Let me start with something that is fundamental to addressing sexual purity: churches have to talk about porn.
I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night growing up and we never talked about porn. Not in the Sunday service and not in youth group. Not once. Meanwhile at home I went deeper and deeper into the spiral of my secret porn addiction, wishing someone would talk about it, so that I had someone to talk to about it. If your church isn’t talking about porn, you are playing right into Satan’s hand.
What We Miss When We Talk about Porn
When churches do talk about porn, they often miss the root of the problem. While I think bringing the word “porn” into the room is a good start, we often don’t go beyond the simple platitude that it’s bad and you should stop doing it. Most porn users already know it’s bad and most would stop doing it if they could. The only way to find true freedom from porn is to get to its root.
And there’s a difference in being free from porn and free from your desire for porn. You can train yourself to not look at porn, but are you really free if your heart still longs for it? The same goes for lust, which is porn’s mafia boss. Many of the sexual purity strategies out there only address the branches of the porn and lust tree: accountability, online filters, and the like. Dealing with the branches is essential, but these methods are fueled by willpower and resolve, which will always run out of steam. I know this all too well from experience, and so do the many porn addicts who have enjoyed spells of freedom from using high-intensity accountability, only to have that accountability wane and the addiction come back with a vengeance. To kill the tree, we must kill the branches and the root. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.
When Jesus equates lust of the heart as equivalent to actual adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), he’s telling us that he wants us to go beyond simple behavior modification to find the heart change he desires to give us. And this is about way more than just porn. If a pretty woman walks by me, it’s one thing for me to say, “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look,” and physically restrain myself from doing so and entirely another for me to lose my desire to objectify her altogether.
Addressing the Root: What Are We Really Looking For?
I’m reminded of Luke 11:24-26 where Jesus explains what happens if a demon is cast out, but nothing replaces it. The demon returns, stronger than ever! This is typically how we approach our desire for lust. We think we can just get rid of the “demon” of lust without replacing it with anything. Lust is an appetite that can never be quenched. What we must do is ask God and ourselves, “What is it I’m really longing for? What is under the surface of lust, beyond the body parts?”
Before I give you my answer, I want you to consider something. Have you ever had a sexual fantasy, either in your head, on the porn screen, or in real life, where the woman you were lusting over rejected you? Where she called you ugly, disgusting, and spit in your face?
I would wager any amount of money that you never have. And that no man ever has. With this being true for all sexual fantasies, then it can’t be the body parts we are really after. If it were, we’d be satisfied with the nude bodies even if we were being rejected. So, if it’s not the body parts, what is it?
It’s the acceptance.
It’s the value we feel when we are accepted and embraced and intimate with a person we deem to be valuable. One could argue they look at porn because the women are “hot,” and that’s all. But your ascription of “hotness” onto a woman is really just an ascription of value. Because she is valuable (e.g. “hot”) to you, you fantasize about her accepting and validating you. If you didn’t think she was valuable, you wouldn’t care if she accepted or rejected you.
This validation is what we are truly after. Until this can be identified, and until it can be met elsewhere, our appetite for lust will continue to ravage us.
This appetite is met in the validation Jesus offers us in the gospel. I don’t mean the initial belief in his death for our sins, I mean a daily immersion in the good news of Colossians 1:22 and Romans 8:4; that when the Father looks at us, he sees the incredible value of Jesus’ perfection bestowed upon us. Or Romans 8:15-17 which gives us the incredible value of being sons and daughters of God! It’s taking intentional deep dives into this value-source every day, filling our stomachs on this truth, which will take away the hunger pains we have for lust. Then whenever lust rears its ugly head (which will become less and less frequent over time), we can run back to this buffet of Jesus’ love for us over and over again.
Related: The Growl of an Empty Stomach
Sexual Purity: Seeing People the Way God Intended
Once we have figured out how our appetite for validation can ultimately be met, we have to then learn to see things the way God intended. We learn that when I lust over a woman, I am turning her into an object, a slave, which is something only a monster would do, and is something my heart of hearts abhors. My brain can be reprogrammed over time to the point where my auto-response to lust is no longer, “Oh, I want that, but I know it’s bad,” to, “How could I possibly think to do that to one of God’s daughters?”
Related: Women Are Daughters, Not Objects
These aren’t light-switch changes, I wish they were. They are foundational Scripture truths that we must meditate on daily in our quiet time with the Lord. Like a stream flowing over a rock, changing its shape over time, we must allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and minds consistently and intentionally.
Christian Lipstick on Satan’s Sex
Last but not least, our Christian subculture has taken Satan’s view of sex and dressed it up with Christian lipstick, as if this is the only product Christians will buy. The standard line in the Christian subculture is to bounce your eyes from lustful images and direct them back to your wife. First and foremost, this gives single men zero options. But worse than this, it teaches us that instead of objectifying the women in porn or the women we want to do a double-take on, we should objectify our wives.
Satan’s definition of sex is that it’s all about body parts and it’s all about consuming another person to satisfy myself. It breaks my heart how the Christian subculture has blindly accepted this definition when God has something so much deeper and truer for us.
I don’t say any of this in theory, I say it because I’ve lived it and it almost put an end to my marriage. I was expecting my wife to give me (via sex) what only Jesus is able to (my validation). I also bought into the Christian subculture lie of consuming my wife as a sexual object. This is the opposite of God’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:5, that love is not self-seeking, and it has cataclysmic consequences on a marriage. The wife feels used, even abused, and the husband is never satisfied because he’s still trying to feed the same unquenchable lust monster.
One blog post isn’t enough to comprehensively bring to light what our Christian culture has gotten wrong about sexual purity, and the damage it’s done. But I hope it gives you some hope if you, like me, have been disillusioned by the standard answers you’ve received to your questions about sexual purity. I’m a living testimony that there is something deeper that brings real freedom. We’re talking about Jesus here, after all! He’s not going to send you into this battle with only your willpower to help you. He’s already won the battle, he’s just waiting for us to rest in his victory.