“My dad said we can’t put a filtering software on our computers because it would be a crutch. I need to be able to overcome pornography by growing in my trust and obedience to Jesus.”
I was stunned. This student had come to me for counseling because of his pornography problem, but his Christian father was undercutting my counsel and robbing his son of valuable tools in the fight against his sin. There are so many problems with the statement above. When he shared these thoughts with me, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I won’t be able to address everything that’s problematic in a single blog post, but a good place to start is to rethink this unhelpful view of temptation.
One of the central problems behind a statement like this is a misunderstanding of what walking in faithful repentance looks like when it comes to the sin of pornography use. Another way of stating the faulty position of the father above is this: “If I’m genuinely repentant of my sin of lust, I won’t be tempted by lustful images. Therefore, I should be able to have unfettered access to the internet.”
The Bible offers very different counsel. First, faithfulness is not the absence of temptation. Second, demonstrating faithfulness does not come by running toward temptation and not giving in, but by putting as much space between you and the temptation as possible. Third, using means of grace like accountability or filters to help us fight sin is not weakness, but wisdom.
Temptation Is Not Necessarily the Problem
Temptation is not sin. We need to be abundantly clear about this. Jesus was tempted but he never sinned (Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13, Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, in and of itself, temptation cannot be sin. James helps us distinguish between temptation and sin in the first chapter of his letter, which lays out the process that leads to sin (James 1:14–15). He describes temptation as something that precedes and can lead to sin, but is not sin itself. Sometimes we lay a heavy burden of expectation on ourselves or others who struggle with porn when we communicate that genuine repentance and faithfulness to God means that there would be no temptation toward lust at all, even if a herd of attractive naked people were to go strolling by. Walking in faithful repentance would be turning from the temptation and running toward God—both physically and in our hearts.
Fleeing from Temptation
Turning away physically is one way to say no to temptation. The Bible not only encourages us to turn away from temptation but also to avoid it, whenever and however possible. When Jesus instructs his followers to pray, he includes the petition that God would keep us from temptation (Matthew 6:13).
One of my friends is a former MMA fighter. One time when he was cutting weight before a fight, he opened a bag of his favorite chips, pulled one out and held it in front of his face. But he didn’t eat it. He did this to show himself that he had the willpower to say no to his desire for that delicious treat. That is a great story for motivating athletes and gives a glimpse into the mental toughness elite athletes must have to succeed in their field, but it is not the example God gives for fighting temptation. Instead, God instructs Christians to “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Joseph is a biblical role model to follow in this regard. When Potiphar’s wife sought to seduce him, he didn’t follow her into her bed chamber and watch her undress just so he could prove his faithfulness to God by saying no and walking away. He ran for his life (Genesis 39)! Brothers and sisters, do not be deceived into thinking that you need to open yourself up to pornography exposure so you can demonstrate true resistance to sin. Put as much distance between you and that temptation as possible. Accountability, including internet filtering and accountability software is helpful to put space between you and temptation.
Accountability Shows Wisdom
In some ways my student’s father was right. Accountability software is a crutch. But crutches aren’t bad things when you have a broken ankle. As a matter of fact, they are great blessings. If you struggle with pornography use, you do have a weakness. You were born weak, and you have further weakened yourself through the choices you’ve made. That weakness is sin. Each of us is born sinful, and we give ourselves over to sin. The reality is, before coming toChrist we aren’t just weak, we are helpless, we are dead (Ephesians 2:1). But God, in his kindness, did not leave us dead. He gives us new life, then nourishes, supports, strengthens, and matures us. He does so through many means: his Spirit, his Word, and his body (the Church), just to name a few.
The body of Christ, the Church, is an incredible means of God’s grace in the lives of believers. One role that the body plays in helping Christians grow to be more like Jesus is through providing accountability. Accountability is the practice of knowing and being fully known by others (as much as is humanly possible). Then we bring God’s Word and wisdom to bear in each other’s lives to support one another in the process of sanctification. Accountability involves closeness and human interaction.
Accountability is not limited to specific Christian relationships where we help one another overcome sin and put on righteousness. That is only part of it. Accountability takes place in community and at societal levels as well. Just a few decades ago, if someone wanted to view a pornographic video, he would have had to drive to a shady store, park his car, walk into the store with other people inside, pick up a DVD or video tape, walk to the counter, face another human being, pay money, walk back to the car, and drive home before watching the movie. All along the way he would run the risk of being seen or having someone find the video. Similar barriers existed when purchasing pornographic magazines or pictures. Prior to photography, the satisfaction of sexual lusts would have required even more intimate and known human interaction. That human interaction, combined with God’s law written on our hearts, are instruments of God to help us restrain sinful impulses.
Holding One Another Accountable
Isolation and anonymity fight against accountability. The advent of the internet and advancements in technology have made genuine accountability very hard. Increasingly small and powerful devices have allowed for access to all kinds of sin-provoking content while maintainingrelative anonymity and isolation. Accountability and filtering software seeks to add human interaction and helpful barriers back into areas of life that are fraught with temptation so those who struggle don’t have to do so alone.
Electronic accountability measures are not a panacea. By themselves, they cannot foster true and lasting repentance and sanctification. They must be combined with a growing love for Jesus. But they are one helpful instrument that can be used to help those who struggle with pornography to walk in faithful repentance. My book Redeem Your Marriage: Hope for Husbands Who Have Hurt Through Pornography seeks to point people Christ and his means of grace to help battle pornography.
The truly repentant heart humbly acknowledges a need for help. The heart that is genuinely seeking to grow and change, to put off porn and put on purity, will avail itself of every resource possible.
Brothers and sisters, I know many of you struggle with porn. Don’t allow yourself to be misled by false expectations of repentance or lies that would push you away from utilizing every means available to help you in this fight. Don’t be discouraged that you still feel tempted. Don’t think you have to prove your repentance by removing safeguards, facing down temptation, and resisting it. Instead, run away from temptation. Put every barrier you can between yourself and pornography. Using accountability tools is not weakness—it is wisdom.