When news stories break about the moral failure of yet another Christian leader (like Ravi Zacharias or Carl Lentz), it is shocking to some, sad to others, and paints an incongruous picture to the watching world of what it should look like to follow Jesus and lead His Church.
I don't fall into the shocked camp anymore. I've been working in full-time ministry to sexually broken people for nearly 20 years. I've heard it all, even from pastors and church leaders.
But even if I'm not shocked by what I hear these leaders share, my heart breaks for what these stories of sexual brokenness mean for them, their families, and the many lives affected by their positions of leadership.
Leadership, by definition, has consequences.
When leadership is good, followers prosper.
When leadership is bad, followers suffer.
When leadership is deceitful about their sin and weaknesses, followers are devastated by such betrayal of trust.
No leader is perfect or without weaknesses. We must be careful of elevating anyone to such a status of "untouchable" in the church (or any institution). That is certainly a recipe for disappointment, or worse.
It is right, however, to have some expectations of what makes one a quality leader. After all, there should be a measurable difference between good and bad leadership, for the sake of both the followers and the leader.
The question I am trying to answer here is how are Christians, those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, to respond to the moral failure of church leaders? How do we understand and process such betrayal? And in our response, how do we care well for those hurt by such leaders while also upholding the sanctity of the gospel and the goodness of ecclesiastical authority?
Above Reproach: God's Expectation of Church Leaders
The standard for pastoral leadership in the Church is spelled out plainly in Scripture:
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:2-7 (see also Titus 1:5-9)
God's standard for pastoral leadership is that he be someone "above reproach." This can't mean "perfect," for then no one could be in pastoral leadership. But it can certainly mean a man whose life pattern reflects the morality and maturity of a faithful follower of Christ.
When we hear terrible news of the moral failure of a pastor or church leader, we should count such news as awful because of the disregard such a leader showed for God's standard for them. Somewhere along the way compromises to integrity were made and deceit was employed to hide the truth.
At the same time, we must also remind our own local pastors and church leaders of the important and necessary standard God has for them. Let us be an encouragement to those who are living above reproach in their desire to honor Christ and serve His Church. Not all church leaders are living double lives.
Accountability: No Church Leader is Above Church Discipline
Because God does have a standard for leaders in His Church, and because such leaders are imperfect men, there is need for accountability of those in leadership. And when there are stumbles and missteps in their lives or leadership, discipline is necessary.
No church leader is above church discipline!
Where I believe most error occurs in these stories of leaders who end up being front page news for their moral failures is lack of accountability from peers and/or overseeing bodies of authority (i.e. elders, board of directors, etc.).
So much heartache and division could have been mitigated (but not eliminated) if these leaders had simply submitted to their fellow believers when they first started drifting toward sin. Or if the governing leaders pressed in and asked hard questions when they saw or heard things that gave them suspicion of hidden sin.
One of the most insidious lies of the enemy is convincing Church leaders that their position is more important than their character. When leaders stay silent about their sin, the Church suffers far more than if they confess and submit to redemptive discipline.
When a church leader does confess and repent, they need other leaders around them to support them and hold them accountable to a plan for reconciliation (and possibly restoration).
The Differences between Repentance, Reconciliation, and Restoration
In order to understand how to respond to the moral failure of church leaders, one must understand God's desire to redeem all that is broken in creation, and how that redemptive process works in the life of a church leader struggling with immorality.
Biblically, there is a kind of "3-step process" for fallen church leaders to follow in order to participate in God's redemptive plan: Repentance, Reconciliation, and Restoration.*
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.
The only way that healing can occur in a church leader who has violated their office is through repentance. Unless there is true brokenness and "godly grief" over their sin, change cannot happen.
To repent is to "change one's mind" about an action taken. It is more than simply confession. To confess is to "agree with truth," but to repent is to respond to truth with a willful desire to change.
When those closest to the church leader who has fallen learn of his sin, they need to call him to personal repentance. There will be a time for dealing with the effects of his sin on other people and the consequences he must face as a result, but he first needs to know that without true repentance over his sin he cannot experience the cleansing forgiveness of God that leads to hope and joy. (Ps. 51:7-12)
This is no time for excuses from the fallen church leader. Excuses, blame shifting, or other attempts to minimize what happened are sure signs that the leader has not repented. Stand firm on this point. While those wounded by the leader can heal and move forward even if he doesn't repent, God commands repentance from all who sin against Him.
One final note on repentance: it happens both in a moment and over time. There can be powerful moments of contrition and brokenness; the Holy Spirit can crush the pride and break open great floods of "godly grief" and remorse. But it also takes time to cultivate an "attitude of repentance," a desire to keep one's mind open to the instruction and correction of God and His Word.
Patience is required at every stage of this kind of healing.
Only when there has been repentance can there be reconciliation (and eventually possibly restoration). So, if a fallen church leader remains unrepentant these next two stages of healing and transformation remain "on hold." In such cases, instruction from Matthew 18 can provide guidance for how to handle the leader's unrepentant heart.
There are several key relationships that need reconciliation once repentance is genuine:
Whether the leader's wife was aware of his indiscretions or not, there will be a need for reconciling. There is no such thing as a "righteous" marriage when one spouse (or both) is living a double life.
Professional counseling is highly recommended for this stage of healing.
There may also be other family relationships that need reconciling: kids, parents, in-laws, and others. Focus on the nuclear family first, working out to other layers of relatives as necessary.
Those in leadership over or around the fallen church leader must implement appropriate church discipline. The repentant church leader then needs to pursue personal reconciliation with each leader to whom he broke trust.
This is about personal reconciliation between leaders, not restoration of the church leader's former position. Whether or not the church leader ever holds another ministry leadership position, there are personal relationships that need to be healed.
Trust was violated. Betrayal was felt. Anger, confusion, hurt, and disappointment need to be processed. Eventually, forgiveness must be granted to the repentant church leader. This all takes time.
One can't live a double life without hurting friends. The whole premise of keeping secrets is lying. At some point, everyone gets lied to by a person living a double life. This includes friends.
Most likely when the news of the church leader's failure becomes public, everyone close to the church leader will take a few steps back. They are hurt, confused, and angry. It makes sense that they would want some space. And that's ok.
In my view, it doesn't matter who makes the first move to try and reconcile the broken friendship. Regardless, the church leader must still be repentant and allow his friends time to grieve.
Over time, as the leader grows in humility, friends can forgive and hopefully establish a new foundation for a friendship built on truth and grace. Again, all this takes time and good counsel, a lot of it.
Reconciliation with followers is often very difficult and very sticky. These are people who exhibited voluntary trust in the leader. They chose to follow him. They were under no real obligation; they freely submitted. Then the lid came off.
It's hard to describe this kind of pain. In some ways, it can feel like the betrayal of a spouse (I'm not saying these are equivalent). And the closer the followers were to the leader (either in proximity or in relationship), the violation penetrates deeper.
Reconciliation with followers can take the longest and really isn't the first priority for the fallen church leader. The main task of caring for the followers needs to fall to the elders or governing body of the organization. Counseling, support, and prayer with grieving individuals and families is critical during such a season.
After the church leader has exhibited true repentance and been working on healing family and leader relationships, there may be an opportunity for reconciliation with followers. This needs to be at the direction and wisdom of the elders or governing body (assuming there was no collusion by such individuals with the leader's duplicity). Much gentleness, patience, and care is needed for this stage of healing.
Keep in mind, reconciliation is distinct from restoration. To be reconciled is to heal the personal damage done by the leader's sin and deceit. This does not mean the leader will (or should be) restored to their ministry position.
