I had someone ask me how we could drive home the fact that using porn is sinful without shaming the individual. Is there a way, even in the midst of habitual sinful behavior that goes directly against what God commands, in which we can show love, respect, and compassion for the person and remain strong in our stance for righteousness and purity?
Thats a tough one. There seems to be deep shame built into sin that is further intensified by its revelation to others, especially for those that are kept in such secret and dark places, such as sexual sin.
When an individual has fought against their own desires and lusts, and repeatedly lost, their faith has already taken a huge hit and needs a nurturing, understanding environment to be cleansed and healed in.
Unfortunately, that is not the experience of many Christians. They are often condemned, singled out, gossiped about, minimized, ostracized, and left wounded and bleeding to find their own answers. Even worse are the examples made of leaders banished from their places of ministry and never heard from again. This gives rise to fears that, if they are discovered, the same cruel fate awaits them.
Sure, there are a few brave folks that find their way to the pastors office and are truly freed, but not most. Smaller churches, lets say under 500 (which comprises the majority of churches in this country) are not equipped to help these tormented souls. The time, knowledge, and monumental effort it takes to walk through a journey of wholeness with someone is far too costly for the already time and energy strapped leaders in this situation.
What are the consequences if porn is not dealt with head on? People will go into hiding for fear of discovery. They will leave the church, frustrated with the lack of solutions being offered, jobs being lost, finances destroyed, marriages in deep trouble, and families irreparably damaged.
I am reminded of the tree spoken of in Psalms 1. The tree along the water is a beautiful image of our healthy and prosperous relationship with God, our source of life:
Psalm 1 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV) Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
When the blight of porn infects the tree, it becomes fruitless, leafless, and begins to die. Its roots can no longer absorb the life giving water it once was nourished by. Sin has ravaged it from the deepest root to its highest branch. It is destined to become kindling.
Let’s be perfectly clear that the foundation of porn use is in its entirety, a lie. It is one that falsely promises relief from the stresses, worries, and trauma a person has experienced. It’s self-reinforcing tactic is to hijack the brain into believing there is an escape, but instead increasing its grip of bondage on the individual. The person caught in the cycle of porn use has sinned, yes, but that sin has given way to compulsive, learned behaviors, that drive them deeper into sin, shame, and secrecy.
Through not dealing with this issue openly in the church, we abandon the struggling, and admit through omission that we are unable to provide help. Also, by removing people and distancing ourselves from those who are discovered to be engaging in these behaviors, we acknowledge our lack of grace and our inability to assist those caught in sin’s grip. I ask you, why would someone come forward knowing this?
So, back to the title of this piece and its premise; how can we help people stop sinning and do it without heaping more shame upon them?
It begins with our leaders, flows through our leadership, and is empowered by their dedication to this vital cause. A multi-pronged approach is needed, and as an example, I have laid out a few potential actions here:
- Our leaders must acknowledge the problem of porn and its influence on the church. Through the explosion of the internet that occurred in the mid 90’s, satan has been recruiting more and more people into his army of the deceived. The age at which today’s youth are becoming exposed to porn continues to get younger all the time. Those who signed on 20+ years ago are deeply entrenched in the lies porn promises already, and it isn’t only men, women too are being attacked. A glimpse into 2 Timothy 3 reveals that sinful and worldly corruption will lead people away from truth. This isn’t confined only to the unsaved, but creeps right into our churches and subverts the truth of God’s word. 2 Timothy 3:12-13 The Living Bible (TLB) …and those who decide to please Christ Jesus by living godly lives will suffer at the hands of those who hate him. In fact, evil men and false teachers will become worse and worse, deceiving many, they themselves having been deceived by Satan.
- Our leaders must be be wise about porn’s motives and intentions. Matthew 10:16 The Living Bible (TLB) Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. We cannot afford to ignore this rising and debilitating problem. I have heard pastors say that they don’t have this issue at their church. That is nothing but pride and arrogance, and reveals a lack of understanding about the reality of the age in which we live. To deny the problem will not make it magically disappear. Lives are in the balance, and porn is not a respecter of persons.
- Our leaders need to be educated about how porn affects the brain. Though it is an acknowledged sin, porn continues to use the power of a person’s desire for relief against them. Through its repeated stimulus, it has ingrained itself deep in a persons behavior. In many cases, not unlike a drug, the individual is seeking their next hit, wrongly strategizing that they can escape the troubles in their lives through what is obviously, more sinning. In Romans 12 we are shown the benefit of renewing the mind, conversely, we see that repeatedly reinforcing sin will train the mind to not “prove what is good….” but do just the opposite. Minds will be transformed into playgrounds for lust and diversion, setting the stage for disaster. Romans 12:2 King James Version (KJV) And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
- Our leaders need to address all sin for what it is…sin. We must stop omitting some sins and emphasizing others. The Bible is clear on sin. We all have the ability to be led away in its grip, all our hearts are susceptible to its lure and lie. It has almost become a sin to talk about sin in our churches! When we refuse to openly address certain sins, we stigmatize them, and they become elevated in the sight of God’s people. We are helping the enemy do his job when we decide something is too sensitive or too edgy to bring into the light. Hebrews 3:12 Living Bible (TLB) Beware then of your own hearts, dear brothers, lest you find that they, too, are evil and unbelieving and are leading you away from the living God.
- Our leaders must begin to make a plan of action, for time is not on our side. This is “THE” key. Some are already lost and it will be impossible for them to be saved, this is a heartbreaking truth we must face. But there are many caught and searching for a way of deliverance. The enemy has maximized his potential through the use of tools we have provided. We must become smart and purposeful in our battle against the false escape he has promised. Dialogue will lessen the shame, simply making it a part of our language and openly and truthfully dealing with it will open doors that were once tightly shut. Hebrews 3:13 Living Bible (TLB) Speak to each other about these things every day while there is still time so that none of you will become hardened against God, being blinded by the glamor of sin.
- Our Leaders must Lead. In many ways it seems we have lagged too far behind to get control of the head-start porn has gotten in our society. But even in that statement we renounce the power of God to change the hearts of people and see their faith and purity restored. The church, and indeed I have fallen into the simplistic use of the word “addicted” to label the user of porn who still confesses their faith in Christ. I am beginning to resist the urge to do that. It is an easy out for dealing with something that overwhelms our ability to comprehend it’s stark contradiction at times; Loving God, yet sinning over and over again. I love the idea of trusting as when we were new to our faith, it is such a beautiful image of childlike belief. Leaders, lead us in this. Show us how to live the life of faith that porn has used to destroy our innocence. Don’t generalize sin, be specific, and inclusive of all error in thinking or actions. We have lost our way and need you to help us find the truth again that has become so difficult to find. We desire to follow God with our whole heart, help us pull sin up by the roots and find the much sought after peace we’ve so foolishly squandered. Hebrews 3:14 Living Bible (TLB) For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as we did when we first became Christians, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.
Every Christian who struggles with porn should be willing to admit that using porn is a sin. And just like every one of us who God created has sinned, we need to take it seriously when we have difficulty finding freedom. It is sin, that isn’t the question we are dealing with today. It is finding a pathway to helping people overcome the shame that has already deeply entrenched itself in their lives, thereby preventing their forward progress.
Hopefully, the things I have touched on, though significantly elemental, will be helpful in understanding, dealing with, and ultimately claiming victory for God’s beloved people.
Galatians 5:22-23; 25-26 The Message Bible (MSG)
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely…
…Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
I write from my experiences. Not to condemn or judge, but to search for solutions to the problems we all face. If you are interested, you can find out a little more about me and my story here.