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Jordan disciples Pete, who has had a lifelong addiction to pornography. Clearly frustrated, Jordan said to us: “I keep telling Pete to repent of his sin, pray, and read his Bible, but I don’t know what else to do. He keeps falling back into porn.”

If you’ve ever come alongside a man or woman struggling with porn, you’ve experienced the frustration of your friend repeatedly falling back into sin. Maybe, like Jordan, you don’t know what else to do.

What kind of skills make you effective in helping a believer struggling with pornography? Let’s sample 10.

1. Listen with an Active Ear

How good of a listener are you? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. Most of us are not good listeners. The most basic step we can take is to become a better listener—not just for porn addicts, but for everyone in our life. To become better, you’ve got to identify your weaknesses. Put aside distractions like your phone and strive to be present with others.

The most basic step we can take is to become a better listener for everyone in our life.

2. Target the Heart

The heart is the command center of our life (Prov. 20:5; Luke 6:43–45; Matt. 12:33–37). From it flow our thoughts, words, feelings, and deeds. Do you spend most of your time considering the surface-level facts of a person’s situation? Or do you ask questions that reveal the struggler’s deeper heart issues? A few examples of hear-oriented questions: What’s enticing about porn that continues to draw the person in? What is he seeking to escape? What promises does the Evil One make at the moment of temptation? What aspects of the Lord’s character does he forget?

3. Develop a Useful Plan

Many people are haphazard in their handling of a porn addiction. They don’t have a clear plan, but rather react in the moment to sin when it overtakes them. Addicts need plans that are gospel-driven, comprehensive, known by those who are closely connected, and full of wisdom.

4. Offer Accountability That Works

There is a lot of bad accountability out there. For many who struggle, such accountability hurts the cause. Helpful accountability is local, consistent, gracious, Word-based, faith-driven, honest, mature, and wise. Does that look and sound like what you offer?

5. Overcome Temptations

The battle is often lost on the front end: the addict’s struggle with temptations. In following Jesus’s instruction to “watch and pray” (Matt. 26:41), we train believers to adopt a battle-ready vigilance and a prayerful attitude. We ask them to call on us early rather than wait until after they’ve fallen.

6. Kill Bad Desires

At the heart of a porn addiction is an insatiable appetite. Our long-term goal is to starve the sinful desires that overrun the believer’s heart (Rom. 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11), with hope that we’ll kill it off (Gal. 5:24). That’s why a radical approach to cutting off access is a crucial step in fighting porn (Matt. 5:27–30). Pastor and author Garrett Kell once said, “I’ve so dumbed down my smartphone that if you put a gun to my head I couldn’t access porn with it.” Most strugglers don’t completely shut off access but settle for far less.

7. Recover After a Fall

If a believer falls, there is an open access point that must be closed. Be vigilant to pursue the addict until she’s closed all known points of access. But don’t stop there. Examine where unbelief and doubts are undermining her. Reassess and revise the overall plan.

8. Understand Shame

For most of us, shame is an ambiguous experience. How can we help an addict face his shame? We strive to understand what shame is. As a helper, consider four categories: naked and exposed (Gen. 3:7–8); outcast and rejected (John 4:16–18); unclean and contaminated (Mark 1:40–42); and failed (Matt. 26:75). Help a struggler articulate how her story is intertwined with shame. Bring her shame into the light. Most important, show her Christ, who covers, accepts, cleans, and renews the shameful.

Most important, show her Christ, who covers, accepts, cleans, and renews the shameful.

9. Fight Battle Weariness

Many come to us after struggling for years. They’re tired, discouraged, hopeless, and often have given up. An addict is slow to run to God and quick to self-condemn. We must close the gap between self-condemnation and repentance. We plead with him to run to God. We also step down into the trench and offer plenty of encouragement: “Keep going. Christ is worth it.” “I love you and we’re going to make it through this.”

10. Be Gospel-Focused

There’s a dangerous tendency to focus narrowly on defeating the sin. Then we lose sight of faith’s role. Faith is the wind in a struggler’s sails. We can’t just put off the bad stuff. We must see addicts conformed to the likeness of Christ. If a struggler has the right object for his faith—Christ—he will win. Have no doubt about it. Ultimately, we can’t change an addict, but we can introduce him to the One who can.

What’s Next?

And there are plenty more skills to learn: instilling a gospel identity, discerning fake repentance and encouraging genuine repentance, reviving a dead conscience, gaining a glimpse of the bigger picture, acknowledging and owning true beauty, and much more.

A thousand-word article doesn’t give you all you need. But then again, even a book can’t be ultimate. Only Christ can do that.

Editors’ note: 

Deepak Reju and Jonathan Holmes—both pastors and counselors—are the authors of a two-book set called Rescue Plan: Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography and Rescue Skills: Essential Skills for Restoring the Sexually Broken (P&R, 2021). The goal of these books is to help pastors, counselors, disciplers, parents, and small-group leaders come alongside addicts and find success in defeating porn struggles.

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