“This feels so compulsive!” he complained. Tom feels like he is always fighting sin. He fights against a tendency to desire and pursue sexual pleasure from men. He believes in Jesus and has seen significant changes in the direction of his life. But his same-sex attraction did not magically go away when he trusted in Christ. His faith is in crisis, “Maybe they’re right; this is just who I am.”

What do we have to offer someone like Tom? Does the gospel have an answer to this crisis, the crisis of continually fighting sin? Yes. And a vital part of that gospel answer is what theologians call indwelling sin. Why would I bring up sin to someone in a faith crisis, especially one involving same-sex attraction?  Because the Bible’s teaching on indwelling sin connects the gospel to our deepest struggles.

The Universality of Sin

Scripture teaches that we are all sinners; all who share in the human nature represented in Adam share in the corruption of sin (Romans 5:12; Ecclesiastes 7:20). But more than that, each of us is sinful in every part of us (Rom. 3:10-19; 8:7). We are whole people, with bodies, minds, wills, and affections, and it is as whole people that we are corrupted by sin. At the deepest level, what the Bible calls the heart, we recognize in ourselves a tendency towards sin (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:19).

This tendency has a corrupting influence on our thinking, our emotions, and even our physiology. This sinful leaning (what theologians call original sin) is behind whatever sin acts we commit (what theologians call actual sin). The result: sin feels natural to us.

And this is rather unconscious and spontaneous in real life. We fall into the same kinds of behavior over and over despite a desire to stop. A mature Christian faith comes to the humble self-appraisal that behind all our actions, mixed in with all our feelings, appetites, and urges, is a continual tendency towards sin.

Here’s Tom’s dilemma and ours: this sinful tendency doesn’t disappear when we become Christians. How are we to understand this? What does it mean for Tom, and us, when we were taught that faith in Christ gives us victory over sin?

Here we turn to the teaching of Paul in Romans 7, from which the term, indwelling sin, originates. But first we need a view of the context in which he brings this idea up.

Good News about the Universe and You

In the chapters leading up to Romans 7, Paul lays out a tale of two humanities, the first being “in Adam,” and the second being “in Christ.” In Adam describes our natural state, corrupted by sin, condemned by the law, bound for death. Paul often uses the shorthand, “the flesh” to refer to this.

A mature Christian faith comes to the humble self-appraisal that behind all our actions, mixed in with all our feelings, appetites, and urges, is a continual tendency towards sin.

But who Christ is, and what he did, changes everything—literally, everything—all of reality, including human nature. Christ takes upon himself the flesh of Adam, and in that flesh he dies. Though without sin or sinful tendency, Jesus fulfills the sentence of death that is on sinful humanity. Then, he is raised from the dead. And here is the key—it is not just that Jesus came back to life. Rather, he is resurrected with a new kind of life, an immortal, eternal, powerful life. He is declared to be righteous and therefore given the eternal life that from the beginning was promised to righteous humanity.

And this resurrection life which Christ was given is nothing less than the first installment of God’s plan to re-create the whole universe into a glorious and unspeakably beautiful new reality! Paul’s main point? We, who by faith are united to Christ, have our true identity in that new reality. Paul’s way of saying this is that we have died with Christ and were raised with Christ (Rom 6:1-11).

A Startling Implication

Next, Paul takes this new reality in Christ idea into our real-life struggles. In the early portion of Romans 7 (vs. 7-12), he is explaining that the law of God must be considered good, even though it produces death in us. It’s not the law’s fault, but ours; it is our persistent tendency to break the law that forces the law to prescribe death.

Then, in verse 17, he relates our tendency to break the law to our new identity in Christ in a startling way, “…now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”

How in the world can he say such a thing? What does he mean? The answer is not that he is arguing for some sort of psychological dissociation. It is not anything in our psychology that accounts for this new “me.”

What Paul is asserting is that there is something new now; there is a new “me” even while the experience of the sinful tendency remains. In other words, something has happened that has redefined the Christian’s true identity separate from the sinful tendency he experiences.

It is the new reality, the new humanity every Christian has that has objectively come into existence with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and which defines us if we are united to him. That is why the conclusion of Paul’s argument is, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

So What

Why does this matter to Tom who remains troubled by his persistent tendency to pursue intimacy with men?

Why does it matter to the Christian husband troubled by his persistent tendency to use his eyes and mind to sexually enjoy women other than his wife; to the church elder dogged by his tendency to feel self-righteous contempt for others; to the teenage son battling his tendency to resist and oppose parental love and wisdom?  And the list goes on.

