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“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-26)

The problem of pornography in our culture isn’t a new thing. Access to this ungodliness has surely changed, but the underlining issues have always been the same. Sexual desire, by means of the internet, magazines, and movies has always been there; the modes have been altered a bit, but the root cause has never changed. The reason this article is called “Pornography & Temptation” is because the latter explains the former. Porn exists in the world because men refuse to be governed by God. When men refuse to be governed by God, they do not become un-governed individuals, but rather, they become rebellious individuals. And rebellion isn’t something that’s just talked about in theory; it’s put into practice however the heart sees fit.

Notice the verse cited above from the first letter of the apostle John. He says that the world (i.e., the systemic evil that exists because of sin) can only really produce impotence (ironically). There are desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and the pride of life are all byproducts of instant gratification. Instead of waiting on God, and cultivating the Spirit’s work in our lives, we go the short route. And John didn’t just pull these things out of thin air—these three things point all the way back to Adam and Eve, our very first parents.

Recall to mind the story: Adam and Eve were told not to partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God, in His covenantal sovereignty, explained to them that to do so would invoke the covenantal curse of death.  They would be severed from the Garden, the very presence of God, and forced to be vice regents, not of God, but of the Tempter. Lo and behold, the Serpent deceives Eve, and notice what the text says: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [lust of the eyes], and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise [pride of life], she took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).

To use the Apostle James’ words: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). The biblical corpus is abundantly clear on the problem of temptation. Temptation arises in the hearts of men who have, instead of worshipping Christ, begun to worship something else. Our “own desire” then gives way to temptation—the door is open. Once those desires grown and the temptation remains (instead of being put to death), it conceives within us sin, and sin only leads to death.

This is ultimately where the pornography discussion must go: the heart. Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In other words, when the guards fall asleep, the heart starts producing enemies. It is, after all, a factory of idols (Calvin). If we’re going to deal with the problem of pornography, we deal in terms of the heart.

Often, when I counsel folks in my study, I will share with them that, like a medical doctor, I am interested in doing a little “surgery”. Counseling for me is never just helping people solve problems; counseling is heart surgery. It’s an investigatory look underneath the hood. We have to peel back the layers and find what desires lie below.

Here are three steps to help you get to the heart of the issue with pornography:

Step #1 – Identify Your Idols

  • What do you daydream about? When drifting off at your desk, what do you cling to? The scandalously dressed woman across the way? Fantasies about being with another woman? Idols are those things that we care most about either having, keeping, or increasing in some fashion.
  • What do you have nightmares about? Oftentimes losing an idol scares us. It’s something we think can’t live without. It keeps us up at night and we worry constantly about it.
  • What is it that you think you really need in life? If only I had this, then I could start living for the Lord.

Identifying an idol like sex really doesn’t take much time. Where does your mind go when you’re tired? Lonely? Lazy? When the heart isn’t focused on the glory of God, it doesn’t stop focusing, it looks to something else. That’s your idol. Now we must do something to it.

Step #2 – Slay Your Idols

In order get past something like pornography, we must put to death that which causes unrighteous desires. Accountability is very important here, so if you’re a husband, have your wife help here (and vice versa). If you’re not married, have a friend. Surely Covenant Eyes and other technological advances can help. But it’s not enough to just think about slaying your idols: we actually have to do it. We have to give up relying on our own wisdom (“I’m fine having a smartphone, I can handle it.”) We have to give up relying on self-will (“It’s not that big of a deal, I’ll stop when I’m ready.”) We have to fight against self-righteousness (“This makes me feel really good in the long run.”).

We must slay our idols through those means mentioned above, but also by means of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts. He works to demonstrate the folly of our ways by pricking our conscience and convicting us with guilt. We must go in prayer to God and plead the heavenly throne room for help. And we must focus purely on Christ who is our righteousness. To slay an idol is to slay a desire. To slay a desire is be at war with indwelling sin. To be at war with sin is stick close to the gospel at every moment.

Step #3 – Repent and Believe the Gospel

Having identified our idols and burned them with fire, we must hit “repeat”. Part of the process laid out already is the repentance part. It’s an ongoing attitude towards lust that repeats this refrain: “I do not need this. I do not need this. Christ is enough.” But that’s only one side of the gospel coin. We must also believe. We must cultivate godly loyalty through the means of grace given to us. To believe the gospel isn’t to just mentally ascent to theological propositions; it’s to actively use our head, hearts, and hands for the glory of God. Porn is hard to come by for the man whose time is spent serving his neighbor.

Lastly, having established the problem and put forth some biblical solutions, I want to quote Romans 8:1—“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Here’s the thing. The beautiful thing about the doctrine of justification by faith alone is that the Judge doesn’t go back and undo His ruling. Because Christ made perfect satisfaction for the believer, the “Not guilty!” is etched into eternal permanency. Which means that you don’t have to heap condemnation upon yourself. A lot of times lust, addiction, and other sins manifest themselves because we think there’s still a price to pay. There’s not. It’s paid in full. The tab is covered. The Bank account is full.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) Answer: Jesus Christ. Porn can’t deliver you. Jesus can.

This article first appeared in the July 2016 issue of Theology for Life. To download this issue please click here.