This following is adapted from Your Brain on Porn, a free e-book available from Covenant Eyes.
The Bible does not describe us merely as wayward, broken, or needing a moral boost but as those who are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). Dead men and women do not just need recovery: they need resurrection.
For the follower of Christ, the ultimate goal is not merely “quitting pornography,” but is something far richer and more comprehensive. If merely modifying behavior was the most important thing, there are any number of psychological tips and tricks one can use. But for the Christian, as it should be for all people, the goal is not merely recovering from pornography, but being remade by God Himself into the image of the perfect Man, Jesus Christ.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Just as sure as pornography stirs up lustful cravings in us, the Holy Spirit is a source of new, holy cravings. Galatians 5 says we who have the Holy Spirit have the “desires of the Spirit” (5:17). God promises that when we “keep in step with the Spirit,” the lusts of the flesh that lead to sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality will not have their way in us (5:16,25). We can become new men and women from the inside out.
What does it mean to keep in step with the Spirit of God, to walk in the Spirit?
1. We must walk in accountability where we can share our darkest secrets and be reminded of our highest calling. To walk in the Spirit, we must confess our sins to each other, pray for each other, and stir up one another to live according to our true identity.
2. We must internalize Scripture, the inspired words of the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit, we need to renovate our thoughts according to the truths He has revealed, rejecting the lies pornography has fed us.
3. We must walk in pure pleasure, taking great delight in holy and wholesome longings—finding pleasure in all that is honorable, pure, lovely, and excellent. To walk in the Spirit, we need to pursue pure pleasures with sincere gratitude until pornography loses its luster.
4. We must walk in our true identity, listening to cry of the Spirit in our hearts, “Abba, Father,” which confirms our new identity. To walk in the Spirit, we need to learn to relate to God, from the depths of our soul, as dearly loved adopted sons and daughters, believing that we belong to God and that our ties to sin are broken forever.
5. We must stir up the hope the Spirit inspires in us—the hope of righteousness. To walk in the Spirit, we need to wait eagerly for this hope, putting faith in God’s promises that we are destined for an eternity of purity, and longing to see that purity spill over into our present lives.1. Walk in Accountability
When Paul says we are to “walk in the Spirit” he is writing to a church community, not just to random individuals reading his letter in their private corners. Keeping in step with the Spirit of God is a community activity, something we do together.
In other words, one of the ways we keep in step with the Spirit is by keeping in step with one another. We must live lifestyles of encouragement and accountability. The Spirit does not merely indwell individual Christians. He indwells the church corporately as His temple (2 Cor. 6:16). Walking in the power of the Spirit means we must depend on how the Spirit empowers others to help us.
Nothing slays the power of sin like confession. James writes, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16). In confessing our sins to God we are promised forgiveness. In confessing sin to others we are made whole.
Sin must be habitually exposed to the light of confession. This is called accountability: being honest with another trusted believer about our temptations, sins, and the state of our heart. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, after eating of the forbidden fruit, our knee-jerk reaction is to hide—to hide from God and from one another. Accountability is the willingness to habitually and regularly allow others access to your heart, your motives, your secret desires, your dark thoughts, and, of course, your sinful actions.
Confession of sin is not the only goal of Christian accountability. In the face of each other’s weaknesses, we need to encourage one another to fight sin. The author of Hebrews says, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Like the embers of a red-hot fire, we stir up the fire not by adding heat to it, but rather by exposing the glowing embers to the air, helping to bring out the energy that is already in the embers. If the Spirit of God is in us, He has already etched his law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33-34; Ez. 36:25-27). But He has also placed us in the family of the church, among trusted friends who are also filled with His Spirit, in order that we might stir up in each other what God has already put within us.
When Paul writes, “keep in step with the Spirit,” the word he uses is the same as that of an army marching in line, a platoon following its marching orders. Lest we think keeping in step with the Spirit is a purely mystical experience, Paul says it is very practical. Keeping in step with the Spirit means obeying His clearly revealed orders.
