It is important to read all you can about recovery. We live in an age when thousands of books, articles, and speeches are available, which address recovery from every angle. It is impossible to read too much. Go to every conference, read every blog, listen to every podcast. I’m all about education. That is why, before Beth and I launched There’s Still Hope, I went back to school. I earned a Master’s Degree with a focus on addiction recovery (Liberty University). I completed my PSAP (Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional) training through IITAP.
In 2019, Beth and I attended SILS (Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit) in Atlanta, the C-SASI (Christian Sex Addiction Specialist International) conference in Houston, and the Sexual Recovery Leadership Summit in Colorado Springs. But after reading all the books, receiving significant training, and attending 600 12-step meetings, there are five important truths I have discovered about recovery that I never once read in a book. Let me share those with you now.
1. Addiction isn’t a bad problem.
Okay, addiction is a bad problem. Anything that is devastating millions of families is a problem. But before sex addiction is a problem, it is something else.
Addiction is a bad solution. Let me explain. Addiction isn’t the root. It’s the fruit. We know that addiction results in broken lives and shattered families. But what results in addiction? In nearly all cases, at the root of addiction you will find at least one of the following: (a) trauma, (b) abuse, (c) isolation. The sufferer turns to addiction, not as a bad problem, but as a bad solution. Why does this matter? It matters because we need to treat addiction by addressing those core issues with each individual—trauma, abuse, isolation—in order to effect healing and life change.
2. Relapse is not failure.
“Kyle” was a friend of mine. We met an a Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meeting when I was early in my recovery. Kyle was always very honest and open about his struggles. He’d pick up a 30-day chip (a small medallion to mark his success in recovery), then maybe another chip a month after that. Then he relapsed. Again, he got back on track, but often with similar results. But Kyle never quit. I moved across the country, and I lost track of Kyle. But three years later, while visiting that city, I went to a meeting. Kyle was there—now sober for over a year.
Kyle discovered what too few others have. Relapse is not failure. You don’t fail by falling back into old habits and patterns. You have only failed when you quit trying. No one gets it the first time. For some, it takes years to find lasting recovery. But recovery will come—if you don’t quit.
3. You can love God and porn at the same time.
This is something I struggled with for years. Is it possible that a man can truly love God while addicted to pornography? If you replace “pornography” with some other addictive sin, such as chocolate, profanity, or video games, then an affirmative response becomes more palatable. But do we really believe that sin is sin? And more importantly, can a person struggle with ongoing sinful activities—porn included—and still walk with God?
For answers, let’s turn to the Apostle Paul. He lamented, “I do not the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Notice Paul’s specific wording: “I keep on doing.” How is it that such a saint could struggle with ongoing sin while planting churches and writing a third of the New Testament? J.I. Packer answers this for us.
“Paul wasn’t struggling with sin because he was such a sinner. Paul was struggling with sin because he was such a saint.” (This was in response to a question from a college student named Kenneth Berding. The entire conversation is contained in Berding’s blog, “A Key Insight about Romans 7 from a Conversation with J.I. Packer,” posted on the Biola University website on April 4, 2012.)
Related:Porn in the Pew: Can You Love God and Porn at the Same Time?
4. Your addiction actually makes you more useable by God.
It is so humiliating to be caught in a porn or sex addiction. We feel shameful, guilty, and dirty. Life seems hopeless. We are overcome with despair. We feel like our usefulness to God must be over. But the direct opposite is actually true.
God can use you more because of your addiction, not less. As you find recovery, you become a vessel through which God can touch others. You can now lead others into recovery, but you can’t lead them someplace you have not been yourself. Shame is not of God. Walk away from shame and into victory. The road to recovery will make you more useable by God than you have ever been before.
5. You shouldn’t commit to a life of sobriety.
Every struggling addict means well when he or she says, “I’ll never do this again.” Their intentions and commitments are pure. But I tell clients all the time, “Never tell your spouse you will never act out again. Just promise that it won’t happen today.”
Why do I say this? First, it is speculative to make promises for what we will do on a day that God himself has not promised will even come to pass. We have no promise of another day. Most importantly, a promise to not act out tomorrow takes our focus off of today. Recovery is not accomplished one year or one month or even one week at a time. It is a daily grind.
I have a friend with 25 years of sexual sobriety. And he carries his chip in his pocket everywhere he goes—his 24-hour chip, as a reminder that our focus must always be on today.
