Idols of the Heart (Part 1)

In the last few videos in this series, I talked about the cycle of temptation, applying it specifically to pornography. We looked at James 1:12-15. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the other videos click here to start at the beginning.

James says it all starts in desire, leading to enticement, leading to the conception of sin, then the birth of sin, then the growth of sin, and finally death. We broke these steps down into smaller steps so we could really understand the experience of the person enslaved to porn: desire, triggers, tempting thoughts, rituals, indulgence, defeated thoughts, loss of control, guilt, shame, and self-atonement.

So, now that we know the steps for the cycle of temptation, what steps can you provide to others to help them break free at each stage, or maybe even break free yourself?

Over the next two videos in this series we will look at each of these stages individually.

Often the stage of this cycle that gets all the spotlight in your life is the bottom one, the moment of indulgence. We focus a lot of our energy there: “How do I stop looking at pornography?” But instead, we need to be asking about how we can repent of the whole cycle.

Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “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” (1 Cor. 10:13-14).

Paul says God always provides a way of escape. But it isn’t just an escape from indulgence, but an escape through the experience of temptation, through the entire cycle that perpetuates sin. And what is that way of escape? He says so right here: fleeing from idolatry.

Modern Day Idolatry

Now, its important to remember, that when the Bible speaks of idolatry, it isn’t just talking about statues of wood and stone, but idols of the heart, the things that capture our imagination, the things we crave and covet the most. Idols are the things, people, and ideas that serve as God-replacements in our lives, the things we look to satisfy us in ways that only God can. Idolatry is what happens when we take something, even a good thing, and we make it an ultimate thing—the thing that makes or breaks our happiness in life.

So, the goal of this video is to look at what idols of the heart are hiding beneath each stage of this cycle and talk about how we need to flee from them and run instead to the God who satisfies us. In other words, it isn’t just about repenting in the moment right before the indulgence. It’s about fleeing to God no matter where we are in the cycle.

At the top of this cycle is the state of desire. Now, in an earlier video we talked about how that really means over-desire—a strong craving for something, even a good thing. We talked about different over-desires that can compel us into the arms of pornography. We mentioned several: relationship, respect, refuge, reward, revenge.

Desiring Relationship

Maybe for you the thing you most desire is relationship—it has become more than just a desire not to be alone, but a strong craving, an idol in your heart. You run to porn where you feel some parody of sexual closeness and so you don’t have to take any of the risks of real intimacy with someone else.

If this is our desire, in our moments before any triggers come, we need to be fleeing to God to satisfy us. If we feel that lonely craving, this should push us into real relationships both with God and with others, but always with an attitude of trust in God who promises that everything we go through will work for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. God can and will take all our relationships—even our failed ones—and use them to conform us to the image of his Son. Having faith in this promise, we can pursue genuine intimacy with others in a holy manner, not run to the fake security of digital sex.

Desiring Respect

Maybe for you the desire is respect. You love the fantasy world of porn where you can imagine how you are adored by fantasy women or men, where you are the center of attention. You might often be in situations where you feel inadequate or rejected.

Before any triggers even come along, instead of wallowing in that craving for respect, channel it toward God in faith. Delight in the God who offers us genuine acceptance through Christ. Remember, the men or women in the fantasy do not know you. They do not love you. But Christ does. We must repent of being so obsessed with the respect and honor of others and instead run to the God who promises real glory to those who trust him. His approval is far better than the approval of men or women represented by pixels on a screen.

Desiring Refuge

Maybe for you, your idol is a place of refuge—a place to unplug, be completely yourself without masks or pretense, and forget the stresses of life. Maybe for you, porn is that place.

Instead, before the triggers even come along, we need to be delighting in the God who calls Himself our refuge, our rock, our fortress, our stronghold. No matter what our circumstances are, next to the mountain-shaking, thunder-breathing God, our stresses are no match for him. Instead of medicating our bruises with fantasy, we can escape into Him, casting all our cares on Him because He cares for us.

Desiring Reward

Maybe for you the desire is reward. Simply being recognized for your work, isn’t enough. Deep down, if you’re honest with yourself, you feel entitled. You want what you deserve. For you, porn is the way you treat yourself with a little excitement.

Before the triggers of temptation come along, take time every day to delight in God who IS our great reward—and not a reward because we have earned him, but because Christ has brought us near to Him. We should spend time every day savoring Christ and our peace with God and really anticipate what it will be like to be with Him and see Him one day. This is the kind of hope the Bible says squelches the temporary pleasures of sin and our grasps for human accolades and attention.

Desiring Revenge

Or maybe for you the desire is revenge. You aren’t just displeased with circumstances in your life. You’re angry. You hate the hand that life has dealt you and porn is your way to stick it back to God or stick it back to the universe.

Instead, before those triggers come along, we need to be spending time day after day, confessing this anger to God and stop behaving like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the brother who believed his father owed him something for all his hard work, all the while forgetting the father who loved him. We need to remember that as our Father, God knows us best, knows what blessings to give us in His perfect timing, and has already surrounded us with so many wholesome pleasures. We need to cultivate gratitude that replaces our anger, having faith in God’s enormous generosity.

Desire is the Seedbed

Why am I spending so much time in this first step? Because this is the seedbed of everything. We can implement other strategies to avoid porn, and they might even work for a while, but they won’t bring us joy. If our only choice in life is to be miserable with porn or miserable without porn, that’s a terrible choice. This is why we need to address these desires of the heart, repent of our idols of the heart, and stir up faith in God as the one who is sovereign over our relationships, the God who give us his approval and honor, the God who is our refuge, the God who is our great reward, the God who is our loving, wise, generous Father.

It may seem odd that this whole video was all about the first step in the process, but don’t worry the next video talks more about the other stages in this cycle, stay tuned next week when we talk about the rest of those stages.