How to Deal with Shame and Guilt Following Pornography

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.