“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2, NRSV).
Written by Steven Barto B.S., Psy.
IF I WERE TO TELL you there is a malady affecting sixty-eight percent of Christian men, would you not want to hear about it? Further, would you be concerned that this issue prevents Christians from being filled with the Holy Spirit? Without a Spirit-filled life, a Christian cannot flow in the peace and power of God; only the Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Essentially, the Holy Spirit is a flowing spring of pure, satisfying, and refreshing spiritual water. Impure thoughts and images cause this vital living water to be contaminated. Our thought life largely determines the kind of spiritual water flowing within our soul at any given moment.
68% of men and 30% of women who consider themselves Christian view pornography on a consistent basis!
Terry Cu-unjieng of Conquer Series says a national survey among churches conducted over the past five years revealed that 68 percent of Christian men and 50 percent of pastors view pornography regularly. Worse, boys age 11 to 17 reported being its greatest users (1). Morgan Lee of Christianity Today (2) says most pastors have struggled with pornography. A study including 432 pastors and 338 youth pastors commissioned by Josh McDowell’s Ministry and by Campus Crusade for Christ at the April 2016 Set Free summit reported that pastors (57%) and youth pastors (64%) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past. Overall, 21 percent of youth pastors and 14 percent of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn. More than 1 in 10 youth pastors (12%) and 1 in 20 pastors (5%) said they’re addicted (Barna report.).
Steve Arterburn (3) believes porn is the greatest threat facing Christians today. He lists the following four reasons why:
- Porn always gets worse. When a person gets involved in pornography, they are more likely to move into a genre they used to think was detestable or perverse.
- Porn prevents sanctification. When a person is addicted to pornography, they have lost the desire to be sanctified.
- Porn kills intimacy. Pornography destroys intimacy with God and one’s spouse.
- Porn causes impotency. ED drugs are flourishing because of porn.
What’s Going On?
David Kinnaman spoke recently regarding pornography among teens. When they talk about pornography with friends, 89 percent of teens, and 95 percent of young adults say they do so in a neutral, accepting, or encouraging way. Accordingly, only 1 in 20 young adults and 1 in 10 teens say their friends think viewing pornography is a bad thing. Seventy-one percent of adults and 85 percent of teens and young adults who have viewed pornography did so using online videos. Magazines, graphic novels, on-demand videos and cable or rented/purchased DVDs are a very small part of the “market.” More than half of women age 25 and younger seek out porn (56% versus 27% among women 25-plus) and one-third seek it out at least monthly (33% versus just 12% among older men) (4).
The Christian church is in the sexual battle of its life. More than half of youth pastors have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with porn in the past 12 months. Ninety-three percent of pastors and 94 percent of youth pastors say it is a much bigger or somewhat bigger problem than it was in the past. At this rate, as young Christians become adults, the Church will be flooded with porn addicts. Pastor James Reeves of City On A Hill Church DFW has successfully tackled porn addiction in his church. He warns, “This problem is going to sweep through the Church like a tsunami wave of destruction and we’re not prepared for it.”
Donna Rice Hughes (5) says, “The continuous invasion of graphic, hard–core online pornography into cultures worldwide has been called the “largest unregulated social experiment in human history” and represents a hidden public health hazard we should not ignore” (6). Witherspoon Institute, in its release of “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations,” (a multifaceted, multidisciplinary, scholarly review) said pornography, especially via the Internet, harms men, women, and children, and fuels pornography addiction. Chronic viewing of pornography causes the breakdown of marriage and exacerbates sex trafficking. Other peer–reviewed studies have reached similar conclusions.
