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Learning to Flee: Breaking the Hold of Desire for Porn

Last Updated: October 7, 2022

“Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

The verse about “youthful passions” has often been applied to the struggle against porn. So let’s take a deeper dive into 2 Timothy 2:22 and its surrounding context and see what we can learn about breaking free from the desire for porn.

What Were Timothy’s “Youthful Passions”?

First, we should note Paul doesn’t specifically warn Timothy about looking at bad pictures. Young Pastor Timothy faced a different, more subtle temptation: arguing about minor theological tangents and Bible trivia in the face of real heresy. If Timothy were a 21st-century pastor, the danger would be closer to the comments section of Christian YouTubers than porn sites.

(Because the specific issue Paul addresses here wasn’t sexual temptation, I’ve heard people say you shouldn’t apply it to fleeing from porn. However, I think this misses the underlying point of “lusts.”)

Paul employs the word “epithumia,” which can mean “focused on” or “inordinate desire,” depending on the context. In Romans 7:7-8, Paul says that knowing God’s law awoke in him knowledge of “covetousness,” but it’s the same word that’s translated “passions” here (or “lusts”). In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul uses the plural form of the word, so what he has in mind can cover a range of inappropriate desires.

For Timothy, the “passion” may have been the intellectual pride and divisive spirit. But it could just as easily be a passion for sex that manifests in watching porn.

The Deeper Issue With “Youthful Passions”

Too often, “flee youthful passions” is taken as simply “flee the desire for sex.”  But if we peel back the layers from “youthful passions,” we learn something critical about the temptations of porn and lust: There are actually some common denominators between the impulse to fight over biblical minutia and the impulse to click on a sexy ad.

This tells us something else important as well. Sexual desire itself isn’t the problem—Paul wants us to flee the lustful “passions” that run deeper than sex. So what are they?

These “Passions” Stem From Ignorance

The problem Timothy faced was not a desire for theological and biblical precision. Quite the opposite. Earlier in chapter 2, Paul points out two notable heretics, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who were teaching serious errors that contradicted the Gospel. But people were getting caught up in certain aspects of their arguments and losing sight of the Gospel. They were ignorant, not because they weren’t smart, but because they forgot what was truly important.

Likewise, the temptation to look at porn arises from ignorance—losing sight of what’s truly important. How so?

  • You may simply be unaware of the effects of porn. Watching porn is a sin that dishonors yourself, God, and your relationships.
  • If you know all these things but fall to temptation anyway, you’ve forgotten what is truly important. You are acting ignorantly, even if you know better!

What’s the solution? Flee foolish ignorance and cling to the truth. If you’re unaware of the dangers of porn, educate yourself. If you’re aware of them but tend to forget, remind yourself regularly. Fleeing temptation means fleeing ignorance.

These “Passions” Arise From Impatience

Paul tells Timothy to be gentle with everyone and patient. The word for “patient” in 2:24 has the idea of long-suffering (being able to endure evil or difficulty). A theological controversialist lacks gentleness and has no patience for enduring difficulty.

Likewise, the temptation to look at porn is fueled by impatience with difficult circumstances. It may be the impatience of a single person to experience a sexual relationship. It could also be the impatience of a married person who is sexually unfulfilled. Some wrestle with impatience over other frustrations in life that have little to do with sex. Regardless of the motivation, we give in to the desire to watch porn when we lack the patience to pursue a God-honoring alternative.

The temptation to impatience offers unique challenges—how can you flee something like this? Patience, or longsuffering, means you must lean into the difficult circumstances. You must learn to see the difficulty as an opportunity for growth, not just a hardship to be avoided (James 1:2-3). Fleeing temptation means fleeing impatience.

These “Passions” Turn People into Captives

In verse 26, Paul says that those caught up in these controversies have become captives of the enemy. We know that pornography takes many people captive in the clutches of addiction.

Too often, we confuse these passionate desires with our identity. I am what I want. And the world tells us we must be true to ourselves and what we want. People who stubbornly follow the desires of their hearts are held up as examples for us to follow! But the passions of the heart will deceive you (Jeremiah 17:9).

Whether through theological arguments or porn, these passions will trap you when you give in to them—you become controlled by your desire. Soon, it is not you seeking what you want; it’s the things you want controlling you.

Fleeing captivity means thinking twice about our desires instead of automatically assuming they’re good and true. For the Christian, our true identity is to look more and more like Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11, Ephesians 5:1-2). The more we train our hearts to desire Christ, the greater freedom we experience from the passions of the flesh.

The Simple Path Away From Porn

In Overcome Porn: The 40 Day Challenge, we offer a simple outline of the path away from porn, based on 2 Timothy 2:22:

1. Run from—this means removing yourself from the temptation as much as possible. It means learning about the dark realities of porn and how to eliminate it from your life.

2. Run to—it’s not enough to get rid of the porn. Unless you replace porn with something good, you will relapse. This section focuses on the good things that should take the place of porn in your life.

3. Run with—God never intended for us to break the clutches of sin on our own. He has given us the community of believers to build us up! The last part of the challenge looks at the role relationships play in overcoming porn.

Want to learn more? Start the 40 Day Challenge today!

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