Is it ever right for a fallen church leader to be restored to their ministry position? It depends.
Each church has to determine what to do about restoring a church leader to their ministry position after living in secret sin. While there are not concrete biblical mandates on how to do this, there are some principles to guide our thinking.
Type of Offense (Legalities)
Not all sins are equal in their effect, even though all sin is a violation of God's holy standards. Some sins cross legal lines and need to be dealt with accordingly. In cases of criminal offenses, it would not be possible or wise to restore a leader to his ministry position.
For "lesser" offenses there might be the possibility of a restored ministry position, but that needs to be at the discretion of a governing body and in light of how the leader engages all the other aspects of healing and growth we have highlighted in this article.
Of incredible importance is understanding that restoration to ministry is not the goal! Upholding the gospel of Jesus and working toward the healing of all parties affected by the leader's sin is the primary concern. We are called to unity and holiness in the body of Christ; people are more important than positions.
Length and Severity of Deception
How long the leader has been living a double life is also a factor in determining if restoration to ministry is possible or prudent. The difference between a few months versus many years can play a huge factor in the kind of response the leader has to church discipline and the kind of damage done to the church and members.
Was the leader's deception willful or avoidant? Did he actively orchestrate elaborate ways to ensure his sin remained secret or was he passively "keeping his mouth shut" hoping no one would notice. Neither case is right or good, but understanding the degree of deception can help in knowing how damaged or seared is the conscience of the leader.
A church leader who has devolved into patterns of serial narcissism is likely unfit for any future office of leadership in the Church.
Repentance and Attitude of Leader
A huge factor in determining whether a fallen church leader is able to be restored to ministry is their attitude and heart for repentance.
When King David was confronted by the prophet Nathan concerning his adulterous and murderous actions, David responded with contrition and repentance. (2 Sam. 12:13, Psalm 51) He didn't deflect responsibility. He didn't blame. His soul was crushed and he poured out his heart to God in hope of mercy.
But even if a leader is truly repentant of their sin, this doesn't automatically mean they should be restored to church leadership. Remember, the goal is not reacquiring a position, the goal is unity and holiness in the body of Christ, the Church.
The Lord must ultimately be the one to determine if the repentant leader is once again fit for a ministry position, and the governing body must pray for wisdom to hear clearly the Lord's instruction on the matter.
Safety and Wellness of Church Members
Finally, it is vital that the safety and well-being of the entire church membership be taken into account when considering the restoration of a fallen leader. Elders are charged with "shepherding the flock." Many factors must be taken into account across the entire congregation before moving toward restoring a fallen leader to a position of church leadership.
Restoration requires lots of time, lots of prayer, lots of wisdom, lots of patience, and lots of faith. In the end, it is God's call on whether a fallen leader can once again serve in church leadership.
When done well, these are typically the developing characteristics of restored leaders:
Holding the Tension between Truth and Grace
Possibly the hardest thing to do when we learn of the moral failure of a Christian leader is to hold the tension between truth and grace, between justice and love. Only Jesus has ever held this tension perfectly.
What makes holding this tension so difficult is that both responses are correct from God's vantage point. It is correct to respond to a church leader's sin with righteous anger, a clear call for justice. He has violated the trust of his followers and sullied the Name and Word of God.
But love and mercy are also the correct response. Who of us can stand before another person as a sinless judge? In the same way that we cry out for mercy regarding our own sin, we must extend love to the sinful church leader.
This is what Jesus did for all of us on the cross: He displayed both justice and love. God's justice was enacted by punishing our sins that were laid on Jesus' back. God's love was displayed by it being the sinless Jesus who bore that penalty on our behalf. Justice and love came together in the beaten, bloody Jesus who cried out: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
Sin demands justice. We cannot ignore potential charges when a church leader's sin violates the law. We cannot ignore the pain inflicted on followers and the trust that has been broken. There are consequences to sin.
But God also desires mercy. When a church leader (or any fellow believer) is repentant, Christians are commanded to forgive. (Matt. 18:21-34)
Will any of us hold this tension between truth and grace, justice and love, perfectly? No. Does this release us before God from trying? No.
Jesus Christ was "full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) As His followers, we too must strive to walk in step with him, holding that same tension between grace and truth as we navigate responding to moral failures in church leaders (or any fellow Christians).
Proclaim the Gospel throughout the Aftermath
What often gets lost (or reframed) in the aftermath of the moral failure of a church leader is the gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, since church leaders are to be ambassadors of the gospel message, it makes sense that the gospel takes a hit when a church leader violates God's standard for their position.
Enemies of Christ shout all the louder that the gospel isn't true; that the so-called Savior can't actually save and transform lives. After all, just look at the fallen church leader.
Some Christians will walk away from their faith, convinced that their trust in Jesus was in vain since the leader they followed has proven himself a fraud. Their pain and anger become the lens through which they view the gospel.
But Christians must not allow the failures of men to nullify or reshape the clear gospel message of Jesus Christ.
The Good News of Jesus stands on its own because it is God's message of salvation for all who believe. No person can ultimately thwart the redemptive plan of God.
Therefore, never stop proclaiming God's message of salvation during the aftermath of a church leader's moral failure. When people are hurting and angry and confused and swimming in doubt, bring them back to the simple, pure message of Jesus Christ. He is the one they need to look to for hope and salvation, not the fallen church leader.
Sometimes when these devastating events take place it reveals where one's true hope and confidence was placed. Was it in Christ alone or in the church leader? Did followers even understand the gospel, or were they just swept up in the charisma and "talent" of the leader?
With gentleness and wisdom, use this season of healing to clarify the gospel:
When any church leader lives a double life of sin and deceit, it is painful and heartbreaking when the truth comes out. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not reliant on whether or not human agents carry that message perfectly (none of us do). But we must all humble ourselves before God, repenting of our own sin before Him, and striving to live as faithful witnesses to a lost and dying world.
Of one thing we can be sure: Jesus Christ never fails; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8) Let us praise God for this truth and continue to call others to put their trust in Christ, not church leaders.
*See book Unpunishable by Danny Silk
It is very common for parents to tell us during workshops on talking with kids about sex, “I’m worried I will ruin my child’s innocence.” In fact, this is one of the more common fears parents have related to talking with their kids about sex. Since this concern comes up so frequently it is worth talking about.
Does talking with our children about sex or pornography ruin their innocence?
What Do We Really Fear?
When I ask parents to explain this fear they often respond with a concern that they would put dangerous ideas in their child’s head. They worry it might make their child curious about sex and go look online for answers. They worry it might put ideas in their child’s head to go experiment with on their own. Other parents worry about traumatizing their child with information they didn’t expect and were not ready to hear.
In other words, parents are worried that talking honestly with their children about sex will either traumatize their child or entice them to seek out some form of sexuality to interact with. These are fears about unintentionally putting our child in some kind of danger.
It is easy to understand wanting to protect our children from danger. The question then becomes, does talking to our children about sex and sexuality put them in danger?
The Real Danger for Children
The real danger children face is not hearing from their parents how God designed human sexuality to work.
Danger comes when a child is exposed to sexualized content while unprepared and ignorant about sex.
All children will come in contact with sexualized media or information outside of a parents’ control. The only question is, will they be ready and will they know what to do when this happens?
Children learn about sex from each other. Learning about sex for the first time can feel a bit world-altering for a child, no matter how old they are. A whole new reality has just been revealed to them, although they still barely understand it. Children process new and important information the same way adults do—they want to tell others what they just found out. Very often children will tell all their friends everything they just learned, even friends much younger than they are.
