Your life is so united to the life of Christ that you can say with the apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
¹ In his book, Walter Marshall outlines nine different means of grace: reading Scripture; examining one’s life by the Scriptures; meditating on Scripture; baptism; the Lord’s Supper; prayer; singing; fasting; and fellowship and relationships with other Christians in the Church.
You can also watch the video, “Serving Self or Serving Christ,” which corresponds to this blog.
09 Apr 2020
In this video, Shalee Lehning discusses the pain that women endure when the men in their lives use pornography.
Shalee also reminds us that Christ offers hope to women and men. Where trust has been broken, Christ offers forgiveness. Where there is ongoing struggle, Christ offers grace that is sufficient for you.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married by Nicholas Black or Your Husband Is Addicted to Porn by Vicki Tiede. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, Coming to Grips with How Porn Damaged My View of Women, which corresponds to this video.
26 Mar 2020
The book of Proverbs is given to us in the form of parents having conversations with their children. Some of the repeated topics in these conversations are sex and sexual immorality. In this video, Jim Weidenaar examines four characteristics of the parents’ talks in Proverbs that we can apply to conversations with our kids about porn: Be proactive. Be repetitive. Be positive. Be realistic.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Raising Sexually Healthy Kids by David White or Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child by Tim Geiger. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, Six Dangers of Porn to Teach Your Kids, which corresponds to this video.
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3 ESV)
I looked at my calendar, confused. I already had a dentist appointment scheduled Wednesday. But another one on Friday? I skimmed my phone contacts and of course I hadn’t saved the dentist’s phone number. I checked my wallet for where I’d placed the business card—gone now. And I’d recycled our Yellow Pages long ago.
Old Me would’ve simply looked up the number in my Safari browser (and probably neglected to save it once again).
New Me doesn’t have this option. As I paw fruitlessly through my wallet one last time, I feel a little angry. And a lot humbled. If I didn’t have a porn habit, sending pictures of myself for cheap approval, then I wouldn’t be fishing for something as routine as my dentist’s phone number, simply because my husband helped lock up the internet. Now I’ll have to interrupt my husband at work so he can Google it for me or wait until he returns home to log on for me so I can search for it myself. I feel childish and rather petty, seeking “permission” to use a computer or have a new app installed on my phone. But costing my marriage, my family, and certainly God’s glory for the sake of freely accessing the internet will never balance. I must know my sin.
I’m reminded of my sin, even as I experience changes in my daily minutiae, like figuring out a new way to locate a phone number. My sin is ever before me as I feel frustrated by these changes, however trivial. Then there are times when I feel victory as I see my almost-full cell phone battery from lack of use—and lack of temptation. My sin is before me when I’m quietly folding laundry and my brain starts to replay porn that I viewed five years ago. My sin is before me as I watch my husband spend two hours trying to correctly install web-filtering programs on our computers. Tenderly, my sin is before me when he hugs me afterward and tells me he loves me.
An hour after my missing-phone-number debacle, the dentist calls to confirm Wednesday’s appointment—like a nod from my heavenly Father that he sees my plight.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user. I have no history of abuse, and the only traumatic event I seek to escape is the tedious monotony of life on-call with preschoolers—diapers, laundry, dinner, dishes, repeat. Sometimes not fitting the stereotype can make me feel lonely, or exceptionally depraved. In those moments when I’m more responsive to God’s wisdom, I see it as a reminder of how desperate my heart is: no matter how orderly my life looks on the outside, I was born a sinner and a sinner I will be until Christ’s return.
As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user.
I didn’t date much in high school. I was painfully shy but constantly craved affirmation that I was good enough—pretty enough, smart enough, friendly enough. Motivated by curiosity and feeling some warped pressure to ‘keep up’, my first internet search for pornographic pictures occurred after hearing a fellow female classmate share that she missed having sex. I’d never even seen male genitalia and my research was a way to feel good enough, perhaps even prepared enough.
In college my curiosity morphed into intrigue. None of my friends dated much or seemed pressured to be in a relationship, while I felt plagued by loneliness. I discovered porn videos and in the solitude of my dorm room began fantasizing that I could be that woman in the videos—beautiful, desired, confident. Although I contemplated it, my resistance to sharing this new habit with anyone left me vulnerable and solitary. Praise God for his mercy, that he protected me from any harmful relationship in which my lonely heart would have undoubtedly sought affirmation in a man’s physical attention, rather than God’s perfect affection.
I met my now husband in my junior year of college. This led me into a prolonged season in which the internet wasn’t a temptation. He truly led me to desire a deeper relationship with God; beautifully the desire for affirmation elsewhere faded as I found it in this godly man and perfectly in God, Himself. As an engaged couple, we stumbled our way through a conversation about sexual histories and our desires and expectations for physical intimacy. I remember feeling deep shame creep over me as I shared pieces of my struggles, but what sweet, precious relief to yet again experience not only his forgiveness but my heavenly Father’s as well.
