The Sins Behind the Sin of Pornography
The Rosary Pea vine carries a toxin called abrin, one of the deadliest on earth. If the coating breaks, ingesting a seed from the vine can kill a human being. Because of their vibrant colors, people actually use the seeds in jewelry and for rosary prayer beads. The vine thrives in tropical environments and can spread aggressively under the right conditions, which means it’s nearly impossible to eradicate without also addressing the provisions by which it thrives.
The same could be said about pornography. Deadly to the human soul and destructive to human life, pornography flourishes under the right conditions—within a broader ecosystem of sins, struggles, and situations. It never operates in isolation. It incubates under the right combination of factors. Pornography feeds upon other sins the way cancer feeds on sugar, and it feeds other sins the way cancer feeds other diseases. We cannot separate and quarantine sexual sin. It’s better we accept its connection to aspects of our lives we might think unrelated and might prefer to leave untouched.
This is important—not simply to understand pornography, but to wage war against it. We cannot choke out weeds without also killing their seeds, without treating the soil in which they take root, and without limiting the fertilizers we use to feed them. We are much more doomed when we try to defeat pornography without addressing the streams that water it.
In this chapter, we aim to understand pornography in relationship to everything else we think, feel, and do, in order to put pornography to death through the only means by which it actually dies—comprehensive life transformation by the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will consider the composition of the soil from which it sprouts, the fertilizers by which it thrives, and the harvest it produces. In doing so we hope to gather biblical, Christ-centered counsel for comprehensive heart and life change.
THE SEEDBED OF PORNOGRAPHY
In Proverbs 7, Solomon tells the story of a foolish young man who plunges his life into ruin through sexual immorality. The highlights of the account offer incredible insights into various precursors to sexual sin: the pretense of folly, the pride of life, and the praise of man.
The pretense of folly
Folly pretends to be wise. The foolish man assumes he is not so foolish, and interacts with the elements of his world as if he is in control. He thinks to bring fire to his chest and not be burned (Prov 6:27). The story bears it out:
My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend, to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.
For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.
The young man lacks sense because he passes along the street near the corner of the forbidden woman as if immune to her smooth words, as if able to get close without falling prey to her schemes, as if going in to her will not cost his life. The woman is a figure for all sexual immorality, and the way she and the young man relate to one another represents how pornography speaks to us, and we respond to it.
Consider how many forays into pornography begin with thinking ourselves wise enough and strong enough to dally with the world without falling head first into it. Scrolling the internet, late night television binges, casually scrolling social media, flirtations at work, unchecked fantasies, unaccountable travels from home, access to devices without filters — a mere sampling of ways we foolishly pass along the street near her corner under the pretense of safety.
The pride of life
Any sense of entitlement will tune us more strongly to the wavelengths of pornography. If you think you deserve the attention and pleasure of attractive women, then you’re set up to be easily seduced. If you love the idea of men or women at your beckon call, willing to take their clothes off at your bidding, then pornography will eat you alive. Listen to the story unfold:
And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.”
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.
Notice how the woman appeals to the pride of the young man. She flatters him. She gives him the opportunity to possess the wife of another man, which appeals to his arrogance. It offers the chance to conquer, to be better than other men. Whatever failures he faced earlier in the day can be erased through a victory in the bedroom. Whatever thirst for power he carries can be satisfied by drinking the opportunity she offers. No fear of the Lord. No humble love for his neighbor. No concern for the marriage of this woman; only a selfish thirst for a sexual achievement.
The images of wealth, pleasure, and love are presented as objects he’s entitled to claim. She says, “I’m all yours. We can do whatever you please. You’re the one in control.” Oh the power! No proud man or woman can resist. Of course, the scene is thick with irony. Thinking he’s about to triumph, he follows her to the slaughterhouse.
The praise and fear of man
From my point of view, the praise and fear of man compose the lifeblood of pornography. The images of pornography are designed to convey a strategic and powerful message to the viewer: You’re attractive. You’re intoxicating. You’re an incredible lover. You’re great. The men and women always say yes to you. They want you. They smile at you. They worship you. Human praise is an integral part of the seduction in Proverbs 7. Notice in the passage how the woman praises the young man. She came out to find him and no one else. She’s pleased with him above others. She desires him, not her husband. The way she seizes him, kisses him, and looks at him expresses an intense desire for him, which he finds absolutely intoxicating. If we love the praise of others, then we will love pornography.
At the same time, the men and women captured in the images of pornography never reject you. They never tell you no. Pornography provides a world where you can receive validation and approval without the fear of rejection and disapproval. No matter how ashamed of looking at pornography you may be, it never criticizes you.