Children learn about sex from pornography. One of the most common stories we hear about first exposures to pornography is when a child clicks on an ad that looked interesting while doing homework or playing a video game. In many cases the child had no idea what pornography was or that anything like it existed. This is a particularly dangerous scenario today as first exposure to Internet porn often consists of hundreds of videos of deviant sex acts appearing on the screen at once.
Children learn about sex from non-pornographic sources. In my case, I found my mothers nursing books on the family bookshelf, which contained many photos of naked people. Their eyes were blanked out, but that is all that was blanked out. These were not images of sex, but my parents had never talked to me about nudity or body parts and I didn’t quite know what to think. I was only eight or nine at the time but I went to my friends, not my parents, to talk about what I’d seen.
When we as parents refrain from talking with our kids about body parts, sexuality, and even pornography, we leave them vulnerable, unprepared, and unprotected for when they do come across that information. Talking with our kids about sex is a way to protect them, not ruin them
When Do I Talk?
Knowing when to talk to our children about sexuality is perhaps the harder question. It is easier when we approach such conversations as a means of protection instead of just education.
Several counselors, authors, and speakers who focus on helping parents talk with their children about sex met in 2020 to discuss this very issue; when do we talk with our children about sex?
Here is the advice that came out of that meeting:
That might seem really young! However, we as parents typically view our children as younger and more immature than they really are. They are often ready for conversations long before we think they are.
In addition, children today are exposed to information about sex much younger than we realize. It does not matter if a child goes to a Christian school or even is homeschooled, they probably have been introduced to more ideas about sex than a parent will realize.
A homeschool boy came up to me after a presentation and volunteered this information, “My dad didn’t talk with me about porn until three years after I first saw it. I was already kinda hooked by that time.”
We cannot give a definitive roadmap for when to have what conversation with your child. Each child is different and there is no “best age” to have a conversation that works for every child. However, here are some very rough guidelines:
Take Your Next Step
What age is your child? Which of the conversations above have you not had with your child? Our suggested next step for you is to pick one conversation and set a date when you plan to have it with your child.
Need help? Honest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking to Your Kids About Sex has conversation guides to walk you through many of these conversations.
For even more resources, visit our
Family Care Resources page
In this post:
5 Core Values:
Since 2003, Be Broken Ministries has existed for a singular purpose: "Helping individuals and families move from sexual brokenness to wholeness in Christ." It is a simple mission with profound impact.
Our desire is to see every person who wants freedom from sexually destructive patterns to realize that desire through the recovery process of healing and growth. And we are delighted to say that we have seen many gain the freedom they desired.
Over the years, however, there have been many distractions to maintaining focus on the mission:
But time and again we return to the core values that God placed in this ministry from the very beginning: Grace, Honesty, Purity, Community, and Endurance. These are the foundation from which we build every resource, every podcast, every workshop, every website, everything.
We believe for anyone who wants to effectively minister to someone struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors, these are the core values that must exist. Therefore, let me share what these core values mean; to us, and to the process of recovery.
"No one is too broken to love."
When anyone reaches out for help with compulsive unwanted sexual behaviors, the most important response they need is one of grace; the undeserved kindness of a friend.
We believe this grace originates from God, who loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sin (including sexual sin). God didn't wait for us to get "sober" or cleaned up or "on the right path." Instead, "...while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8b) That's grace!
Many sexually addicted people, however, are not greeted with grace when they finally decide to seek help. They are often met with condemnation, rejection, or rigid rules. This causes the person to falsely believe that their worth is based on their performance, so if they just learn how to "behave" they will find the love and acceptance they long for. But that's not how grace works.
If you want to effectively minister to a sexually broken person, you must lead with grace; extending compassion, kindness, and warmth even while they are still drenched in the muck of their addiction.
It is a soft touch, not an iron fist, that draws a broken sinner out of the dark and into the light of hope and transformation.
"Everyone's full story is worth hearing."
Sex addicts (or any addicts) are excellent liars. They often have a history of not only telling lies, but also being told lies. In fact, every sex addict I have ever met learned to tell lies by being told lies, whether from a parent, older sibling, or the media they consumed in childhood. And lies beget lying.
The predominant teacher of lies for sex addicts is usually pornography. It teaches a young person a host of lies; about sex, about love, about relationships, about life.
Once a kid has bought porn's lies, it becomes easy to travel down the road of deception -- of others and self. Eventually, this person wakes up in their late 20's or early 30's and realizes "I'm living a lie!"
Therefore, to help a sexual addict break free from a life of lies, you must introduce them to truth. Truth comes from God, for Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6a)
For an addict to overcome their self-deception, they must encounter Jesus. This requires getting into His Word, the Bible, and reaching out to Him in prayer. As one draws closer to Jesus, the line between lies and truth becomes clearer.
But freedom for a sex addict doesn't just happen because they come to see the difference between the truth and a lie. Real freedom only begins when they honestly share their full story and commit to a life of radical honesty.
There is no true freedom if an addict never shares their whole story. All of it must come into the Light in order for them to experience total release and hope.
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, create a safe place for them to share their story; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Encourage radical honesty in a "shame-free-zone," reminding them that their worth is not based on their behavior, but on the God who loved them enough to send Jesus to the cross even before they ever acted out.
"A journey of better reflecting Christ."
No one is perfect, except Jesus.
The Bible says, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." (Ecc. 7:20)
It also says of Jesus, "For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21) Jesus was perfect in every way, without sin. In other words, He was pure. We, however, apart from Him, are not.
Certainly someone wanting to break free from sexually addictive patterns must take steps toward purity. After all, pure is the opposite of impure. However, these steps are not toward a purity that we can conjure up within ourselves, or maintain perfectly. Remember, there isn't a righteous person on earth who does good and never sins. Therefore, purity must come from the only One who is pure: Jesus.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:13-16)
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, lead them to a deeper dependence on Jesus for their purity. A life of sexual integrity is one that reflects the image of Jesus.
"Enjoying the fruit of healthy relationships."
The ultimate vision we have for sex addicts in recovery is to become "whole and holy." And the environment where this transformation takes place is in community. We desire addicts to one day adopt the very heart of God, a heart which loves freely and richly.
It is hard for anyone to get close to an addict; to really know them. They hide and lie and naturally push people away with their self-absorbed lifestyle. Everything about them points inward, to their brokenness, their pride, their lust.
In essence, porn and sex addicts are always only about themselves. Not only do they not engage in real community, they can't because their eyes never look away from their own image.
When a sex addict finally has their "rock bottom" experience that jolts them awake to the reality of their self-centered life, they must (re)learn to connect with others in healthy ways. This involves telling the truth, listening, exercising empathy, serving with proper motives, and accountability. This is no small task for someone whose life has only been focused inward, but it is still the path to true freedom and joy.
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, welcome them into a loving community where the truth is told in love and faithful friendships can blossom.
The eventual place an addict needs to arrive for their freedom to be realized is a place where giving and serving others is of higher importance than receiving anything in return.
"Finishing well is better than starting fast."
Effective ministry to sexually addicted individuals is not something that happens quickly. The tentacles of such strongholds run deep and grip tightly to the heart, soul, and mind of the addict.
Therefore, a long-term vision of recovery must be established. Programs that promise transformation in mere days or weeks are setting their patrons up for disappointment (and probably even relapse).
