Many who come to Harvest USA battling a serious pornography problem are married. Some discussed their struggle with their spouses before getting married, while others kept it completely hidden. Pornography’s impact on a marriage can be devastating, sometimes to the point of becoming the main factor in a couple’s divorce.
With this danger in mind, is your fiancé’s use of pornography grounds to call off an engagement—or even to end the relationship? If sexual sin, past and present, can destroy a marriage, raising those questions before taking vows becomes a matter of wisdom. It’s also a matter of necessity today. With the universality and accessibility of pornography, almost no one’s heart and mind today are untouched by its impact. Younger generations of Christians, especially, have grown up with high-speed Internet and its ability to deliver pornography anywhere and at any time.
If sexual sin, past and present, can destroy a marriage, raising those questions before taking vows becomes a matter of wisdom. It’s also a matter of necessity today. With the universality and accessibility of pornography, almost no one’s heart and mind today are untouched by its impact.
If almost everyone is affected by porn in some way, then it is not enough to simply ask your fiancé, “Have you looked, or are you looking, at pornography?” That’s not going to decide your answer about the relationship. Rather, you need a follow-up question if the (likely) answer is yes, “If this is an ongoing issue, in what direction is your struggle going?” Meaning, what is he or she doing about it? Is your fiancé showing a growing desire to honor Christ in all areas of life? Is that seen in how he or she acknowledges struggles, confesses sins, and shows evidence of repenting?
To better understand/comprehend the question and evaluate the answer, here are three key ways to gage that process.
Is your fiancé growing in openness and transparency?
First, is your fiancé growing in being open and transparent with you and others about this struggle? Many couples never discuss sexual issues, much less struggles, even when the relationship is clearly heading for the altar. But these issues need to be brought into the open. More than ever, it is essential that couples receive biblically-based pre-marital counseling. Discussing sexual issues with a third party provides a degree of safety for talking through these issues. Navigating this kind of disclosure without help can be scary and difficult. How much should I share, and what details should I give? This is why having an experienced pastor, counselor, or older mentoring couple walk with you is recommended. The goal of this disclosure is meant to promote intimacy, but done carelessly, without wisdom, it can have the opposite impact.
The third party can also provide discernment on the health of the relationship, answering critical questions about proceeding towards marriage. Sometimes the intensity of the struggle might indicate that the relationship should slow down, and any plans for marriage be postponed until further evidence of success is demonstrated. You need an outside voice to help you make that decision.
This transparency not only needs to happen in pre-marital counseling; it should be an ever-increasing way of how you are currently living. Is your fiancé open about other things in his life, or do you sense that he keeps some things hidden? One devastating consequence of pornography usage is a typical pattern of deceit and hiding, which eventually bleeds into all areas of life. In addition, do you both have trusted people in your lives who really know where you struggle, both individually and as a couple? The biggest barrier to fighting sexual sin is living in secrecy. Shame does that to us.
Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (ESV). If your fiancé has never told anyone else about his struggle, then that is a sign he’s not ready to deal with his sin, and he’s also unable to see the situation with any clarity. Danger ahead!
Are specific steps being taken to avoid sources of temptation?
Secondly, is your fiancé actively taking steps to remove clear sources of temptation in her life? If she struggles with her phone or laptop, has she gotten accountability software and put up filters? Or maybe she’s even gone back to a dumb phone, because she knows that having 24/7 availability to the web is a dangerous place for her to live. Though simply removing access to pornography does not guarantee a changed heart, it is evidence that your fiancé takes this struggle seriously. We often have a love/hate relationship with our sin patterns, and it is typical for most of us to be tempted to keep a back door open to our sin. We don’t seriously want to be free of it. Intentionally eliminating those back doors is evidence that she is not simply managing sin; she wants to kill it.
1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be sober-minded and watchful because the devil seeks to devour us. Taking real, sacrificial steps to avoid sources of temptation means that you accurately understand the weight of the situation. Real change needs to happen at the level of heart, but that change is facilitated by humbly recognizing the need for clear boundary lines to live within. For the sake of loving God and others well, we willingly accept restrictions that make it harder to engage in sin.
Deciding to postpone or call off an engagement or relationship requires the insight of trusted and competent mentors.
Are other people holding your fiancé accountable?
