I was in full-time college ministry for 20 years until my pastor asked me to step down after repeated failure with pornography and masturbation. This has greatly affected my relationship with my wife. Do you have any advice for me at this stage?
Recognition of this sin as a barrier to true intimacy, both with your Lord and your wife, 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 in to impure sexual thoughts and fulfilling my sexual desires outside of God’s will (through masturbation) 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 sexual sin and how adulterous 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 lust (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 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, I strongly recommend 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 such as through masturbation. This (masturbation) for me was such a shameful thing that I hated to even say or write that word.
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. 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 is a great place to meditate when you are vulnerable to sexually impure thoughts. Not only does this reveal the utter foolishness of adultery (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.
I would also encourage you to make sure your wife has support through this time, as she may experience feelings of doubt, guilt and anger. It is important for you to realize how deeply this can hurt a woman, and also that she needs to know that you are broken and understand that your sexual sin has hurt her deeply. Do not underestimate the need to encourage her and to take full responsibility for your sin.
In the past few years I have seen several close friends freed from sexual sin, and I know that God desires that you be free as well. I pray that God will do a work of grace in you and cut through the blindness and the habits and patterns that enslave you. God wants what’s best for you, the evil one wants what’s not. Choose what’s best, choose life for yourself. Through the power of his Spirit you can do this. The book, Pure Desire: How One Man's Triumph Can Help Others Break Free from Sexual Temptation by Ted Roberts may be of some help to you as well.
(Parts of this text was taken from Randy Alcorn’s book The Purity Principle.)