As newlyweds, we enjoyed—and struggled through, on occasion—our new physical freedom as husband and wife. I don’t remember feeling particularly tempted to find those old websites. But that all changed when we began expecting our first child. That old context of loneliness resurfaced with no close workplace friends and my husband’s first pastoral position. Combine that with hormone surges from pregnancy and few defenses, I began to find new access to porn videos. My husband had just left for an overnight church retreat. I was alone. And then the old lies returned: I’m not good enough…A good pastor’s wife wouldn’t look at porn…A good mom wouldn’t, either…Besides, no one would find me attractive, anyway…I’m not good enough.
As my pregnancy progressed, I had numerous frank conversations with my husband to build accountability and resistance to this sin. Hormones shifted, our baby was born, and we were thrust into that world of figuring out how to be parents. Busyness temporarily outweighed any room for temptation.
But in the swirl of acclimating to my new role as a mother, I never fully processed why I’d been tempted in the first place. I didn’t root out the reason why my husband’s affirmation was no longer sufficient for me. I didn’t confront my own lie that a pastor’s wife does not struggle like I did. I just assumed that, because these temptations went away on their own, I was “better” now.
Not surprisingly, when I was pregnant with baby #2, my struggle came roaring back. This time I found a website where women submitted their own pictures for comments and even re-postings. Never having dropped back to my pre-pregnancy weight after my first child and desperate for affirmation in spite of my growing belly from my second child, I submitted my own photo. Never mind that my husband showered me with compliments and sought my physical affection. Was I still desirable to others? After the initial thrill from that post faded, I was deeply ashamed. I sat in a Sunday service, fighting tears, knowing I just had to confess this to my husband, and that he’d be devastated. I was also fearful. Could he be fired for this? What was wrong with me? I remember a tearful conversation with him and lots of crying. Then I remember a season of waking early for time in the Word and prayer—something I’d never done before. All glory to the Holy Spirit for convicting me and enabling me to obey his leading!
“[A] broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17b)
Oh, how I have been dreading writing this next part of my story.
I wish I had learned my lesson. I wish I had taken more time to pray, reflect, and see where these “triggers” came from, other than blaming pregnancy hormones. I wish I had remained vigilant, even when the temptations relented, to maintain internet filters and time restrictions on my computer and smartphone and more honest accountability check-ins with my husband. But how easily we forget!
I became pregnant with our next child and my husband accepted another ministry call, prompting us to move away from all that was familiar and stable. Cue again loneliness and fear of not being “good enough.” Again, I found virtual strangers to whom I could send photos of myself—more cheap insurance as I, the Homemaker and New Pastor’s Wife, sought affirmation from somewhere. I attended new church services, pushing forward, but feeling miserable.
Finally, I closed out my online accounts permanently—no more photos. I remember cold afternoons in our new backyard, reading my Bible and praying while my kids played. Slowly the temptation faded; slowly I rebuilt my relationship with the Lord. Significantly, I chose not to confess to my husband this time. Having nailed this online door shut to strangers, I felt it would cause more harm than good. Feeling almost noble, I bore my guilt alone, as if that were punishment enough for my crime.
It festered…until I couldn’t keep my secret anymore. My out-of-the-blue, terrifying-yet-impossible need to confess to my husband ended in another heartbreaking revelation. This one was even more difficult, because my sin had gone on for so long without him knowing. He felt lied to. It took weeks before our marriage felt “right” again; even then, shame would still creep up on me. Restoring my relationship with Christ was another uphill battle; I felt plagued, living a lie while serving in my home and my church.
My struggle continues. Usually I measure my life as ‘spiritually neutral’, distinguished by peaks of godly growth, cancelled out by valleys of sexual sin. Since my battles come and go, it’s easy to box them up, like a winter coat that gets put away when spring emerges. Satan’s lust for victory is never far away, like recently when I snuck off to send another photo to a website. Enter yet another hard conversation with my husband and new internet restrictions and countless tears. No internet filter can heal my desperation for true spiritual healing.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)
Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus. I could throw away my computer, but my wicked heart will still find a way to sin—even if only in my mind. My weapons for protection are still the same: prayer, regular Bible reading, tools like Sexual Sanity for Women, and Harvest USA’s Journeyers in Grace biblical support group. I’ve had both a recent failing and victory as well. One day I recognized my own loneliness before it could lead me to temptation by simply texting a friend to see how she was doing. I’ve pushed myself to serve high school girls at our church, instead of letting that “not good enough” feeling cripple me.
Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus.
While I may never be sin-free in this life, by God’s grace my sin will continue to fade as he is ever illuminated.
Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also watch Shalee Lehning’s video, How to Be a Person Who Welcomes Honesty, which corresponds to this blog.
29 Jan 2020
“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Psalm 90:8 ESV)
Sexual sin is not easy to speak about. And yet, in my experience, the key to overcoming it is to bring it into the light, in spite of that innate push to keep it hidden.
My first memory of my own sexual depravity reaches back to my earliest memories in childhood. I couldn’t have been any older than five years old, but even then I knew what I desired when I picked up a pen (maybe it was a crayon) and drew a picture of a naked woman.
One of my parents, I can’t remember which, saw my drawing and spanked me for my “artwork”. I still remember not understanding the reason why I was being punished. What I did learn was that, if I wanted to draw or see pictures like that again, I was going to have to keep it a secret.
