What resources and steps of action would you recommend for someone struggling with sexual sin?
Although I do not know the specific nature of your struggle, or the circumstances that set you up for sin, I do know that fighting the battle alone is difficult and rarely leads to victory. Our Enemy wants you to be isolated, alone, and believing that your sin is unique and must be kept secret from others because of what they will think of you. My strong recommendation is to find a group of Christian men that you can meet with regularly (at least weekly) and develop authentic accountability. Walking through the battle alone is a sure way to continue in defeat. My experience is that it can be very awkward to get to the point of being authentic and honest, even in groups of two or three. I encourage you to be the one to step out with complete transparency of your sin in order to allow your brothers to help you be accountable to purity. Stu Weber, in his book All the King’s Men, describes four milestones in a quality friendship:
It takes time, transparency, vulnerability, and commitment to develop those qualities. When starting a group, I recommend that you set ground rules regarding confidentiality and a commitment to being punctual to your meeting times. It is best to have a purpose and plan for the group rather than just open discussion. For instance, most of the groups I have led or participated in are centered on a book study. Several that I recommend are:
1) The Purity Principle by Randy Alcorn
2) Pointman by Steve Farrar — this is a great overview, and even as a maturing believer, I find myself going back to it for simple wisdom.
3) Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart by Stu Weber — another great book on what it means to be a man.
4) Everyman’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey.
Recognition of this sin as a barrier to true intimacy, both with your Lord and your wife (if you are married), and responding with true repentance and confession to those affected are difficult steps. Your willingness to do so indicates a desire to be free from this enslavement. Let me assure you that as discouraged as this sin can make you feel, Christ has given you the ability to win this battle. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
A friend of mine once said “a man doesn’t fall in a moment.” Rather, there are several steps that lead down the path of sexual sin, and God is faithful to provide escape routes if you are willing to listen and obey. Fighting the temptation to look at pornography starts by controlling what you look at and what you think about throughout the other parts of your day. Believe me when I say that I can relate to this struggle, as I was enslaved by my impure sexual thoughts and fulfilling my sexual desires outside of God’s will for many years. I would like to share some of the things that God has used in my life to enable me to consistently choose purity.
You must immerse yourself in the truth of Scripture to gain a clear perspective. Jesus recognized the struggle men have with this and how sexual acts begin with the eyes and mind. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman fully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Lust isn’t just unbridled passion. Even when it is “bridled”, it may lead us down a path that our conscience could not have condoned had we experienced it in a more obvious, wanton way.
So, how do you keep from looking and lusting? First, make a covenant with your eyes as Job did, not to look upon women (or other images) that lead to sin (see Job 31:1). When your eyes wander, remind yourself that you have made a covenant and look away. You may need to take radical steps to cut off sources of temptation. If this means you drive a different route to work to avoid enticing billboards or you go to a different grocery store or restaurant to avoid the temptation to look at a certain woman, then do so.
Get rid of anything in your room, your house, and your workplace that draws you to sin—including books, magazines, pictures, posters, television, and Internet access. If you are serious about living as a new creation, then follow through by eliminating as many sources of temptation as possible, even if that means eliminating a computer or a television from your home. For those things outside of your control, discipline and obedience are still required. That is why you train your eyes to look away. This is critical, as it reduces the visual images that your mind has available to trigger lustful thoughts.
Second, you must recognize that your body, including your mind, is not your own to do with as you please. Remind yourself that you do not have the right to think lustful thoughts. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is an important step to curb the desire to fantasize and the longing to view pornography. One of the real problems with pornography and fantasizing is that they bridge the gap between a sin that was once unthinkable but over time leads you to actually desire for the sinful situation to present itself. Pornography trains you to look at women strictly in terms of physical sexual pleasure, and warps your sense of reality. Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal the true ugliness and destruction of pornography so that the lure of this sinful medium is replaced with disgust. Make a decision while you have a clear mind, outside of the situation, that you simply will not view pornography in any form.
Finally, let me reiterate my earlier recommendation that you find one or more men to support you and hold you accountable to remaining sexually pure. It is imperative that you find men with whom you are open about your struggle with pornography, as well as any other ways you are seeking sexual fulfillment outside of your marriage. Ask the Lord to help you see all the areas of sexual sin in your life, and share these with your accountability partner(s) and if possible with your wife (assuming you are married). When I was finally able to expose it all, God used this to bring a brokenness and humility in my life that enabled me to fully experience His love and grace. I say this to encourage you to learn from my example. Be totally honest with your accountability partners as to where your sexual sin leads you, or where it will if left unchecked.
Proverbs chapters 4 through 7 are a great place to meditate when you are vulnerable to sexually impure thoughts. Not only does this reveal the utter foolishness of slavery (physical or mental), but it also provides instruction on where your sexual thoughts and emotions should be focused. “Drink water from your own cistern, And running water from your own well…And rejoice with the wife of your youth...And always be enraptured with her love” (Proverbs 5:15-19). You should not be thinking about or looking at another man’s wife (or daughter), a gift from the Lord to that man. Your thoughts should be on His gift to you, the bride of your youth. As you cease fantasizing about another and seek to nourish and cherish your wife, looking to her alone as the source of sexual fulfillment, a oneness will envelope your marriage. This is the Lord’s desire, and what a joy to experience marriage the way it was intended to be.
Please be encouraged to know that victory over sexual sin is possible. But also think soberly—you must make the decisions hundreds of times per day to be vigilant in what you look at and think about. Victory does not come easy, but it is also worth the price. God will reward you with pleasure in Him and in your marriage that far exceeds anything that sin has to offer.
For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn's book The Purity Principle.