Escaping the World Wide Web of Temptation
‘Beloved, I urge you... abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.’ 1 Peter 2:11
I've been doing an informal survey over the last couple of years and have been asking men who have regular access to the Internet this same question: 'Do you struggle with the temptation to view pornography online?' You may be surprised at the results...
My unofficial survey so far has yet to yield a single response in the negative. In other words, every single man that I have asked, who has regular and unsupervised access to the Internet, has admitted to occasionally struggling with the temptation to view pornography online. For some of them it has been an almost constant struggle.
Admittedly, my small survey was not very scientific. But a more extensive Christianity Today leadership survey reported that 51% of pastors say cyberporn is a temptation and 37% said it was a current struggle. 4 in 10 pastors admitted to having visited a pornographic website. According to a survey conducted for Focus on the Family in 2000, 17.8% of all born again Christian adults (in America) admit to having visited sexually oriented websites. 63% of men attending 'Men, Romance & Integrity Seminars' admitted to struggling with pornography in the previous year. Two-thirds of these were in church leadership and 10% were pastors. 1 in 7 calls to Focus' Pastoral Care Line is about Internet pornography.
Another survey conducted by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (US) revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of the male students attending five Christian colleges in the US admitted that they had intentionally looked for pornography on the Internet. Ten percent of those surveyed admitted to frequent use of pornography. And these numbers are likely understating the real figures.
So why are men so vulnerable to Internet pornography? And why aren't Christian men exempt?
A quick look through the Bible's Hall of Fame could quickly teach us that anyone claiming to be immune from sexual temptation would need to be more godly than David, stronger than Samson, and wiser than Solomon! Each of these great men of faith displayed vulnerability in the area of their sexual integrity.
The fact that men are curious and strongly attracted to beautiful women should come as no surprise, and if it does, perhaps it says more about our naive lack of understanding of man than it does about the moral decline in the church. The sex drive for a man is an incredibly powerful force, and it is undeniably activated by the visual senses. It's inextricably linked to a man's sense of his own worth, his perceived status, his sense of achievement and his sense of his own masculinity.
In addition to this, today we live in a culture that has cast off restraint in relation to sexual attitudes and behaviour and there are no longer the universal cultural constraints that once shaped society. Today sexual images are so prevalent around us in advertising that they are virtually unavoidable.
In recent years the Internet has brought the red light district into every home, and in a moment of vulnerability the only thing standing between a man and his sexual impulses is a few moments alone and a click of the mouse. As if I needed any reminder of this point, during the time that I have taken to write this, so far I've just received five unsolicited emails from 'spammers' attempting to entice me to visit their pornographic websites!
There was no Internet in Jesus' day but his hearers knew all too well what He meant when he said, 'Whoever looks at a woman, to lust after her, has already committed adultery in his heart'. The temptation to sexual lust is common to man, in every time, in every culture and in every place… and yes, even among Christians!
The Flesh and the Spirit
Just like a drug addict who can be chemically addicted to a substance, cyberporn junkies are addicted to the rush of chemicals in their brains as they indulge their secret fantasies. Like a drug addict, the 'hit' can become less satisfying with time, inviting the participant to 'push the boundaries' in their exploration of this illicit world. The victim is drawn into a fantasy world that is far removed from reality, and knowing that his imaginary conquests are an illusion, he is eventually overtaken by guilt and self-condemnation. Have his fantasies brought him any real respect? Any real honour? Any real love?
Any Christian who becomes enslaved in this way lives a life of quiet desperation. He wants on one hand to be holy and pure, whilst on the other hand he struggles with his inner passions. When they become too much to bear he knows that those imaginary lovers are waiting for him. And all this can happen without anyone else knowing or perceiving the battle that is raging secretly within him.
This would all be terribly hopeless if it weren't for the fact that God speaks into every human situation. When teaching about the struggle with sin, Paul said, 'Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?' (Romans 7:24). Now Paul didn't even have access to the Internet, and yet he wrote a whole lot of helpful stuff about how to be free from it's temptation.