Although I wasn’t hooked yet, the seeds of sexual sin were already beginning to take root inside of me. Growing up, there began to be occasions when I would sneak onto the computer when no one was around to look at pornography. When I hit puberty, my struggle became a consistent one. I was a pudgy pre-teen with a lot of social anxiety, terrified of women. With no confidence in myself, I didn’t think a girl would ever want to be with me. It was an awkward time that fueled a desire for escape, so I turned to virtual women—women who wouldn’t say “No” and would never reject me.
Pornography became my escape—even before I’d ever attempted to pursue a girl in real life. To this day, that low view of myself and fear of rejection has continued to fuel my sexual sin. As a man I still struggle with my fear of women, feeling much like that same pre-teen of years ago, without confidence or hope.
Pornography became my escape—even before I’d ever attempted to pursue a girl in real life.
Before finding the men’s biblical support group at Harvest USA, I failed to realize that there are other sins in my life which also need to be addressed—like anger, envy, and even gluttony. It was here at Harvest that God began to shine light on these other sins in my life as well, in addition to sexual sin.
Harvest has also helped me see that I’ve bought into a lot of lies about God. At my lowest points I have accused him of wanting to destroy me; in the midst of prolonged temptation, I have struggled with his provision. And I still struggle to find pleasure and joy in him, making my Christian experience more of an effort than the easy, personal relationship with God that I’d expected. Not until I came to Harvest was I able to identify these aspects of my struggle that had gone unrecognized beforehand.
Harvest was the first place where I felt comfortable being open about my sexual sin. And it was the first place where I met other men who admitted to struggling with the same things I do. Although I was nervous beforehand, I left my first meeting filled with hope and praise. I’ve learned that a temptation shared with others facing the same issue means you struggle together. This has enabled me to confront my own sin in very positive ways. My new friends are praying with me and for me, because they want to see me through this as much as I do.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10)
Harvest has taught me how to fight sexual sin. One of the most important things you can do is to confess it with someone you trust. Harvest is where I’ve connected with several brothers in the faith who are willing to hear my confession. Always willing to offer help when I seek it, they have never given up on me, even when I’ve wanted to give up on myself. There is power in numbers when fighting sexual sin.
Another habit essential to my fight again sin is to literally voice my heartfelt lament to God. I love reading the laments of Scripture. The Bible contains lots of them, many generic enough to apply not just to my personal struggle against sin, but to a plethora of other life difficulties as well. This encourages me, knowing that God still speaks into a world that is difficult and imperfect, just as he spoke long ago to people facing difficulty and despair.
I’ve begun thinking of a lament as what happens when theology meets reality—not that theology is pitted against reality, but my theology often gets ahead of my reality. At Harvest they refer to this as ‘formal’ theology versus ‘functional theology’. I lament when the two don’t line up perfectly. And when the way I live doesn’t fit the way God calls me to live, that’s when I experience self-inflicted pain. That’s also when God wants me to recognize the weakness in my functional theology and return to him. God would rather me come to him with weak theology, than not at all.
And a lament to God should always be accompanied by praise. In its entirety, the Book of Psalms progresses from lament to praise. And that is where God is taking me right now. He is moving me to praise because he wants me to delight in his work in this world, especially his saving work through Christ. My temptations feel surmountable when I move from lament to praise.
Reflecting back over my time at Harvest, I appreciate the tremendous amount of personal growth that has occurred in my own life. But I still see a long road ahead. Slowly but surely, God has been peeling back the layers, showing me that sexual sin is intimately connected to other struggles in my life. Often, my battle against pornography is the result of other areas in my life which I’ve neglected. As I address them, my fight against sexual sin becomes more effective, which is also when I am able to see more fruit in other areas of my life.
If you desire change in your struggle against sexual sin, confession is a great step toward freedom.
If you desire change in your struggle against sexual sin, confession is a great step toward freedom. Be encouraged that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). You are not alone. God is with you, and he promises to sanctify you and conform you to the image of his Son.
Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because he has chosen to remain anonymous.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
03 Oct 2019
As a teen, I had a major porn problem. And that was magazines and VHS tapes (does anyone remember the VCR?). But that’s nothing compared to what kids face today.
Teens are confronted with a staggering level of temptation. I would have failed middle school if I had access to the pornographic material now available to kids.
Here’s the sad, hard truth: it will be nearly impossible to completely shield your child. Porn infiltrated my Christian elementary school in 1979, and now the ubiquity of digital devices (forty years later) means porn is always at our fingertips. It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.
It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.
Here are four ways to do that:
- Respond in faith: don’t freak out!
Don’t give way to fear and begin extrapolating the worst case sexual scenarios awaiting your child. And don’t make it about you and your disappointment, as if your child failed you in some way. Depending on your temperament, avoid the two typical default extremes for most parents: bringing down the hammer or burying your head in the sand.
Instead, before talking with your child about their porn usage, thank God for exposing your child’s sin! Because God disciplines the children he loves (see Hebrews 12:5-11), this is evidence of his favor on your child. Trust God’s purposes here, believing he is wooing your child more closely to himself. Ask God for grace to enter into the situation and to give you his words of life to speak to your child. Abide in him as you love your child through this (see John 15:5). Don’t try to handle this alone!