Remarkably, for over twenty years children have been spoon–fed a steady diet of hard–core pornography online, with little or no barriers to tens of thousands of websites. Any child with Internet access is just a click away from viewing, either intentionally or accidentally, sexually exploitative material. These images range from typical adult pornography to obscene fetishes depicting graphic sex acts, live sex shows, orgies, excretory functions, bestiality, and violence. Hughes writes, “The impact of Internet pornography on adolescents, including compulsive, addictive, and even criminal behavior, is a global trend not isolated to any particular culture or region” (7). Pornography has become one of the greatest global threats to children, marriages, families, and nations. It’s no secret that porn has become mainstream entertainment in our society.
Here are some key facts about online pornography that must be taken seriously (8):
- Teenage girls are significantly more likely to actively seek out porn than women 25 years old and above.
- A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who consumed pornographic videos were at a significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
- A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike.
- A recent UK survey found that 44 percent of males age 11 to 16 who consumed pornography reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.
- Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month.
- 35 percent of all internet downloads are porn-related.
- 34 percent of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn from ads, pop-ups. etc.
- The teen porn category has topped porn site searches for the last six years.
- At least 30 percent of all data transferred across the Internet is porn-related.
- The most common female role stated in porn titles is that of women in their 20’s portraying teenagers.
- Recorded child sexual exploitation (known as “child porn”) is one of the fastest-growing online businesses.
- More than 624,000 child porn traders have been discovered online in the U.S.
- Porn is estimated to be a $97 billion global industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S.
- In 2018 alone, more than 5 billion 500 million hours of porn were consumed on the world’s largest porn site.
- Eleven pornography sites are among the world’s top 300 most popular Internet sites. The most popular porn site outranks the likes of eBay, MSN, and Netflix.
- “Lesbian” was the most-searched-for Internet porn in 2018.
- The world’s largest free porn site received over 33 billion site visits during 2018.
Overcoming Sexual Strongholds
David, a man after God’s heart, fell to lust and adultery. Some Bible translations refer to this section of Scripture as “Bathsheba, David’s Greatest Sin” (2 Sam. 11). After viewing Bathsheba sunbathing on an adjacent rooftop, David was unable to cool his desire. Lust and sexual sin invariably lead to destruction. In David’s situation, he slept with Bathsheba, who was married to Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s foot soldiers. Bathsheba conceived a child out of this adulterous affair. Uriah returned from battle. David was quite obsessed with Bathsheba, and she was carrying his child. He sent Uriah back to the front lines, instructing Joab to take Uriah to the forefront of the fighting and abandon him that he might die in battle. A messenger returned to David saying, “Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead” (2 Sam. 11:24).
Satan’s attacks regarding sexuality have become so outright and blatant that even the Christian church has become desensitized to it. Pastors are failing to address the matter from the pulpit. These heinous acts are being condoned in nearly every church in America. We hear utterances like, “At least I sleep only with my boyfriend,” or “I may not get to order the dish, but there’s no harm in checking out the menu!” This certainly flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27, NRSV).
Ruth Moore writes, “Satan has done a masterful job of shaming those who are caught in sexual strongholds into a continuous cycle of defeat” (9). The devil cannot take our salvation from us, but he does everything he can to steal, kill, and destroy our character, testimony, and effectiveness. One of the more egregious results of habitual sin is internal guilt and shame. Whenever a believer is tethered to immorality, he or she begins to doubt their salvation—their standing as a believer, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. The resulting downward spiral leads to establishment of a stronghold. Paul describes strongholds in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Moore says, “A stronghold is anything that exalts itself in our minds, ‘pretending’ to be bigger or more powerful than our God. It steals much of our focus and causes us to feel overpowered. Controlled. Mastered” (10). Whether the stronghold is addiction, unforgiveness, fear, chronic lying, or deep despair over a tragic loss, it is something that consumes so much of our emotions and mental activity that we are cut off from the abundant life we’ve been promised through Jesus Christ. Indeed, pornography is one of the greatest strongholds experienced by Christians today.