We cannot claim to keep in step with God’s Spirit if we ignore or disobey the writings He inspired: the Scriptures. Through the Bible, the Holy Spirit speaks clear words to the church. As an expert in God’s law, Paul understood this. He knew all the writings of the prophets were “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). No less than 32 times in Paul’s letters he uses the phrase “it is written,” pointing to the writings of the prophets who came before him. Paul also knew the Spirit was inspiring him and his fellow apostles (Eph. 3:5). The Scriptures are a gift from the Spirit to us:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,” Paul says, “that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
To keep in step with the Spirit we must know and obey the Book He inspired. We must explore the Bible and learn what God thinks. We must renew our minds with His thoughts.
Exploring the Bible, we can “reverse engineer” the bad training pornography has given us and replace it with God’s thoughts.
1. Porn promises gratification but only decreases our sexual satisfaction. But God is the creator of sexual satisfaction and has designed marriage for its enjoyment (Song. 4:9-16). For single men and women, it means pursuing wholesome, intentional relationships with each other (1 Thess. 4:4). For married men and women, this means renewing our minds towards our spouses, choosing to make them our standard of attractiveness. It means returning again and again to the enjoyment of sex in marriage (Prov. 5:18-19; Song. 7:11-13).
2. Porn disconnects us from real relationships, training us to believe that the best sex is solo-sex. But God has defined good sex as an expression of “oneness,” not emotional detachment (Gen. 2:24).
3. Porn lowers our view of women, training us to see each other as sexual commodities. But God created women in His image, and as such, women are worthy of great honor (Gen. 1:27; 1 Pet. 3:7).
4. Porn desensitizes us to and eroticizes cruelty. But God has designed sex as an expression of affection, not aggression (Deut. 22:25; Eph. 5:28-30).
5. Porn hooks us deeply, leading to possible addiction and sexual bondage. But God redeems our warped sex drive so that sex is a holy act of love and giving, not selfishness and slavery (1 Cor. 13:4-7; Gal. 5:22-23). Sex becomes our master when we believe the lie that porn tries to sell us: that sex is a “need.” If sex is a need, then we feel justified when we get mad at the world or at God for not giving us the sex or the kind of sex we so rightly deserve. But if sex is not a need, but rather a good desire, then we can set it alongside other good desires and go to the Word to understand its place.
For married men and women, this means surrendering our sexual desires to the Lord in a spirit of giving, not taking, and regularly returning to our spouse to be intoxicated with love (Song. 1:4; Prov. 5:18-20). For single men and women, this means surrendering our sexual desires to the Lord, practicing self control, and using one’s undivided interests to serve the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35).
Each of these ideas is only the beginning, but the more the mind engages with the Bible around these truths, the more our thoughts are renovated. Over time our minds will be rewired to see things the way God does. As we do this we are “sowing to the Spirit” and in time will reap a harvest of eternal life (Gal. 6:8).3. Walk in Pure Pleasure
Paul specifically states that what trumps sinful longings are holy longings: “the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). Paul says if we keep in step with the Spirit’s desires, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
The human spirit was never meant to be devoid of desire. If, in the battle against pornography, we only spend time trying to empty ourselves of the desire for it, we will inevitably fail or make ourselves miserable. Some desire will always try to fill the void.
It is noteworthy that the language Paul uses to talk about the Spirit’s “desires” is the same word used throughout the New Testament for “lust.” The Spirit “lusts,” craves, longs—and He shares those longings with us. This is what the old Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Laws, rules, and regulations can only tell us what is bad and why it is bad, but they do not change our desires for sinful things. These sinful longings can only be conquered by implanting new “affections”—new cravings—that counter our sinful cravings. This is what the Spirit does in us: He shares His own desires with us, changing us from the inside out.
The Holy Spirit longs for all things that God calls good. And lest we think this means we must constantly walk around in a holy fog and avoid physical pleasures, God calls us to embrace whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy—wholesome pleasures become a means to practicing God’s presence (Phil. 4:8).
The world is full of holy pleasures for God’s people, and they can become windows of worship when they are infused with gratitude. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4).
