You say you’ve tried everything.
You gave away your computer, unplugged your TV, had a total stranger put a lock on your phone. Maybe you’ve done well in stretches. You have four accountability partners, and multiple search engine filters, and yet, in your moments of madness, you find a way to circumvent all boundaries and plunge into sin. You don’t know why you do it. Afterward, you lament with Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
My question for you is simply this: Is porn really your problem?
It may seem strange to ask. How could this, your secret shame, this habit which makes you hate yourself, this offense which robs your happiness in the Lord and grieves the Holy Spirit — how could this, which you have tried unsuccessfully to shake, not be your problem?
A friend of mine stumbled upon the crucial distinction. “I know this may sound strange,” he confessed, “but I don’t think porn is really my issue.” How could he, someone who the delicious leash had been strangling for years, say it wasn’t his deepest concern?
The Old Therapy
The moment he said it, I knew exactly what he meant. Porn was not his problem. What was? The many unaddressed sins feeding his impurity.
To be clear, porn is a problem, and a tragedy. In a society without the Internet, could Jesus have been much more explicit concerning the very heartbeat of the porn industry today?
“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:28–30)
The war against lust costs arms and limbs. Embarrassment during your next men’s group isn’t mainly what’s at stake. Hell is at stake. And hell is a place that we should tear out eyes and cut off limbs to avoid. Porn, the crown jewel of twenty-first century lust, is always a problem.
But while porn is always a problem, the problem is not always porn.
Porn, for many, is a comfort sin, a type of therapy. Have a stressful day? Sit down and relax. Angry with your spouse or anxious about an upcoming test? Bring your concerns to the computer screen. Are you lonely? Sad? Bitter, bored, or busy? The door is always open. We bring our problems to porn, the cheap, deceptive therapist, ready to relieve the struggles of a long day.
When my friend wondered whether sexual sin was really his problem, he meant this. He used porn to medicate his pent-up bitterness towards those who wronged him, envy towards those who didn’t have his childhood, and loneliness he felt — even in the church. He made it his antidepressant, his treatment, his counselor. His deeper problem: the many sins he spent little-to-no time fighting, the respectable sins that his accountability group didn’t care much about.
Goat Path of the Enemy
Our enemy knows this. For years, he has been using porn to distract us from the goat path.
Who could forget the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae? Outmanned, they held fast, warring for three days against King Xerxes and his army of 150,000 soldiers. They tore at their hunter as a cornered lion. Their last stand is legendary.
But these mighty warriors were defeated by a goat path. Not used for combat, it sat unassuming, merely a way for beasts of burden. Until Ephialtes, a native Greek, betrayed knowledge of this path to the enemy. The Persians attacked from behind. Now outflanked, the Spartan defeat was inevitable.
Satan has been using the goat path for many who battle sexual immorality. Too often we fall, not by lust attacking from the front, but by the respectable sin’s dagger from behind. We try to fight sexual sin head-on, but never turn to confront our pride, our greed, our gluttony. We focus on the loud sin of porn and don’t hear laziness creep up behind. Do we know what sins slay us before lust finishes us off?
Porn may not be your most threatening besetting sin.
So what do we do?
Don’t give up on much of what we have been doing: attack the porn before us. When we engage the impure enemy we can see, we begin to notice what creeps silently behind. Only when we start saying no to the easy out are we forced to turn and deal with what hunts from the bushes.
When you say no to carnal thoughts, do angry sentiments towards your sister soon flood your mind? When you close your laptop, do you feel overwhelmed again by anxiety? When you get outside and go for a walk, do you see more clearly that you have really been exhausted from your frantic efforts to people-please? Porn use, for many, is the stench that covers a multitude of sins.
When we go to porn for therapy, we go to porn as a substitute savior. But any offer porn gives, Jesus can double it.
Do you go to porn after a long day at work when you are tired? Jesus beckons, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Are you vulnerable to impurity when you become anxious? The comforter of souls says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world [or pornography] gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Are you unhappy? Depressed? Grieving? He beckons you to come and receive his joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Do you go to explicit images to find life and satisfaction? Jesus exclusively states, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Do you feel unloved? “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
Porn is a problem in every person’s life who indulges in it. But porn use may cover your real problems. Get accountability. Say no to lust when it knocks. Then begin to identify, and combat, what sins you might be attempting to avoid.