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How Porn Is Sidelining Missionaries

Bence Boros on Unsplash

I just knew. The minute we made contact, whether on the phone or in person, I could sense what had happened the night before.

Pornography, again.

His tone of voice, his sunken spirit, his inward bent told the same, sad story. This brother had prayed, raised support, and finally made it to bring the gospel to the unreached with us. Here he was, six months in on the front lines, only to be sidelined by porn. It saddened me for him, but as I looked out at the people on our streets, it also saddened me for them. Lust had crippled his passion for the lost.

Pornography isn’t just an affront to a holy God; it’s an oil leak in the engine of missions. If unaddressed, an engine with an oil leak will, drip by drip, cease to operate. And dose by dose, porn renders a heart unfit for missions.

Just last week, I was asked twice why I think so many godly ladies are signing up to engage unreached peoples, while the men seem to be content on the sidelines. My answer: internet pornography.

I know the statistics show pornography isn’t merely a male problem, but I’ve also worked among young men enough to know this problem has reached epidemic proportions. Years ago, John Piper coined a paradigm-shifting statement about missions in Let the Nations Be Glad: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Among young Christian men who don’t show concern for the nations, I’ve come to wonder if it could be said that porn lurks where missions doesn’t.

John Piper said that missions exists because worship doesn’t. I fear it could also be said that porn lurks where missions doesn’t.

Here’s my plea to porn-strugglers: not merely for your sake, but for theirs—for the unreached nations of the world: Get help. Pornography sidelines you when the nations need you. I want to help you realize the soul-conditioning effect of pornography in a way you may not have seen it before, particularly as it relates to missions. I aim for this brief article to be a healing wound that sets a new trajectory in your pursuit of purity.

Porn conditions your soul in three ways, each of which grace can overcome.

1. Soul-Shrinking Desires

Going to that website functions like a trip to the gym. Porn shapes your soul like a seasoned trainer, pressing it into its desired mold.

The drive of pornography is lust, but the drive of missions is love. Lust turns “need” inward, and chooses porn as its twisted solution. But love turns the soul outward, and gives of itself to meet the real need.

Pornography shrinks the soul’s ambition to privatized self-indulgence at another’s expense. Missions expands the soul’s ambition to embrace self-sacrifice for another’s good. Thus porn, in a unique way, deconditions us for missions.

Porn deconditions us for missions. It sidelines us when the nations need us.

I hadn’t seen this deconditioning effect of pornography until I heard the story of one newly married couple. They were excited to finally have that coveted green light from God to engage in physical intimacy. Three months into marriage, however, the man became disinterested. He couldn’t engage in real intimacy because he’d trained his body to enjoy its fake substitute. His soul and body had been conditioned to prefer the screen over the real thing.

But grace is stronger. Jesus frees the captive soul and expands narrow borders of self-love. Grace instructs us to “deny godlessness and worldly lusts” and reshapes us into a people “eager to do good works” (Titus 2:12, 14). You can see this expansive dynamic in Paul’s use of the word “obligated” in Romans. His obligation was to the nations (Rom. 1:14), not to the narrow demands of the flesh (Rom. 8:12).

By God’s Spirit, Christian, you share the same obligation. Your flesh has lost its claim on you. If you feel defeated by this sin, remember the resurrection. The risen Jesus has made you a sin-slayer by the Spirit. So go on the offensive. Strike this sin, at its first move, over and over with promise after promise; don’t give it a second to regather itself. Say “no” to the next temptation, and the next, until, by God’s grace, you are no longer defeated; porn is. One eternally significant “yes” for the nations could be unleashed through one “no” to forbidden nudity.

2. Soul-Constricting Gratification

A pornographic transaction yields immediate gratification. No one logs on just to wait. Therein lies the problem when it comes to the nations. Pornography may satisfy for a moment, but it contracts the soul, restricting its capacity to labor long in ministry.

Paul consistently highlighted the need for endurance in gospel ministry, telling Timothy “great patience” is needed (2 Tim. 4:2). The unreached peoples of the world are unreached for a reason. These unharvested fields need good laborers who may labor long and never see the fruit of their labors.

It was long thought that boa constrictors suffocate their prey, but studies now indicate they cut their prey’s blood supply. Porn works similarly. When porn tightens its grip on the soul, the Spirit’s flow of resiliency-inducing power is strained. If giving in to porn comes easy, giving up in gospel ministry will too. Porn uniquely undermines patient endurance in gospel endeavors.

If giving in to porn comes easy, giving up in gospel ministry will too.

But here again, grace can re-lengthen our contracted souls. One way to counter impatience that feeds the desire for porn is to cultivate thankfulness. Read Ephesians 5:3–4. Paul sees thankfulness as an attitudinal replacement for sexual immorality. As Gordon Fee observes, “Lack of gratitude is the first step to idolatry.” A satisfied soul will stretch longer into obedience than will a soul chasing satisfaction. Incline your heart to thankfulness, and the desire for porn will decline by God’s grace.

3. Soul-Shriveling Shame

Porn is drenched with shame. That’s why it prefers the privacy of a bedroom over the shared space of a living room. But shame saves its darkest assaults for post-porn consumption. Just as grapes become raisins, so shame dries out the soul. It strips the soul of concern for others—and replaces it with self-absorption. This is why it’s hard for someone confessing porn consumption to look you in the eye.

But struggling brother and sister, look up. Don’t look down in shame or regret or self-pity. Look up!

Lift up your eyes to him who “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works” (Titus 2:14). The Son of God became a man so you would find a sympathetic high priest who never turns a cold shoulder to struggling saints who plead for help (Heb. 2:17–18, 4:14–16). Maybe your struggle has been long. But Christ’s patience stretches farther. Jesus delights to use sinners whose stories display the riches of his long-standing mercy and “extraordinary patience” (1 Tim. 1:16).

Grace says we’ve been on the sidelines for too long. The nations need us on the field.

Editors’ note: 

A version of this article appeared at the International Mission Board.

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