3 minute read

How to Deal with Shame and Guilt Following Pornography

Last Updated: June 13, 2016

Dan Armstrong
Dan Armstrong

Dan Armstrong has been featured in local and national publications regarding the issue of pornography’s harm on society. He has spoken at several national conferences regarding purity, protecting your children, and being educated on how technology and porn impact the brain. Dan and his wife have five children.

In the last two videos (Idols of the Heart Part 1 and Part 2), we discussed the different stages within the cycle of temptation. 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, and revenge.

Then we talked about the other stages which included triggers, tempting thoughts, rituals, indulgence, defeated thoughts and loss of control.

If you do indulge, remember the stages of guilt and shame that come after this are also part of the deadly cycle, so it is important to escape from these snares.

A healthy response to sin

Now, in one sense, we should feel guilt and shame when we sin because sin violates God’s standard, it violates our conscience, and we should acknowledge that we have done something that harms our relationships. God does have a fatherly displeasure with our sin. But notice I didn’t say God is displeased in some general sense, or that He is burning with wrath.

If we are in Christ, He is still our loving heavenly Father, and He isn’t looking at us with disgust. We are His. He is the prodigal son’s Father who is running to hug us while we’re still covered in the grime of our sin. His displeasure at our sin is FATHERLY: He is grieved by it, and in His infinite love He will reprove and discipline us so we will learn to share in His holiness.

Where we go wrong with guilt and shame

Where we go wrong with guilt and shame is we develop a sense of chronic guilt and chronic shame, which leads to self-atonement. We think we need to atone for our sins in some way. We vow to do better next time. We vow to pray more, read our Bibles more, and get serious. We beat ourselves up emotionally. All of this is our way of crawling back into God’s presence in the hopes that the emotional blood we spill is enough to make Him accept us again.

The problem is, not only is this totally contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it also perpetuates the cycle, because instead of running to God who loves us, instead of being satisfied in Him and the grace He gives, we run to white knuckle strategies that just make us feel the emptiness all over again. All we are left with is that latent sense of desire, and the cycle starts all over.

Believing we are loved by God

Instead, right after sinning, we are right to feel sad and guilty, but as we approach God without guilt, we need to do so really believing the incredible gospel that Christ has already atoned for our sins. Don’t ask for God’s forgiveness as if you’re nothing more than a spiritual orphan. You are not merely the sum of your worst failures. You are a child of the living God because Christ’s payment for sin is complete. As the old pastor Jack Miller used to say when he was asked to summarize the gospel—he would say, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, but you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”

In fact, at this last stage, we find the real source of change in our lives. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans what leads us to deep, life-changing repentance. He says its God’s kindness (Romans 2:4) that leads us there. Instead of putting faith in our own self-made rituals to make up for our sin, we need to put our faith in the incredible kindness of God, who sent his Son to die for rebellious sinners.

So this is the how we escape not just pornography, but the entire cycle of temptation. No matter where we are in the cycle, God has provided a way of escape for us.

Truth can set you free

If you dig deeply into these truths, they can set you free, but these videos only scratch the surface. There is so much more that can be learned about these concepts. If we want to help others break free from pornography, we need to learn about the impact it is having on the church and culture today.

We need to learn about the neurological impact of pornography and its psychological effects. We need to learn how exploitative pornography really is. We need to learn what the Bible says about the beauty of human sexuality, showing how pornography warps what God calls good. We need to learn how experienced counselors and lay ministry leaders have walked with people through these truths—men, women, spouses, and children. We need to learn about how to help the pastors and other spiritual leaders who are facing this battle themselves.

This is why in April, Covenant Eyes is co-hosting a 4-day summit in Greensboro, North Carolina, where we will be equipped together with these truths. This summit is all about solutions, so we’re bringing together some of the nations top presenters on this subject, from neuroscientists to counselors to historians to pastors to youth leaders. We want you to hear about gospel-centered strategies that are working. Join me on April 4th, 2016 for the Set Free Summit.

In the meantime, download our free digital book, Fight Porn in Your Church.

  • Comments on: How to Deal with Shame and Guilt Following Pornography
    1. Ed

      Hi Dan — you said in your blog post that “Instead, right after sinning, we are right to feel sad and guilty”. But later you say that we should not let guilt and shame become chronic and essentially spiral out of control.

      Jesus, our substitute, paid the debt that you and I could not pay. On the cross, He bore the sins of our entire life. God put it all on Jesus and then He punished Jesus for every single one of those sins until He was fully satisfied. And because He was so pleased with what Jesus had done, He raised Him from the dead.

      Given that is the truth for born-again believers, where in tje New Covenant is it considered normal, okay or acceptable to have even one shred of guilt?

      What is your Scriptural justification for believing that we should experience any guilt or shame, no matter what we have done?

      • Ray Nickel

        Very Good Question!

      • I there it is helpful to note that there is a difference between being guilty, and being condemned.

        Christ took our condemnation, the punishment for our guilt…though He Himself was not guilty.

        The fact that you are forgiven your guilt, does not mean you are not guilty; it means that you won’t be condemned (or punished) for it.

        I think that it is safe to say that when we sin against God, we should feel guilt, because we have truly sinned against God.

        But we don’t need to feel condemned for our guilt (or expect punishment for it), because Christ has taken the condemnation for all our sins upon himself.
        Therefore we can praise God for not holding us countable to our guilt, but instead holding Christ accountable to our guilt.

    2. Praveen

      There is a difference between Shame and guilt. Guilt can be the voice of God letting us know we need repentance. Shame is clearly a tool of the deceiver to separate us from God. Guilt says, “Hey, I made a mistake”. Shame says, “I AM a mistake”. Once we become reborn, the guilt will go away too. There should be no shame because we are a child of God, and eventually the guilt fades, because God has taken our sins away (sobriety). There is a difference when we get so steeped in sin, that we no longer fee any guilt (this is not how to get rid if guilt, by becoming numb to the Voice of God. ) The only way to get rid of guilt is to let God take away our sins by confession our sins publicaly (Truth sets us Free)

      • Ed

        Thanks for the response Praveen. I’m curious as to why you are making a distinction between the word “guilt” and “shame”? Thesauruses and dictionaries identify them as being very much alike (moreso than different). Please see this link:

        In any case, let me ask the question once again, more pointedly:

        What New Covenant Scriptures can you point to that says that born-again believers should experience one iota of guilt, no matter what they’ve done? (I’m looking for Scripture references, not opinions).

    3. Praveen

      I don’t believe a true follower who has transcended the pain and bondage of earthly things should feel any guilt. To restate my previous comment, after a true born again experience, the guilt goes away completely.

      To answer the question as to “Why I made this distintion”… Its something I learned in my re-birth experience over the past 2.5 years. I had serious issues and coping mechanisms and to overcome a lifetime of behavioral addictions, I went through a lot of self help programs, Every Mans Battle, therapy, group therapy, 12 step programs, Celebrate Recovery, etc and I learned that definition in the journey. Language is a very organic process, like all of the new words, such as “Truthiness” by Colbert. A thesaurus is a vague overlap of meaning. Guilt and Shame are similar, but not a complete overlap. Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” and its Primary synonyms are “humiliation, mortification, chagrin, ignominy, embarrassment, indignity, discomfort”, and yes, its secondary synonyms are “guilt, remorse, contrition, compunction”. Guilt is defined as “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime” and its synonyms are “culpability, guiltiness, blameworthiness; wrongdoing, wrong, criminality, misconduct, sin”.

      What I’m interested in is sharing ideas on how to live a Godly life. I hope you are finding success in Victory over Worldy entrapments and may God truly Bless you, Ed.

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