Pornography raises many questions, but two of the most simple are also the most important.
Why fight temptations? And how?
So many resolutions to avoid porn fail with this first question. The how question is the easier one—we can quickly identify steps such as internet filters or a friend willing to ask us tough questions. It’s the why where we get tripped up. We need biblically persuasive reasons to stand firm when the hard questions and justifications come.
And they will come:
- Why bother? It doesn’t hurt anyone.
- If my wife were sexually more available or adventurous, I wouldn’t need this.
- If I had a wife, I wouldn’t need this.
- All men look at porn. It’s how we were created. How can God give me the desire and then expect me to fight it?
- This next time will be the last time.
The pursuit of porn has bad consequences. We need no special insight to see it erodes relationships and never satisfies. But bad consequences aren’t enough to stop us. We must be ready with persuasive reasons to put up a fight, and then assemble those reasons into a story that has some of the following elements.
Getting the Story Straight
Human beings, like all creation, are designed to live within boundaries. When creation exceeds its appointed boundaries—as in hurricanes, in which the seas encroach on dry ground—bad things happen. It’s the same with us. This is one of the points of the creation story, when Adam and Eve were told a certain tree was off-limits. Why was it off-limits? That isn’t the important question. What’s important is this: God’s royal children are tested. Will we be faithful to our Father when temptations arrive and faithfulness suddenly feels inconvenient?
When our temptations are especially strong, no rationale for those boundaries will be enough. For example, God has his reasons for limiting sexual expression to heterosexual covenant union, but those reasons won’t give us power to fight temptations. Power doesn’t come from mere knowledge; it comes as we grow in the knowledge of God and respond to him with obedient trust. It comes only as we discover that in God’s presence—not from what the world or fleshly pleasure can offer—do we find fullness of joy and pleasures that never lose their capacity to satisfy (Ps. 16:11).
As it turns out, the act of saying no to certain desires seems to be a distinguishing feature of human beings. Animals don’t say no, but we do. Consider the book of Proverbs. It’s all about wisdom, and wisdom means we’re living as God intended. Within the first nine chapters, which summarize the book’s main themes, the father-teacher is doing everything possible to portray the beauty of self-control and to dramatize the dangers of a life given over to one’s desires.
What is the real problem? We don’t cherish the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Since fear is about what controls us, wisdom begins when we’re controlled by the triune God rather than by the objects of our temptations. In other words, life outside God’s boundaries is evidence we must not know him very well. We must not know he’s good, and that everything he commands us to do is for our benefit. We must think he’s a mortal who doesn’t see what we’re doing. We must think the darkness can hide us from his presence. We are given the God of life, but we keep veering off into independence and misery. And in doing so, we fail to be truly human.
This is the story Jesus enters. Jesus was led into the desert to experience the extremes of physical and Satanic temptations (Matt. 4:1–11). Though his temptations weren’t sexual, they did involve intense physical desires that pleaded for satisfaction. Jesus entered into our struggle; he revealed the essence of true humanity in his stand against Satan; and he became the tested and perfect man who would be our representative before the Father. These were the credentials he brought to the cross.
The gospel is activated in our lives through faith, as we say to our King, “I’m with you. My own record is a mess; yours is perfect.” And in that response we get more grace than we expected. We’re joined with Jesus in his successes, and given his Spirit to empower us to follow him.
And then we’re led into temptations once again, which is how royal children are trained and matured. Although this time we’re better prepared.
Now, in dependence on Jesus, we engage our passions with resolve and aim for nothing short of slaying them (Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5). The critical weapon we bring is our growing knowledge of God’s mercy and grace. This grace reminds us that we have forgiveness, so we can turn to him in our failures (2 Pet. 1:9).
We believe a lie if we think we are too far gone. Since grace has no limits, we start with a simple “help.” God delights in those who turn to him in desperation (Luke 15:6).
How Do We Fight Temptation?
Once the story of grace is embedded in our hearts, practical applications flow.
1. Repeat the story.
The most obvious application is to repeat the story: in love, Christ came, forgave, rescued, and empowers. Paul began each letter with how everything has changed because of Jesus.
You could follow Paul’s lead. Write out the gospel story, read it to a friend, ask others to give their telling, underline the many ways the New Testament expresses it, and tailor it with your own particular struggle in mind. You are on the right path when the story sounds good and is about Jesus more than you.
2. Examine your ways.
Pay close attention to how you move toward porn. Think of your predicament as a kind of “voluntary slavery” in that you’re victimized by porn’s allure but intentional in its pursuit. Consider the details of the path you take (Prov. 7). What are the lies you believe that blind you? “God is not so good”? “Sin is not so dangerous”? Think about what else is happening. Are you angry? Indifferent? Stressed, feeling you deserve a break? What do you really want? When do you think you actually made the decision to pursue porn?
When we walk toward porn, we fail to consider our ways. When we run from it, and we know we’ve been forgiven, we should look back and consider carefully where the path got dangerous.
3. Go public.
This step is the hardest, or at least the most humbling. Pornographic desire thrives in darkness (Col. 1:13). That darkness, of course, isn’t hidden from the Lord, and if we don’t bring it to the light, he will (Heb. 4:13). So we confess it to the Lord, and we confess it to others (James 5:16).
We confess to others for at least two reasons. First, we need help, and God has given us others to pray for and help us. Second, we want to get as far from the darkness, lies, and justifications as possible, and transparency is a way to do that. We could easily argue our sin is private, it’s against God, and it should be handled privately. But if we easily confess to God yet refuse to confess to others, the authenticity of our confession is suspect. Openness is a way we can avoid being tricked by new justifications.
Within God’s boundaries is freedom and contentment; outside is slavery, misery, and an insatiable desire for more (Eph. 4:19). It isn’t easy to stay within God’s appointed boundaries, but it’s certainly good.
No one ever regretted saying no to temptations.
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible (Crossway, 2015).