- Be direct
Confront the situation— honestly and with love. Don’t dance around the topic or use veiled accusations like “Have you done anything I should know about?” Let your child know what you’ve discovered and express your concern. But remember: tremendous shame surrounds sexual sin. Your child already feels this, so be sure your approach points them to Jesus.
First, assure your child of your love and that there is nothing he can do to negate that. Second, remind him of God’s love and encourage him with the hope of the gospel. The essence of the Christian faith is God’s pursuit and redemption of us, not based on our worthiness, but the wonder of his matchless love and grace. Your child needs to be reminded of this confidence now more than ever!
Further, explain that these behaviors come from the heart. Help your teens begin considering how they turn to false comforts to cope with the challenges of life in a fallen world. It is helpful for you to model repentance here. What false comforts tug at your own heart when you are stressed and struggling? Acknowledge your own weakness and propensity to turn to the things of the world instead of God. Your self-disclosure demonstrates your own ongoing need for Christ’s mercy and the empowerment of his Spirit. Your child needs to see that her parent(s) also struggle with sin and weakness, so when she comes to you for help, she knows you understand.
Gently ask your child to open up about the history of his or her sexual struggles. Your own humility and openness about your struggles in this area may invite a responding honesty.
- Establish better safeguards
Hopefully you’ve taken steps to guard the technology in your home. If not, now is the time to start! Monitoring technology has vastly improved over the years. Some combination of parental filters and accountability software is necessary. For the home, the best software or devices are those linked directly to your Wi-Fi router. Usually there is the ability to place varying levels of restriction on different devices, so that a family PC or tablet can be set at a very high level of filtering to protect young children, while an older teen’s smart phone might have fewer restrictions while on the home network.
But the main thing is the capability of viewing the browser history on all devices. Some of these products also have an “on the go” feature that maintains filtering and tracks data usage of phones, iPads, etc., even monitoring the devices on other networks. I am intentionally not promoting specific products because new ones emerge regularly, but do some research and determine what will work best for your family. This is going to cost you something, but the money spent is worth it to protect your child’s mind and heart.
Good discipline is not punitive because Jesus was punished for us. Discipline, though painful at times, is intended to steer us in the right direction (see Hebrews 12:5–13). Discipline includes establishing wise and protective boundaries, proportionate to the age and maturity of your child.
Do not take lightly the effects of pornography. Take proactive steps, but avoid bringing down the hammer and exasperating them (as we are warned in Scripture: see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). A total internet lockdown or relegating to flip phones might produce short-term compliance, but it is unlikely to form mature disciples of Christ. Only repentance and a deepening relationship with Jesus, modeled through your walk with Christ, will do that. Parent to those ends!
- Keep walking with them
It is important to realize that this will be an ongoing temptation. Again, porn is everywhere, and access is easy. Many parents are gung-ho when the problem first rears its ugly head, but don’t persevere in addressing these challenges. Be faithful in prayer and ask God to reveal sin, but don’t stop there! Stay on top of technology and be willing to ask the awkward questions about how your child is doing sexually. This includes ongoing monitoring of his relationships. Through it all, continue pointing them to Jesus and his love. Remind your child of the mercy that covers their sin and the power given to obey through his outpoured Spirit.
Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
16 May 2019
“To be honest, I can’t imagine life without it.” He was referring to porn. His tone expressed exasperation, discouragement, defeat. There were nods of agreement in the room from the group of men—several had said roughly the same thing recently and continued to feel it that way. Giving up porn was their life or death battle.
I had known these men for a few years having led their biblical support group at Harvest USA. They had all showed progress against their sin, with varying levels of “victory.” The one who spoke up had gone a significant time without a fall. Every day he said no to porn, every day he fought to give up porn—but only by harboring the secret concession that he could still go to it tomorrow.
I felt tempted to give in to their discouragement. A slew of biblical scenes came to my mind: Rachel hiding the family gods in her saddlebag (Genesis 31); Achan burying some of the spoil in his tent (Joshua 7); the rich young ruler walking away sad, unwilling to give up his “one thing.” (Mark 10:17-22).
Here is their fatal flaw, I thought—they will not forsake their idol. This will not have a good ending.
My discouragement increased.
But in my mind I settled on the story of the rich young ruler and remembered that sentence, “Jesus loved him.” While the rich young ruler walked away thinking I can’t imagine life without it, Jesus was loving him. We are not told the end of that young man’s story. But I have more than a little hope for him—because Jesus loved him. And that’s why I ultimately couldn’t lose hope for the men that I had come to love, either.
Could it be that moments like this, when confronted by the stark choice Jesus gives us, to follow him or to follow our wayward hearts into idolatry and sin, are when the necessary climatic turn can happen in one’s life?
How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it.
They—and all of us—are faced daily with the choice to believe the gospel and follow Jesus. Other biblical phrases echo the scene from the young ruler story: “He that loses his life, for me, will find it. . . ”; “. . . consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God. . . ”; “If you are in Christ, you are a new creation; the old is gone; the new has come”; “Behold, I am making all things new.”
