Pornography and Actually Changing Things

"The path to deep change in real life isn't paved with your good intentions, your willpower, or your knowledge base...Your hope is not in your own strength... it is God who fixes things."

Read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Pornography is a problem that runs deep and wide. It's wide because it affects the way we view relationships, the opposite sex, and ourselves. It's deep because it has roots that run to the core of your heart. So how do we actually change things?

Deep Change In Real Life
The road to change has a ditch on either side. Often we don't see real change because we wander off the road into one of these ditches. On one side, you can focus on actions and willpower instead of the heart and idolatry. On this side, you make a plan, try your hardest to follow it, and never engage the deep idolatry that drives your use of pornography. But without heart change, it's only a matter of time before your willpower gives out, your plan fails, and you are back where you started.

On the other side, you can focus on the heart and idolatry without ever taking practical steps. On this side, you do a lot of introspection and heart analysis without ever choosing to act on what you've discovered. But if you don't make practical changes, you will continue in sin—only now you'll have a much better understanding of why you're sinning.

We need change to reach into the depths of our heart, so we need to look for deep idols and displace them. But we also need change to reach into our daily lives, so we need to make decisions and act on them. How can we stay on the road and see deep change in real life?

Enlisting Your Will
In high school I had a friend whose car was always overheating. His solution was to roll the windows down and turn up the heat in the car, so the heat from the engine could come through the vents and (ideally) out the windows.

We told him this was not a sustainable solution. (We spoke up much more during the summer). He needed to take the car to a mechanic to fix the problem. But the only way to get to the mechanic without the car overheating was to roll the windows down and turn up the heat!

In the same way, deep change often means using temporary measures while you get to work on the real problems in your heart. It is very difficult to accurately assess the idols of your heart when you are giving in to them on a regular basis.

What does enlisting the will look like in this area? First, avoid exposure. We live in a sexualized culture that can grab a hold of you like a strong undertow. Before you know it, you're out to sea—you've lost the battle before it started because your mind and heart were already captured by the things you've seen on billboards, magazine covers, and television shows. So enlist your will to avoid that exposure. In all seriousness, don't look at the magazine covers. Avert your eyes from the billboards. Don't watch TV for a while, don't use the internet for a while.

Second, get some distance. Anyone who has gone on a diet knows that the first few days are the hardest. And most people give up in those few days, not realizing that the days that follow are much easier. So people end up on a "yo-yo" diet: abstain for a few days, cave on day three, abstain again for a few days, cave again, and so on. The same is true with pornography use. If you use it daily, the first few days of not using it will be the hardest. If you use it monthly, the first few months will be the hardest. But if you can make it through, you'll find that the intensity dies down and you have the distance you need to look into your heart with more accuracy.

These aren't solutions any more than blasting the heater fixes an overheating car. But they can get you to the mechanic where the real work needs to get done.

Enlisting Your Heart
Avoiding exposure and getting some distance creates helpful space where you can take a good look at your heart and uncover your deepest idols. Take a look at our last post to find some good questions to ask yourself, and some ways to preach the gospel to yourself.

But this doesn't happen in vacuum. To enlist your heart, you need to find time for reflection, meditation, and prayer. When will you think through this? When will you pray and meditate? Focusing on the heart often includes putting something on the schedule.

This is not just an analytical enterprise, as though when you find out the "root cause" you're immediately set free. As God reveals your idols, you are called to do something about them. As your heart is warmed to the goodness of God, how will you carry that affection into your day? How can you use it to put off your old ways, and put on Christ (Romans 13:14)? What does repentance for these specific idolatries, attitudes, and actions look like today, tomorrow, and next week?

When you answer these questions, you have a clear and practical plan for what comes next. They put choices, decisions, and actions in front of you. These aren't actions that try to cope with the real problem in your heart. They are actions that stem from a changing heart. As you live them out, you'll find that your heart will keep on changing—your affection for God will keep growing to displace your affection for an idol—and that will spur on further action. By enlisting your will and enlisting your heart, you are cultivating good soil for a genuinely holy life to grow.

Closing Thoughts
In Ephesians, Paul says God has brought us from death to life, making us his his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). The idea is that God has created us new, with new desires and holiness and love. He has molded us into his own creation. And he has carved out a new path for us to walk, in line with what he has made us to be: holy.

All the insight in the world can't give you confidence that this fight can be won. All the encouragement in the world can't give you hope that victory over this can be real. But God, who sits above the world, has made you for this purpose. The power at your disposal is inexhaustible. God himself has gone before you, carving out a road for you to walk.

Where is the hope, where is the power for deep change in real life? It's not in the insight, the information, or the encouragement. It's in God himself, who loves you and sent his Son to die for you. Remember, he promises to finish what he starts.

So remove whatever ties you back to your old path and walk the new one unhindered. See the size and scope of the problem. Feel the weight of it on your soul and in your world. Then see the size and scope of the God who remade you for something different. See the depth and breadth of your idolatry. Feel the draw of idols in your heart and in your actions. Then see the depth and breadth of the God who dwells in unapproachable light, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The path to deep change in real life isn't paved with your good intentions, your willpower, or your knowledge base. It isn't walked with strong willpower or a good skill set. