Can Fathers in Sexual Sin Lead Their Children?

King Solomon stands out as one of the premier sexual sinners of the Bible. He was richer than Warren Buffet, smarter than Albert Einstein, more spiritually influential than Billy Graham, and yet he had a harem bigger than Hugh Hefner’s.

Solomon’s women would be his downfall. As predicted, the more he multiplied his wives, the more his heart turned from God (Deuteronomy 17:17; 1 Kings 3:11). His taste for foreign women was insatiable. Worse yet, this was the legacy he left for his sons; his ruling sons also multiplied wives, and the lands they ruled fell even deeper into sin (1 Kings 12:28; 14:22; 2 Chronicles 11:21; 12:1,14).

What will be said of today’s generation of fathers, men whose digital harems are larger than anything Solomon experienced? How can a generation of dads entrenched in porn bring up their children well?

1. Allow your children to fuel your fight.

A father’s fight against pornography and lust is not just a fight for his own personal piety. He fights for the holiness of his children as well.

A father must keep the faces of his children in his mind’s eye as he fights against temptation. He must strive to be the kind of man he hope his son will become—not enslaved to his passions but using them to serve others. He must strive to look at women the way he wants his own daughter to be seen—not as an object to be used, but a person to be known and loved.

The psalmist reminds us that we worship a God of radical love and loyalty, a God whose kindness does not extend merely to those who fear Him, but also “to children’s children” (Psalm 103:17-18). To those who love Him and keep His commandments, He promises to show steadfast love “to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9; cf. 5:10).

To men surrounded by temptations, this provides an incentive to strive for obedience: God does not just bless a man for his faithfulness; He promises to bless that man’s family as well.

2. Be honest, but discerning, when sharing your sin.

All fathers should strive to be able to say to their children, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But whether they can or not, a father must remember that there is only one person who is the standard for his children: Christ himself.

This frees a father to be honest with his children about his failures. Being transparent about sin—at age appropriate times—allows a man to model brokenness and repentance before his children. When fathers stop pretending they are “strong,” and instead demonstrate real sorrow over sin, this gives a child a vocabulary of repentance they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Parents who talk to children about their sins should bear in mind, however, that the goals is not to have a child relive a parent’s sin—many details are better left unsaid. Instead, share the details that serve an instructive purpose, and always relish more in the grace of God than in the depths of sin.

3. Love their mother well.

Porn robs a man of his ability to be a truly devoted lover. If a father wants to step away from pornography in a way that will impact the next generation, he must also choose to love his wife well.

Porn trains men to believe that there are some kinds of women worthy to be lusted after and others are not. Some women are “porn-worthy” and some are not. A non-romantic marriage communicates the same thing to children. Surrounded by a world that screams that young is sexy, a world that rates women for the size, shape, and harmony of their body parts, children need to see a father who has eyes only for their mother.

Fathers who steal kisses in the hallway, dance in the living room, leave love notes, buy flowers, and praise their wives at home send a message to their children. A man who pursues his wife shows his children what real beauty is (1 Peter 3:3-4; Proverbs 31:29-31).

4. Choose to be fathered yourself.

Finding freedom from habitual sins is often a long process. Many times we don’t know why we do the same destructive things over and over again. As the Proverbs say, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water”—often we cannot look deeply enough into the murky depths of our hearts to understand why we do what we do.

The proverb finishes with this promise: “but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). Many men are unable or unwilling to see in themselves the motives that drive their actions. These men need men of understanding—wise men to disciple them.

Perhaps this is why the whole book of Proverbs is penned as a father speaking to a son. The author knows the only way to avoid “the forbidden woman”—offline or online—is to have a spiritual father’s strong voice resounding in our ears. “My son, keep my words, and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:1-3).

Fathers entrenched in porn should find a spiritual leader who knows how to read the hearts of men, a man who can restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).

Turning the Hearts of the Fathers

In my single days, I was heavily addicted to porn. I tried seemingly everything to stop: accountability groups, Bible memorization, long hours of prayer, reading every sexual addiction book I could get my hands on. Nothing would stick.

Then one day a man from my church asked to take me to breakfast. As I ate my Eggs Benedict, after some chit-chat, he looked at me intently and said, “Luke, I know you have a secret, something that’s gnawing at you, a problem that won’t go away. If you want, I’m willing to listen. What is it?” He had touched a nerve, and soon after I found myself trying to hold it together in the restaurant, confessing my porn struggles.

He invited me over to his home soon after and offered to pray for me. Skeptically, I said, “No offense. I’ve walked down a lot of isles of a lot of churches. I’ve asked for prayer about this more times than I can count. What’s going to make this any different?” I’ll never forget his reply to me:

I know you’ve had a lot of people pray for you about this issue, but the difference is: after I’m finished praying, I’m not going to leave you. I am going to stick by you and help you. I know you don’t even believe that freedom is possible, and that’s okay, because I’m going to believe it for you until you do.

And he lived up to that promise. We met often, and one by one, he dismantled my false beliefs and knocked down my pretenses. He saw past the porn and got to the heart of the matter, the motives and desires that were driving it all.

While the process of change was still a long road, that moment was the turning point for me. I would say it was a “monument” moment, but it was better than that. It was a new beginning, a new place to plant my feet. Like William Faulkner said, “A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.’”

It is foretold that before the great and awesome Day of the Lord, in His mercy, God will send the prophet Elijah to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). God desires to unite fathers with their children so much He sends His fiercest, most uncompromising messengers to turn our hearts.

If you are entrenched in sexual sin, find a godly man to lead you. Find an older man in your church who dares to go head-to-head with the idols in your heart (1 Kings 18:20-40), a man who can laugh at the devil because he knows he is powerless (1 Kings 18:27), a man who believes in the healing power of prayer and confession (James 5:16-18). Learn from a man like this, so you can turn away from pornography and be able to lead the next generation in holiness.

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