To say that you can love God and love porn too is simply not true. First John 2:4 tells us that if we say we know him but do not keep his commandments- we are liars. First John 1:6 says that if we say we have fellowship with him but continue to walk in darkness we lie and do not live in the truth. First Corinthians 6 is clear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. To imply that Paul was struggling with sexual sin is false and irresponsible. I’ve seen so many lives destroyed by pornography- loving porn is not the same as loving chocolate. There are a lot of excuses in this article.
I don’t think Mark is downplaying the effect of sexual sin nor is he implying that THIS was Paul’s ongoing sin – rather, I believe his point is that struggling with sexual sin doesn’t mean your faith in God is nullified as if only one of the two things can exist and by sinning, you show which of the two things CANNOT be real. Rather his point is that your relationship with God isn’t proven to be a sham in the presence of this sin, since many sins can destroy lives (lies, abuse, materialism, alcohol addiction) and the presence of those also do not prove that a person’s relationship with God is a sham.
I totally agree with Paulette’s perspective. The Bible is clear on the sins of lust, sexual immorality and infidelity. To continue with porn, while professing that Christ is your LORD (not just your Savior) is an oxymoron.
Have you ever been addicted to porn?
I dont think you have the understanding of what the above article was implying.
Yes these scriptures are truth and I am the biggest advocate for fighting against pornography and sexual addiction, especially in how it relates to divorce. In fact, part of the things that led to my parents giving up and getting divorced is , Pornography and affairs.
But what I took from the article below was just the fact of it talking about how we shaming ourselves from addiction and how we still can love God and struggle with porn. Not that porn is right, nor is not a sin. But that ones heart can be after God and yet that could be the one persons struggle and or sin in life. Look at David, he had an affair (a physical one ) and yet God claims to this day, he was a man after God’s heart!
I would re-read the article to truly get what they are saying.
Thanks for a great article
I leant valuable lessons thst is directly applicable in my life and my struggle with my addiction
So many ups and downs like typical today again – that sometimes i feel like a big failure
Lucky there is articles like this one that hhelps me to understand my addition better and with the grace of God i am looking forward to step into victory
A person who doesn’t understand what is to be trapped in any addiction will act like super Christian like they don’t sin and quickly use some chapter from the bible to bring but they forget that Jesus love the sinner despite the condition. The human condition will always depend on God grace that what’s Paul was trying say. We make it harder than what God really wants for us is to give us his best.
Very good and encouraging, something I wish I had years ago.
I disagree with Point #3. Until someone gets to the point where his or her desire to be sober is stronger than the desire to act out, that person is not going to find sobriety.
Also, Paul didn’t love the sin in his life as noted in Romans 7:15 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (ESV)
I agree with much of this article, but take issue with #5. To say “First, it is speculative to make promises for what we will do on a day that God himself has not promised will even come to pass.”, then what of marriage vows? Should a couple not promise on their wedding day to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives simply because the future days have not yet come? Are these just words? The vows would sound pretty silly if we just promised to take it a day at a time.
I understand that the main point is that each day for a person is in recovery requires their attention, awareness, and mindfulness – they must be present. But what kind of trauma and horror are you suggesting the addicted person put on their spouse when you tell them to only promise faithfulness for a day at a time? I think this advice may be the end of many marriages.
Thanks so much. Great tips and insights! very helpful
Let me clarify. When I say it is possible to love God and porn, my point is that while we love God, we may still struggle with sin. It is possible to love something (or someone) that is not good for us while still loving God. It is what we do with that love or feeling that matters. Addiction becomes a disease. A spiritual encounter does not remove the love (compulsion) for the object of one’s addiction. I am in no way offering the addict an excuse for continuing in his addictive behavior. That is the whole reason Beth and I started There’s Still Hope – to lead addicts out of this destructive behavior.
As for point #5, of course, we are to make lifetime commitments in marriage. But recovery is won day by day. The wounded spouse who has been lied to dozens of times often finds security in her husband’s commitment day by day. And as a recovering addict myself, I know that today’s actions will secure my sobriety for tomorrow, not next year. My point is that we must win the battle for sobriety day by day.
