Five Thoughts on Sharing the Burden of Pornography Addiction Jonathan Watson

October 19, 2016

The pervasiveness of pornography in our culture is widely recognized and documented. Consider the following statistics from www.projectknow.com:

  • 420 million webpages are pornographic
  • 42% of college males regularly visit such sites
  • 19% of the above students feel controlled by this addiction
  • 12% spend 5 hours or more a week on pornography sites[1]

These stats are staggering. The problem is all around us and even in the midst of evangelical churches. Within the last few years I have personally had the opportunity of walking alongside a few brothers who have struggled with the issue of porn addiction. In this post I want to relate a few thoughts on accountability relationships that have proven helpful in walking with these brothers.

Sharing the Burden

The Lord is kind to give us the fellowship of the church for our fight against our fleshly desires and sins that hinder us in our pursuit of Christ. Galatians 6:2 is likely a familiar verse to us: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2 NASB). The verse is applied to any number of life situations. While “bearing burdens” has broader applications, its primary referent is found in verse 1. Hear how the fuller context narrows the emphasis:

“[1] Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. [2] Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1–2).

The primary burden Paul has in mind is the burden of sin or the “any trespass” (or “transgression”) of verse 1. This is the fulfillment of the “law of Christ.”

Working out our calling to share one another’s sin burdens is challenging. I do not have all the answers. However, here are a five thoughts on how I believe we should approach it.

(1) We must take one another to Christ.

We can’t save a brother from his addictions or fight his battles for him. We must encourage his pursuit of Christ above all other things in every way imaginable.[2]

Christ is both the form and the content of our encouragement to one another. Whether seeking encouragement for ourselves or for another, we must look to his example of perseverance and his victorious work of the cross and resurrection:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb 12:1–3).

There are many truths to which we can point an individual, but if we fail to orient these truths to Christ our encouragement will ultimately fail. The only way to encourage a brother or sister to victory is to point them to our victor, who has secured our victory and will bring it to full and final completion at his second coming.

(2) We must remind one another that our motivation for change is grace, not law.

There are two defeating thoughts that commonly undermine us in the fight against any sin:

(a) Giving up hope of victory (“I’m too far gone for God to redeem”).

(b) Thinking we have been given grace, so continuing to sin isn’t such a big deal.

Both thoughts blaspheme God’s grace. The first blasphemes God’s grace by thinking too little of its power: “God’s grace is too weak to save.” The second blasphemes God’s grace by thinking too little of its cost: “God’s grace is too cheap to treasure.”

When we think too little of the power of God’s grace, we replace God’s grace with works, thinking, “I’ll clean myself up and then maybe God will accept me again.” This is a return to righteousness by the law (something Paul urged the Galatians not to do; cf. Gal 2:16). In contrast, the message of grace is this, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

When we think too little of the cost of God’s grace, we take it for granted and trample it underfoot as a stepping-stone to our next sinful indulgence. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2).

I have watched brothers oscillating back and forth between these thoughts. On the one hand, failures are often followed by self-loathing withdrawal from God, and God’s grace is thought too weak. On the other hand, distance from the failure lessens the guilt and thoughts of God’s mercy lead to rationalization: God made me red-blooded and I’m forgiven in Christ, so . . .”

In response, we must preach God’s grace in all its fullness to ourselves and to our brothers. We must preach this grace in both its great power and great worth.

(3) We must recognize that the battle against sin is a spiritual one and take up the weapons given us by the Spirit for this war.

Some of the first steps to take in the fight are radical (external) measures that remove the access points and minimize the occasions for sin. Such measures are important, but they are by themselves insufficient.

By ourselves, we are inadequate to wage this war. We must be dependent on the Lord for victory over our own sin, much less in our support of another brother or sister in his or her fight with sin. Pray together. Read Scripture together (send each other verses via text msg). One I haven’t employed well is fasting together.

(4) We must remind our brother that his sin problem is bigger than this ONE sin.

Heath Lambert makes this point in his excellent book Finally Free. Because the sin of lust and its fruit of pornography loom so large on the conscience and because there is so much fear of being found out and all the consequences that might entail, there is a massive temptation for someone struggling in this area to reduce the fight against sin to the fight against porn.

Therefore, as your brother begins to experience victory, help them be on guard against pride. One way to address this reductionism is to expose the root sins of unbelief, pride, idolatry, and ingratitude. Fight the tendency to reduce your accountability conversations to the topic of lust or pornography.

(5) We must involve other faithful brothers in the fight.

You are not your struggling brother’s Savior. You must both understand this. One of the best ways to help is to bring other brothers into this huddle. Consider bringing your small group leader or Sunday School teacher or even one of the pastors of the church into the conversation. You must be judicious in expanding the circle. Knowledge of the situation doesn’t need to be spread abroad, but the discerning act of bringing other brothers into the circle can be very beneficial.

Conclusion

Do you know where your brothers in Christ stand on the issue of pornography? If not, take the initiative to find out. Perhaps you are struggling in this area and need godly accountability. If so, pursue it within the fellowship of your local church. As you do it is my prayer that the Lord will give you grace to walk together in victory. Bear one another’s burdens, brothers, and so fulfill the law of Christ!

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NOTES

[1]“Infographic.” Available from http://www.projectknow.com/discover/taking-a-whack-at-porn-addiction/#.WAIRZZMrKuX; Accessed 15 October 2016.

[2]I have chosen to use masculine pronouns throughout this piece for convenience and clarity about the nature of accountability relationships. Pornography addiction is certainly not limited to males. However, it is wisest for us to serve in accountability roles with those of the same sex. I think the insights here apply equally to men and women and could be readily applied to female accountability relationships too.

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