Pornography usage is a serious problem for many young people, and the church is by no means exempt. 54% of self-identifying Christian young men report having looked at porn monthly, and 14% admit to viewing it daily. 33% of self-identifying Christian women aged 25 and under search for porn at least once per month.
“I’ve seen it down the road affect their sexual relationships and marriages. It’s changed the way they view their wife—their desires for their wife at times. And it’s just been this sort of struggle, this stranglehold on them that’s particularly hard to let go for many men, in my experience.”
But there is hope. Freedom is possible.
Recognize What is at Stake
An important step in porn-recovery is being honest about its consequences. Not only is pornography destructive to your mental and physical health, it also has profound relational and spiritual effects.
For Bill Mooney-McCoy, Gordon College’s Director of Worship, pornography once “consumed” his early adult life. His addiction started junior year of college and lasted several years into his marriage.
“I lived a double life,” he told me, “I presented as a great Christian leader and a wonderful husband, wonderful father. And then would spend hours on end, attempting to find something that was going to fill a hole that I had not really understood.”
Mooney-McCoy’s addiction led him to “some of the darkest corners of the media.” He found himself “crashing moral boundaries left and right.”
“I came to a point where I realized that it was just deadly and destructive and ruining my marriage and ruining everything about me. And I reached the point where I knew this habit had to change.”
Recognizing his need for healing led him to seek a support group.
“[I] took the actions that I had to do.”
For Hunter Kyes, a senior at Gordon College, the motivation to quit pornography came in high school. He realized that it was hurting his ability to pursue a healthy relationship.
“I was starting to date and meet people. And I actually met my wife in high school. It was in these relationships where I realized, you know, I don’t want any of my sin to damage my relationship with my future wife. I didn’t know who that was going to be at that point.”
“The truth is,” Kyes said, “sometimes the worldly consequences of something are enough to dissuade you from sin.”
While the relational implications of porn usage are significant, the spiritual reality is even more weighty.
“Thinking about the garden, [God] created us to abide with him in holiness for His glory,” Ackerman explained, “Sin disrupts that picture. We love sin and we revel in sin and we indulge in sin. And that’s not good for us…We know that the wages of sin is death and sin bears beyond that. The earthly consequences in his life are not going to be good for us, or helpful, or healthy for us to walk through and yet that’s what [it] does.”
Pornography is a spiritually “corruptive thing,” he said, “it’s just soaking our heart in sin.”
There is Grace in the Struggle
The narratives pornography creates has a reinforcing effect. Especially for Christians, it is not uncommon to feel a deep sense of shame and self-resentment after looking at porn. The ensuing despair leads to an increased feeling of inevitability. Being unable to break free, the porn user is only further entrenched in what becomes a repetitive cycle.
For the Christian however, the narrative of shame is replaced with a narrative of grace.
Shame communicates the idea that your identity “is that thing I regret, rather than something that is separate from me,” explained Mooney-McCoy, but “God did not create us for shame.”
“One of the things one of my former pastors loved to say is ‘when you mess up, God is the perfect person to run to,’” he said, “We need to run to the Father when we’ve messed up and not run from Him. We are not able to fathom forgiveness, God’s capacity to do so. We can’t fathom because we don’t have that capacity…God doesn’t have a statute of limitations.”
Kyes would agree. “Although our sins do have consequences, and worldly consequences too,” he said, “God’s grace can overcome both.”
“His son’s death on the cross pays for your sin. Pays for whatever addiction or whatever sins you have committed. He makes you appear before God as clean—as his Son. There’s a tremendous peace in that. And that’s supposed to motivate us to do good and run from sin.”
It can be easy for Christians to think doctrinal truths about forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, and justification have to be earned. “I’ve just encountered that a lot,” Ackerman said, “to the point where people who fall in sin…[have] a hard time believing that they are loved by God, and they are forgiven, and they are accepted.”
But this is part of the narrative of shame. The believer struggling with pornography needs to be reminded, Ackerman said, that “they’re in Christ and in union with the Father, thanks to Christ…Not in a way that takes Him lightly, not in a way that makes excuses for sin, but in a way that helps them understand they’re standing with God through Jesus has not changed.”
Freedom is Real, Fight for It
After struggling with porn for months, maybe even years, hope of coming out of the other side can start to feel grim.
However, freedom is real.
“We have been set free by Christ,” said Mooney-McCoy, “I think our being set free is both a fact and a process. Theologically, it is true, I am free…But I’m also being set free from the power of sin. And that’s progressive.”
For Kyes, the process of breaking free from pornography “looked like discipline and self-control and being able to build a brick wall.” It meant fighting with the end-view in mind.
“The first brick is always worth it,” he said, “you can get really discouraged just having to start over and over and over again. But I think if you’re able to channel that into a positive outlook and really fight against unholiness, then it’s easier to [build] than if you just view it as failure, constant failure.”
“I’m so excited,” he said, “I’m so enthusiastic about keeping my wall up that I’ve run away from everything else. I don’t want to have to start that rebuild now that I put up so many bricks.”
Kyes life has been different since he built up his “brick wall.” And the benefits, both spiritually and relationally, have him not wanting to go back.
An integral dimension to freedom (building your wall against porn) involves stepping into the means God has provided to overcome sin. From Ackerman’s perspective, one of the most valuable resources in fighting pornography is the local church.
“The Scriptures tell us to “confess our sins to one another, that we may be healed.” There is something about bringing our sin to light, and employing and enlisting other Christians to pray for us and hold us accountable to apply the scriptures to our hearts—there’s something about that [which is] a powerful means for us increasing in holiness and saying no to sin.”
Ackerman compares this process of “increasing in holiness” to plowing a field.
“[The farmer] gets up and he plants some seed and then he gets up and he waters it. It can be slow plodding work, fairly unremarkable day to day. And yet over time, the Lord reaps a harvest. And he does a good work in our souls, and in our characters as we just continue to slowly plod forward as Christians, valuing the things he’s told us to value, taking up the disciplines He’s given us to be disciplined in, and just trusting that over time, the Lord will do a work in our hearts.”
Through the encouragement of the church, prayer, and the use of spiritual disciplines, the path to freedom is one full of grace and healing.
“You have been made a child, you have been made a new creation. If you are a true genuine believer, your name is written in his book. You are His. He loves you. He is with you,” said Ackerman.
The meaning of this truth? It means you can be free from pornography. It means there is hope. It means the struggle will not last the rest of your life.
Freedom is real. So fight for it.