Pornography also offers the illusion of privacy and safety. The woman lists the reasons why they won’t be caught. Her husband is on a long journey. What the husband doesn’t know won’t hurt him. What you do in the privacy of your bedroom is no one else’s business. It will be their little secret. No one will know. Pornography thrives in the dark, in a life filled with secrets.
THE NOURISHMENT OF PORNOGRAPHY
Not only does the condition of our hearts determine whether or not pornography takes root, what we feed our hearts in daily life influences the degree by which pornography grows. Sexual sin spreads under certain conditions.
Anxiety and stress
Living in a state of anxiety, stress, and worry tends to increase our desire for the soothing pleasure of sexual sin, especially pornography. When combined with masturbation, it may not remove anxiety, but it will take the edge off. It distracts us from the burdens of life. It numbs us to the objects of our worry.
Like alcohol or pain medication, pornography can act like a powerful sedative. It helps release physical tensions and calm agitated emotions. It enables us to avoid the root causes of our anxiety by quieting all the deafening noise of daily deadlines, expectations, and responsibilities. The Lord tells us to call on him in a day of trouble, to not worry, and to entrust ourselves to him. Pornography offers the alternative, an attractive and immediate false god.
Fantasy and control
A vibrant fantasy life increases our desire for pornography.
The tendency to take refuge in mental happy places when life becomes painful, or just plain boring, encourages a pattern of seeking refuge in other kinds of fantasy happy places, like pornography. Rather than face our troubles, experience pain, and wait upon the Lord, we can envision erotic images and embed ourselves in erotic storylines. We control when and where we go. Rather than embrace and serve within the mundane details of life, pornography brings a sense of excitement and energy.
Though the Lord gives us imagination as part of bearing his image, we can use it to serve idols. Our capacity to create can be misdirected into sexual fantasy. An imagination best employed to understand the rich imagery of Scripture, to compel our worship of God, to stir up our hope for the kingdom of Jesus Christ might be wrongly employed to play out sexual escapades.
Sensuality and worldliness
An overall desire for sensual excitement nourishes pornography. Pleasure is a good gift from God, but we can worship the gift more than the giver. Having our senses thrilled can become a consuming desire, so can avoiding sensory pain. Rather than seeing the things of the world as a means to love God and others, we can love those things more than God and others. This is at the heart of worldliness.
A love for the world and the things of the world will always make sexual sin attractive. The Apostle Paul points to the examples of worldly men: “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph 4:19). Paul is quick to say, “That is not the way you learned Christ” (Eph 4:20). In Christ we are new creations, no longer enslaved to the passions of the flesh, and “the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality” (Gal 5:19). If we use food, drink, media, and other created things as means to serve the flesh, then we establish conditions under which pornography thrives.
This is one reason why regular, faith-driven prayer and fasting helps combat sexual sin. It starves the sinful flesh as a whole, submitting us more completely to the Father, tethering us more tightly to Jesus Christ, and filling us more fully with the Spirit.
Disappointment, anger, and self-pity
Sometimes the indulgence of pornography and masturbation expresses a kind of spiritual temper tantrum. When people disappoint, wrong, or betray us, sexual pleasure becomes more tempting. It even feels more justified. Alongside his sexual sin, Samson bore a fiery temper and tended toward self-pity. In fact, his life tended to swing between fits of anger and fits of immorality. Our flesh is prone to the same swings. Meditating on our disappointments, fuming in anger, and stewing in self- pity stirs up the desires of the flesh for pornography.
Relational laziness and escapism
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov 18:1). Real-life relationships can be challenging, and the sinful flesh hates sacrificial love. We love escape. The responsibilities of relationships, whether in marriage, family, or church, can be weighty and even painful. It takes energy to initiate conversation. It takes effort to seek and serve others. When conflict comes, it takes humility, time, and energy to resolve it biblically.
Pornography, on the other hand, is easy. Interactions with the people in pornography do not require work or sacrifice or humility or conflict resolution or joyful service. They serve us. The people exist for us. We don’t have to speak or listen. We don’t have to share and give—only take and receive. A mindset and pattern of relational laziness and escapism only encourages our affinity for pornography.
THE HARVEST OF PORNOGRAPHY
Indulging pornography yields a host of effects that, in turn, strengthen our desire and attachment to sensuality and pornography in the future. The sin we indulge in today always gives shape and power to the temptations we face tomorrow.