Thirdly, accountability is the natural result of transparent living. If your fiancé has taken the difficult step of sharing his struggle with trusted friends and mentors, is he also willing to be held accountable to them? A one-time confession of a private struggle is often a liberating and freeing experience. But the harder work comes in the regular discussion about how the fight has been going and what changes need to be implemented to fight better. If he is willing to be challenged and called to account by men who care about his soul, then you both will experience the fulfillment of God’s promise to “give grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Establishing who bears this burden of accountability is important. It is unhelpful for a (future) spouse to become the “porn police.” This does not mean that couples fail to confess their sins to one another, but it does mean that the one who struggles has friends in his or her life who regularly ask hard questions. Consequently, the accountability partners have access to speak freely to the couple and their counselors to give their input. Having accountability partners outside of the romantic relationship provides additional support for the struggler. Without it, a constant temptation to worry and speculate can seriously impair the relationship; with it, the fiancé knows that the problem is being addressed and that her intended spouse is getting the help he needs.
We’ve looked at three key areas to consider if your fiancé is struggling with pornography: increasing transparency, actively fleeing temptation, and accountability. If one of these areas is lacking or non-existent, some serious and difficult discussions—and decisions—need to happen. But, again, this should not be done alone. Deciding to postpone or call off an engagement or relationship requires the insight of trusted and competent mentors.
In addition to discussing struggles with pornography, Christian couples need to honestly address how they are honoring Christ in maintaining sexual integrity in their relationship before marriage. Christian couples today are as sexually active before marriage as their secular counterparts. A false line is drawn to rationalize their behavior; everything short of intercourse is defined as not being sex. There are good reasons for delaying sexual intimacy before marriage, and one of them is learning to center your relationship on Christ by jointly encouraging each other to obey and trust his will. If disobedience is brought jointly into the marriage, then a perilous pattern is established. How you choose to honor God and one another through sexual integrity in one season of life will show your commitment and fitness for the next season.
Take heart, brothers and sisters: God does not call or bless only those with perfect obedience to him. His grace covers a multitude of sins, and that same grace can enable both of you to turn from destructive relational patterns and toward honoring Christ in this important area of life. And taking appropriate, wise steps, before saying your vows, is an investment that will reap a harvest of righteousness and joy in God’s glorious covenant of marriage!
You can watch Mark talking some more about this on his video: Is a Struggle with Pornography a Deal-Breaker for Getting Married? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Are you engaged? In a relationship and thinking about getting married? You’ve got lots to talk about—and be honest about with your future spouse. But the time to talk about these things is now, before you make your vows. And one critical thing to discuss is pornography and sexual sin.
Click here to read more of what Mark says couples must do before the wedding, “Is a Struggle with Pornography a Deal-Breaker for Getting Married?” And click here to read the full version of our latest harvestusa magazine.
John Freeman’s more than 35 years of experience in helping pastors and church leaders comes through in his advice to one pastor who discovers sexual sin among his own church leadership.
Click here to read John’s accompanying article, “Pastors: Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Lid Off.”
07 Jun 2017
The pastor on the other end of the phone call was nervous. The uneasy tone in his voice told me that he was both uncomfortable and distressed. He had called seeking advice because he didn’t know what to do. “I think pornography use among the men in my church is at an epidemic level. But, frankly, I’m afraid to take the lid off it and address the pornography struggle openly.” He then related that, over the previous months, several men had shared with him about their secret, lifelong pornography struggles and recent failures with Internet porn.
I congratulated him on being someone who others obviously felt was approachable with this very sensitive and shaming issue. He went on to tell me what perplexed and paralyzed him the most. “You don’t understand, John. Some of these men are leaders in my church—a Sunday school teacher and a deacon. It could be a major disruption for me to address these issues straightforwardly.” He also told me his foremost fear: If this was happening amongst his leadership, how pervasive might this be with other guys in the church?
That’s when I pushed into his fears and unbelief—his fear about how it would all turn out and his unbelief that God could do something powerful in the lives of the men in his church
The situation was too overwhelming to him, hence his hesitancy to boldly dive in. This was evident to me when he shared, “There’s a part of me which would just rather not know.” That’s when I pushed into his fears and unbelief—his fear about how it would all turn out and his unbelief that God could do something powerful in the lives of the men in his church. I talked to him about what it seemed like the Lord was doing and could now do even more through his involvement. I also bluntly told him that the obstacle to growth and change for these men was not just their sin, it was now him. (Not sure he liked me saying that.)
In reality, he was so caught up in his own fear that he didn’t see this: The confessions made by these leaders were orchestrated by God. When our eyes are on ourselves—our fears, our inabilities—don’t we often miss the big picture of how God is working? This situation was a golden opportunity for him. I tried to encourage this pastor and also challenge him. “Obviously, for this to begin to come to light among some of your men—well, this is nothing less than a movement of the Spirit. How can you not pursue your leadership in a more wide-scale and intentional way?” I asked.
