In his book Surfing For God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, author and counselor Michael John Cusick describes the crafty and effective ways in which our enemy draws us into pornography through a series of lies and broken promises. Like the serpent tempting Adam and Eve, Satan uses porn to promise fulfillment in life without requiring any responsibility. And because so many people are desperate to find an easier path to fulfillment, they fall for it again and again. Once they’re trapped, more lies follow that keep them trapped.
Why Porn and Sexual Sins Often Involve Lies
Why are people who struggle with pornography and sexual sin so susceptible to being deceived?
In John 8:44, Jesus gives a vivid picture of who Satan really is: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The father of lies is hard at work among Christians today. Even though he doesn’t (and can’t) own us, our enemy hasn’t yet thrown in the towel or accepted his inevitable defeat when it comes to Christians. We still live in this world, and as long as we do, the “god of this world” will continue his assault.
Porn users and sex addicts often believe lies that try to minimize the behavior, lies like:
- I’m not hurting anyone.
- Porn is a victimless crime.
- Porn enhances my sex life.
- It’s better than cheating.
I typically don’t hear these lies from Christians. Believers have the Holy Spirit, and John 16 tells us the Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth. Porn-addicted Christians generally don’t need to be convinced what they’re doing is wrong. Often, even when they use the lies mentioned above, it’s an attempt to convince themselves as much as anyone else.
Christians usually believe different lies. Lies that make them feel defeated. Alone. Stuck. Hopeless.
This is our enemy’s strategy. While he knows he cannot ultimately claim believers, he can and does work hard to neutralize us. If a Christian remains caught in a cycle of shame, then he or she won’t live the abundant, joyful life that causes people to ask “for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Families are affected. Marriages are affected. The spread of the gospel is affected. Not one aspect of the Church’s work on earth is unaffected when Christians are sidelined by sexual sin. Our enemy is an excellent strategist.
Lies Christians Believe About Porn and Sex
“I need this.” Anyone who has grown accustomed to a steady stream of pornography has been hit to some degree by its addicting effects. Although many porn and sex-addicted Christians hate what they’re doing, part of them believes they can’t live without it.
“I will never change.” This belief is connected to countless promises and attempts to stop acting out. No matter what addicted people have tried up to this point, it hasn’t worked. In many cases, behavior has escalated far beyond what they ever thought they would do. Now they feel defeated and hopeless.
“No one would understand.” One tactic our enemy uses is “divide and conquer.” People who can’t stop acting out believe they’re alone–that no one else would be able to relate. They believe exposure would result in other people’s rejection.
“My spouse would never be able to get over this.” Porn and other misuses of sex represent a legitimate betrayal of the marriage. Christians who discover their spouse’s behavior experience severe hurt, anger, and trauma. The addicted spouse often doesn’t want out of the marriage and fears the exposure will result in divorce.
“If I were really a Christian, I wouldn’t be struggling like this.” Almost as common as a struggle with porn is a Christian’s tendency to use it to question his or her salvation. The internal argument is “If I really loved God, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
How Lies Hold Their Power
In a word…isolation. Think about it. While there are exceptions, looking at porn is usually something Christians do by themselves. Pornography is usually paired (at least) with masturbation, also something people tend to do in isolation. A person doesn’t usually feel particularly Christ-like while doing these things, so it stays hidden. It’s just not something most people feel comfortable confessing to other people.
This results in two habits developing simultaneously. The first is the habitual misuse of sex, through porn or other acting out. The more you do it, the more you “need” to do it. The second is the habit of wearing a mask and closely guarding the secret. The longer they live in isolation, the more addicted people become convinced that exposure is the worst possible outcome. Consequently, the lies have an undisturbed mind and heart in which to grow.
How Lies Lose Their Power
In a word…community. If isolation is the dark, secret soil in which lies grow, then community is the warm light that exposes and kills them. Community provides a place for struggling people to be encouraged by others’ stories and to find out that much of what they’ve believed has been a spiritual deception. The writer of Hebrews says Christians are to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13). This is one of the most succinct explanations Scripture gives for why we must stay connected. If we don’t receive encouragement, we’re going to believe the lies. We can’t be encouraged if we don’t let anyone know what’s going on.
Once we begin to take the risk of entering real community–a place where we learn honesty and vulnerability–we start seeing a different perspective than what we believed before.
“Maybe I don’t need this.” Gracious community and effective counseling help people see how their spiritual well-being, as well as their brain chemistry, has been affected by porn. They learn that some of why they’ve felt such a strong need for porn is because they’ve trained their brains to be chemically dependent on it. They can now start discovering healthier choices with a community that reminds them of truth and helps encourage them to remember porn is something they can live without.
“I can change.” Where countless attempts to change failed in isolation, Christians who walk in community benefit from living life with people who have found the change they were looking for. It comes through a process in which God uses therapy, supportive community, and new life disciplines (often through step work with a sponsor). Once they come out of hiding, they can see hope in others’ lives and experience it for themselves.
“People do understand.” After hearing a few people tell their own stories, it becomes clear that although the details are different, the core issues driving addiction to porn and sex are very similar from person to person.
“Whether or not my marriage survives, I have to come clean.” Keeping secrets is death to trust and lasting marriages. The secret must come out if there is to be any hope. Once the secret is out, the spouse also has to make his or her own choice on whether or not to stay in the marriage. Addicts have to give up the illusion they can control their spouse and must accept the consequences of their actions. This is why community is critical, especially for people whose marriages don’t survive. Thankfully, many Christians have been surprised by spouses willing to forgive and extend grace. The same God who is at work to bring freedom and recovery from addiction is able to heal and give hope to a betrayed spouse.
“The fact I have this problem doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian.” In Romans 7, Paul perfectly wrote about the struggle between faith and besetting sin. He says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” I don’t know what Paul’s specific “evil” was, but as a recovering addict I can clearly identify with the sentiment. When we question our salvation because of addictive sin, we cross a line from healthy guilt (I’ve done something wrong) into an unhealthy place of shame (therefore I can’t be a Christian), forgetting that our identity is based on what Christ has done, not our works. Obedience is critical for a believer, but we won’t find recovery traction until we rest in the fact that Christ’s work–not our behavior–is what determines our spiritual status.
Once we begin living according to truth instead of believing lies, we open ourselves up to hearing truth–from Scripture, from the Holy Spirit, and from those with whom we share community. And truth changes us, helping us take honest responsibility and allowing God to lead us into a healthier way of living.