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Porn Addiction: Thoughts from the CCEF Conference

Last Updated: July 30, 2021

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

My wife and I recently returned from a conference put on by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). While we were there we got to hear from the who’s-who of Christian counselors—their presentations were like practical theology on steroids. It was both an informative and inspiring conference and I highly recommend purchasing the recordings of the conference speakers.

As someone who has struggled deeply in the past with a pornography addiction, and as someone who regularly listens to people who feel trapped in the same sin, I found the conference incredibly rich and practical. Below are some of the things that I learned.

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1. Porn addiction is a result of a “worship disorder.”

All sin, at its root, is linked to idolatry, the acts of replacing God for something or someone else as the object of our worship. As we look through the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments place idolatry at the center stage of the sin drama.

In ancient times idolatry was recognizable by the presence of some carved image. But behind each idol were false promises of security, power, or satisfaction. Worshipers gave themselves over to idols out of a sinful desire to be independent from the true God’s lordship, and a sincere desire to find satisfaction in the world God created.

Many idols mentioned in the Bible were merely ancient versions of pornography or rallying points for lust. Consider what happened when King Solomon’s heart turned from worshiping the Lord. He began to worship the gods and goddesses of his foreign wives and concubines. He built ceremonial poles for the worship of Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians. These were large phallic symbol where worshipers would engage in orgies and prostitution. He built high places for the gods Chemosh and Molech on the Mount of Olives—these were gods that required child sacrifice (1 Kings 11).

Mark Driscoll said it best in a recent sermon:

“Here’s Solomon. He’s richer than Bill Gates. He’s smarter than Albert Einstein. He’s more spiritually influential than the Pope. He’s more politically powerful than the President. And he’s got a harem bigger than Hugh Hefner’s.”

How does the son of righteous King David engage in so much evil? How does the man who built the holy Temple also build the shines and altars to so many other foreign gods? How does a man who authored the Song of Songs end up acquiring a harem of 1000 women? How does the author of so many God-centered proverbs end up giving way to such godlessness? Is it because Solomon is especially evil? No. He is just a man with more means than most of us.

As John Calvin said, every human heart is an idol factory. Many of us today have digital and mental harems that put Solomon’s harem to shame. Many of us have bowed to the sex gods and goddesses of our culture in an attempt to find satisfaction. Solomon’s sin has the same root as our sin: we want to find fulfillment in created things, so we carefully craft them into idols.

Porn addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We don’t just suddenly have an uncontrollable desire to go to the Internet and look at naked people. Over time, in small, quiet ways, we have feasted at the altar of self-worship. We choose to worship our desires for comfort, pleasure, security, or self-importance. Compulsively viewing pornography is just the final follow-through of our worship disorder: placing a digital image before our eyes that captures for us the essence of our idolatry.

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2. Porn addiction puts us in a downward spiral.

When I look back on my porn addiction I remember the death spiral I found myself in.

It started with a time of abstinence: I felt in control and able to fight temptation if it should come. Then came the tempting thought, not just the possibility of looking at porn, but that moment when it seemed like porn was just calling out to me. It was as if it found the small crack in my feeble armor, convincing me yet again that it wasn’t all that bad.

Then came those seemingly unimportant decisions, those moments when I wandered to the Internet connection “just to check my email” (or whatever flimsy excuse I gave). That was the doorway of indulgence.

I was spiraling out of control. After hours of looking at images, glancing through videos, downloading my favorites, and searching for that “perfect” image, I would gratify myself. I would immediately be hit with guilt and shame and utter frustration.

Worse yet, just because the porn-surfing was over did not mean that the downward spiral had ended. After the indulgence, the next several days swallowed me in doubt and endless introspection, only followed by more days of making renewed vows to righteousness, figuring out ways I could “make up” for deadness in my heart.

This was the death spiral: the cycle of sin-shame-introspection-trying. In short, porn addiction—whether I was giving in, wallowing in failure, or making progress—made life all about me. Again, this is just another manifestation of the idolatry within me.