I completely understand about loving God and porn simultaneously. I also finally understand that that was the purpose of Christ shedding every drop of his blood to provide the perfect sacrifice for guys like myself that relapses from time to time. It took a lot of years to realize that God loves me unconditionally and his message to me is to BELIEVE in his son and what he did for me so I may receive salvation. There is a fine line between legalism and true freedom even in the midst of acting out. I consciously keep in mind not to start creating a to do list to be saved or to keep God happy because it’s very exhausting!! I’m blessed to live in the period of GRACE, so by surrendering my addiction every 24hrs my hope recharges and my salvation is secured wether I act out or remain sober for the rest of my life. I’ve learn to be patient with my self in my 6 year journey towards sobriety. I’ve learned that not understanding Grace is like letting a thief hold a gun to your face with no bullets. So what I’m saying is because I’m saved I will work but I don’t have to work to be saved. I will fight to be as close to Chris like as possible. May God Bless you in your battle.
Great article. And completely agree. We all are struggling with some sin or other. We have overcome some but not others. We are being sanctified and are a work in progress.
But we have resident Holy Spirit power now to overcome SIN….
The law which was external has now become internal written on our hearts.
Thank you for this article.
Based on my personal experience I find Mark’s 5 tips to be very insightful.
1. Sexual sin is a symptom of other issues in my life. I can try to fight sexual temptation by just saying NO, but unless I root out those underlying issues and deal with them in a healthy manner I’m vulnerable to be sucked back into the sin.
2. Relapse is not failure – And thank God this is true. Feelings of failure happens to be one of my underlying issues. Relapse does not make me a failure. It takes courage to get back in the fight for integrity.
3. You can love God and Porn at the same time – I would reword this to say: You can love God and and have a porn addiction at the same time. A Christian will hate the porn addiction but feel powerless to stop it.
4. Your addiction actually makes you more usable by God. I praise God that this is SO TRUE. Fighting an addiction like Porn is very humbling. It has helped me come along side others who are ensnared without passing judgement on them. God’s boundless grace and relentless love are so much larger than this addiction.
5. You don’t commit to a life of sobriety. Sobriety is not about making a long term commitment that seems completely unattainable. Of course we are fighting for a life of sobriety but that fight is won in the short term, day by day, moment by moment temptations of life. And when you stumble you try to learn from it so that you don’t stumble again. For me it’s been 11 months since I last stumbled and that was only possible by focusing on one day at a time. The temptation lessens over time but it never goes away. Every new day must be a new commitment.
Thank you Mark for your great words of encouragement
Excellent. “As we go on maturing, we are a spectacle for ourselves, and, God willing, for others, too. A spectacle, in other words, of limitation and betrayal, and therefore of humiliation, and at the same time of inexhaustible certainty in the power of grace that is given us and is renewed every morning.” (Fr. Giussani). Thank you very much for sharing.
We must remember to build up a detailed picture from the Scriptures. Just one or two texts are not sufficient.
People move from being dead in sin to alive in Christ through the working of the grace of God. When a person is born again they begin to take an interest in spiritual things in harmony with the Bible testimony. When sin abounds, grace abounds much more. But we do not remain slaves to sin because Jesus said that if we continue in His word we will know the truth and the truth will set us free, the truth as it is in Jesus, and Jesus identifies Himself as the Truth who sets us free. In this journey we discover what Paul speaks of. Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! He speaks to the Corinthians concerning their promiscuous past and says “such you were”. God puts enmity in the heart of the sinner against sin and Satan. That enmity increases till we break with sin by the power of God at work in us. Consider Peter. After experiencing the call of Christ and 3 and 1/2 years of walking with Christ Jesus says “I have prayed for you that your faith fail not” and “when you are converted strengthen your brothers”. Born again but not soundly converted. Not always fully understood in Christian circles. God says I have redeemed Jacob and am glorified in Israel. Same person with a name change. Character transformation by association with Christ, learning from Christ, following Christ, loving Christ more than anything else. After all He is the One who builds our walls of identity and self control, and heals our broken hearts caused by trauma, abuse and isolation.
This article seems to nullify the power of God for overcoming all sin. Comparing an addiction to pornography to an addiction to chocolate makes no sense. Chocolate in and of itself is not sinful, only the overuse of it is sinful. Using pornography is sinful in and of itself, regardless of whether it is once a day or once a month or once a year. Also, the consequences of using pornography are far, far greater. This article seems to take away hope from an addict to pornography that he or she can ever be totally free. Will we give the same lack of hope to someone addicted to cocaine or heroin?
It’s a little confusing: the last part of the paragraph says important truths about reasons to quit porn…then the item #1 says Addiction isn’t a ‘bad problem’ then it goes on to say…okay it IS a bad problem. And onwards then the other points aren’t always assertive and clear either.
I’m wishing for Something Bold and Wise! And a Clearly Aiding those with a
Desire to Quit!