You see, these men have reached a point where they are facing the question of their existence at its starkest and darkest: “Am I willing to die to all that I’ve been living? Am I ready to forsake forever my familiar idolatrous refuge? Am I willing to let Jesus re-create me? Do I want to be holy, to be steadily reshaped into the character and image of Christ?”
How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it. We had thought repentance was change, only to discover that it really means becoming a completely different person!
How do we help someone who is at this place?
First, cheer them on to the right choice.
Remind them that Jesus’ promise of new life is for crises such as this. He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is nothing but death in the “old,” and nothing but life in the “new.” Implore them to run after new life. At the point of crisis, remind them that Jesus loves them. Even in their struggle; even in their doubt; even in their stumbling and falling.
Second, model life-long faith and repentance yourself as you walk with your brothers.
Your role in encouraging them is not just for this crisis moment; you need to show them by example that this is an ongoing turning. We want to believe we can turn once from an idol that has been a long-time staple of our life, then never have to face the decision again. It is true that there is a decisive turning when we know in our hearts that we belong to Christ and no longer to ourselves, but the full implications of that take a lifetime to work out.
As a new believer, this decisive turning comes with a sense of joy and freedom. But we do not know ourselves very well. God knows us perfectly. We do not see all at once what it will mean to “put off the old self” and “put on the new.” There are other idols we do not immediately see.
As we mature in our life as a Christian, the Spirit progressively brings us from one repentance crisis to another, each time showing us another piece of what is earthly in us and giving us the opportunity—no, the necessity—of saying goodbye to it, of reaffirming, “This is not who I am anymore; I don’t have to do this.”
Third (and this is of course the most important), pray with and for them.
Prayer is how we re-focus on the person who is the power behind our repentance, Jesus himself. It is his work. He is the one to whom we turn. His is the life by which we turn. His is the voice that beckons us to forsake our old life to live his new life.
I have more than a little hope for these friends of mine. I have every reason to believe Jesus loves them, and has brought them to this crisis of eternal identity with his hand outstretched, inviting them to trust him, beckoning them to life, “Come, follow me. . . I am making all things new.”
I confessed my struggle with pornography in late 2004. I had struggled for 5 years after being exposed at age 13. My “hobby” use quickly spiraled into what I would consider an addiction (though experts argue if that’s even a real thing. I say yes.)
By the time I was 17 and away at college, I was viewing pornography on a school computer with my roommate asleep less than 10 feet behind me, within view of our behemoth 2003 desktop. I was sleeping through my morning Chemistry class and sex chatting with men and women online, from my dorm room, at a Christian college. Eventually I sent nude photos of myself to a man.
I got caught there in college. My internet was being tracked. But when the dean confronted me with my internet history report and alleged porn problem that was “disgusting and one of the worst cases they had ever seen” she told me “We know this wasn’t you. Women just don’t have this problem.” That was Fall 2003.
A year later, I outed myself, and told someone I struggled with pornography and needed help. I found help, and it took me almost two years to feel like I was “free” from pornography. While I’ve been “free” for over a decade, I’ve never stopped battling it. Those ten years of freedom have included moments of temptation and many times of relapse. Still, I would call it freedom, and there’s much I have learned in the process.
Freedom from Pornography is Possible
There were days I thought, “There’s no way I can beat this.” In the morning, I would wake up and say, “Not today” but it’s like my feet had autopilot and just walked me to the computer desk. Hours would slip by online and I felt powerless to stop any of it. I tried changing passwords (doesn’t help when you know them!). I tried self-harm. I tried finding other hobbies. Nothing seemed to help.
You can’t begin to fathom a life without pornography, so you’re just desperate to survive in spite of it. But there’s a better option that “surviving in spite of pornography.” Freedom is possible. It’s hard, but it’s real.
That bit of truth would have been so helpful for me in my struggle, because the days I thought, “There’s no way out of this” were always the hardest. In fact, believing there was no way out is exactly what led me into the darkest parts of my story. We need the hope that there is a way out and that freedom is available to us. It is.
Healing Goes Beyond Freedom
But there’s more to this journey than simply finding freedom from pornography. Too many times we make it all about “stop watching porn” and just leave it at that. We forget to answer important questions like
- What does life look like without pornography?
- What kind of damage has pornography done and has it healed?
- Do I know how to build healthy friendships?
- How do I restore a positive view of sex?
- How has this affected my view of my body?
We can get so focused on not doing a particular behavior that we forget about the healing that needs to take place. What I’ve found though is as you heal those deeper wounds, if you will, the temptation and draw toward pornography essentially lessens.
Porn and Trauma are Connected
My friend, Lacy Bentley, author of Overcoming Love Addiction, once said during a presentation that she hasn’t worked with one woman addicted to porn who didn’t have some sort of sexual trauma that predated her porn experience.
I would add that this has likely changed with Generation Z (today’s high school and college students) as many of them consume pornography because it’s viewed as acceptable to do so. In fact, it’s encouraged. That being said, the exposure to pornography can itself be traumatic.