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3. The Bible comes to life when we equate addiction with slavery.

While “addiction” is not a biblical term, “slavery” is. We are all “addicts” in one way or another because we are all born under the slavery of sin.

The Bible isn’t simply for “normal sinners” who don’t have demonstrative problems. God is acutely aware of our human condition, and His Word speaks to even the porn addict, no matter how abnormal he/she may feel.

I can picture myself in the midst of feeding my porn addiction, mouse in hand, clicking through endless Web pages, searching for what I believed would be the “ideal” sexual image, holding out until I found exactly what I was looking for. After all was said and done, I sat there feeling more empty and never truly satisfied.

Suddenly the Holy Spirit brings to my mind the text of Isaiah 44: “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (v.20). I look over and see the mouse in my hand, this small, clickable button that promises me access to my digital harem. Just like a thousand times before, the mouse did not deliver. It is a lie.

I open my Bible to that chapter of Isaiah and see myself in the text.

“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. . . . the craftsmen are only human. . . . . He shapes it into the figure of a [woman], with the beauty of a [woman] . . . he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’ . . . He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:9-20).

I begin to pray and ask God to help me to denounce this idol I have fallen down in front of. I feel the shame and rebellion of my choice. In the midst of this guilt I understand my desperate need for a Savior, someone to save me from myself.

Am I a monster? Am I too sick to be healed, too perverted to be forgiven? These questions rage in my heart.

Suddenly other passages about the nature of idolatry come to life for me. The psalmist wrote that those who trust in idols “will become like them” (Psalm 115:8). Idols are only the product of human creativity; they are dumb, deaf, unfeeling, and unmoving (115:4-8). Reading this I now know why I feel so dead inside—because the idol I’ve trusted in is also dead and I have become like what I have worshiped.

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4. The Bible can help us feel not so alone in our struggle.

As I struggle through this addiction I desperately want to know that I am not alone, that my sin has not removed me beyond the Lord’s reach.

I am drawn to books like 1 Corinthians where I read about this immature, sin-filled church. Here true Christians are struggling with blatant sins like sexuality immorality, incest, greed, gluttony, cross-dressing, and drunkenness. In this letter Paul patiently works with this spiritually-stunted church and offers them guidance, rebuke, encouragement, and a right perspective on their sinful habits and the gospel.

As I consider the church in Corinth, I realize, “Maybe I’m not so abnormal after all.”

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5. God always provides a way out of the spiral.

How do we stop the death spiral? How do we break the addiction?

First, we begin to live out James 5:16. God has given us one another, other members of the church, to begin the ongoing process of confession and prayer. Sin drives us inward. Confession and prayer will move us outward. In the midst of conversations with each other, we will begin to see not only the depths of our addiction, but the underlying sins that manifest themselves in our self-pity and all of our futile attempts at self-righteousness.

Second, we hold to the promise Paul gave to those in Corinth, even amidst all their sin:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (I Corinthians 10:13-14)

Notice the last phrase: God is calling us to flee from idolatry, no matter how subtle. And what motivates us to do this is knowing that God always provides a way of escape from every stop on our cycle of slavery. This is what Christians need to talk about as they get together to support one another in their addictions: help one another see the ways of escape God is providing at every stage.

To better understand the cycle of porn addiction and how to help one another break free from it, see my post, “Breaking the Cycle of Porn Addiction.”

As a final thought, it is worth noting that many Christians who have struggled with porn addiction have tried getting together with friends and mentors to get help, and nothing has worked. They have tried “accountability” and it didn’t seem to do anything.

Accountability groups get a bad rap in the church because so many refuse to go the distance with them. Don’t settle for a typical recovery group where the only goal is just getting back to the way things were before the addiction set in. Don’t settle for a group that just ends up being a holding-tank for defeated sinners, a place where people manage their sin. No. Instead get together with other Christians in a spirit of discovery: determined to dive into one another’s deep hearts to unearth the hidden idolatries driving our addictions.