The desire to see porn and sex addicts living lives of "wholeness and holiness" is one that requires a greater emphasis on finishing the journey well, rather than just starting fast. Recovery is a lifelong journey of learning and growing, not just a few weeks or months of "detox."
Think of the recovery journey like you would think of nutritional health. If someone is overweight and physically unhealthy, a quick fix diet might help them to feel better for a few weeks or months. But in order for them to experience the best possible physical health they must engage a paradigm shift that involves not just their behavior with food, but also their mindset regarding their whole body (i.e. exercise, sleep, support, etc.).
If you want to effectively ministry to porn and sex addicts, you must help them embrace the long vision of recovery. Invest in their lifelong journey, celebrating small and large milestones along the way.
When the finish line becomes the focus, the steps to reach it make more sense.
The greatest joy in recovery is investing these core values into a weary addict just looking for help...
If you would like to connect with other like-minded leaders in this field of ministry, visit SexualIntegrityLeaders.com.
No one truly enjoys suffering. When pain enters our lives, we instinctively seek relief. This is a right and good response. But often in our quest for relief we mistakenly assume that emotional, spiritual, and relational healing and growth can (and should) happen quickly. They don't.
But before you get too discouraged, let me try to show you why it is far better to focus on finishing well rather than just starting fast on this journey of healing and growth.
Here are 4 reasons why finishing well is better than starting fast when it comes to true life transformation.
Finishing Well Reminds You that Change is a Journey, Not a Destination
Thousands of men have contacted us over the years to get help for their unwanted sexual habits. They reach out for many different reasons, but almost all have the same fundamental desire: change.
They don't want to keep doing the things they are doing. Mainly because they are finally waking up to the reality that what they're doing is harmful to themselves and others. They want out. But they want out NOW!
It is understandable to want quick fixes when the effects of a sexual addiction are finally admitted and revealed. It's a mess. It hurts. It's heavy and complicated. To want freedom from such bondage, and peace instead of chaos, is right and good.
But change, true life change, never happens instantly. Period.
Real transformation, the kind that God works in us through His Spirit, takes a lifetime to come to full maturity. Therefore, focusing on finishing well rather than starting fast reminds us that change is a journey, not a destination.
There isn't a magical point in time where you can say, "I've arrived! All that must change and be completed in my life is accomplished. There is no more healing or growth needed." This "destination" is called heaven, and we only arrive there after death. (And even in heaven there will be no end to our exploration and wonder of the eternally infinite God...)
So, when it comes to life transformation, finishing well is better than starting fast because it keeps you focused on the lifelong journey of growth rather than constantly trying to achieve an unreachable and unrealistic goal of perfection this side of heaven. There is much freedom and peace that come when we focus on finishing well.
Finishing Well Leads Toward Practical Outcomes, Not Merely Idealized Possibilities
It is easy to "dream big" when considering how to start the journey toward life change. It is something else entirely to actually live out the day-by-day grind of such transformation. Finishing well is about establishing real goals with real results.
When I began my journey of recovery from sex addiction back in 1999 I had lots of hopes and dreams (fantasies, really) about what a "changed life" could look like. But all those dreams existed way out in the unrealized world of "possibilities," not in my actual life.
The best possibilities for transformation never happen if there isn't concrete goals and actions attached to them. And this is actually what it takes to finish well. To keep dreaming and dreaming and dreaming about all that "could" change is to stay stuck forever at a starting line you never leave.
If I was going to experience actual life change I was going to have to do something, not just dream something. I had to call a counselor and set up appointments, find a support group and attend faithfully, dig into God's Word and follow wherever His Spirit led me, and many other tangible actions that required my will, not merely good intentions.
One of the most practical outcomes of a finishing well attitude has been the relationships developed with other men for encouragement, accountability, and support. Had I only just "dreamed" about a changed life without ever doing something about it, I would still be alone, isolated, and probably completely enslaved to my addiction (if not dead).
Finishing well involves taking concrete steps toward different outcomes. Faithfulness and perseverance grow because you are committed to actions over the long haul that produce change, not just ideas floating around in the dreamland of possibilities.
(For help taking concrete steps, we have resources for Men, Women, and Families.)
Finishing Well Produces Righteous Character
So what is the actual "goal" of life transformation? If it's a journey and it requires actions, what is this process actually intended to produce?
The short answer is the life of Jesus.
We are made in God's image; we are made to reflect God in the world (Gen. 1:26-28). Jesus Christ was the exact representation (image) of God (Heb. 1:3). Because of sin we are separated from God and do not reflect Him rightly (Rom. 3:23). However, through faith in Christ we are reconciled to God and made truly alive; in Christ we are able to reflect God properly. (Eph. 2:8-10)
The Bible calls this process of maturing in our ability to accurately reflect God's image in the world "sanctification." And it is simply the process by which we "look" more and more like Jesus.
The metaphor that is often used to describe this process is fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23 we read, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." God's Spirit in us is about the business of producing the fruit of these characteristics of Jesus.
Fruit doesn't manifest instantly. This is why we say finishing well is a lifelong process. What God is producing in us, the character of Jesus, is not instant. It takes time to grow and mature.
Just think of a few of the characteristics listed above and how time is woven in to their very definitions: patience, faithfulness, self-control. One could even argue that love and joy and gentleness require time to mature because they are experienced in relationship to someone or something else.
Finishing well keeps us on a growth mission over time. As God reveals areas in our lives that do not align with the character of Jesus, He refines us through pruning and discipline (John 15:1-11).
By contrast, starting fast stays focused on self. It's all about making yourself look good without any actual transformation of character. It is shallow and unsustainable. It also comes crashing down when storms come. (Matt. 7:24-27)
Finishing Well Pleases the Lord and Grows God's Kingdom
Finally, probably the greatest reason why finishing well is better than starting fast is because it pleases God.
Jesus told a parable of a master and his three servants in Matthew 25 to help his followers understand what the kingdom of heaven is like. The master gives each servant a different amount of money and then leaves. When the master returns, he goes to see what the servants did with the money he entrusted to them.
Two of the servants had used the master's money to double the amounts. The third servant did nothing. Listen to the commendation the master gave to the servants who increased the amount given:
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matt. 25:21)
The servants who multiplied the investment of the master in them were commended. They were welcomed "into the joy of [their] master." This is a picture of heaven. Jesus (the Master) is returning and He will be asking what you and I did with the investment He made in us through His Spirit. He is expecting a return on that investment; a return that enhances and expands His kingdom.
How will you answer?
Did you "start fast" with a bunch of possible ideas that never really got off the ground and were mainly intent with cutting corners to just make yourself look good and not really show any desire to actually change?
Or did you set your heart and mind on finishing well, on humbling yourself to God's Word and Spirit and engaging the long journey that unfolds step-by-step, day after day, in the trenches of character development and authentic community?
Is change difficult? Of course it is. Is it worth it for the sake of a new heart and mind, healthier relationships, and the hope of hearing "Well done" upon entering the joy of the Master? Most definitely!
If you would like help on your journey of finishing well, please contact us.
Founder & President
Yes, it is possible to quit porn and masturbation.
But I'm assuming you would prefer I write a little bit more in answer to this question. So I will.
I won't spend time writing about how big the porn problem is (you can read some statistics here). Nor will I focus on how porn affects the brain or the addictive nature of porn or is masturbation a sin. All good topics, but that's not why you're reading this article, is it?
You are reading this article because you want to know how to quit porn and masturbation.
Here are 5 tips to help you quit porn and masturbation. These are not a "magic formula" that guarantees freedom, but they will greatly increase your probability of success.
