Discipling a Generation Who Grew Up with Porn

Article
10.30.2018

I was blessed to grow up in a time when pornography was still pretty tough to find. Magazines sat in sealed plastic bags behind sales counters, and you had to pay for any channels or movies that had pornographic content. Don’t get me wrong—I saw pornography as a teenager, but I didn’t see very much of it.

Sadly, that’s not the case with the young men and women in our churches today. Most of them are “digital natives.” They don’t remember a time without iPhones, iPads, and free WiFi everywhere. And many of them don’t remember a time without unlimited access to pornography.

I’m a pastor in a college town, not a social scientist. I can’t tell you how many young Christians view pornography regularly. But I can tell you that when I meet with young men, I don’t have to ask, “Have you struggled with pornography?” I can save time by simply asking, “Would you tell me about your struggle with pornography?”

Church, we have a serious problem on our hands, and it’s only getting worse. Every week, young people are coming into our churches, weighed down with guilt and shame. Many express a genuine desire to be free from their sin, but they don’t know what to do. And often, church leaders don’t know how to help them.

So how should we respond to the pornography crisis in our churches, particularly among young people who can’t remember life without it?

First, we must teach young Christians to be sober-minded about their slavery to sin.

Dozens of young men over the years have confessed to me, “I’m struggling with lust.” When I ask them to tell me more about the extent of their struggle, they tell me that they’re viewing pornography weekly, multiple times per week, or even daily.

If someone is using illegal drugs like this, we don’t refer to that as a “struggle.” We call it what it is—an addiction.

But for some reason, when it comes to Christians viewing pornography we don’t use the language of addiction, or what the Scriptures would call “slavery to sin” (Rom. 6:6, Gal. 4:3). No, we soften the blunt edge of reality with the language of “struggle.”

As long as we allow young Christians to believe they’re “struggling” with pornography when they’re enslaved to it, they won’t be willing to take the drastic steps necessary to walk in repentance. The addict will never go to rehab until she’s convinced that she’s an addict.

Second, we must train young Christians to flee from temptation.

One of the best ways to get out of a compromising situation is to never put yourself in a compromising situation to begin with. But many young Christians do, especially with respect to the entertainment they consume.

Wildly popular shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld feature graphic sex, and yet many young Christians watch these shows without a second thought. In his article “12 Questions to Ask Before You Watch Game of Thrones,” John Piper writes:

Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen. Violence on a screen is make-believe; nobody really gets killed. But nudity is not make-believe. These actresses are really naked in front of the camera, doing exactly what the director says to do with their legs and their hands and their breasts.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).

Fleeing sexuality immorality includes avoiding entertainment that may be sinful in itself, but also might be a “gateway” to pornography usage.

Third, we must train young Christians to fight.

John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We’re in a fight to the death with sin. But the way many young Christians deal with sin is like watching a movie fight. There’s lots of tough talk, dancing around, and blocking.

If you take a self-defense class, your instructor will first of all tell you to avoid a fight at all costs. But if a fight is unavoidable, then the person who goes in first, fast, and furious is usually going to win. No talking. No dancing around. No blocking.

Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 5:29)

We’ve got to train young Christians to fight like this. Many will find victory through the ordinary means of grace—reading Scripture, prayer, and accountability in the church. Others will need to “cut out the eye,” which could include exchanging their smartphone for a “dumbphone” with no internet access, or deciding only to use computers in public libraries rather than buying a laptop.

Digital natives have a hard time believing that people survived without smartphones and laptops, but as Jesus says, it’s better to lose something temporary than something eternal. The key is to take whatever measures are necessary to fight against besetting sins. That’s the only way to win a fight to the death.

Finally, we must point young Christians to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many young men and women have been battling pornography addiction for years. They’re ashamed and discouraged. And while we need to train them to flee and to fight, the best thing we can do is point them to the gospel.

Jesus was tempted in every way—including to lust after women—and yet he never sinned. We must remember that his perfectly obedient life, his sin-atoning death, and his death-defeating resurrection isn’t only the key to our forgiveness, but to our sanctification and joy.

If Jesus is powerful enough to raise the dead to life through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, then he is powerful enough to deliver us from our besetting sins. And that includes addiction to pornography.