There’s a reason exposing children to pornography is classified as child abuse. When I give my parent presentations, I explain that little children are not drawn to the sexual aspects of pornography. Instead they are drawn like we are to footage of crashes. Exposure to sexual material is traumatizing for children.
However, it wasn’t until more recently that I realized it can be traumatic for many adults and young adults as well. It can be traumatic in the sense that you weren’t prepared for what you saw and that seeing it negatively affected how you thought or reacted to something.
We spend a lot of time talking about pornography as a bad choice, but not a lot discussing how we were led to make that bad choice. When there are lasting consequences, we have a bad tendency of just labeling those as sin and neglecting the reality of the effects of trauma.
Boundaries are OK
A common misconception is that post-porn me needs to look exactly like everyone who has never viewed it. That’s simply not the case. I have friends who are allowed to ask me awkward questions. I have controls enabled on my phone.
There are things in place in my life that help me stay on the track of freedom. Even as I prepare to be married in less than two weeks, there are boundaries my fiance and I have that other couples may not. And that’s ok. They aren’t a negative side effect of my choices. They are ways I choose freedom.
I would rather be free than fit in.
Falling isn’t a Relapse
I have been free from pornography for over a decade. That means the last time I compulsively viewed pornography was over ten years ago. But, I’ve said it many times before, pornography will be a weakness for the rest of my life. In a sense, it is my drug. My brain knows the hit it gets from porn and if I’m looking for a hit, that’s where my mind is going to go.
As the years have gone by that connection has lessened, but I think it’s always going to be there. Sure, it may grow over, and synapses may rewire, and memories and images may fade, but things are never fully erased from our minds. The track would always be there if I chose to jump back on it.
And in those ten years, there are times I have. I’m not dishonest about that. This isn’t a sex addict’s anonymous blog where I stand here and say, “My name is Jessica and it’s been ten years since I last saw porn.” It hasn’t. But never in those ten years, when a low point sucked me back into the porn vortex, did I ever feel “Oh no, I’m trapped again.” If anything, the response was,”Oh no you don’t!”and I fought even harder to make sure it didn’t happen again.
It saddens me when women feel like one bad choice can “cancel” out weeks, months, even years of freedom. If you fall, get up and fight. Free people can fight back. Don’t throw yourself back in prison, fight. Figure out what led you to make those choices. Find your triggers and deal with them.
Ladies, Your Sex Drive is a Good Thing
Perhaps that’s a “no duh” statement for you, but I come from a religious culture in which the sex drive of women isn’t exactly celebrated. In fact, it’s stifled. The moment we do anything remotely embracing our sexuality we get hurled into Proverbs 5 territory (the adulteress woman). Women aren’t supposed to want or enjoy sex, even though we were created by God with an organ specifically devoted to sexual pleasure.
So, I guess God didn’t get the memo?
A book I am currently reading is Knowing Her Intimately by Laura Brotherson, a certified sex therapist. In the first chapter, she addresses this idea that women have such negative views of their own sexuality. Many women struggle to embrace the fact they are sexual beings and struggle to see that as a good thing. Before healthy sex can happen, she says, that view needs to be transformed.
Women need to recognize that we also are made with the ability and drive to enjoy sex. Is it always on par with a man’s drive? No. Can it be? For some. Can it exceed a man’s drive? Yes. In fact, according to one author’s survey, 24% of marriages had a wife with a higher drive than her husband.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Side note: Even while writing this, I am realizing that so much about freedom is not only learning what is actually wrong and addressing that, but also, embracing that which is not wrong.
When we label things wrong that aren’t, we make ourselves feel even more trapped.
If I thought being a woman with a high sex drive was something broken that needed fixing, I’d never be “free.” Trauma in my past? That needs addressed. The fact that I desire sex? That does not.
Honesty Brings Freedom
There’s a Bible verse that talks about knowing the truth and the truth setting us free. This might not be the appropriate application of it, but it comes to mind when talking about honesty and how honesty eradicates shame.
So much of the feeling of being stuck in pornography is due to shame. Shame is what keeps women in silence. Shame is what makes us not reach out and ask for help. Shame is what keeps us from sharing our story with others.
Honesty combats shame because it opens doors for grace. I will never experience grace if I’m not first honest.
Years ago, when I shared my story, I didn’t understand the level of freedom that would bring in my life. I don’t have to hide. I can openly discuss my story. Not only does that help me experience freedom, it’s also used to help others find freedom.
In the past few months, as I’ve gotten to know my future husband, I’ve seen this truth replayed over and over. When I am honest with him, it doesn’t rip us apart, it draws us together. It makes us a team as opposed to me vs. him and a fear of him finding things out.
Fear of being known is a hallmark of shame and we deal with that by taking a risk and being honest.
Honesty is what started my journey of freedom, and every moment of growth—from dealing with trauma in my past, to understanding my own need for boundaries—has come because of honesty.
If you are looking for freedom, to step out on that journey of a life without pornography, I encourage you to start where I did—tell somebody. Find a trusted friend, mentor, counselor, parent, and share your story.