1. Learn your triggers
It is highly unlikely that your engagement of porn and masturbation is random or arbitrary. There is always some kind of pattern to such acting out. This pattern includes what we call triggers.
A trigger is anything that prompts you to pursue a particular unhealthy behavior (in this case, porn and masturbation). Triggers could be physical, like something you experience with your five senses (seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, smelling). Triggers could also be emotional or mental (i.e. sad, bored, scared, lonely, stressed, etc.).
To learn your specific triggers ask yourself the following questions related to your engagement with porn and masturbation:
Spend time examining your triggers and write them down. And commit to a lifelong journey of learning yourself so you can become better equipped for dealing with any kind of temptation you face.
Once you learn your core triggers, it's time to make a plan for responding to temptation in healthy, life-giving ways.
2. Plan your ways of escape ahead of time
I'm going to assume that you are not engaging porn and masturbation 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. (If you are, hospitalize yourself immediately!) The time to create a plan for dealing with your triggers is not 60 seconds before you act out -- make your plan(s) before you are wrestling with temptation.
Think of your unhealthy habit of porn and masturbation as a big hole in the roof of your house. When do you notice the hole as a problem? On sunny days? No! You curse the hole when it's raining, right? But you can't fix the hole when it's raining.
The time to work on fixing the hole is when the sun is out, even though that's also the time you aren't really thinking about the hole as being a problem. But rest assured it will rain again!
The key to responding well to your triggers and temptation is to plan your ways of escape before the "rain" starts falling. Here is a template to help you create your plan for resisting temptation when your triggers are tripped:
Responding well to triggers and temptation does not happen "organically." You must have a plan and you must work that plan. Quitting porn and masturbation requires more than hope and good intentions. But if you've learned your triggers and created a plan for escaping temptation, you are well on your way to living free from porn and masturbation.
Now it's time to exponentially increase your probability of freedom by sharing your triggers and your plan with someone else. No long-term freedom from porn and masturbation is possible without the help of others.
3. Share your triggers and your plan with a trusted friend
We all need help in life, and not just with overcoming the destructive habit of porn and masturbation. God designed us to thrive as human beings when we live in community. "It is not good for man to be alone."
I admit that what I am about to propose isn't easy. It's scary to be vulnerable with other people, especially sharing such a personal struggle like porn and masturbation. But it is necessary.
Now that you have written down your specific triggers and created a plan of escape when temptation hits, it's time to share this with at least one trusted friend. I found it most helpful in my own recovery journey to have at least 3 other people who knew this information.
A trusted friend is someone who cares about you enough to hold in confidence this personal information. And they have your best in mind; they want to see you succeed in your pursuit of freedom.
When you share your triggers and escape plan, this is what you are asking your trusted friend to do:
Quitting porn and masturbation is about more than just stopping unhealthy behaviors and thoughts. It's also about building strong friendships and growing in integrity as part of a community. And possibly the primary reason you need community is because you won't travel this road of growth and maturity perfectly.
You will stumble along the way, and you will need a loving community to help you get back up and keep going.
4. Confess and repent when you stumble
I wish freedom from porn and masturbation was easy. I really do. But it is not. It is messy and imperfect, just like you and me.
As you fight the battle against the temptations to engage porn and masturbation, you will not always win. You will sometimes stumble and fall. But falling on this journey doesn't mean you have utterly failed.
It is important to reframe stumbles as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than false indications that you are fatally flawed and beyond hope of ever being free. Fatalistic thinking is NOT from God!
God forgives your sin, not so that you can keep returning to it, but instead so you can look at it objectively, free from its shame, to learn how to respond better the next time you're faced with a similar temptation.
When (notice I said when, not if) you stumble and fall, be quick to confess it and repent. To confess is to "agree with truth." So, don't lie or try to hide the fact that you acted out. Agree with the truth that you did x, y, or z.
To repent means to "change your mind." The reason you stumbled was because somewhere along the way your mind was convinced that it was a good idea to sin. Repentance is refocusing your mind back on what is true and right and good. (Phil. 4:8)
I find it most helpful to confess and repent in the following contexts:
Confession and repentance is not usually easy or comfortable, but it is crucial if you are going to break free from porn and masturbation and become the person of integrity God created you to be.
Finally, it's important that all this work on quitting porn and masturbation doesn't overshadow what the real goal of such work should be: to build an intimate, growing relationship with God.
5. Keep the real goal in view: intimacy with God
Your struggle with porn and masturbation is not disconnected from your relationship to God. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, even if it is not something you have ever thought before.
Sin is not an entity unto itself. Sin is a distortion of something good. Think of sin like a parasite; it requires a host. Your sinful desires for porn and masturbation are merely distortions of the good desires God created within you for connection, intimacy, and pleasure.
Therefore, your pursuit to break free from porn and masturbation must ultimately be a pursuit of knowing God and His good design of sex, love, and intimacy. Don't lose sight of this larger (and better) goal. If you only eliminate an unhealthy habit, you will miss the greatest joy of all: walking with God as He designed you to walk.
Take some time to go back over the previous 4 tips and reframe them with this goal of intimacy with God. Maybe ask yourself the following questions:
As you keep the bigger picture of intimacy with God in view you will discover that "quitting" porn and masturbation is not so much a journey of negation, but instead a journey of pursuit. By running toward God you are automatically running away from sexual sin in all its forms.
Yes, it is possible to quit porn and masturbation.
By pursuing intimacy with God and others...
Founder & President
You have an enemy. His name is Satan (also known as Adversary, Accuser, Deceiver) and his goal is simple: destroy your life.
Satan has been around for a long time, way longer than us. He started out well, as an angel of light. He was essentially the "worship leader" of the angels in heaven. But his worship of God became overshadowed by worship of himself, and such pride got him kicked out of heaven (along with the rest of his worship band; about one third of the angels).
Ever since Satan's "fall" he has been intent on one thing: destroying the God he once worshiped. This is where his focus on you and me comes in.
God created mankind in His own image. We read the following in the first chapter of the Bible:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26a, 27)
We (humans) are the only part of creation that bear this special mark of God; we are created unique, distinct from everything else in the universe. And this is why Satan hates us: we look something like our heavenly Father.
When God created Adam and Eve, the first humans, He placed them in a beautiful garden and said, "“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:16b, 17)
They had freedom with only one restriction. (Can you imagine?) God gave humans a choice: trust God and live or trust anything else and die. This is the leverage point Satan seized upon in order to try and destroy humans, and thus try and mar the image of God.
In this story of mankind's fall into sin, Satan employs three tactics that he still uses today to seek to destroy God's image bearers. Learn to recognize these tactics and you will do well in fighting against Satan's destructive force in your life.
Tactic 1: Distraction/Doubt
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1)
Satan's first tactic to destroy God's image bearers was distraction, or doubt. He asked Eve a question to plant a seed, not to gain information. He wanted to distract Eve just enough from God's Word so that she would begin to spin additional questions about God's trustworthiness.
This tactic is still used all the time today. God's Word says one thing, yet Satan brings a question to plant the tiniest seed of doubt as to whether God's Word is trustworthy or even good.
Some examples might be:
Tactic 2: Distortion
Notice how Satan completely flips the script of what God actually said.
"Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?" (3:1, emphasis mine)
The simple answer is: No, God did not actually say that!
God said: "You may surely eat of every tree... except one."
Satan distorted God to say: "You shall not eat of any tree."
It's stark, but subtle. God actually invites Adam and Eve to focus on all the freedom He has given them, and also pay attention to the one danger. Satan, conversely, entices Eve to focus on the one restriction and ignore completely the vast freedom God has granted.
