Stop Looking At Porn You Sicko! (Part 2)

In part one of “Stop Looking at Porn You Sicko!” I explained how my approach to battling against consuming pornography for years was to simply try harder to quit. I think many addicts adopt this approach. And yet, in spite of an above average amount of willpower and effort, I continually failed. Time after time.

Can you relate?

Over my years of battle and now victory, there have been two revolutionary concepts that wholly changed my perspective on pornography. In my first post, I explained the concept of a “Complete and Effective Decision About Sin.” In this post, I’d like to share the second concept: “Don’t Stop Believing.”

beliefs drive behavior

A Funny Experiment

Do you want to confuse a room full of Christians? Ask them this: “What was the first sin committed by Adam and Eve?”

I was speaking to a church youth group about Internet safety, and I asked them this question. You should have seen the looks on their faces. It was a mix between dazed, confused, and the terror of “I’m a good Christian who is supposed to know this answer! But the way he asked it seems like it’s some kind of trick, and so now I’m doubting everything I thought I knew!”

But, I asked them this question because I had just learned something brand new from a very old story.

A Radical Realization

Not long ago, I listened to a podcast from a talk given at a men’s retreat. The speaker, named Tim, spoke passionately and forcefully about the interplay between behavior and belief. Tim’s thesis was that everything we do (our behavior) is tied to a core belief. In other words, what I really feel about the neighbor who annoys me will eventually show up in my actions through what I say or do.

I was riveted to every word in the podcast.

See, I constantly wrestle against the false doctrine of works-based righteousness. I’m a full-fledged member of the behavior modification club. Part of the problem is this: all of us exist in two realities. On one hand, we are all part of “the world,” where everything is based on a system of “I do it to get it.” But, in the spiritual, Christian realm, everything is based on a system of “He (Jesus) did it, and I already got it.”

What really nailed me was when Tim asked and answered the question about Adam and Eve that I posed to the youth group. Here is an excerpt from his talk where he answers this question (used with permission):

Our beliefs drive most of our behavior and actions. This scares me at first thought. I want to be a screw up because of things beyond my control. I want to justify my sin because I am a sinner and I just can’t help myself. I hate the thought that I sin because I want to and believe it’s ok.

Why did Adam and Eve take the fruit? Because they just could not help it? Because they had a sinful nature? No! They took the fruit because they believed God was holding out on them. They believed God did not have their best interest in mind. They believed Satan, not God. They acted on their belief. No sin nature to blame just the core belief of their hearts.

Wow. Sin entered the world before the bite. In other words, the first sin was a lack of belief, not that they ate the fruit.

That was revolutionary to me. I mean, who doesn’t know the story of Adam and Eve? How could it be possible that there was even more depth and meaning to a story I had read 1,000 times?

That’s what God’s Word does. It continues to slice and dig its way into our hearts, relentless in its pruning.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

This realization started to mess around with my heart. It was uncomfortable. It forced me to ask some hard questions, like, “Do I really believe that looking at porn is bad?” or “Do I really believe that God has my best interest in mind when He asks me to guard my eyes against sexual impurity?” On the surface, my answer was a resounding, “Yes!” But for years my behaviors said something completely different.

Jesus Calls Out the Fakers

Jesus constantly challenged the practices of the religious elite (Pharisees) who were bent on “try harder” ethics. They did all the right things, but their hearts were hard and stale. Jesus wasn’t afraid to call this out.

One day, the people asked Jesus why He and His disciples weren’t fasting, while the Pharisees were. Jesus answered their question with a few peculiar comparisons to wine and wineskins. You see, Jesus rarely, if ever, answered the surface question. Instead, He tended to raise the discussion to a Kingdom level, pointing towards loftier and deeper places.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins. (Mark 2:22)

Jesus’ pivot towards wine isn’t an avoidance tactic. It’s a clever way of addressing the real issue, which really isn’t fasting. The practice of fasting can be beneficial, healthy and deeply spiritual, and as a good Jew, I’m sure Jesus would have agreed.

But, their “check the box” belief about fasting and a whole list of other religious practices wasn’t ever going to produce new fruit.

The comparison is a very apt one when we think of the properties of wine and wineskins. When wine is new, it is in a state of fermentation. It bubbles and expands as the fermentation gases are released. A fresh, pliable wineskin can absorb such expansion and slowly age with the wine until the fermentation process is complete.

To put fresh wine into an old wineskin, however, is asking for trouble. The old wineskin has a definite shape and is no longer soft. It is fixed and somewhat brittle. The activity of new wine will stress it beyond its ability to flex, and so both the wine and the skin are ruined. In other words, we can’t put new behaviors into an old mind-set. We can’t get different, long-term results when the core belief system is still broken.

Stop Trying to Stop Looking at Porn

Later in Tim’s talk at the men’s retreat, he really drove home the point about belief with a rant. He actually used the word “rant” to describe it. He read an excerpt from an e-mail he wrote to a friend who was struggling with a porn addiction. From Tim’s perspective, it was time to be very direct with this friend, and so Tim listed in the e-mail all of the reasons he was no longer looking at porn. It went something like this:

I do not look at porn because:

  • I believe porn sucks the life out of me.
  • I believe porn feeds sex trafficking
  • I believe porn destroys my marriage.
  • I believe porn kills my sex life with my wife.
  • I believe porn leads to erectile dysfunction.
  • I believe porn brings shame and guilt into my life.
  • I believe “regular” porn will lead me to child porn, and I will stand in front of a judge one day.
  • I believe porn on my work computer will get me fired.
  • I believe porn leads to child molestation.
  • I believe the woman in the porn flick is hurting and hooked on drugs
  • I believe she hates her job and does it only for the money
  • I believe she wishes and cries at night for a man to treat her heart and body with respect and love her unconditionally.
  • I believe porn is the reason I was molested at the age of 14 at the hands of my Christian school teacher.
  • I believe porn breaks Yahweh’s heart.
  • I believe Jesus died a miserable and horribly painful death to free me from its grasp.

And, because I believe these things, I do not look at porn.

If I ever slip up and look at porn again, it will not be because I gave into the urges and desires. It will not be that I was taking my need to be loved into my own hands. It will not be because my wife isn’t meeting my needs. It will be because I stopped believing.

My prayer is not, “Help me to not look at porn,” it is, “God, please never let me stop believing!”

This rant had a profound impact on my heart. It liberated me from more “try harder” ethics and helped me get laser focused on my core beliefs. It helped me create my own list of beliefs, so I could start to see those as “real,” slowly exterminating the lies of pornography.

What about you? What do you believe?

Maybe your porn issue isn’t because you aren’t trying hard enough. Instead, maybe you’re pouring new wine (your effort) into an old wineskin (your broken belief system).

In Your Brain on Porn, author Luke Gilkerson explains that “try harder” ethics are useless.  Colossians 2:23 says, “They are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Better filters and a renewed sense of willpower might stop you from looking at porn for a time, but they will not transform a heart of lust.

Tim is right. Luke is right. St. Paul is right. Only an iron-clad, tenacious, deep-seeded belief in Jesus Christ has the power to transform a heart of lust.

May you never stop believing.