A life-with-porn versus a life-without-porn is a poor choice. If you set it up in these terms then you won’t produce lasting change. We need to set it up (as it truly is) as a choice between life-with-porn versus life-with-God. We need to show how God always offers more than porn.
This begins with exposing the lie of porn. We sin because we have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:23-25). Porn is no different. Porn makes false promises.
For some porn offers respect: a fantasy world in which I’m potent or admired by others. For others porn offers intimacy: substitute relationships without the risks. For others it offers escape: when life is daunting or boring we turn to porn for quick satisfaction. For some porn may offer revenge: a way of getting back at our spouse who hasn’t delivered the sex we want or at God who hasn’t delivered the life we want.
But it’s all lies. Porn is a performance—carefully cut and edited to create the illusion of power or pleasure. We need to look beyond the frame of the camera. Porn sex is never real sex. It distorts our expectations of relationships, marriage, and sex.
And porn never delivers. It’s a cheap fantasy that only leaves us wanting more. People move from softcore to hardcore looking for what porn cannot deliver until they’re enslaved.
We need to expose these lies. Then we need to show how God promises more.
If porn offers respect, then the good news is that you don’t need to be controlled by the opinion of others. Compare those whose approval you want with God. Who matters most? Whose affirmation really counts?
If porn offers risk-free intimacy, then the good news is that God is in control. Relationships are risky, but God promises to care for those who trust him. He may not provide a spouse, but he will provide himself—a chance to know the Creator.
If porn offers escape from the pressures of life, then the good news is that God is in control. The Bible describes God as a “rock” and “refuge” to his people (Ps. 18:1-3). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
If porn offers you escape from the boredom of life, then the good news is that God is the source of true and lasting joy. Of course, porn is immediate, quick, easy. But its pleasures are short-lived and empty. We’re always left wanting more.
If porn offers revenge, then the good news is that God is gracious. We think we’re not getting what we deserve—from our spouse or from God. In fact, we’re getting far more than the judgment we deserve. God welcomes us into his family. Thinking of yourself as a son or daughter of God will set you free from resentment and bitterness.
At its root porn is about worship. I want to be worshiped. I can click between women, all of whom offer themselves to me. Or I can think of myself as the stud sending women into an ecstasy of desire. Or I can think of myself as the romantic heroine, relentlessly pursued by my admirer. I enter a world in which people worship me.
Freedom begins when I stop trying to be at the center and let God be at the center. It begins when I stop serving myself and start loving other people.
Talk About Good News
At the moment biblical sexual ethics seem like bad news in our culture. I believe the day is coming when people will again want to hear what the Bible has to say about sex. Sex is everywhere and everything in our culture. As a result it’s losing value. The Bible’s restrictions on sex are like the banks that constrain the Niagara River so that it gushes forth in the Niagara Falls. Remove those restrictions and you’re left with something more like the Mississippi Delta—wide, shallow, and muddy. A biblical approach to sex is good news for married people.
A biblical approach to sex is also good news for single people. Sex has become a substitute god in our culture. It is the source to which we look for meaning, fulfillment, value, identity. People feel lost without it. They feel worthless unless they have the admiration of a lover. It’s their savior. But it’s a poor savior. When we find sex, we feel loved, potent, justified in the moment. But it doesn’t last. Sex is not God, and we’re left empty, wanting more. And then when we don’t measure up, failed sex leaves us crushed.
Consider the approach of Jesus with the woman at the well in John 4. He knows she had five husbands and the man she is now with is not her husband. He could have told her to stop her sexual sin. Instead, he offers her living water. She has been looking for meaning, satisfaction, identity in sexual intimacy and not finding it. The math tells the story: five husbands plus one. She has made sex her savior, and it has not delivered. Jesus gives her good news by offering meaning, satisfaction, identity in himself. He offers true satisfaction (“living water”) and lasting satisfaction (“welling up to eternal life”). Legalism says, “You should not move from man to man, and you should not use porn.” The gospel says, “You need not move from man to man, and you need not use porn, because Jesus offers something bigger and better—he offers living water.”
“This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). So says Paul after talking about marriage. We’re talking about marriage and sex, but it turns out we’re talking about Christ and his bride. God gave us sexuality to help understand his covenant love. The passions we feel around sex point to God’s passionate, jealous love for his people. Every conversation about sex is really a conversation about Christ who “loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy” (Eph. 5:25-26).
Let’s talk about sex. Our message is good news.
This excerpt is adapted from the new e-book, Porn-Free Church: Raising Up Gospel Communities to Destroy Secret Sins (Covenant Eyes, 2012). Download it for free here.
Tim Chester is a church planter with The Crowded House in Sheffield, UK, and co-director ofThe Porterbrook Network, which seeks to train people for church planting. He’s the author of more than a dozen books including The Message of Prayer, Good News to the Poor, You Can Change, and Total Church, co-written with Steve Timmis. Tim blogs here.