Back when I was a college student, I had a lot of Christian friends who struggled with porn addiction. The key word here is "struggle". In one group of men, there were a few running jokes about it. Instead of asking, “Did you look at porn this week?” it was, “So uh, how many times did you look at porn this week or today?
It was just assumed that the person couldn’t break the habit, because nothing seemed to work and have the power to overcome such a strong temptation. By the way, porn addiction isn’t limited to young men with a lot of testosterone, 1 out of 3 women watch porn at least once a week.
Porn addiction is becoming a widespread and severe public health issue, and it’s a challenging problem that I’ve faced as a pastor with men, women, and children who are frequently exposed to pornography and sexually explicit images through multiple media. Driving, there are billboards with images. Shopping online, there are advertisements. Watching Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or a movie, there are going to be sex scenes.
Watching the Super Bowl, there are wardrobe malfunctions (I remember that—Janet Jackson—as an adolescent) or shirts that come off (Maroon 5 did not let us down this year). Exposure to sexually explicit images happens—it’s never a question of if but when and where and how soon. How early will that first exposure come? And how often will a person be exposed to sexually explicit images?
Men and women in the church still find themselves addicted to porn. How can we help others find freedom from this form of spiritual and physical bondage?
When Good Advice Is the Worst Advice
Most people who hear about young Christian men or women who are trying to stop watching porn will give the following advice: “Just read the Bible and pray more.”
This might sound controversial, but I think it’s actually dangerous and harmful to encourage those who struggle with a porn addiction to just “read your Bible and pray more.” In my experience, this is absolutely one of the worst pieces of advice for a porn addict. (For the record: I am not saying Bible reading and prayer is inherently bad for all people. I encourage Bible reading and prayer normally. So don’t get worked up over this. But for porn addicts, this advice is usually bad advice.)
Let me tell you why.
Bible reading and prayer are only two aspects of Christian spirituality, and for the addict, it shouldn’t be the main focus because it places everything back into the addict’s own hands. It’s as an individual that the addict is stumbling and falling into patterns of addiction, and then somehow we think that the addict can get out of this habitual routine by individually going to the Bible and prayer? I don’t think so, and those who have struggled with a porn addiction aren’t convinced either. I’ve counseled countless men who have tried that and it fails every time. They can’t quit, and more Bible reading and prayer won’t change that, even though the strong desire is there and there’s a great battle within. Addicts need the help of others, not more dependency upon themselves.
Me, Myself, and I
How is this not a self-help, autonomous, Lone Ranger, “pull up your own bootstraps” theology put into practice? An individualist spirituality is the root of the problem. It’s the age-old myth and lie of the ancient serpent that “I can do this on my own” that is getting that person into trouble in the first place! It’s a cycle that just repeats itself over and over again—promising freedom but yielding further bondage. And the shame piles on.
Telling someone with this addiction to "read the Bible and pray more" will only solidify the cycle of self-reliance. “I think I can, I think I can” can only get us so far—eventually we run out of steam and can’t climb the hill anymore and we'll divebomb back into old habits. The harsh biblical truth is: we can’t fix ourselves. We actually need others not simply to intervene, but to be around us and actually help us break free from addiction. Addicts need the help of others.
We're in This Together
If you find yourself addicted to porn and you want to quit, how should you go about this? Is there another way? Is there a way?
The best way to take on porn addiction is to deal with it from every angle possible. Start by finding a faithful church that preaches the forgiveness of sins every week from every passage in the Bible. If your church leaves you feeling guilty every time, with no hope for gospel renewal, then it’s time for a different church.
After that, immerse yourself in the body life of the local church you attend. Beyond the regular activities of the church, receive hospitality from others and show hospitality to your own church family.
It’s also helpful to begin to understand the porn industry a bit. Porn is a fabricated lie. Those who are on camera often don’t love what they’re doing, and there is a culture of rape and sexual abuse behind what you are watching. When you begin to understand this, it can also help you realize that people are suffering to feed and fuel your addiction. It’s not just a harmless activity; it’s harmful to yourself and to others.
Live life together as much as possible—this is what it means to be part of the communion of saints not only in word but also in deed. As friendships and relationships form and begin to flourish, ask for prayer and support from those you can trust so others can come alongside you.
Another helpful practice is to ask yourself: when am I most likely to look at porn? Is it when I’m home alone? Is it when I’m bored—when I have nothing else to do? If you are able to identify a pattern, you might be able to plan an escape even before you are most prone to wander. Limiting the opportunities that you have on a daily basis to look at pornography can help you break the habitual cycle, however, this is not something you can do alone. The good news is that you are not alone.
The Gospel for Porn Addicts
Whenever you stumble and fall, don’t look to yourself to get out of the mess you're in. Always look to Jesus—the author and finisher of your faith. Now, listen to these words: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Did you hear that? You are not condemned if you trust in Jesus. God accepts you, God loves you, God forgives you, and God receives you.
What people who are struggling and drowning in their sins and failures need most is not more law heaped upon them, but absolution. Addicts need to hear that foreign word of Jesus Christ crucified for them—his body broken and his blood shed for their addiction. That’s the only way they’re ever going to break free of the pattern of addiction.
It's the only way any of us can get free of any addiction we have or idol we worship. As we confess our sins to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we also need for others to give us that absolving good word that we cannot give to ourselves. Jesus crucified and raised for me.
This is not good advice; this is good news! It’s a “good announcement” as one preacher recently put it. So you—yes, even and especially you, reader—are not alone when you trust in Jesus. You are not on your own when you trust in Jesus. No temptation was too great for him to bear, and through faith in him and in community with others—who like you, need him—you have already received victory over all sin. Yes, even over your porn addiction.
This content originally published here. Used with permission.
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