Seven Things to Do After You Look at Pornography

A lot of Christian advice about porn addicts is unhelpful—meaning, it doesn’t contribute to real progress in repentance, healing, restoration and recovery. Most of all, it fails to address the issues that underlie porn use. Often, Christian advice either has its head in the clouds of theology and biblical references, or is a list of superficial how-tos, and gets knocked beneath the sand of real life—of failure, and the struggle to hope. How is the gospel relevant to failing and trying again? And failing and trying again? And failing and trying again?

We too often allow unattainable ideals to dictate what we allow ourselves to say—the issues we allow ourselves to address with the congregation, with the struggler, with the mirror. Are we allowed to talk about what Christ can do (and what we can do) right after pornographic indulgence? Or do we look to the clouds and hope for the best? “Why think about how God meets you in the midst of failure? You shouldn’t even be in an ‘after pornography’ situation.” But often many are and because God can and does act in the moment of regret.

It is often in the moment after the closed door, the darkness, the screen-light, the hidden act—after pornography indulgence—that Satan spins his most eloquent web: menacing patterns of thinking; bargaining with a disapproving and distant God; twisting us in on ourselves in self-hatred. It is in the moment after pornography indulgence that Satan does his finest work. It is in this moment that we need God to do his finest saving. Here are some specific ways to search for grace the moment after the dark act of pornography indulgence:

1. Know your Enemy.

As soon as you indulge, you either plunge into self-hatred, or into self-avoidance. Satan is satisfied either way. Both paths believe his accusations (Matthew 16:23; 2 Corinthians 7:10). Recognize that you have a powerful personal agent who is singularly focused on your destruction (Job 1:7; Ephesians 2:2; Jude 1:19). Every experience you have—your thoughts, your hatreds, your impulses, your emotions, your plans, your ideas—must take into account that Satan is at work. The sooner you forget that, the easier it is to believe hidden, subversive, subtle, destructive lies. When Jesus tells the Pharisees that their father is the devil—the great liar—it is of course no surprise that they don’t know that. Satan wants them to forget that he is their father, because evil gains power when it is forgotten (John 8:44). Don’t forget: After you indulge, you are still mid-battle with a tenacious, evil person bent on stealing your life, and he has not yet gotten it.

2. Fight self-hatred.

There is no question: Pornography is the twisted manipulation of innocence for the raw crave of erotic appetite. To have a grieved conscience is a good thing. But when Judas realized “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” it is not surprising that “he departed, and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:4–5). It’s a common feeling: to want to punish ourselves for betraying the innocent. In twisting innocence, we twist ourselves. It is not a surprise that suicide rates are high among pornography users. “I’m not as good as Christian preachers and bloggers want me to be.” To warp human dignity, in the end, only warps the user more—psychologically deforming to self-hating; contorting into self-disgust. We abhor, criticize, despise and detest ourselves. Wallowing in self-deprecation and feeling like paying penance to God for sin is a sad and ironclad torture. It is false, and it is a wicked oppression. But grace does have a word on this.

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Paul Maxwell
Paul Maxwell (@paulcmaxwell) is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute. He writes more at his blog, paulcmaxwell.com, and pretends to like coffee.