An Addiction Like Every Other
Addiction to pornography is real. I know because I’ve been there. Repeated consumption of pornography causes the brain to literally rewire itself. It triggers the brain to pump out chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin), forming new nerve pathways, and leading to profound and lasting changes in the brain. Pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behavior—known commonly as sex addiction—similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts. Studies have shown that porn stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs, making the brain release the same chemicals. Like drugs, porn triggers pathways in the brain that cause craving, leading users back for more and more extreme “hits” to get high.
There is something deep inside the brain called our reward center. Even the family dog has one. For mammals, it comes as “standard equipment.” The reward center releases pleasure chemicals into our brains whenever we do something positive or healthy, like eating tasty food, doing a hard workout, or enjoying a kiss. The spike of euphoria resulting from this activity feels like a high (a chemical rush) that makes us want to repeat the behavior over and over. Our reward center aids in hard wiring our brains, motivating us to do things that will improve our physical and mental health, leading to an increased chance of survival.
Unfortunately, our brains can be tricked. I have experienced euphoric, pain-free, relaxed sensations through watching pornographic images. During times of severe physical pain, anxiety, or insomnia, I have used porn like a drug, which tends to set pathways in my brain that create addictive behavior. A growing number of sexual images surround us every day in America. Not only is sex used to sell many products, it has become a pervasive commodity in its own right. Countless websites sell sex toys and pornographic images and movies. Today’s teens rate the media as one of their leading sources of sex information (Strasburger, et al., 2010).
“According to Dr. Victor Cline, a nationally renowned clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual addiction, pornography addiction is a process that undergoes four phases. First, addiction, resulting from early and repeated exposure accompanied by masturbation. Second, escalation, during which the addict requires more frequent porn exposure to achieve the same “highs” and may learn to prefer porn to sexual intercourse. Third, desensitization, during which the addict views as normal what was once considered repulsive or immoral. And finally, the acting-out phase, during which the addict runs an increased risk of making the leap from screen to real life.”
The True Nature of Repentance
As Christians, we already understand that faith and repentance are twin doctrines that cannot be separated. We must believe in Christ penitently. If we repent of habitual sin, we must do so with the intent to do a 180 and change our behavior. We cannot accept the saving grace of God through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and continue in our old, sinful lifestyle. John Calvin defined repentance as, “The true turning of our life to God, a turning that arises from a pure and earnest fear of Him; and it consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit” (11).
Repentance operates within the realm of several key elements. We must have a sense of shame, which leads to a genuine desire to give up habitual, sinful behavior. This should lead to humbling. It is imperative that we avoid attempting to break free from sin under our own power, or thinking we’re “getting it” better than others. Thusly humbled, sorrow and regret should fill our hearts. We must grieve and mourn over our offense, regretting all it has cost us and others. It is critical that our repentance lead to a distaste of sin for what it is. We must cry out as David did: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment” (Psa. 51:3-4).
We must also fully recognize the pardon of God. It is the grace of God that teaches us healthy fear, and the Spirit also relieves our fears! Fully grounded in God’s pardoning grace, we turn to Him for forgiveness and the strength to remain repentant. We learn to see repentance as a gift of the gospel under the New Covenant. Paul says it is the kindness of God that leads us to repent (Rom. 2:4). True repentance is never merely a “sense of regret.” Regretting our sin is only a part of the act of repentance. To truly be repentant, we must turn from our sinful behavior and toward God, without looking back; without going back to the old behavior. Paul describes this as once being in darkness, but now being in the light of the Lord (Eph. 5:8).
Prayer for Overcoming Sexual Strongholds
LORD JESUS, I ____________________, have realized that I am hopelessly enslaved to the sexual stronghold of ____________________, and that I am powerless to save myself. I acknowledge that YOU are the Son of God and you have already paid the debt for my sin. All I need to do is claim it personally. I realize that YOU died for me. You bore every single one of my sins, past, present, and future, when You hung upon the cross. I cannot be good enough to work my way into heaven, nor can I stand against the wiles of the devil under my own power. Come dwell in me, Jesus, through Your Holy Spirit; set me free from this sexual stronghold and allow me to live through Your resurrection onto a new life. Thank You, God, in advance that You will never leave me or forsake me, especially during times of temptation. Amen.