Let's continue the story to see even more of Satan's tactic of distortion.
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Gen. 3:2-3)
Eve gives a decent answer, but it's incomplete. Satan's first tactic seems to be working. She has already forgotten bits of God's Word. The seed of distraction and doubt is steering her ever so slightly away from the truth.
God said they could "surely" (or "freely") eat from the trees in the garden. She omitted this small, but significant qualifier. She also added something God never explicitly said about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "neither shall you touch it."
Anytime we add to or subtract from God's Word, the meaning will eventually become distorted. And Satan smiles.
His distortion continued.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5)
Satan flat out contradicts God's Word when he says "you will not surely die," for God said plainly, "for in the day that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die."
This is the moment of truth for Eve (and us). Trust God and His Word or trust Satan and his word. This is how every decision of life ultimately boils down.
For many of us, much of the time, the tactics of Satan have the same effect on us as they did on Eve (and Adam) below.
Tactic 3: Division
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Gen. 3:6-7)
Satan's seeds of distraction and doubt drew Eve's attention away from God's Word just enough for him to plant a few more seeds of doubt through distorting and flat out contradicting God's Word. With each question and contradiction Eve's focus was diverting from God (and freedom) to sin (and death).
And as soon as Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit a separation of cosmic proportions was established. Immediately there was division between husband and wife; they became self-conscious of their nakedness and sought to hide their bodies from each other.
But more than just a marital division occurred. Heaven and earth were separated. God's image bearers chose the way of the Deceiver instead of their Creator. Life would never be the same again. And life would also have an expiration. Every human being born from Adam will surely die. God's Word was true after all.
Satan, the great Deceiver, is intent on destroying your life and mine. He literally hates us! He uses the same tactics today that he used in the beginning: distraction/doubt, distortion, and division.
Where in your own life do you see the enemy's tactics? Has he planted seeds of doubt about God's goodness and trustworthiness? Has he distorted God's Word, causing you to omit or add things that fundamentally alter its meaning and effectiveness? Where has Satan created division between you and God, or you and others, or even you and yourself?
Do battle today to reclaim ground the enemy has stolen. Because of God's grace and the power of the resurrected Christ your life does not have to be destroyed.
Trust fully in God's Word.
Repent of sin.
Pursue unity with God and others.
It's true you have an enemy. But it's also true you have Savior in Jesus Christ, the One who conquered sin and death -- and Satan! In Christ, you have hope and joy -- and the freedom your soul was made for from the beginning.
by Jonathan Daugherty
What is the best remedy for complete burnout, total fatigue? More work, of course! You just need to tap into the right formula. Obviously, you're doing something wrong. If you weren't, well, you wouldn't be so tired now, would you?
This, unfortunately, is the answer many well-meaning people are shoving down the throats of already burned out, and broken, sex and porn addicts.
Therapists, good-natured friends, and even pastors heap up massive servings of rules, along with some side orders of shame and fear, to sexually broken people searching for help. It's no wonder that very few sex and porn addicts ever taste the sweet morsels of freedom and peace.
Jesus once said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28)
You should see the looks on some guys faces when I tell them their mission in recovery isn't "doing more." It's like I've knocked over their apple cart with all their carefully positioned, platitudinal answers to all life's questions. What? Getting free from sexual bondage doesn't mean I have to take on more rules and tasks and burdens? How can that be?
I'm always amazed and encouraged by how Jesus cuts to the heart of what we need without blinking at all our excuses. He knows that our hearts need rest. So, he invites us to rest...in Him.
"But, Lord, I know that I need to get cleaned up and stop acting out first."
"Come to me," Jesus says.
"Well, I know that I need to get in a group, pray every day, read my Bible, and go to church."
"Come to me," He beckons.
"C'mon, Jesus, I need to know that everything I'm going to give up is really worth it, and that everything I'm going to work so hard for will impress you."
"Come to me."
Keeping the rules has never transformed one sinful heart.
Jesus alone transforms hearts. He alone can heal your sexual brokenness, the abuses from your past, the anger and fear in your heart.
Rules and programs and books, these things become a noose around your already broken neck if you don't understand that you must first come to Jesus. He gives rest, no one else does. No one else can.
Sometimes it's hard to recognize rest (i.e. peace) as your essential need. It feels more like the primary need is figuring how to just not act out anymore. But I have come to see that when a soul has found its rest in Jesus, the motivations it once had to act out are gone.
Finding rest, and continuing to rest, in Jesus gives the soul all it needs to live life in fullness and joy, no longer seeking the facade of true intimacy promised by lust.
Now, don't think that prayer, Bible study, community and counseling are rubbish. They are not. But when one seeks in those activities what can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ, there will be no rest, only anxiety.
Be careful to keep the central thing first: Jesus gives rest to all who come to him. Everything else is secondary.
3 Tips for Finding Rest in Jesus
While it is true that Jesus offers us the generous, open invitation to come to Him to find rest, there are some insights to be gained from those who have traveled this road before us.
Here are a few tips I've learned from others over the years that might help you find the rest your heart longs for in Jesus:
1. Tear Up Your Agenda
Even when your soul is weary, it's easy to have an agenda for what you think rest should look like (and feel like). But this won't help you find true rest.
To bring an agenda to Jesus when your soul is frazzled and worn is like bringing your bankruptcy paperwork to Bill Gates as a strategy for creating wealth. Jesus knows what your soul needs to find rest. If you knew, Jesus wouldn't have made the invitation.
So, lay down your ideas of what you think it will take to find rest, and instead place yourself in the competent and caring arms of Jesus.
Sometimes just laying down your agenda brings a wave of rest your soul hasn't felt in, well, maybe forever.
2. Listen More than You Talk
Jesus says that He will give you rest. This means that He knows what it takes for your soul to be at rest. Therefore, it's to your advantage to listen to whatever He tells you.
I have been leading a weekly support group for sexually addicted men since 2000. Sometimes a guy shows up and on his first time there talks more than everyone. He has answers, but no solutions. He doesn't even realize it.
Maybe you have had a lot of "answers" for the restlessness of your soul, but have yet to find any solutions. You talk and talk and talk. But your answers only add more anxiety and turmoil to your life.
Sit still. Focus on Jesus and His Word. Listen. Stay silent. Just listen. You may not hear anything for awhile. That's okay. This is Jesus calming your mind and heart so that you can receive the rest He wants to give you.
The kind of rest Jesus offers cannot be received by a proud heart. Not until you admit you don't have all the "answers" will you be truly ready to receive the rest Jesus has for you.
Listen more than you talk...
3. Wear Jesus' Yoke
There is a kind of rest that Jesus offers that is totally free. It doesn't cost you anything. Just come to Him and receive it. It's wonderful. But it's not all that Jesus has to offer.
There is a deeper rest that Jesus offers to those who are willing to be "yoked" to Him. This He calls "rest for your soul."
The first kind of rest is a release from the burdens of all your toil and labor in trying to generate the peace that only Jesus can bring. And we all need to be released from the prison of self-righteousness and pride.
But the deeper rest is found in a new kind of toil and labor, the work that Jesus wants us to do alongside Him.
He says, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:29, emphasis mine)
To be "yoked" to Jesus means that He is going to put you to work in learning from Him what it means to live life the way He intended it. This is not easy and it doesn't come naturally. But by His grace, and through His power, you can do the work God made for you to do. (Eph. 2:10)
And this work that Jesus invites you to do alongside Him will lead you to discover a rest for your soul that you could never find on your own.