It might be the hardest thing you ever do. It was for me. But you can’t walk in freedom if you aren’t willing to open the door.
Visit Jessica Harris’s website, Beggar’s Daughter, for additional resources and articles.
21 Mar 2019
“This feels so compulsive!” he complained. Tom feels like he is always fighting sin. He fights against a tendency to desire and pursue sexual pleasure from men. He believes in Jesus and has seen significant changes in the direction of his life. But his same-sex attraction did not magically go away when he trusted in Christ. His faith is in crisis, “Maybe they’re right; this is just who I am.”
What do we have to offer someone like Tom? Does the gospel have an answer to this crisis, the crisis of continually fighting sin? Yes. And a vital part of that gospel answer is what theologians call indwelling sin. Why would I bring up sin to someone in a faith crisis, especially one involving same-sex attraction? Because the Bible’s teaching on indwelling sin connects the gospel to our deepest struggles.
The Universality of Sin
Scripture teaches that we are all sinners; all who share in the human nature represented in Adam share in the corruption of sin (Romans 5:12; Ecclesiastes 7:20). But more than that, each of us is sinful in every part of us (Rom. 3:10-19; 8:7). We are whole people, with bodies, minds, wills, and affections, and it is as whole people that we are corrupted by sin. At the deepest level, what the Bible calls the heart, we recognize in ourselves a tendency towards sin (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:19).
This tendency has a corrupting influence on our thinking, our emotions, and even our physiology. This sinful leaning (what theologians call original sin) is behind whatever sin acts we commit (what theologians call actual sin). The result: sin feels natural to us.
And this is rather unconscious and spontaneous in real life. We fall into the same kinds of behavior over and over despite a desire to stop. A mature Christian faith comes to the humble self-appraisal that behind all our actions, mixed in with all our feelings, appetites, and urges, is a continual tendency towards sin.
Here’s Tom’s dilemma and ours: this sinful tendency doesn’t disappear when we become Christians. How are we to understand this? What does it mean for Tom, and us, when we were taught that faith in Christ gives us victory over sin?
Here we turn to the teaching of Paul in Romans 7, from which the term, indwelling sin, originates. But first we need a view of the context in which he brings this idea up.
Good News about the Universe and You
In the chapters leading up to Romans 7, Paul lays out a tale of two humanities, the first being “in Adam,” and the second being “in Christ.” In Adam describes our natural state, corrupted by sin, condemned by the law, bound for death. Paul often uses the shorthand, “the flesh” to refer to this.
A mature Christian faith comes to the humble self-appraisal that behind all our actions, mixed in with all our feelings, appetites, and urges, is a continual tendency towards sin.
But who Christ is, and what he did, changes everything—literally, everything—all of reality, including human nature. Christ takes upon himself the flesh of Adam, and in that flesh he dies. Though without sin or sinful tendency, Jesus fulfills the sentence of death that is on sinful humanity. Then, he is raised from the dead. And here is the key—it is not just that Jesus came back to life. Rather, he is resurrected with a new kind of life, an immortal, eternal, powerful life. He is declared to be righteous and therefore given the eternal life that from the beginning was promised to righteous humanity.
And this resurrection life which Christ was given is nothing less than the first installment of God’s plan to re-create the whole universe into a glorious and unspeakably beautiful new reality! Paul’s main point? We, who by faith are united to Christ, have our true identity in that new reality. Paul’s way of saying this is that we have died with Christ and were raised with Christ (Rom 6:1-11).
A Startling Implication
Next, Paul takes this new reality in Christ idea into our real-life struggles. In the early portion of Romans 7 (vs. 7-12), he is explaining that the law of God must be considered good, even though it produces death in us. It’s not the law’s fault, but ours; it is our persistent tendency to break the law that forces the law to prescribe death.
Then, in verse 17, he relates our tendency to break the law to our new identity in Christ in a startling way, “…now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
How in the world can he say such a thing? What does he mean? The answer is not that he is arguing for some sort of psychological dissociation. It is not anything in our psychology that accounts for this new “me.”
What Paul is asserting is that there is something new now; there is a new “me” even while the experience of the sinful tendency remains. In other words, something has happened that has redefined the Christian’s true identity separate from the sinful tendency he experiences.
It is the new reality, the new humanity every Christian has that has objectively come into existence with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and which defines us if we are united to him. That is why the conclusion of Paul’s argument is, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).
Why does this matter to Tom who remains troubled by his persistent tendency to pursue intimacy with men?
Why does it matter to the Christian husband troubled by his persistent tendency to use his eyes and mind to sexually enjoy women other than his wife; to the church elder dogged by his tendency to feel self-righteous contempt for others; to the teenage son battling his tendency to resist and oppose parental love and wisdom? And the list goes on.
What Paul is asserting is that there is something new now; there is a new “me” even while the experience of the sinful tendency remains.
Here is why it matters. Who doesn’t struggle with the troubling resiliency of sinful feelings? Who doesn’t get discouraged at the unrelenting battle against our tendency to sin?