Yes, in the short-term, moving into these men’s lives might be messy. He might find out things he’d rather not know. Patterns of temptation, strongholds, and other sin tendencies would be uncovered and might be deeper and more complex than feared.
However, I also helped him to see that his involvement could be transformative for these men. I urged him to take the long view and picture the outcome down the line of helping these men turn from porn to Christ. He could have men more appreciative of God’s mercy, more engaged with their wives and families, and more active in the church. They could move to a new understanding of Jesus as one who meets us in the midst of the chaos of our lives to show us our deep-seated idols and replace them with his grace-filled presence. Walking alongside these strugglers might have far-reaching consequences and could be dramatically redemptive for those who had confessed.
I shared the example of Stan, a former participant in one of our support groups at Harvest USA. Although a church leader, Stan had been caught up in a web of pornography for years. Finally, he began to attend one of our groups. About a year later, he told me one night, “I’m starting to see that Jesus just isn’t a self-improvement program. As painful as it is, he’s doing radical surgery on my heart in ways I never imagined.”
Stan saw his whole being transformed as he became aware of the ways he had robbed his family (time, energy, and involvement), others (showing up for church but not much more), and the Lord (failing to tithe for years due to the hundreds of dollars a month he spent on online subscriptions to porn websites). Stan began to develop a godly sorrow for his sin, along with a joy-filled understanding of the gospel. As a result, his repentance was like Zacchaeus; he began to give back his time, energy, and resources to his family and local church as if they were not his own, but the Lord’s.
I finished our conversation telling this pastor that whatever mess he might uncover would be well worth it. I think he started to get the picture.
P.S.: Check out my article that speaks to church leaders, “Sex and the Silence of the Church, Why it is Crippling God’s People.”
You can watch John talking some more about this on his video, Pastors: Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Lid Off. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
06 Apr 2017
In my third post, we need to look at how renewing your mind requires “putting off.” If you’ve been looking at porn for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up.
The first blog in this short series talked about the importance of taking thoughts captive, which means considering them in God’s presence. In the last blog, we looked at specific ways to engage God, turning temptation into opportunities for worship. In the language of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, both of these blogs were focused on the importance of “putting on.” This is a crucial aspect of the Christian life: becoming the man or woman God has created you to be.
This time, I want to briefly consider the importance of intentionally “putting off” things that keep you stuck in old patterns of thinking and behavior.
By the end of our introductory group at Harvest, as men grow in sexual obedience, they usually begin to experience conviction in other areas of their life. First, they start intentionally battling against their roving eyes. They realize that this “low level” exploitation of others, reducing them to commodities to consume, is part of their bigger lust problem.
A renewed mind is the result of both “putting off” and “putting on”
They also begin to realize that their engagement with certain cultural items or events is a problem. Some men realize that listening to sports radio with the incessant ads for strip clubs is a hindrance to keeping their minds focused on Christ and his kingdom. Because it calls to mind past experiences or fantasies, they choose to abstain from listening.
A renewed mind requires an active fight against a culture that continuously tilts toward the pornographic
Many have a growing conviction that various forms of entertainment (like movies and cable TV shows depicting nudity and sexuality), not only entice them to sin, but are actually dishonoring to God. They become spiritually attuned in ways they hadn’t been for years, since they’d been searing their conscience through their sin. Many are awakened for the first time to the importance of all the seemingly small decisions they make throughout their days, learning that there is a growing cumulative effect from what they see and do.
What we watch and hear sinks in and impacts our hearts. We are constantly bombarded by messages running counter to God’s calling and Christ’s kingdom. A renewed mind requires an active fight against a culture that continuously tilts toward the pornographic.
Conversely, men who continue to indulge their flesh in these outwardly less significant ways, struggle to make real traction overcoming their enslavement to pornography. So, some questions for you:
Where do you need greater conviction of how your use of entertainment might be part of the problem, keeping you stuck in a pornified way of viewing the world?
Are you actively fighting against the “second look” when you see someone you’re attracted to?
Where are the broken views of sexuality in our culture affecting your heart?
And, as we’ve been discussing in the past couple blogs, are you more quickly engaging God when that happens? Are you living with an increased awareness of his presence?
A renewed mind is the result of both “putting off” and “putting on.”
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This means an important part of renewing your mind is breaking the ways we’ve been fitted into the world’s mold.