Paul writes to Titus, “To the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15). In his book, Pure Pleasure, Gary Thomas explains this text:
In context, Paul is arguing against hyper-religionists trying to saddle Christians with arbitrary rules and prohibitions. These teachers wanted to enslave believers to the old belief that if a defiled person touches something (food, drink, or even another person), this something becomes defiled. Paul cleverly turns this around, saying if someone is pure, then whatever they touch becomes pure!
I’m arguing that we need to look at pleasure and the good gifts of this earth through the eyes of redemption. When our hearts are cleansed and transformed by God, the very things that used to cause us to stumble can now become friends of faith. Not all things, of course; anything specifically against the will and commands of God, regardless of what kind of pleasure it seems to offer, will always destroy our souls. But the good things of this earth, created by God to be received with thanksgiving and praise—things such as friendship, good food and fine drinks, laughter, sex, and family life—can be redeemed to season our life and faith in many positive ways. God can even give us the power to take what we formerly misused and transform it into an instrument of praise.
Neurologically speaking, porn has carved a pathway of pleasure in the mind, but we can avoid that rut if we begin to carve our new holy pathways in the brain. In time, as pleasure-creating dopamine is released again and again through these pure channels, new habits are created and old habits begin to lose their luster.
Over time we no longer look to porn as our release valve to entertain our idols, but rather we use healthy pleasures as means of delighting in God as the giver of every good and perfect gift.4. Walk in Your True Identity
In the original language, “walk in the Spirit” carries the sense of, “walk as you have been walking in the Spirit.” How had the Galatians been walking in the Spirit already?
Earlier in the letter Paul writes about what the Spirit of Christ had been doing in the hearts of his readers:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal. 4:4-7)
In other words, keeping in step with the Spirit means being able to pray—from our deepest heart—as adopted sons and daughters, not as spiritual orphans. Orphans obey in order to make themselves attractive prospects for adoption. Adopted children already know and believe they are loved. Adopted children obey because they are secure in the love they have from their parents, and that love has birthed in them a deep love of their own.
At first, relating to God as a dearly loved son or daughter may sound overly simplistic. When fighting the deteriorating effects of sin in our hearts we cry out for action steps, for methods that summon our willpower—not sentiments about love. But this is the very thing the gospel of Christ warns against.
Paul taught that religious regulations do not work. “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’” (Col. 2:20-21). Try-harder ethics are useless: “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23). Better Internet filters and personal regulations might stop you from looking at porn for a time, but they will not transform a heart of lust.
Instead, Paul says real change is first about knowing who we already are. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). “You have been raised with Christ” (3:1). “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9-10). Only those who first know this about themselves have the power to slay sinful sexual desires and habits (3:5).
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Paul does not say we are dying to sin (a process). He does not say we should die to sin (a command). He said that because we are intimately united with the risen Christ, because His resurrected life flows in our veins, we should consider ourselves already dead to sin.
The word translated “consider” is an accounting term: it means to add something up, to take stock of something. When a child adds up how much money is in her piggy bank, at the end of the counting she doesn’t have any more or less in the bank than when she began. The only thing that has changed is her knowledge about the value of what is there. This is what Paul means. You already believe these basic gospel truths—Christ died to sin’s power, He rose from the dead, and the Spirit of the risen Christ lives within you—so now reckon it to be true; reconsider it; meditate on it; get the idea of your new identity deep into your soul.
As much as porn feels alive to you, if you are in Christ, you are dead to porn. The Spirit of the living God is in you.
As far as God is concerned, you are already His. God’s love for you cannot be overstated. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus loves you with an endless love, and you have done nothing to merit it or deserve it. He loves you despite all your unlovability, despite your lingering sinful desires. Though in your sin you are undeserving and undesirable, He loves you when your mind disavows it, your heart dodges it, and your soul dismisses it. He loves you right now as you are, not as you think you should be.
This, the New Testament says, is the key to unlocking God’s power for change. It is not God’s wrath that affects deep repentance in us, but rather, God’s kindness (Rom. 2:4). Being filled with all of God’s fullness happens not by knowing God’s power but by comprehending the breadth and length and height and depth of His love—a love that “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19).