As an industry, pornography has surpassed the bottled water business. Much of what we see today mirrors the out-of-control lifestyle and Hedonism of Rome. Nearly 70 percent of active pastors in the Christian church admit to watching pornography on a regular basis. It is impossible to curb this troublesome trend when the shepherds of the flock are similarly distracted. Viewing pornographic images of women or men for sexual gratification is a sin. As Christ said, merely looking upon another with such prurient interest is the same as having sex with them. In addition, regular viewing of pornographic images prevents Christians from being filled with or guided by the Holy Spirit. Worse, as I’ve learned, it causes the user of porn to believe a false reality, and leads to objectification of people as sex objects.
Whenever a Christian becomes embroiled in pornography, he or she starts being weighed down with guilt and regret. The Holy Spirit convicts believers when they’re acting outside the will of God. Habitual sin dulls our spiritual “ears,” making it harder to break free. This eventually becomes a stronghold. The only way to defeat strongholds is to recognize the sin, then tear it down through the Word of God and prayer. I struggled with this particular issue for decades. It seems to have gone hand-in-hand with substance abuse. It becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees, leading to daily practice of sin. I typically felt “dirty” and weak after indulging in pornography. I’d vow to never do it again, only to fall to the temptation over and over. I found it shocking to learn that my brain chemistry was being affected by habitual porn in the same manner drugs had rewired my brain.
If you or a loved one is having difficulty staying away from pornography, it’s likely a stronghold has developed. It is just as hard (sometimes) to quit pornography as it is stopping the abuse of drugs or alcohol. The chemical “rewards” are far too great. It is possible to make a conscious decision early on to stay away, but once the habit has become an addiction it can require professional or spiritual guidance to quit. Please consider talking to your pastor or a trusted member of your congregation. If you are having trouble trusting yourself to stop visiting untoward websites, there are several apps or services that can help. I highly recommend Covenant Eyes. In any event, the first step (as with any addiction) is to admit powerlessness over the habit. There is power in the Name of Jesus to break any chain of addiction.
For those of you who do not struggle with this issue, or those who have broken free, please take up the mantle and help other believers in your church or everyday life to achieve victory. Both they and the Body of Christ will be made stronger if you do. God bless and remember: Say No to Satan!
(1) Terry Cu-unjieng, “Why 68% of Christian Men Watch Porn,” Conquer Series (n.d.), URL: https://conquerseries.com/why-68-percent-of-christian-men-watch-porn/
(2) Morgan Lee, “Here’s How 770 Pastors Describe Their Struggle With Porn,” Christianity Today (Jan. 26, 2016), URL: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/january/how-pastors-struggle-porn-phenomenon-josh-mcdowell-barna.html
(3) Steve Arterburn is the founder and chairman of New Life Ministries and host of the #1 nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show New Life Live!
(4) David Kinnaman, “The Porn Phenomenon,” Barna Research (Fe. 5, 2016), URL: https://www.barna.com/the-porn-phenomenon/#.VqZoN_krIdU
(5) Donna Rice Hughes is a practicing Christian, author, speaker, and Executive Producer and host of the Emmy award–winning three-part TV series Internet Safety 101 on PBS.
(6) Hughes, “The Internet Pornography Pandemic,” in Christian Apologetics Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Charlotte, NC: Southern Evangelical Seminary, 2014), 14.
(7) Hughes, Ibid.
(8) “Mind-Blowing Stats About the Porn Industry and Its Underage Consumers,” on Fight the New Drug (May 30, 2019), URL: https://fightthenewdrug.org/10-porn-stats-that-will-blow-your-mind/
(9) Ruth Moore, Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 273.
(10) Moore, 3.
(11) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. J.T. McNeill, trans. F.L Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), III.iii.5.