What Paul is asserting is that there is something new now; there is a new “me” even while the experience of the sinful tendency remains.

Here is why it matters. Who doesn’t struggle with the troubling resiliency of sinful feelings?  Who doesn’t get discouraged at the unrelenting battle against our tendency to sin?

The answer is not that you can, by your own effort and with the right therapy, remove your tendency towards sin; this will lead you to despair. The answer is not that you should come to peace with your tendency towards sin, call it a part of you, and identify with it; this leaves you without hope and without God. The answer is not to say that true Christians no longer experience the pull of a sinful human nature; this is unbiblical and contrary to your experience and leaves you confused and desperate.

The answer is this: Jesus has borne our sin and our tendency to sin, died with and for it, and has been resurrected, inaugurating a whole new reality which shapes our hope for the future and defines us in the present. The continued experience of the tendency to sin is to be expected in this life. But that experience, for the believer, is only the “sin living in me”; it is not a part of who I am for all eternity.  Who I am is defined by the resurrection life of Christ.  This is not a small thing.  It is the gospel. It is everything.

The gospel answer of union with Christ is the only answer that doesn’t disappoint! This is your new identity!

And as it turns out, living out of your new identity in Christ is the only way to make progress against sin.  But that’s for another post…

The first time I skydived, I was terrified and excited to be thrown out of my comfort zone. I could see the cloudy sky and minute details of the ground below—very far below. The instructor, to whom I was attached in tandem, yelled out as the wind rushed in the open door as my comfort zone slowly slipped away, “Are you ready?!” My heart raced as I said yes and before I knew it, we were falling out of the plane into the open air. After an exhilarating free fall, the parachute cord was pulled and down we gracefully floated to the ground. As I look back, I realized that I could have missed the rush of that experience had I not taken that initial step out of the comfort zone of the plane.

Years ago, when God began a life-transforming process in my life, I struggled to “step out of the plane.” I mean, I did want to follow Jesus, and I did want to do whatever it took. But not always. As the real-deal of what it was going to look like to be free from unhealthy relationships and sinful patterns in my life, I tried everything I could to delay being obedient to what God had set before me.

What I was trying to do—stay within my comfort zone by not stepping into the freefall of obeying God, which was terrifying—is what many sexual strugglers do.

Obedience begins with a willingness to submit oneself to the will of God. John 14:15 sums it up, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Notice in this verse that love precedes the command. It is from an overflow of our love for God that makes us willing to be obedient. What often isn’t expressed in this discussion is how easy it is to waste time dancing around obedience all while trying to justify your delays.

Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another.

In Psalm 119:60, David says, “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.” To hasten is “to move or act quickly.” David is reminding us that out of our love for God, we are not called to just keep his commandments, we should strive to be quick to obey.

Being quick to obey can be difficult for many reasons. Decisions are usually accompanied by a host of emotions, feelings that toss you to and fro, often times confusing the matter by fogging what’s otherwise seemingly black and white. Most would agree, obedience usually costs us something. But often times, the most profound spiritual growth comes as we make commitments to walk in obedience regardless of how we feel.  Lived out, we pray for Christ-enabling power to make changes, then it requires us to make up our mind to love God by just doing it, or in some cases, stop doing it.

Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” What it looks like to “put on” and make no provision for worldly desires will look different for each of us. There is no formula, but here are four examples of ways to hasten obedience and not delay in order to break free from sinful patterns.

  1. Pursue Jesus every day

Here’s the amazing truth for all of us: we don’t walk alone! Far better than being attached to a professional skydiver, we are united with Jesus. Our first obedience is to abide in his love and Word and to deepen our understanding of our identity of being in Christ. We show our love for God through our obedience, but this is never about us mustering up the courage or strength to do it. As Paul said in Phil. 2:13, “its God who is at work” in us to change our desires and give us a willingness to obey him.

  1. Develop Accountability in Relationships

Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another. While it is ideal to have others take the initiative to ask questions, make a commitment to confess your sins whether asked or not.

  1. Avoid relational connections that tempt you towards sin

It is important to disconnect from people that have been a part of your past sinful decisions. This is painful to acknowledge, but your past selfish choices could lead to hard consequences that hurt people you love. Staying in this type of relationship isn’t really loving if it doesn’t lead to obeying God. Although a choice like this can easily be misconstrued, it is actually an act of love and helps avoid being mired in long-term messy situations. For people on both sides of this type of obedience, God can be trusted with whatever consequences may come.

  1. Implement Technology Restrictions

Make modifications to any form of technology that grips or controls your emotional state, especially social media. These types of limitations expose what you allow in your life and how that positively or negatively affects what comes out in thought, word and behavior. This may seem minimal, but give it a try for a week or two and see for yourself.