You need to realize that pornography has radically warped your worldview in all kinds of ways: views of sex and sexual activity, diminishing the intrinsic value of all humanity, and prizing people according to “sex appeal.” If you’re married you need to understand this: A significant reason why many are dissatisfied with sex is because we’ve bought into lies about sexuality. Unrealistic lies that lead us to use our spouses rather than give to them; lies that need to be addressed by the truth of God’s Word.
Until you start intentionally distancing yourself from all the ways this twisted worldview is being reinforced, you will not experience a renewed mind and you’ll stay stuck in patterns of sexual sin. But consider what is available to you: living joyfully within God’s will and design for your life, experiencing the blessing of his presence as you keep in step with his Spirit, and knowing what is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
Your loving, heavenly Father wants you to know freedom from the curse of broken, insatiable sexuality as you enter the wide, spacious places of his love and renewal.
To see Dave talking more about this issue, click on Dave’s video blog, Pornified Mind: Reclaiming your thought life, Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
To begin reclaiming your mind from the accumulation of porn’s images, you are going to have to do the hard work of “putting off” patterns of behavior that keep you enslaved. But oh, it is so worth doing so! Click here to read Dave’s related blog.
To begin reclaiming your mind from the accumulation of porn’s images, consider seeing the images from an entirely different perspective – how they point in some small way to the Creator who alone is worthy of our focus and attention. Click here to read Dave’s related blog.
30 Mar 2017
If you’ve been engaging pornography for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up. The last blog considered the importance of “taking thoughts captive,” and looked at the wrong way we try to deal with the accumulation of thoughts and images in your mind. Once you get the first step right, you’re on to the next one.
“Taking our thoughts captive” means bringing them into the throne room to consider before the King. What does this look like practically? I’ve never studied the martial arts and haven’t even watched UFC for years, but the little I know is the strategy of using your opponent’s strength, weight, and momentum against him. I want to challenge you with this same approach in learning how to renew your mind.
The answer is to begin acknowledging your Creator at those very places where you’re tempted to idol worship… in the midst of temptation we need to intentionally engage God.
Consider a couple of ideas: First, anyone you’re tempted to lust after is because you’ve caught a microscopic glimpse of the glory of God in what he has made. Our enemy is unable to create; he can only take the good gifts of our God and twist them out of shape. The essence of idolatry is to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Humanity is without excuse before God’s judgment because “his eternal power and divine nature” are evident in the world he made (Romans 1:18-20). This means when you behold the beauty of the world God made, including the other creatures inhabiting it, you’ve glimpsed God’s power. You’ve seen the wonder of your Creator’s handiwork. In the created world you’ve caught a glimpse of his majesty and, ironically, this is an avenue of escape from the temptation. The answer is to begin acknowledging your Creator at those very places where you’re tempted to idol worship.
As I mentioned in the last blog, in the midst of temptation we need to intentionally engage God. Part of this is confessing the pull of your heart to idolatry, but – more importantly! – to ask for eyes of faith to see him as infinitely more glorious than anything he’s made. Meditate on passages like Isaiah 40 that describe his glory and majesty in ways we can just barely comprehend (like holding the Pacific Ocean in the palm of his hand!). And realize at the same time that he is wonderfully present with you – the One who spans the heavens with his fingers and carries the little lambs in his bosom (Isaiah 40:10-11). And this promise is lifelong – from birth we are carried, even down to old age and gray hairs (46:3-4). The One who is more glorious than you can imagine, whose power made creatures you’re tempted to worship, invites you to know him.
Part of temptation’s lie is that we’re “missing out” – God becomes the “heavenly buzzkill,” who is out to ruin your good time. The lie is that he wants to rob you of “life.”
Secondly, talk with him about his promises. Part of temptation’s lie is that we’re “missing out” – God becomes the “heavenly buzzkill,” who is out to ruin your good time. The lie is that he wants to rob you of “life.” Years ago, I remembered reading Psalm 36:8, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” I felt a visceral reaction in my heart against that truth, a bald denial that God is a God of pleasure who wants to feast us and delight us. Do you believe he is a God of pleasure? How have you experienced blessing in your relationship with God? Recount times when his promises were a source of life to you. Remind yourself of those specific promises. Ask him to refresh your spirit with the truth. Like the psalmists, we must learn to rebuke these inward lies with the truth: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalms 42:5-6, 11; 43:5). The call is to begin embracing those promises and asking God to undo the power of that lie. Acknowledge to him the ways that you continue to see him as a killjoy and ask him for the grace to see him for who he truly is.