The answer is not that you can, by your own effort and with the right therapy, remove your tendency towards sin; this will lead you to despair. The answer is not that you should come to peace with your tendency towards sin, call it a part of you, and identify with it; this leaves you without hope and without God. The answer is not to say that true Christians no longer experience the pull of a sinful human nature; this is unbiblical and contrary to your experience and leaves you confused and desperate.
The answer is this: Jesus has borne our sin and our tendency to sin, died with and for it, and has been resurrected, inaugurating a whole new reality which shapes our hope for the future and defines us in the present. The continued experience of the tendency to sin is to be expected in this life. But that experience, for the believer, is only the “sin living in me”; it is not a part of who I am for all eternity. Who I am is defined by the resurrection life of Christ. This is not a small thing. It is the gospel. It is everything.
The gospel answer of union with Christ is the only answer that doesn’t disappoint! This is your new identity!
And as it turns out, living out of your new identity in Christ is the only way to make progress against sin. But that’s for another post…
07 Feb 2019
The first time I skydived, I was terrified and excited to be thrown out of my comfort zone. I could see the cloudy sky and minute details of the ground below—very far below. The instructor, to whom I was attached in tandem, yelled out as the wind rushed in the open door as my comfort zone slowly slipped away, “Are you ready?!” My heart raced as I said yes and before I knew it, we were falling out of the plane into the open air. After an exhilarating free fall, the parachute cord was pulled and down we gracefully floated to the ground. As I look back, I realized that I could have missed the rush of that experience had I not taken that initial step out of the comfort zone of the plane.
Years ago, when God began a life-transforming process in my life, I struggled to “step out of the plane.” I mean, I did want to follow Jesus, and I did want to do whatever it took. But not always. As the real-deal of what it was going to look like to be free from unhealthy relationships and sinful patterns in my life, I tried everything I could to delay being obedient to what God had set before me.
What I was trying to do—stay within my comfort zone by not stepping into the freefall of obeying God, which was terrifying—is what many sexual strugglers do.
Obedience begins with a willingness to submit oneself to the will of God. John 14:15 sums it up, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Notice in this verse that love precedes the command. It is from an overflow of our love for God that makes us willing to be obedient. What often isn’t expressed in this discussion is how easy it is to waste time dancing around obedience all while trying to justify your delays.
Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another.
In Psalm 119:60, David says, “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.” To hasten is “to move or act quickly.” David is reminding us that out of our love for God, we are not called to just keep his commandments, we should strive to be quick to obey.
Being quick to obey can be difficult for many reasons. Decisions are usually accompanied by a host of emotions, feelings that toss you to and fro, often times confusing the matter by fogging what’s otherwise seemingly black and white. Most would agree, obedience usually costs us something. But often times, the most profound spiritual growth comes as we make commitments to walk in obedience regardless of how we feel. Lived out, we pray for Christ-enabling power to make changes, then it requires us to make up our mind to love God by just doing it, or in some cases, stop doing it.
Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” What it looks like to “put on” and make no provision for worldly desires will look different for each of us. There is no formula, but here are four examples of ways to hasten obedience and not delay in order to break free from sinful patterns.
- Pursue Jesus every day
Here’s the amazing truth for all of us: we don’t walk alone! Far better than being attached to a professional skydiver, we are united with Jesus. Our first obedience is to abide in his love and Word and to deepen our understanding of our identity of being in Christ. We show our love for God through our obedience, but this is never about us mustering up the courage or strength to do it. As Paul said in Phil. 2:13, “its God who is at work” in us to change our desires and give us a willingness to obey him.
- Develop Accountability in Relationships
Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another. While it is ideal to have others take the initiative to ask questions, make a commitment to confess your sins whether asked or not.
- Avoid relational connections that tempt you towards sin
It is important to disconnect from people that have been a part of your past sinful decisions. This is painful to acknowledge, but your past selfish choices could lead to hard consequences that hurt people you love. Staying in this type of relationship isn’t really loving if it doesn’t lead to obeying God. Although a choice like this can easily be misconstrued, it is actually an act of love and helps avoid being mired in long-term messy situations. For people on both sides of this type of obedience, God can be trusted with whatever consequences may come.
- Implement Technology Restrictions
Make modifications to any form of technology that grips or controls your emotional state, especially social media. These types of limitations expose what you allow in your life and how that positively or negatively affects what comes out in thought, word and behavior. This may seem minimal, but give it a try for a week or two and see for yourself.
Maybe for you all these steps look overwhelming. The good news (because there is Good news!), is God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. His command, his calls to quick obedience, are doable things God wants to help us with. The ground may look very far below, but it is God’s promise to get us there safely.
Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.
So what could this look like in your life? Maybe it looks like being quick to fight against focusing on the negative but rather fight for a thankful heart (Philippians 4:6-7). Or maybe this looks like being quick to break the cycle of selfish inward thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5). Or maybe this looks like being quick to have honest conversations with God through prayer in the day in and day out battle of life.
Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.
He is the ultimate Instructor who is tender and compassionate towards us as we learn how to walk in ways of new life in new light. He will bind up our broken hearts, lift our drooping heads, and provide peace that surpasses understanding. All while blessing our obedience and delighting in our efforts on this long road no matter how many times we fail to hasten.