Maybe for you all these steps look overwhelming. The good news (because there is Good news!), is God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. His command, his calls to quick obedience, are doable things God wants to help us with. The ground may look very far below, but it is God’s promise to get us there safely.

Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.

So what could this look like in your life? Maybe it looks like being quick to fight against focusing on the negative but rather fight for a thankful heart (Philippians 4:6-7). Or maybe this looks like being quick to break the cycle of selfish inward thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5). Or maybe this looks like being quick to have honest conversations with God through prayer in the day in and day out battle of life.

Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.

He is the ultimate Instructor who is tender and compassionate towards us as we learn how to walk in ways of new life in new light. He will bind up our broken hearts, lift our drooping heads, and provide peace that surpasses understanding. All while blessing our obedience and delighting in our efforts on this long road no matter how many times we fail to hasten.


Shalee talks more about this issue in the accompanying video: Why Is Delayed Obedience So Dangerous? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

It’s hard to obey God when it costs something of us. It’s even harder to quickly obey, to obey without hesitation. But the more we linger or delay, the things that trouble us grow in power and strength over us. In this video, Shalee shares four dangers of delayed obedience.

To learn more, read Shalee’s accompanying blog: “Quick to Obey on the Long Road of Obedience.”

Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys—and greatest challenges! One of the more daunting challenges that parents face is, “How am I going to talk to my children about the birds and the bees? Where do I start? What do I say? What age is the best? Do I really have to do this?”

For most parents getting started is the hardest part of talking to their children about sex. Why is that? FEAR. Fear of where these conversations will go, fear of the inability to answer their questions or fear of doing it poorly. I get that! I had to face my own fears, as well as the fear of the unknown because my parents had never approached this subject with me.

If you are a parent paralyzed by fear, not wanting to talk to your children about sex, let me have your attention for just a moment. Let me give you four ways of thinking about this intimidating subject so that you can, with God’s help, overcome your fears and do what God calls us to do as parents: raise our children in the Lord so that they might follow his ways when they become adults and spouses.

One, let me ask you to consider the phrase, “Pick Your Pain.”

All of us understand that these conversations are uncomfortable for most parents, but that pain pales in comparison with the pains that can come from a family where these conversations never happen. Children are then left to other outside influences and these days that can be quite perilous. If your fear feels overwhelming, let me urge you not to sit with that pain alone. Ask friends and other parents for help and prayer. Look for resources like the material I have developed.

Two, start the conversations early.

I have developed a different strategy that I have been teaching parents for years. I encourage parents to start at a much earlier age with much more simple conversations, not just one talk. When this happens, parents are given the power of the first impression and are better equipped to be the loving authority on this subject for their children.

Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.

Parents can overcome their fears once they know how simple some of these conversations can be. The beauty of God’s design is a great place to begin, making simple observations to our children about seeds and eggs, simple yet factual explanations of birth and conception. In fact, in our family, Dave and I usually started every answer to their curious questions with the phrase, “By God’s design…” And that got us started in the right direction.

Traditionally, parents wait for the pre-teen years to have THE TALK…but that is a completely outdated idea. When you think about it, having the most awkward conversation at the most awkward age is pretty much a recipe for disaster, so I understand the fears that surround that idea.

However, now some of you may fear that you have waited too long and now it’s too late. Fear not…it’s never too late. We suggest you get started right away, however, and begin with an explanation that this subject is now on the table. Yes, it will be tougher to do so if they are older, but use this opportunity to model repentance: ask for their forgiveness, and then follow through with the conversations that need to happen next, based on their ages and knowledge of what they already know. Remember, “Pick your pain” and embrace your role as their parent.

Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife.

What many parents have found successful is to begin a series of after-dinner walks. Talking about sex is best-done shoulder to shoulder and not eyeball-to-eyeball. Limiting your time is helpful, and taking a walk minimizes interruptions. Invite questions, and give plenty of grace.  Don’t be afraid of the silent moments either. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.”

Three, think like a sponge.

In my teaching to parents, I encourage them to think about a sponge being in the mind of their children. Let’s label that sponge “Curiosity about sexual things.” Children are born with this curiosity. “Where do babies come from? How is that baby getting out of mommy? Why do people kiss?”

We believe it’s best for parents to fill that sponge with the answers to those questions about sexuality because otherwise their children will absorb whatever they may pick up on the playground or the next click on the computer. I don’t say this to frighten parents but to open them up to the great opportunity that is before them. Before the hormones kick in, before the culture has its turn, you can have the power of the first impression.