Are you laboring? Heavy laden? Even in recovery? Come to Jesus. He promises to give rest to all who come. So, what excuse is holding you back from receiving what your soul truly needs? Just come...
In this post we will help you define porn addiction, understand the biology, psychology, and theology of porn addiction, and then share the best resources available to help you break free from porn -- for good!
What Is Porn Addiction?
Let's break down the terms:
Porn -- sexually explicit media, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal.
Addiction -- the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
So, porn addiction is an enslavement to viewing sexually explicit media that causes arousal.
In years past, one might have argued that viewing porn was simply a personal choice that didn't have any empirical effect on one's body, mind or behavior. But research is showing that is simply not true.
In order to understand porn addiction and its effects, it is important to address the whole person: body, mind, spirit.
Therefore, we need to explore the biology, psychology, and theology of porn addiction.
The Biology of Porn Addiction
What happens to the body of the porn addict? Or more specifically, what happens to the brain of the porn addict?
Everything you do with your body is processed through the brain. It is like the "CPU" (Central Processing Unit) of the human body. To wiggle your finger or smell a rose, the brain is vitally necessary.
Your brain is full of neural pathways. These pathways are what "carry" bits of information from one place to another in the nervous system. They are formed whenever you learn something new, and they grow stronger the more you repeat that thought or action.
So, if you view porn over and over again, you are forming very strong neural pathways that eventually become "unconscious" because of the repetitive behavior.
Your brain, in a sense, becomes "hard-wired" for porn. This is why porn addiction can be so difficult to overcome -- biology is powerful!
Before you feel hopeless at this news, let me encourage you. New neural pathways can be created that can "override" the old pathways. This is called neuroplasticity. Your brain doesn't have to stay perpetually "stuck" in old patterns of porn-addicted thinking.
As you focus your mind on what is true and good and beautiful, you can create new neural pathways that grow stronger than your old "porn pathways." Over time, you can "rewire" your brain away from porn to healthier thoughts and behaviors.
One other notable biological aspect of porn addiction is the "feel good" chemical that is released in the brain when viewing porn: dopamine.
Dopamine acts like a chemical reward for pursuing thoughts and behaviors deemed pleasurable. In some ways, dopamine could be described as the "want to" drug of the brain that develops an appetite of "craving" the more it is released.
Therefore, when you look at porn (or even think about looking at porn) your brain releases dopamine. Simultaneously, neural pathways are carrying bits of information along a "track" reinforcing the behavior. Repetition of this activity strengthens both the dopamine release and neural pathway development.
Over time, the "craving" for porn biologically intensifies.
The Psychology of Porn Addiction
While the biology of porn addiction looks at the brain and neural pathways and pleasure chemicals, the psychology of porn addiction focuses on the mind and emotions. What emotional and mental factors play into porn addiction?
In years past there seemed to be a pretty consistent psychological model applied to porn and sex addiction: early trauma in childhood followed by introduction to sexual stimuli, topped off with weak or dysfunctional family relationships.
While this model still applies today to many who develop a porn addiction, a new model is emerging: high media consumption reinforced by cultural normalization of porn, topped off with little to no experience with emotionally bonding to another person.
Research is showing that the ubiquity of consuming digital media is actually reducing our ability to read emotional cues from others (i.e. facial expressions). And when you add porn into this mix, it only magnifies desensitization toward human connection. The mind and heart eventually grow cold and numb.
One of the most common refrains we hear from men who attend our Gateway to Freedom 3-day workshop is that porn "numbed out" their ability to feel empathy or compassion or even desire toward anyone.
Another psychological factor in porn addiction is shame. Shame is the core belief that your value is equal to your performance. In other words, you are only as good as your behavior.
Shame can create a mental "spiral" of thoughts that are highly self-condemning. It's as if there is a perpetual microscope analyzing every minute detail of thought and action.
Shame creates a standard you can never live up to. You are never enough, never wanted, never known. Always less than, always left out, always hidden.
The use of porn only increases the unhealthy shame thoughts because porn never truly satisfies and therefore reinforces the shame lies. Addiction is a vicious cycle of self-destruction.
Porn addiction doesn't just take a toll on your biology, it diminishes your heart and soul, too. Relationships inevitably take a huge blow because of porn addiction.
Over half of all divorce cases "involve one party having an 'obsessive interest' in pornographic websites." The psychological, social and familial cost of porn use can be very high.
But porn addiction isn't only about biology and psychology. There is also a theology to porn addiction. God cares about how you use the body He gave you.
The Theology of Porn Addiction
Does God's Word really have anything to say about porn addiction? Yes!
Regarding pornography, Jesus said, "Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has committed adultery in his heart." (Matt. 5:28)
To look with "lustful intent" fits the definition of porn: "whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal". Jesus said this is a sin of the heart, not merely behavior.
Pornography is not only about behavior ("biology"). It is an invitation to draw your heart away from what is true and good and beautiful, and instead incite you to lustfully devour with your eyes the flesh of fellow image bearers of God.
Elsewhere the Apostle Peter said:
"...For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." 2 Peter 2:19b
This clearly fits the definition of addiction: "the state of being enslaved to a habit."
God did not create us to be enslaved to our sexual urges and desires. His design was that we be free to love and be loved in the expansive boundaries of His created order. Sexual expression is reserved for the context God designed: covenant marriage.
Freedom from porn addiction is not merely about tweaking brain chemistry (biology) or seeing a therapist (psychology); your sexuality is a deeply spiritual thing because God created it.
Your sexuality is a beautiful and wonderful gift from God. You were made male or female on purpose -- with a purpose.
God's purpose for your life is not to be addicted to porn, but rather to be whole and fully satisfied in Him. And the good news is you can be! (see below for resources)
Where to Get Help for Porn Addiction
We have looked at the definition of porn addiction, the biology of porn addiction, the psychology of porn addiction, and even the theology of porn addiction.
But now it's time to turn our attention to getting you the help you need to be FREE of porn addiction.
As we have noted in this article, you are made up of body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, in order to get the best help possible for overcoming your porn addiction, you need help physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually.
Here are some of the best resources available in each of these categories:
Physical Help for Overcoming Porn Addiction
We recommend you get a check up with your personal doctor to assess your overall health in light of your addictive patterns. Oftentimes other issues like depression, anxiety, or dual addictions can present alongside a porn addiction.
Here are other resources that might also help you better understand and address the physical side of porn addiction:
Mental & Emotional Help for Overcoming Porn Addiction
For help finding counselors and other professionals skilled in treating the mental and emotional effects of porn addiction, consider these resources:
Spiritual Help for Overcoming Porn Addiction
There is a growing number of resources available for addressing the spiritual needs of overcoming porn addiction. The following links can help you pursue freedom from a biblical framework:
Help for MEN with Porn Addiction
Help for WOMEN with Porn Addiction
For help finding support groups for porn addiction recovery, visit Groups.Bebroken.com or download the Live Free app at LiveFreeCommunity.org.
For additional resources to overcome porn addiction, visit PureCommunity.org.
Written by Jonathan Daugherty
Founder of Be Broken Ministries
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To repent is to express sorrow over sin that leads to a change of mind and heart.
But why is repentance so essential to living a life of integrity? Can't we just "do the right thing" without having to express sorrow over our sin?
The Backstory on Repentance
God's Word tells us plainly that human beings are made in His image. This makes humans distinct from everything else in creation. We bear a "resemblance" to God that is unique in the world; we were made to reflect His holiness throughout all of creation.