The primary key to liberation from bondage lies in realising this simple truth: As a believer, sin cannot condemn you. 'There is no condemnation' means just that. If you are in Christ [ie: a follower of Jesus] , the 'Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death'. It's important to grasp this because if you don't, you'll always believe that you have to try harder and harder to be a better person in your own strength. Freedom from sin comes when God changes us within by the power of His Spirit. As the Holy Spirit renews our minds and reshapes our thinking, we begin to see the enticements of sin for what they are: a big deception. When we walk with Jesus we begin to see that God's ways are better than anything this world has to offer and that our sure eternal hope is more precious than anything.
Some practical techniques for defeating temptation:
CONFESS YOUR SIN. It is not a sin to be tempted, but if your thoughts are leading you astray because you've actively cultivated a mind full of sinful thoughts and memories, then you need to have some honesty sessions with God and start to allow God to change your way of thinking. Someone said, 'You can't stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from building its nest in your hair!' Confession is the first step to getting clean. Tell God how it is. 'No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.' (1 Corinthians 10:13)
ASK GOD FOR HELP. It might seem like a really basic thing, but it's important. Because your mind has been trained in a particular way of thinking, it could take time for new thinking habits to be formed and you will need the help of the Holy Spirit. The good news is that God wants to help you… you just need to ask. Desperate and persistant prayers get answered.
MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO AVOID THE SOURCE of temptation. Desperate situations sometimes require desperate measures. Jesus said, 'If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell'. Just as a surgeon can remove life-threatening cancer, so sin in our lives requires radical surgical removal. If the Internet represents a serious challenge that you can't deal with in any other way, remove the web browser from your computer completely. If pornographic spam is cluttering your email intray, shut down your email address and get a new one.
The link at the end of this article will contain info about software that can also help you avoid the tangles of the www of temptation.
BE OPEN AND ACCOUNTABLE to your brothers and get them praying for you. When you're struggling with temptation it's a great help to tell someone you trust. James 5:16 says, '…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.' Confessing to another brother is an important way of humbly acknowledging your dependence upon God, and safeguarding yourself against spiritual pride. You will also be able to pray for others going through their own struggles.
DEAD TO SIN. Understanding our position in Christ is vital to dealing with the temptations of this world. Have you ever noticed that dead people aren't particularly interested in worldly enticements? Likewise, if you understand that you're through with this world, then all the enticements that this world offers you will seem like a whole other life altogether - that old life that you died to when you were baptised. '...count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.' Romans 6:11
TAKE YOUR THOUGHTS CAPTIVE to obey Christ. When you try to suppress a tempting thought it's like trying to cap a volcano - sooner or later it will erupt with greater force. Instead, take those thoughts captive. The Bible declares that
'For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ...' 2 Cor. 10:3-5 (ESV)
Whenever a tempting image comes to mind, in your mind speak to that thought and say this: 'I take you captive to obey Jesus!' You'll be surprised at what the power of God can do within you!
This is a powerful principle for taking control of your thought-life and releasing power for you to say 'no' to temptation.
SEEK TO HAVE A SEX LIFE that God will pleased to bless. Paul's advice to those that were single and struggling with lust was to get married. The Bible says, 'He who finds a wife finds a good thing...' But many married people know that just being married doesn't make you totally immune to temptation. Pornography presents the mythical lover as ever eager and co-operative. One's wife, on the other hand, is a complex individual with needs and desires that don't always mesh with one's own. Unhappy marriages are all too common, but by God's grace, a good marriage and mutually satisfying sex life is possible. It takes wisdom and determination, beginning with open and honest communication with your spouse. Most of all, it requires maturity and co-operation. There are many good books on this subject. See the web link at the end of this article for more resources and counselling advice.
