5 minute read

Finding the Willpower to Defeat Porn: Part 1

Last Updated: August 4, 2021

Noah Filipiak

Noah Filipiak is a pastor and the author of Beyond the Battle: A Man's Guide to his Identity in Christ in an Oversexualized World (Zondervan)He also hosts The Flip Side Podcast. If you desire to be free from lust, porn, and fantasy, you can join Noah and his team in an online small group at Beyond the Battle, or get the leader guide to run your own group.

“So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.” — Exodus 17:10-13

Are you battle-weary in your fight against pornography and sexual sin? Are you worn out from another failure? Another program you purchased or class you took that you thought would finally end the addiction…only to fall yet again. Are you tired of begging God for freedom?

Recovery Is More Than Just Willpower

As I think of the fatigue that comes from battling pornography, I’m reminded of Exodus 17:10-13 where Joshua leads the Israelite army against the Amalekites. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but if he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. In this scenario, you would think it would have been easy for Moses to keep his arms raised high. The very lives of his friends and family, God’s chosen people, were on the line after all.

I think sometimes our battle against pornography can seem just as obvious when we look at it from afar. Of course I should stop looking at porn or acting out sexually. Of course I should stop hurting myself and those I love. All I need to do is stop clicking. All I need to do is stop watching. All I need to do is make better choices. All I need to do is will myself to victory.

I’m not an expert on addictions, but as one who has battled a pornography addiction, I know that it has to do with a lot more than willpower. It’s almost like we were born with these innate structures of health inside of us, like wooden ladders that we use to ascend to places of health. There are many areas of addiction: sex, porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling, spending money, television, food, just to name a few. We might look at an area where we are not addicted and can still see the natural ladder we were born with standing strong. We live in a place of health in that area without a huge draw to demolish things.

But for any number of reasons unique to our story, an addiction began in the area of sex and/or pornography. That ladder splintered to pieces and now we are at the bottom, looking up. We jump as high as we can, exhausting ourselves, unable to grasp the top. Once we’ve gathered our strength back, we try to piece the ladder together with nails and wood glue. We give it our best shot and even make something that resembles a ladder again. We take a few steps up, confident that we’ll be back at the top in no time. “The top” being freedom and health. We look good a few steps up, but eventually the strain of the weight is too much for the patchwork nails and wood glue to hold and the ladder collapses beneath our feet.

We crash to the ground, bruised and humiliated, stuck with splinters and worse off than when we started.

Rebuilding the Ladder

Based on my battle with my own addictions and in my years of experience in helping people overcome theirs, I don’t think you can ever remake the ladder. This makes us uncomfortable as Christians. I think this is why those in Alcoholics Anonymous say they will always be an alcoholic, even if they’ve been sober for many years. They are describing that there is still something in them that is drawn to their addiction—that if they were to abandon their support system against their addiction, they would fall back into it left to their own devices.

I’m not making an argument one way or the other about what labels you or anyone else should use who is battling an addiction. What I am arguing for is that we stop trying to rebuild the ladder using the same busted wood and bent nails that the original ladder was made out of. We should stop trying to use willpower to find our freedom. We should stop listening to Satan’s most powerful lie that we can get out of this mess by ourselves.

Yes, God makes all things new. Yes, God wants to give you a new ladder, and he can and will. But I don’t think it’s going to a shiny new wooden one like the one you had before porn or sex addiction ever entered your life. I think this ladder is meant to be constructed with other people. I don’t mean other people help you build it, I mean the actual ladder is made of people. It’s a stack of people, like a tumbling gymnast group you might see at the circus—a human ladder—and they are the ones getting you to the top.

Turning Vulnerability into Strength

There are a lot of Bible verses about God giving you strength when you’re weak, and they are all true. But I think we like to read these and think they mean God will strengthen our Lone Ranger efforts to find freedom without anyone else ever knowing. But that’s not how I see God’s freedom and grace usually working. I think God’s healing process turns us into wounded healers like Henri Nouwen or leaders with a limp like Dan Allender.

Our wound is still visible in a way that forces us to remain vulnerable. That vulnerability is what draws others to us. That vulnerability turns into our strength. It’s what keeps us dependent on Jesus and dependent on others. Without it, we get lulled back into the lie that we can do this on our strength, which is always when we fall. We can choose to be embarrassed by the human ladder, or we can embrace it as our trophy of grace.

Moses’ life, the life of his friends and family, and the future of God’s people were all on the line when Joshua battled the Amalekites. All he had to do was hold up his hands! But he couldn’t. He got tired. Do you know why he got tired? He got tired because he was human, just as you and I are human. What Moses needed wasn’t more strength or more willpower, he needed Aaron and Hur. He needed a band of brothers to hold up his arms for him, because he wasn’t strong enough to hold them up on his own.

You Can’t Do This Alone

This is a 3-part blog series for those who are battle weary in their fight against pornography. We’re going to draw from the deep waters of Jesus’ healing love for each of us. We’re going to lean into Jesus for our freedom and rest. We’re going to analyze his promise that his yoke is easy and his burden light, his call that all who are weary and heavy-laden come to him, and he will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30). But before we set out on this journey, it is of utmost importance that you understand this one thing: you can’t do this alone.

You need Aaron and Hur. You need a band of brothers or a band of sisters who are going to hold you up. You need vulnerable community, where you can bare your soul. Where you can bare your fantasies, thoughts, and desires and experience love and grace in return. Where you can be reminded you are a beloved son or daughter of the Father. Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This verse isn’t talking about marriage, it’s talking about three human friends tied together in community.

My starting challenge to you is to take the vulnerable risk to take a few of your friendships to a deeper level. Take two friends aside and:

  1. Share the story of your life with pornography and sexual sin up to this point in your life.
  2. Ask them to share theirs. If porn or sexual sin is not an issue for them, ask them to share what addictions they do struggle with.
  3. Ask to meet or check-in regularly (schedule it) to ask intentional questions about each of your thoughts and desires (ask the same questions each time). Commit to reminding each other of your identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters (Romans 8:15-17, Colossians 1:22, Matthew 3:16-17).
  • Comments on: Finding the Willpower to Defeat Porn: Part 1
    1. Konig Samuel on

      Thank you for this sharing, sir! Very eager to read the others in line

      Reply
    2. Tracy Riggs on

      As a recovering sex addict myself, sober for over 3 years now, I completely agree with willpower not working and the need for support. However, I disagree with sharing with someone who doesn’t share your struggle. They won’t be able to understand. They… just… can’t… They might try but there will almost always be a part of you that knows that they can’t – and that most likely in some way they are judging you.

      Support groups that are made up of others with the same addiction – who have members who have seen success – do help. They don’t judge because they either have been where you are or know they could have been. It makes a huge difference in recovery.

      I am very curious on what you will say in parts 2 and 3 about this topic and if you’ll share the power of support groups.

      Reply

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