You have the chance to fill the sponge, drop by drop, sprinkling small bits of information in everyday life! Let them absorb the facts and hear your values. Ask some curious questions yourself, “Why do you think God wanted two of every kind of animal on the ark?” If your child is older, raise a current topic about sexuality and ask “Why do you think people your age believe that?”  Let them absorb the facts, engage in a conversation, and hear your values.

Who has the power to influence your children? According to research, that answer depends on the age of your child. From ages 0-7 parents have the strongest influence, from 7-11 teachers and coaches, and from 11-16 their peers. This makes sense because as their world widens, they are met with forces outside of the home that have new and different ideas that sometimes reinforce what was taught at home and sometimes challenge them.

Topics that are left OUT of conversations at home are left UP to others. Where there is a void of influence at home, it will be taken up by the culture at large.

Four, look to the future.

Remember, too, that this isn’t about you and your comfort level or your past, it’s about them and their future. You are not just shaping your child’s sexual values, you are casting a vision for someone’s future husband or wife. How exactly did God intend for us to understand sex? What words can we use to shape that vision correctly? How can we help our children to think biblically about sex?

Giving some thought to the answers to these questions can put us on the path to parenting our children purposefully on the subject of sex. No one does it perfectly—absolutely no one. So put the idea of perfection out of your mind. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, lean in to conversing with your kids as purposefully and as simply as possible.

This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.

You can find additional resources by Mary Flo at birds-bees.com, and you can also follow her on Instagram @birds_bees, or Facebook at The Birds and The Bees.

Pornography is everywhere you look today. Between TV, movies, streaming videos and the internet, it’s become almost impossible not to find it. And the images are not just sexual (which can be detrimental to a young child); a great deal of sexuality on the internet combines sexuality with violence or sexuality and perversion. This stuff is shaping the minds of our children.

Nicholas talks about four major strategies to shepherd your child in their use of technology and gives some more helpful information on a topic that parents cannot ignore.

To learn more, read Nicholas’ blog: “4 Key Strategies for Parenting Children in Using Technology,” along with two other blogs for parents: “A Father’s Story: My Child Hooked on Porn,” and “6 Dangers to Teach Your Kids about Porn.”  

 

It was halftime several years ago during the Super bowl, and we were with extended family at our home.  During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him. He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic websites full of porn that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.

I am in my mid-40s and a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, my brother-in-law and wife assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included sites with extremely graphic sexual videos. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest: my 10-year old son.

During the rest of the game I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say, words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night and our family was starting to fade; my 10-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer and said, “Goodnight.” I said the same back.

Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop. 

Before he hit the stairs I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly and confidently replied: “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “OK, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that [pointing to the desktop computer].”

He paused, looked away from me to the floor and said “Yes.”

When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours, when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight. Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their smartphones or internet capable game consoles to surf pornography websites.  Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.

The hour was now 2am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: after a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to tell it all as it really is and then find the peace to collapse in his arms, that’s exactly where God wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets and going it alone. Once I placed him in his bed he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour, calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.

I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long; I was desperate to help my son and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of which was John Freeman from Harvest USA.

This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless, never-ending love that God has for each of us.

John and I are close friends. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, would my son be all right. John didn’t take the role of an expert but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn His back on me.

John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.

John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease”, so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.

Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me; they were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself both that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule that allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school and our naïveté of allowing him full access to internet capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.

The weight that was on our hearts lightened as time passed. In the weeks that followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel or see, were many.

We now have a top rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless, never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in His arms, give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets, and then to find rest in him.

This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.

Porn is everywhere on the internet. Everywhere. Type just about any word in a search engine and the chances are good you’ll strike something sexual. The links to pornographic posts, images, and videos are embedded in this medium.

The impact this has on your kids is devastating. Two forces are at work to make avoiding porn next to impossible.

First, its accessibility. Because of technology, we are awash in 24/7 anonymous and accessible pornography. We’ve gone from the public realm of convenience stores and adult bookstores, to the anonymity of computers, to the instant accessibility of mobile devices. We now carry around the entire contents of an adult bookstore in our pocket.

Second, we live in a culture of hyper-sexuality. It’s the air we breathe. We are increasingly deadening our sensitivity to the biblical boundaries that actually protect what is good about sex. Many people (including Christians!) say, “There’s just nothing we can do about it,” or even, “What’s the big deal?”

Here’s the big deal: Porn is a worldview, and like any worldview, it becomes a set of “lenses” through which we look at the world, interpret what we see, and then live it out. Porn teaches a destructive message about sex, human relationships, and what life is all about.