RESIST THE DEVIL. Many believers attribute to the devil far more credit than he deserves. But there are some occasions when your struggle with sin won't just be against your own flesh. Evil spirits can and do get involved in sexual temptation. Evil spirits are capable of 'shooting' thoughts and impulses into people's minds. These attacks can be recognised when you observe that the thought didn't enter your mind through the usual logical progression of thought. We are at our most vulnerable to these kinds of attacks when we are tired lonely and discouraged.
Advice for dealing with these attacks can be found in James 4:7-10 'Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you'. This is about the principle of authority: a) Submitting makes sure that you're in right relationship to God's supreme authority. And b) Resisting is employing that authority which is ours in Christ to tell the evil spirits to go.
ACTIVELY SEEK GOD'S PURPOSE for your life. Not having a clear sense of purpose makes people vulnerable to all kinds of temptations that otherwise would not be an issue. King David's time of vulnerability came when he decided to stay in Jerusalem 'in the springtime, when Kings go off to war.' David was in the wrong place at the worng time with the wrong attitude. His calling from God was to subdue the enemies of Israel and to shepherd his people, but David had decided that he had done enough fighting for a while and he had earned some time off. During this time he saw a woman bathing 'who was very beautiful' and his passion led him to adultery and then murder! David paid a heavy price for that sin - and although he was forgiven, the consequences remained with him for the rest of his life.
I believe that there are many of God's men whose spiritual energy is misdirected and dissipated in sexual fantasies instead of actively seeking God's purposes for their lives. The Bible says, 'We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepares in advance for us to do'. God has plans for each of us - when you discover God's purposes for your life, you'll run with it and be less focused on your own fleshly dreams and desires.
IF YOU FALL, GET UP AGAIN. Repent and move on. Beating yourself up will accomplish very little. God is the God of the second chance, and the third, fourth and fifth. When he tells us to forgive 'seventy times seven' times, He's just telling us to do what He Himself does for us all the time! As long as you're prepared to come to Him and ask forgiveness, God is faithful and He will forgive. Praise Him for His mercy.
Sowing and Reaping
Whilst the law of sin and death no longer applies to those in Christ, there is another principle that we cannot afford to ignore, and if we do ignore it we do so to our eventual peril.
He who 'sows to the flesh,' Paul wrote, 'will reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will, from the Spirit, reap eternal life'. 'The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.' (NIV Rom 8:6,7) 'Those that are in the flesh cannot please God' (KJV Rom 8:8). An isolated sin will not kill you because you are under grace, but habitual and unrepentant sin will seriously damage you. Sin can overtake a person's heart and eventually make them into someone who doesn't want to have a real relationship with God. This process is called 'hardening of the heart'.
Christians who indulge in pornography need not fear God's immediate and angry retribution because He is forgiving and He understands our weaknesses. But there is something else to fear: Unrepented sin will damage a person and their capacity to have a real relationship with God. When we repent God forgives, purifies us and makes us holy. Heb 12:14 says that 'Without holiness, no one will see the Lord'. Jesus said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'.
The most important thing
One redemptive aspect to a moral struggle is that it can help to form within us the character of humility. How many of us could become proud if we were to overcome all our weakness with ease? Jesus spoke of the proud pharisee and the humble tax collector that went up to pray. One was full of religious pride and the other penitent grief. Jesus assured us that it was the tax collector, and not the pharisee who went home forgiven. Struggling with sin can draw us into close dependence upon God, and foster a deep love for Him through the mercy he extends to us.
My prayer is that these points will equip you to take hold of the freedom that is yours in Christ. 'For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.' Romans 6:14 'There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!' Romans 8:1
Above all, remember that God forgives! Holiness is not sinless perfection, but comes by grace. God's grace is the safety net that catches us when our all our best efforts to walk free from sin fail. 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'. That's a sure promise to depend upon.
Thursday, November 9, 2006 printer friendly version | 10105 reads
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