There is an unfathomable difference between relating to God as an orphan and relating to God as a son, and this is the first critical step of walking in the Spirit. God is not holding back His love until we get our act together. He wants us to relate to Him as one dearly loved—so much so that Christ’s Spirit whispers His prayer in our hearts, “Abba, Father.” He loves His true children now in the midst of their unworthiness, and in time His love transforms our desires.5. Walk in Hope
In the same letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Gal. 5:5). Keeping in step with the Spirit and having hope are intimately connected: the Spirit kindles in us a fresh hope for the things God has promised.
Paul declared a gospel of hope—of anticipation and expectation—which he calls the “hope of righteousness” (Gal. 5:5). Our great hope is that one day Christ will judge the world and make all things right again (Acts 17:31). He will destroy sin and death forever. He will recreate the world anew, and we will be just like Him (1 Cor. 15:51-55).
God also promises that we will see foretastes of this “hope of righteousness” in the present age. Paul writes that as citizens of the kingdom of God, our lives should be filled with “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Though we are no longer under sin’s tyrannical power, sin is still present in our lives: our body “is dead because of sin” (Rom. 8:10). Porn, for many, will always carry some appeal. But we are promised God’s Spirit will “give life to your mortal body through His Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11), and by His grace, we can present the members of our bodies to God “as instruments of righteousness” (6:13).
This is our astounding hope: that fallen, porn-loving sinners like us will become like the holy Son of God.
For Paul, faith in this gospel hope does not merely mean we agree that these grand promises are real but that we give ourselves wholly to them: we center our lives on them. Far from being a passive thing, faith is active. It engages the mind and the heart. As the author of Hebrews says, faith is the assurance and essence of things hoped for (Heb. 11:1): it is the delightful conviction that the things we hope for are real.
Walking in the Spirit means we stir up this hope in us, or as Paul says, we “eagerly wait” for it (Gal. 5:5). We all suffer from the distractions of the world and sin. It is for this reason the apostle Peter similarly urges us: “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13, italics added).
Practically speaking, this means just as we have fed our minds on pornography, we should now feed our minds on God’s hope-filled promises. Just as we have spent hours engrossed in sexual media, we should spend hours filling our imaginations with God’s vision for our lives and our eternity. We must, as Paul says, set our minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5), on the glories of our inheritance as God’s children (8:17).
When it comes to saying no to lust and pornography, there are tailor-made promises in the Scriptures that hold out to us blessings of having a sexually pure mind and body.
- If you are sexually pure, you will be living in the will of God for your life (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
- If you fill your mind with that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, then God’s peaceful presence will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).
- If you are not enslaved to your lusts, you will be free to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13).
- If you are sexually pure, your life will be fruitful, and that fruit will be full of goodness and truth (Ephesians 5:8-9).
- If you are sexually pure, your mind will no longer be foggy, your heart will be teachable, and you will be filled with the very life of God
- If you are sexually pure, your heart will not be enslaved to the worship of sex, which means you can wholeheartedly devote yourself to the true and living God (1 Kings 11:4).
- If you are sexually pure, you will be more prepared to be a great lover and to enjoy sexual intimacy with your spouse or future spouse
- If you are sexually pure, you will keep your marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).
- If you are sexually pure, you will no longer waste time but instead make the most of it (Ephesians 5:16).
- If you are sexually pure, you will be an honorable person (1 Thessalonians 4:4).
- If you are a sexually pure person, you will not be enslaved to your passions (1 Corinthians 6:12).
This is God’s vision for your life: aligned with His will; surrounded by His peaceful presence; mastering your desires, not being a slave to them; full of goodness; full of life; full of honor; full of worship; tender-hearted and clear-minded; making the most of your days. When pornography assaults your senses or when those lustful flashbacks fill your mind, let this vision, and the promises attached to them, be the fuel you use to reject the world’s temptations.
Walking in hope is a mentality shift. Instead of walking around with the belief that sin is inevitable and thereby unconquerable, we live with the expectation that sin is defeated and holiness is inevitable.Keeping in Step with the Spirit
Walking in the Spirit is a lifetime journey, but as we keep in step with Him, we are promised that the desires of the flesh will not overwhelm us. We can finally be free.