Christians have long been in the forefront of sounding the alarm about the effects of pornography on children, marriages, and relationships. But now even those outside the church are seeing what is happening and are reacting with concern.

Pornography is not a harmless, private activity. It is one of the major engines fueling the demand for sexual exploitation in all its forms. 

The June 2018 issue of Philadelphia Magazine featured an article on Al Vernacchio, a sex education teacher in the Philly suburbs, who teaches a popular high school class about “porn literacy.” Here’s how the article describes his class: “The emerging subject is exactly what it sounds like: It’s grounded in the understanding that kids (whether we like it or not) are watching porn, and that we need to provide them with the critical thinking necessary to understand its messages.” Vernacchio clearly recognizes the reality of porn in the lives of students.

While Vernacchio isn’t telling his students not to look at porn, he does talk with them about the harm it can do. “Is porn harming our culture? Yeah, I think it is…and we have to find ways to stop that harm.”

As parents are the chief disciplers of their children, we have to start—and continue to have—age-appropriate discussions about how viewing pornography will harm them deeply and profoundly. But first, we need to keep the conversation centered on this point: Christians do not have a negative view of sex. The Bible is extremely positive about sex and sexuality when expressed within God’s wise boundary lines. God created it for us, and God knows how it should best be used. Walls are for protection, and God wants us to enjoy his gift of sex and sexuality. When sex is used properly, individual lives and a whole society flourishes.

But something so profoundly good is incredibly powerful. The Bible acknowledges the fact that sex can be dangerous. Dangerous when it is misused; dangerous when it is out of control in one’s life. There are victims when sex is used wrongly.

Here are the six messages your kids need to hear about the dangers of porn.

ONE: It teaches a false view of sex and relationships.

Porn turns real people into fantasy objects to be used for my needs. It objectifies and demeans. Whole people are deconstructed into body parts, commodities to be used and discarded. On to the next encounter!

Porn teaches that the sexual act is what most matters, not building a loving relationship with the person.

Porn teaches radical self-centeredness—the images or video caters to you; feeding the lie that people exist to serve your wants and desires. You begin to live more and more in a fantasy world—but the tragedy is the more you spend time online, the lonelier you become in real life. Porn becomes a substitute for real relationships.

You cannot immerse yourself in this stuff and not have it affect you in some broken way.

Sex was designed for real relationships, but relationships take work, and the work of a good relationship takes years. Love is about giving, not getting. And sex is merely a part of it. While important in marriage, it is just one of many parts that work together to slowly shape a life and a relationship into something beautiful. Porn doesn’t teach that.

TWO: Porn slowly drains vitality out of reality—and can lead to addictive behavior.

Here’s something that is universal: My life, your life, is never entirely what we hoped it would be. We live in a fallen world that dashes our dreams and gives us “thorns and thistles,” bringing suffering and hardship into our lives.

Sex involves the release of powerful brain chemicals that trigger intense pleasure. In many ways, we are wired to seek pleasure, even when our minds say it might be harmful. That’s what happens when people become addicted to substances, even though they know they’re destroying them.

Engaging in porn, with its objective of sexual release and pleasure, triggers the same “reward/pleasure centers” of the brain. As porn use increases, the mind and heart keep looking for a greater “high.” Like drugs, there are “diminishing returns.” You need more and more to get from it what you did at the beginning. This leads to greater depravity.

Our children need to know that viewing porn can be just a step away from enslavement. At Harvest USA, we see men and women who have lost years of their life to compulsive porn use, while losing spouses, friends, careers, and sometimes even faith. What the world proclaims as sexual freedom, the Bible knows as slavery.

THREE: Porn disconnects sex from love and respect and encourages aggression and abuse.

A great deal of porn is filled with images of aggression and violence—especially toward women. I’m not saying that all porn does this. But it is terribly easy to find violent and demeaning images online.

Vernacchio’s class is learning this. “While there’s little definitive cause-and-effect research on adolescents and porn… studies have shown that kids are often first exposed to porn—some of it depicting violent or criminal behavior—in their early teens. And analysis has correlated pornography usage with sexual aggression…”

Vernacchio, when asked what he thinks kids learn from porn, goes on to say, “They learn that men are supposed to be sexually aggressive…They learn that women are objects. They learn that in the absence of consent, you don’t need a clear ‘yes.’ They learn that sex doesn’t require communication.”

Think about college campuses, where youth and sex and alcohol mix in dangerous combinations. Then think about the amount of pornography being consumed by young men in particular. Having grown up in an online world, they have been consumers of porn for more than a decade. You cannot immerse yourself in this stuff and not have it affect you in some broken way.

