In my current ministry role, guys often confess to me that they're struggling with pornography or some other kind of sexual sin. To help them, as well as in my own fight for purity, I've developed an acronym that encapsulates some often-neglected strategies for fighting the good fight in this area. I call it “fighting by F.A.I.T.H” (okay, kinda corny, but easy to remember).

Last year Dane Hays wrote a helpful article reminding us of the importance of accountability. These strategies complement that important theme. In other words, if someone says, “I have Covenant Eyes on all my devices, and I meet with a group, but I'm still struggling!”—what else can we do? (Note: these strategies are primarily directed toward males, simply because I only counsel guys in this area.)

1. Friendship

In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis lamented how impoverished our idea of friendship has become. While in the ancient world friendship was considered the happiest and most human of all loves, today it's rare to even find real friendships. As a result, we tend to look to romantic love for what God designed to be a part of friendship love. We use sex to fill a more general relational void.

In my experience, guys rarely connect the dots between temptation and plain old loneliness. And yet so many feel disconnected—isolated—like no one knows what's really going on inside them. Amid our busy schedules and social media activity, we're aching for the deeper connections God designed us to experience—for vulnerability, trust, acceptance, assurance. Temptation has such power because it appeals to this deep-seated loneliness.

In our cultural setting, the fight for sexual purity is one piece of a countercultural approach to all relationships. We need the kinds of friendships described in verses like Proverbs 17:17. When we're living in deep and authentic community, the appeal of temptation is less comprehensive and thus less powerful.

2. Adventure

Another issue is the lack of adventure in many guys' lives. So many seem to have nothing grand to aim for. They're drifting, cynical, bored—lacking in idealism and initiative, without a sense of purpose and direction, untethered from anything transcendent and glorious. And when our lives lack adventure, temptation promises what we're not getting elsewhere: excitement, adrenaline, a sense of life. It reminds me of King David's choice to stay back from battle in 2 Samuel 11:1—where the real battle with lust for Bathsheba was ultimately lost. So many guys succumb to temptation because, like David, they stay back from their own God-ordained battles. They're overwhelmed by temptation because they've never been overwhelmed by the glory of God and the wonderful thrill of walking in the good works he's prepared for us.

I'm reading The Hobbit to my son in the evenings. Its great theme is adventure. Adventure is a holy thing, a delightful thing. Our hearts will seek adventure one way or another, so temptation can seem overwhelming when we're safely burrowed up in our cozy hobbit hole. But the same temptation will often grow small and languid in the midst of a journey toward Smaug. And we all have our own hobbit holes to abandon, and our own Smaugs to slay.

3. Intimacy

In one of my counseling classes during seminary we devoted an evening to analyzing different kinds of marital affairs. My professor, Dan Zink, suggested affairs rarely happen because of the strength of one's sex drive. Instead, they usually have to do with emotional factors, like the desire for relational intimacy and affirmation. I've carried this insight with me and applied it to sexual sin more generally, and I believe it's crucial to consider in fighting temptation. When counseling guys fighting porn, for instance, I encourage them to look underneath to the emotions making the temptation particularly strong, and then to engage those emotions with the gospel and in other healthy ways. Are you tempted because you're bored? Pursue a hobby. Are you tempted because you're exhausted? Take Sabbath rest. Are you tempted because you're depressed? Talk with a counselor. Are you tempted because of rejection? Engage your heart with the gospel.

A lot of guys seem to fight temptation at the biological level but never at the emotional level. But because our sexual lives are related to our entire person, that's like bolting up two-by-fours over our front door while leaving the back door and all the windows wide open. Seeking sexual purity must involve seeking emotional self-awareness as well.

4. Truth

In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller recount Jane Eyre's inner struggle with temptation. They note how most TV depictions of this classic novel make it sound like Jane resists the temptation by looking inward for self-assurance and self-respect. But in the book, Jane's inner emotions are a whirlwind of clashing and confused emotions, and she has to look outside of herself to resist the temptation. The Kellers observe:

[Jane] does not look into her heart for strength—there's nothing there but clamorous conflict. She ignores what her heart says and looks to what God says. . . . God's law is for times of temptation. (231, italics original)

In the midst of temptation, it's often hard to cling to what we know is true. After all, the tempter is also a deceiver, and with temptation comes that ancient question: has God really said? Resisting temptation is therefore not just a matter of willpower but of faith. Part of the fight involves clinging to the objective truths of the gospel—likely those very truths that seem most distant and unreal in the moment of temptation.

In Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the character Mark is imprisoned, and he experiences a kind of intellectual temptation. In the midst of it, he discovers the power of objective ideas:

Day by day, as the process went on, that idea of the Straight or the Normal which had occurred to [Mark] during his first visit to this room, grew stronger and more solid in his mind till it had become a kind of mountain. He had never before known what an Idea meant: he had always thought till now that they were things inside one's own head. But now, when his head was continually attacked and often completely filled with the clinging corruption of the training, this Idea towered up above him—something which obviously existed quite independently of himself and had hard rock surfaces which would not give, surfaces he could cling to.

Like Mark, we need to learn to cling to the objective truths of God's Word in the moment of temptation. Temptation's power is its fleeting pleasure; truth's power is its bracing objectivity. Temptation is like cotton candy, empty and unfulfilling; truth is like cold steel, unyielding and enduring. The great allies of temptation are distortion, spin, deception, theological muddleheadedness; the great ally of resisting temptation is truth.

Let me share an example of a gospel truth I speak into temptation, sometimes even out loud: That's not who I am anymore. In my union with Christ, this assertion is a “hard surface” of glorious truth I can cling to no matter what my emotions may be saying to me.

What truths do you particularly need in order to defeat temptation? Cultivate the habit of clinging to them amid temptation. They will not give way. Cotton candy cannot bend steel.

5. Healing

If you were exposed to pornography at a young age, or sexually mistreated at some point in your life, or have a family history of sexual sin, that part of your past has undoubtedly complicated your battle for sexual purity. Victory over future temptation will probably progress only as you deal with your past brokenness. An important step may be counseling. Above all, though, healing comes from the gospel, and “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). Christ is the great physician. He died for failures, repeat offenders, and the sexually broken. He can bind up all wounds and make you whole again.

A final note: no matter where you are, no matter how hopeless you may feel, don't give up. In the gospel, Jesus has “perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16) for those who rely on him. That means no amount of falling down can ultimately destroy you as long as you keep getting up and running to Jesus (Prov. 24:16). But we must keep repenting, keep fighting. Don't give up!