God's instruction to the first humans was simple: freely enjoy everything I have created, but don't cross this one line. We know how the story went. They crossed the line, and so have we ever since.
This disobedience to God is called sin, and it divides us from God and each other. It distorts God's image into something that doesn't look like Him or act like Him. Whereas God brought life, sin brought death.
The good news, though, is that God loved us. He didn't want us forever separated from Him. So, He enacted a redemptive plan to reconcile us to Himself. And this plan only required one thing of us: faith.
Where Faith Comes In
Faith has always been the central requirement for an intimate relationship with God. It was true in the Garden of Eden before humans sinned. And it's true now after we sinned.
But faith, although it is simple, is not that easy. There are all kinds of things that want to keep us from exercising faith: pride, fear, anger, lust, materialism, and so much more.
For faith to be "activated" we must repent of our sin. In other words, faith that truly makes a difference in our lives is not merely a mental assent that God exists; it is an active dependence on the Creator who made us and redeemed us through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This active dependence on God is where repentance comes in, and this must involve a true brokenness over sin.
King David in Psalm 51 said this after he was confronted with his sin of adultery, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge." (v. 3-4)
And the apostle Paul in the New Testament reminded the church in Corinth of the good fruit that comes from godly sorrow:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
Repentance is borne of a deep sorrow over sin. This is what prepares our hearts and minds for the humble dependence that leads us to faithful obedience and a life of greater integrity.
Let's look now at how repentance is essential to a life of integrity.
3 Ways Repentance Is Essential to Integrity
1. Repentance reminds us of our need for help
When we look honestly at our sin, it at least has to reveal that we aren't perfect. In order to have integrity (the "state of being whole") we must recognize how far short of God's standard we fall, and be ready to seek help.
If we never ask for help on our journey of life and faith, it is highly probable that we are not engaging in the discipline of repentance, and thus not living with integrity. Daily repentance will reveal our broken hearts and the areas in which we need the most help.
2. Repentance acknowledges God as our source of holiness
When we repent of our sin, we are saying to ourselves and to God, "I blew it! I missed the mark of holiness you expect. Apart from you I cannot live the life you require of me. You are my only hope."
We are not capable of living the life God requires of us -- because of our sin! But when we repent we are reminded of the great love and grace and mercy that God has given to us through Jesus.
Jesus did live a holy life. THE holy Life! And, by faith, he freely offers His life to us. Celebrate this amazing truth!
3. Repentance trains us to worship God, not ourselves
The root of all sin is pride, the belief that we can thrive independent from God. In essence, sin is self-worship.
When we repent we are starkly reminded that God alone is holy and we are not. He alone is worthy of worship, we are not. The very first of the 10 Commandments sums this up: "You shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20:3)
There is a rich and rewarding humility that emerges from repentance. And from this foundation the desire to actively depend on our Creator grows. Over time, this produces a life that looks more and more like the Image it was meant to reflect.
Repentance is essential to a live of integrity. Let's commit together to daily express sorrow over our sin that leads to a change of mind and heart.
Life is stressful. Can I get an 'Amen'?
Stress (or anxiety) can come from lots of places: medical issues, broken relationships, work problems, trauma, mental health disorders, addictions, drugs, alcohol, heredity, and many others. Just about anything can be a trigger for stress.
Stress, for the purposes of this article, can simply be defined as worry -- to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts.
So, how are you handling your stress?
Let me suggest that the following exercises might help you manage your stress in healthier ways:
1. Read and Pray Every Day
While there certainly can be physical reasons for anxiety, one thing seems to always be present when we are stressed: obsessive thoughts about our fears.
What you think about matters to how you feel. And what you think about is affected by what you focus on. So, what are you focused on?
A simple way to refocus your mind away from your fears and anxieties is to read and pray every day. Read a passage of Scripture that reminds you of your inherent value or of your identity in Christ.
Pray throughout the day. Share your struggles and fears with God. Be honest and open about the difficulty you are having; even expressing any doubts you are having about God and goodness and life.
Also, it is important to read other good material on understanding your emotions and how to respond to them in healthy ways.
Read and pray every day. It makes a difference for handling stress well.
Stress creates a sense of panic. And when we panic everything speeds up -- thoughts, heart rate, and even breathing.
So, a very practical exercise to help deal with stress in a healthy way is to focus on your breathing. And keep it simple: breathe in and breathe out.
According to Medical News Today, something called the 4-7-8 breathing technique can help reduce tension and stress. (I'm not advocating for yoga; this is only a simple way to breathe that has positive effects on your body.)
Simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds. Start easy by doing this for 3-7 minutes, then work your way up to 15-20 minutes a day. I suggest lying down or sitting down when you start, just in case you get light-headed.
To enhance this breathing exercise, meditate on Scripture or pray the Lord's Prayer. Breathe in God's grace and truth, and breathe out any lies of shame and all the things you can't control. Focus your mind on God's truth and grace.
Breathing is essential to life. Learn to breathe deeply and focus on what is true. This will help you handle your stress far better.
3. Name Your Fears
Stress seems most powerful when it attaches our fear to the unknown. And the unknown is whatever is unnamed.
Have you ever noticed that the stuff that scares us most is usually the stuff we know very little about. Take something extremely difficult, like cancer, for instance.
When someone has cancer but doesn't know it, their fears about feeling sick can go in a million different directions. But once the cancer is named, those particular fears are not as strong -- even though the thought of fighting cancer is very daunting.
Once the diagnosis is made, new fears emerge, right? But why? Because now there are yet more unnamed realities that must be faced.
Naming your fears is healthy self-talk. The Psalmist says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" (42:5) And follows this up later with a specific question, "Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
Finally, after naming the specific fear (oppression of the enemy), the Psalmist fights it with pointing his will toward truth: "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."
The more you can name your fears and combat them with truth, the more you can limit their power over you -- and the more your stress will decrease.
4. Connect with Healthy People
It is not easy to deal with stress, or name your fears, alone. You need to connect with healthy people who love you and can listen thoughtfully to your full story of stress and anxiety.
Healthy people are those who understand the difficulties of life, and have likely traveled through some valleys themselves, but know how to direct you to wisdom with love and compassion.
The more you try to handle your stress alone, the more you are likely to drown in it. Healthy people lift your head above water so you can see from a different vantage point, and breathe the air of hope and truth.
I'm sure you're asking, "Where do I find these healthy people?"
Start right where you live. Plug into a local church where you can connect with Christians who can love and support you.
Seek out professional counseling to deal with any underlying roots to your stress, whether they be psychological or physical.
Connect with others in a confidential support group.
5. Embrace Your Limitations
There is no "cure" for the difficulties of life. Sure, there are things you can do that help with responding to such difficulties in healthy ways, but be careful of "magical" thinking that says you just need to get the formula right and all your troubles will disappear.
You and I have limitations. And each of us is different. I'm amazed at how "easily" some people seem to handle stress. It's like nothing bothers them. But I'm not them. And neither are you.
Admitting you are weak is not weak. It's actually quite powerful. The Apostle Paul said as much:
"But he [Jesus] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (1 Cor. 12:9-10)
Stress isn't fun. It seems to "torment" with relentless persistence. But you can respond with confidence; not in yourself, but in the grace of God.
Preach this message of truth and hope to yourself every day: though I am weak, my God is strong. I will trust in His power, not my own. I rest in Him.
May you grow in grace as you learn to handle stress in healthier ways.
Written by Jonathan Daugherty
Founder of Be Broken Ministries