FOUR: Porn teaches a lifestyle of lies and deceit.

Children will get this point because they’ve been doing it almost since they entered the world: hiding sinful behavior. The person looking at porn will cover his tracks. It may not be “active” lying, but over time you’ll be living a double life. And  making sure you keep that part of your life hidden takes work! You can never really relax and be yourself, because the secrecy of your behavior—and the isolation secrecy breeds— makes that impossible. Keeping a part of yourself hidden is tiring, deeply unsettling, and intensifies shame.

Porn teaches that the sexual act is what most matters, not building a loving relationship with the person.

As a Christian, guilt and shame will dog your footsteps. And if you one day stop feeling guilty and shamed, then you are in a worse place—because you will have seared your conscience.

Ultimately, you’ll be playing games with God. You will feel profoundly unsettled in your walk with God. You’ll work hard to look good on the outside, all the while hiding what’s on the inside.

Many in the world will argue for moderation in using porn (even for teens) so that honesty is not compromised, but we need to see porn for what it is: poison. A destroyer of relationships, and the first relationship impacted is our relationship with God. The porn user who thinks it’s “no big deal” needs to face what Jesus said about lust (Matthew 5:27-28).

FIVE: Porn normalizes perversity and diminishes human dignity. 

There is a general pattern of behavior for the porn user.  The law of “diminishing returns” results in looking at edgier and more extreme images, thereby normalizing perversions. Perversity in pornography knows no bounds. Especially child pornography. Porn’s ugliest underbelly is its ability to push perversity to previously unimagined levels.

We have reached a point where we are no longer shocked by what we see. Paul’s encouragement to focus on “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…” (Philippians 4:8) is a crucial discipline to teach to our kids. Porn obliterates that, and it takes years to empty the mind of images after exposure.

SIX: Porn makes you participate in abuse and global injustice. 

Pornography is not a harmless, private activity. It is one of the major engines fueling the demand for sexual exploitation in all its forms.

Our children must know that many involved in the pornography industry come from abused and broken backgrounds. Not all of them. Sadly, pornography is seen by some women as an opportunity for a higher paying job.

But in the entire process, from filming to production to posting and distribution, people are used and exploited—including the consumer. In the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers, the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced. Viewing it, engaging in it, contributes to the entire system of broken sexuality throughout the world.

There is one more thing, however, beyond these six points that should undergird everything we say to our kids.

In talking about sex and the dangers of pornography, morality is not the main objective. We have to connect what we say to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul puts it perfectly in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him, who, for their sake, died and was raised.”

The motive for sexual faithfulness is rooted not simply in achieving good morality but in a vital, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. To magnify him is the ultimate goal of our talking to our kids about sex, and seeing them grow up to follow him from the heart in this powerful area of life.

This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.

With addiction being the verbal currency of just about any human struggle nowadays, pastors and church leaders will find themselves helping men and women who are trapped in addictive pornography struggles. In this video, Mark Sanders speaks to pastors and church leaders on ways that they can help.

To learn more, read Mark’s accompanying blog: “Is Porn Addiction Just a Medical Problem?” You can also read Mark’s first blog in this series, “Porn Addiction?”, where he discusses how a disease model of addiction can be helpful in explaining habitual sexual sin patterns.

In my first blog post in this series, “Porn Addiction?”, I looked at three ways a disease model of addiction can be helpful in explaining habitual sexual sin patterns. The disease model highlights what it feels like not being able to stop, and the insanity that comes in a moment of temptation. It also rightly shows the need for a zero-tolerance policy on sin. These ideas are constructive as we consider how to patiently and lovingly walk alongside men and women who are caught up in years of addictive sexual behavior.

But the church needs to be aware that the fundamental anthropology of a disease model for a porn addiction falls far short of the way God describes humanity’s experience as his fallen image bearers.

Robert Weiss, an addiction specialist, said in a recent USA Today article, “We don’t look at alcoholics and drugs addicts and say, ‘You’re a bad person,’ we say, ‘You have a problem.’”

In the same article, Milton Magness, a sex addictions therapist said, “Most of the people I work with are people with very high morals, very responsible, leaders in their industries; many are even clergy or physicians. And they are involved in behaviors they do not want and repeat them, despite repeated attempts to stop.”

Both of these specialists are seeking to locate the problem of the struggler outside of the person’s will. A disease model sees sexual addiction as a medical problem, not a moral one.  And I believe this is a genuine attempt to explain how someone’s life can look so good in some areas while being completely out of control in others.