In the face of temptation, we are prone to shrink away from God in guilt and shame. Instead, I want to challenge you to move toward him in these specific ways. Realize that whoever you find desirable is merely reflecting by angled, dusty mirror the glory of their Creator and ask for eyes to see his glory and majesty. And push back against the lie that he’s holding out on you. Jesus said it plainly, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If there were life in sexual sin, you wouldn’t be reading this blog! Behold his beauty, believe his promise and come to him for life!
To see Dave talking about this issue, click on Dave’s video blog, Pornified Mind: Reclaiming your thought life, Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
To read Dave’s blog, you can click on the title here: “Renewing Your Mind from Pornography: “Taking Thoughts Captive.” These short videos and blog posts can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s, and women’s groups, etc.
18 Mar 2017
If you’ve been looking at pornography for any length of time, you have a toxic waste dump in your mind that takes time and intentionality to clean up! How do you begin to decontaminate your mind? The next few video and written blogs I’ll be doing will consider the important steps you need to take to renew your mind.
To get started, let’s use Romans 12:2 as our orienting theme verse: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV). The hard truth is that ongoing pornography use profoundly damages your views of life, sex, others, and God. Change is much bigger than merely stopping bad behaviors; it means the renewal of your mind—transforming your worldview—so that your thought patterns are conformed to the truths of Scripture.
The first step of renewing your mind from pornography is taking your thoughts “captive.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Pornography is a prime example of an argument against God and his rule over the world, particularly over your own life. Pornography entices us to denigrate our fellow image-bearers into consumable objects, and it promotes a view of sexuality that is completely against God’s design for what it means to be a person. It diminishes us to brute beasts ruled by our passions (see Jude 10).
So, knowing what porn does to our minds and hearts, renewing our minds becomes a place of warfare. It’s time to engage the fight and start taking prisoners!
All this is to say, taking your thoughts captive is about intentionally engaging God in the places of your struggle. God wants you to draw near to him in your sexual struggles.
What does it mean to take every thought captive to obey Christ? In the past, I’ve viewed that as a hand-slapping rebuke: “Bad Dave! Don’t think that thought! You need to start thinking holy thoughts right now…” If that’s how you’ve viewed it, you know that approach hasn’t been particularly helpful. Others have commented that they need to take their mind off of lustful thoughts, perhaps by quoting Bible memory verses. I’m not knocking Bible memory—far from it!—but I’m concerned that too many Christians think the Bible works like Harry Potter, casting a “spiritual spell” that will inoculate you against lust. Both of these approaches miss the intent of 2 Corinthians 10 and may actually work to keep you in chains. Punishment and quick-fix techniques end up as dead ends; they rarely produce the fruit of ongoing repentance.
Think about how unhelpful the “Bad Dave” approach actually is. According to Romans 8:31-34, who is the one who brings accusations against us? The enemy! When we respond to our temptations and failures with accusatory thoughts, berating ourselves with thoughts of failure, worthlessness, etc., we’re ironically playing right into his hands. He wants us isolated, feeling guilt and condemnation. Further, when we recite Scripture as a talisman, apart from intentionally connecting with God, we remain isolated.
In contrast, God’s goal is to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth (see Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1). He is all about relationship, inviting us to live out of our union with him. The enemy wants us to feel isolated and alone; God wants us to rest in the hope that we’re reconciled to him. And, therefore, able to approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need! All this is to say, taking your thoughts captive is about intentionally engaging God in the places of your struggle. God wants you to draw near to him in your sexual struggles.
You see, the image in the verse is of taking a prisoner captive in a battle, bringing him in chains into the throne room to consider him before the King. Bring all of your thoughts before your Redeemer to ask him his opinion. Think about it this way: the goal is to not allow these thoughts to be “alone” space in your head. Part of renewing your mind is learning that you’ve never had an “alone” thought! You need to increasingly and self-consciously share your thoughts with your loving heavenly Father and your elder brother who reigns as King over the universe. And this is exactly what the enemy does NOT want you to do!
So, if you want your mind renewed, the first step is to be aware that you need to engage God with your temptations. When the thoughts come, bring them into the throne room. Don’t run from him. Don’t shrink away in guilt. Don’t use Scripture in isolation as a spiritual spell. Acknowledge the temptation. Talk to Christ about how you struggle with intrusive thoughts. Know that he is a present help to you in that trouble. Ask Jesus for his thoughts. Ask him to help you understand the context for the temptation in which you find yourself.