Such a vision of the Christian life might seem too high up and too far away for us, especially if we’ve lived for a long time in the shame of our darkest sexual obsessions. Daring to believe that God is as good as He says He is takes faith in the face of our deepest struggles.
Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore says whenever our faith begins to buckle and we doubt the ugliness of our sin or the vastness of God’s love, we need only to meditate on the cross. In our relentlessly self-absorbed lives, at times we gloss over our sin, we rationalize it, we minimize it. Other times we feel the crushing weight of it and believe nothing is strong enough to change us. But at the cross we see the stripes the Son of God bore for us—convincing us that our sin is serious. There we see the compassionate face of One willing to die for His enemies—convincing us that our sin is never too great for God’s grace.
And while standing at the foot of the cross, when all the evil in our shabby hearts tries to hold its own against God, He answers with the thunder of resurrection.DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE BOOK: YOUR BRAIN ON PORN”
Photo credit: leventlecri
The post End Porn Addiction: 5 Secrets to Walking in the Spirit appeared first on Covenant Eyes.
I contemplated whether or not to use the title above for a book I wrote on parenting and its relationship to addiction. But I decided to use it because I like the title for this reason: it focuses upon the parenting process and parental goals, more than the product-oriented goal of a so-called “perfect” child. The origin of the title came from a great scene in the Fireproof movie when one of the firemen says to the other: “Marriages are not fireproof. Sometimes you get burned.” To which the other fireman rightly responded: “Fireproof doesn’t mean that fire will never come. But that when it comes, you will be able to withstand it.”
In the book, I state:
Likewise, addiction-proof parenting does not mean that temptations to use drugs will not occur in your child’s lifetime. We are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:16-21). Addiction-Proof Parenting means that when temptations come, your child will be ready for those challenges because of God’s grace through your parenting investment. Your children can be addiction-proof by God’s grace through your faithfulness to teach them to be obedient to His Word. (p.4)
That is the goal of parenting: to teach them truth so that they walk with Christ and respond to life’s temptations and trials in a way that pleases God.Parents Foster “Addictive” Thinking
Inadvertently, parents can actually foster “addictive” thinking in their children that could lead to addictive choices in later years.
A four year old child is not likely to participate in sexual sin, or other sins of an addictive nature like using heroin, but the thinking and behaviors often associated with addictive thinking that manifest much later in life, can actually be results of thoughts instilled by unwitting parents while the child was very young. That is not to excuse those children for the choices they freely make as older teens or young adults but my intention here is to underscore the impact parents have upon children through modeling words, behaviors, and encouraging certain ways of thinking.
The good news is that parents can also learn to teach biblical thought patterns in their children’s thinking to become more Christ-centered than self-centered. That is the hopeful focus of this blog!
So then, can parents “pornography-proof” their children? Is it possible to parent in such a way that we curb the tendencies for our children’s hearts to be lead astray by the woman of folly? Listen to the foolish desires of the flesh described in Proverbs 9:13-18:
Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.
Wisdom is knowledge lived out in righteous choices that please God while foolish choices are often ruled by selfish desires lived out in rebellion to God.Preventing Addictive Thinking
It is certainly possible for parents to do their part—being faithful to God and His Word in bringing up their children in the instruction and admonition of the Lord. This book addresses five sinful patterns of thinking often found in addicts and applies them to the parenting context in a preventative manner. No parent wants a child to grow up enslaved to their passions, so understanding how to cultivate the child’s heart to love Christ is paramount for any believing parent.
As one pastor articulates well my intention for the book: I have “taken the ancient principles of Scripture and contextualized them in contemporary culture.” My hope is that you will glean some practical, useful tools based upon biblical truth to use as you work hard to do addiction-proof parenting.
Mark E. Shaw, D.Min., is author of Addiction-Proof Parenting from Focus Publishing.
The post Addiction-Proof Parenting: Will Your Children Withstand Porn Temptations? appeared first on Covenant Eyes.