But the Bible always locates sin in one place: the human heart. This doesn’t mean that environmental and physiological factors don’t play a role in addictions, but the Bible sees every external factor as the context for the desires, responses, and engagements of the heart. In other words, Scripture says the entire person—the body, mind, and heart—works together in all of our behaviors.  

But the church must be careful to go beyond helping someone make the right choices; it must also grasp the compromised ability of someone in an addiction to make the right choices.

In 21st century America, we are all spiritually sick, but we desperately want to hear the words that we are not the problem. But Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(ESV)

The typical secular worldview is that we are good people, but there are external forces that trip us up, causing us to do wrong. The biblical worldview is that these external forces (upbringing, brain chemistry, trauma, to name just a few) do impact our behavior, but there is something more fundamental to who we are that causes our problems. We have a natural bent toward evil; we are fallen.

The problem is our sinful heart, and as I said in my last blog, “sin is enslaving,” and there is only one physician who can bring life out of what was once dead.

For the Christian, God has performed a heart transplant for those who trust in him. In Christ, we have died to sin and have been raised with him to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). But this definitive transfer from death to life does not mean we don’t still struggle with ongoing sinful desires and inclinations of the heart.

There are two pitfalls we must avoid when helping Christians work through issues of sexual addiction.

The first pitfall is to focus only on moral responsibility. The church has historically helped those with addictive struggles to make good moral choices, focusing on the will. But the church must be careful to go beyond helping someone make the right choices; it must also grasp the compromised ability of someone in an addiction to make the right choices.

But this is the other pitfall, an echo of Adam’s complaint to God: It’s not my fault; it’s this brain you gave me. The culture highlights only the context for the problem (the brain, trauma, family of origin issues, etc.) But the disease model does not account for the wickedness of our fallen hearts. While the addiction model seeks to place the blame on external factors, it misses the complexity of the human heart and its central role in behavior.

The battle against addiction is not won or lost when you are faced with severe temptation, it’s determined by a multitude of choices we make each and every day. 

Landing in either of these pitfalls flattens our experience of being human.

So what is a realistic, compassionate, and practical way forward for new creations in Christ who are caught up in sexual addiction?

We must understand that our hearts are engaged in every moment of life. It often feels like a losing battle to addiction because we are only thinking about our hearts in the moment of severe temptation. But what actually matters the most is what is happening in our hearts when we’re not tempted. Despite what is commonly said, men are not thinking about sex every seven seconds.

For the believer, every single day there are moments of clarity and good godly desires that need to be nurtured. The battle against addiction is not won or lost when you are faced with severe temptation, it’s determined by a multitude of choices we make each and every day.  These choices include laying aside every weight that hinders us (Hebrews 12:1), like getting rid of unfettered internet access. They also include the good choices to invest time in prayer, the Word, service, and intentional fellowship and accountability with members of Christ’s body.

The resistance to taking steps to fight sinful addictions is a matter of the heart.  People’s hearts idolatrously want to maintain at all costs the comfort and pride that their isolated, unaccountable lifestyle provides. That unwillingness to humble oneself before God and others is often where repentance needs to start.

We do have a disease; it’s called sin. 

Deliberate choices—daily decisions in advance of overwhelming temptation— to live humbly and intentionally lay the groundwork for ongoing repentance toward God and others. This submission to accountability and radical amputation of avoidable temptations frees a person to begin to examine what they are really living for. How have they rejected Christ as their source of life and satisfaction? What lies are they believing about God’s love for them and their responsibility in living for him? How have they turned other people into objects to be consumed instead of image bearers to be loved?

This kind of deep heart examination cannot happen when someone is isolated and in the throes of constant addictive behavior. The fog of addiction can be too thick to make real progress, which is why the Lord will often allow severe tragedy to enter a person’s life in order for a season of clarity to enter in. The question is, will they use those moments of clarity to humble themselves and seek the real help they need?

Yes, our brains need rewiring. Yes, the fog of addiction needs to be lifted. But all of this happens under the umbrella of heart repentance towards Christ. We do have a disease; it’s called sin.  But Jesus, the Great Physician, did not come for the healthy; he came for those who are sick.  And he came that they might have life in him and have it abundantly.


Mark shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: What Can Pastors Do When People Say They Feel Addicted to Porn? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

I’m addicted to porn. I’m a sex addict. I have a porn addiction, but I’m now free for the last ten years. The word addiction is everywhere in our culture today. We live in an unprecedented age of ways and opportunities to become ensnared in life-dominating, destructive behavioral patterns. Whether it’s pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling, or internet-gaming, we continue, as a society, to expand our list of what we would classify as addictive disorders.