Shame, covering, and hiding
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened to good and evil in a new, dreadful way (Gen 3:7). No longer were they naked and unashamed. They were naked and ashamed, which is one reason they immediately make fig leaf coverings for themselves. Perhaps their fears were averted for a little while, until they heard the sound of the Lord drawing near. All of a sudden their little coverings were not enough. They “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3:8). The trees God created for their food became a means to avoid his presence.
Taking bites from the fruits of pornography produces a similar pattern of effects. We feel ashamed. Without genuine repentance, we cover ourselves with self-righteous works and temporary fixes. Maybe we read the Bible a little more, we make sure to attend a church service, we vow to never look at pornography again. Or maybe we run to television, video games, and food. Maybe we use permissible things to hide behind. None of this actually works, because our attempts to cover and hide only make pornography more attractive tomorrow.
Pornography, by nature, dehumanizes. It dehumanizes the people captured in the images and stories portrayed. It uncovers their nakedness. It robs their dignity. It turns them into objects of lust and self-serving pleasure. It enslaves them to the sexually deviant whims of their employers as well as the carnal appetites of the consumer.
It also dehumanizes us, the viewer. We become creatures of lust and craving. Biological drives begin to rule us, and carnal appetites begin to control us instead of the Word and spirit of God. We become more like animals and less like the humans he created us to be.
Impatience, frustration, and inability to endure affliction
Anytime we feed the flesh, though soothed for the moment, it gains the upper hand in our lives. When we fuel fire, it grows hotter (Prov 30:15-16). And when we fuel the fire of selfish pride in our souls, we only grow more selfish and proud. When we grow more selfish and proud, we grow more impatient and frustrated with God, people, and inconvenient circumstances. Thus, we become more vulnerable to the temptations of pornography, for it offers immediate, self-serving gratification at the expense of others, and our flesh loves gratification at the expense of others.
Habitual indulgence of the flesh weakens our tolerance for adversity. Sensuality, by definition, hates and resists pain and suffering. It craves physical comfort and pleasure. The longer we indulge pornography, or any other emotion- numbing substance, the less capable of enduring affliction we become, which only makes us more susceptible to sensual escape in the future.
Entanglement and escalation
Sin is sticky. If we cling to it, then it gladly clings to us. Indeed, we cannot throw ourselves into a pit of tar and then expect to climb out and walk away. The moment our bodies are submerged into the substance, we’re stuck. All of our movements only move us deeper into the hole. Gravity works against us. The chemical composition of tar and skin make it impossible to pull out.
Indulging pornography sexualizes our view of the world, which causes us to notice sensual images more easily. Posters of women in skimpy clothes, certain words, certain sounds, specific memories will jump out like never before. Our dreams become sexualized. Even non-sexual images become sexualized: a modestly dressed woman at work, a man working out at the gym, a harmless joke, these can become sexual in our minds, because pornography paints our whole world in sexual colors. Indulging pornography feeds our craving for more. It develops our appetite for it. It clings to us. Our flesh always wants more, to push the limits, to go further. It will not stop until it destroys our lives and relationships.
If we want pornography eradicated from our lives, then we must deal with these kinds of conditions head on. All the pretenses of folly, every ounce of pride, and any desire for human praise need to be extinguished through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not strong, but weak, and must learn to relate to God and this world as those who are poor in spirit (Matt 5:3). We cannot handle the world, so why pretend? We cannot last a single round in the ring with Satan, and we must learn to live a simple, sober Christian life.
We do not exist on high, but below, and we must assume the proper posture of humble servants, unworthy of mercy, let alone exaltation. Blessed are we in Christ, but not entitled. Someday we will be exalted with Christ, but not now. The fear of man brings a snare, so we must wean ourselves from the intoxicating potion of human praise in order to live more fully for the praise of Jesus Christ (Prov 29:25).
As those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved, we receive hearts with new capacities to face life honestly, peacefully, and enduringly. Christ is our refuge. Christ is our peace. At his right hand there are pleasures forever. He helps us suffer the loss of all things and count them as rubbish. Christ bears our shame. In his righteousness, we stand before God the father. Through him, we become more fully human, and by his mercy we endure every form of trouble. In Christ, we die to sin. No longer must we live entangled to it or defeated by it.
Every part of the soil, every possible condition, and every ounce of harvest connected to pornography in our lives has been, and will continue to be, addressed through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel offers rich counsel against pornography directly, but it also brings about the kind of comprehensive life transformation that makes it difficult for pornography to take root and spread. The Lord wants our entire being. Praise God for the promise that his redeeming hand will not cease before finishing what he began in us (Phil 1:6).
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Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the e-book Porn and the Pastor.