When I think about my journey, the path has been marked by months of prayer, meditation, conversations with God and others, and some despair along the way. If you’re currently struggling between the desire to please God or to please self, take it from someone who has been in your shoes: God is faithful to forgive and to give grace to help you. As I look back, here are two threads of thinking that run through the entire process.
Remember the Gospel
The first thread comes at the risk of sounding cliché, but I couldn’t be more serious: remember the breadth and magnitude of the gospel.For years my struggle with pornography was merely an annoying habit I wanted to fix, like biting my nails or saying “um” when speaking. But it kept me from being an effective leader in the church, and it kept me from being normal. I needed a fresh vision of what I was actually doing: I was grieving the Holy Spirit and participating in the very things that stored up wrath against me before I was in Christ (Eph. 4:30; Rom. 2:5). When the Lord brought a season of gospel renewal to my life, I came to understand that my sin was far more serious than I knew.
Thankfully, when the Lord brings gospel renewal he doesn’t just show us how bad we are—he shows us how incredible he is. His mercies, his attributes, and his gospel became to me far sweeter than I’d ever imagined. Hour by hour I reminded myself that just as Christ’s death called me to die, his resurrection called me to new life. I often stumbled and clawed my way back to these deep pools of water. When I sat down to pray, I felt like a child just learning to utter his first words. But I didn’t give up. If you’re struggling with pornography, fight to remember the life-changing truth of the gospel. Let that truth drive you moment by moment to confession and repentance. Practice it often. Don’t be like the rich young ruler who wanted an easy formula for eternal life. Be instead like the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet because she knew her sin was great but knew her Savior was better.
Remember Common Grace
The second thread of thinking flows from the first: remember the common grace gifts God has given us to fight pornography. Without the first thread, the second would be legalism; without the second, however, the first would be impractical. In order for gospel fruit to grow, I had to put myself in an environment where the fruit wouldn’t be scorched before it could blossom. That meant I had to flee temptation by cutting off access to it. I had to use computer software, accountability partners, and daily reminders that I’d disqualify myself from ministry if I persisted in this sin. Even more, I had to visualize my wife’s face each time I confessed it wasn’t going well.
Because of our necessary and helpful focus on heart idolatry, we can be afraid of putting “eye-gouging” measures into our lives to fight sin. Computer software can’t change my heart, we think. And that’s true. But we should recognize these practical safeguards as common grace gifts from God to help us in our fight against our heart’s idols. The path to sustained victory in my life is filled with earthly motivations. I didn’t want to hurt anyone by derailing my life with pornography. I urge you to think about the same things. If the look of brokenness on your wife’s face or an uncomfortable conversation with an accountability partner motivates you to resist porn, rejoice. Then, remember the gospel.
There are many helpful materials available on the subject of lust and pornography. You can read about the effects pornography has on the brain, or you can read about the “sin behind the sin” of control or ungodly pleasure. All of this information is vital to digest and understand. But let’s never forget the most important thing to consult when thinking about these issues—God’s own words:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:12-14)
May the grace of God remind us of who we are and who he is in our fight against sin—and may that grace also empower to obey in moments of intense temptation. He is faithful.
Dane Hays is a biblical counseling student at Southern Seminary. He and his wife serve in various ministries of Crossing Church in Louisville, Kentucky.