But is the word addiction—and for that matter the label, porn addiction — really helpful when discussing habitual patterns of sin? Our culture has largely bought into the notion that if you have an addiction, you have a disease. I heard on the radio an advertisement for a local recovery center, and the opening statement said, “If you are struggling with addiction, you have a disease, it’s not a lapse in judgment.”

Many people latch onto the idea that an addiction is a disease because their behavior feels outside of their control. It’s become a monster they can’t contain, and it’s destroying everyone and everything they hold dear. It feels like someone or something else is in the driver’s seat of their lives.

Many people latch onto the idea that an addiction is a disease because their behavior feels outside of their control… that is the very nature of what sin does. Sin is enslaving. We reap what we sow. 

But the church needs to slowly and carefully examine whether the word addiction and the anthropology it espouses is in line with Scripture and God’s revelation of who we are as human beings in a fallen world.

When it comes to the arena of sexuality, at Harvest USA we find some helpful things that this word captures for people’s experiences, but we also see how this language points people in a false direction about the true nature of their problems and where to find the solution.

I want to focus on 3 things about how a disease model of addiction can be helpful in explaining habitual sexual sin patterns.

  1. The addiction model highlights what it feels like not being able to stop.

That is the very nature of what sin does. Sin is enslaving. We reap what we sow.  Research shows that the habitual use of anything that is highly stimulating reshapes the brain, creating a powerful neurological process of cravings and rewards that require greater and greater stimulation.

And the Bible affirms this. Paul says in Ephesians 4:19, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (ESV)  That last phrase, “greedy to practice every kind of impurity” is also translated as “a continual lust for more.”(NIV 1984). Sowing into sexual sin only creates greater and greater discontentment, and our brains and bodies feel that lack of satisfaction, and we easily believe the lie that maybe next time I’ll finally find relief from pain, loneliness, or boredom. But it only creates deeper enslavement. Pastors need to understand that when a person comes to them for help with a 30-year struggle with pornography, simply telling that person to stop it and pray more is insufficient for the momentum this sin has in their life.

  1. The addiction model captures the insanity that comes in a moment of temptation.

When someone has been captured by a desire to feed yet again into their enslavement, they lose all sensitivity to the consequences of their actions. They understand that just one more time might cost them their job, their family, even their lives, but in that moment, the pleasure that is offered in sin is worth losing everything to get. This is so helpful in practically setting up boundaries to keep you far from temptation because people recognize that they can’t be trusted with easy access to sin.

I tell men all the time that there is no such thing as a point of no return. No matter how deep they’ve gotten into a moment of sin, the door of escape is still available to them in Christ.

Werewolf movies get this right. In his right mind, the human man begs his family to tie him up in chains because he knows once that full moon appears, he will do things he will regret if he is not chained up. While we know as new creations in Christ that we are no longer slaves to sin to obey its passions, our new freedom in Christ does not imply an immunity to strong temptations in our lives.

I tell men all the time that there is no such thing as a point of no return. No matter how deep they’ve gotten into a moment of sin, the door of escape is still available to them in Christ. But sanctification does not mean we live life on the cliffs of temptation. A mature believer has learned that in a moment of temptation, truth and reason can feel impotent and of little value when pleasure is so viscerally offered, and this should keep us humble and aware that it is utterly foolish to play with fire and expect not to get burned.

  1. The addiction model highlights the need for a zero-tolerance policy on sin.

When someone clicks on a pornographic website, they’ve already made multiple concessions with sin. Perhaps they were committed to not being online certain hours of the day, but they broke that rule. They also committed to staying off certain sites that are portals or triggers to sin, like a particular news site, but they justified it because of a story they really wanted to read. People often stay stuck in habitual patterns of sin because they aren’t willing to obey Jesus’ command to gouge out your eye or cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.

Many people want to simply manage their sin and just keep it at a functional level. Too many Christians are content with allowing pornography to be a part of their lives, as long as it doesn’t get too “out of control.” And too many Christians actively trying to stop looking at pornography are not willing to take the radical steps necessary.  Christians need a zero-tolerance policy with sexual sin.

The church needs a sober understanding of the epidemic of entrenched patterns of sexual sin that are present in the lives of people in our pews. People feel stuck, they are on the brink of hopelessness, wondering if change is really possible. And the addiction model captures sin’s danger and people’s despair.  But it’s not enough, and labeling sin as nothing more than an amoral disease is far less than what Jesus offers us. Stay tuned for more thoughts.


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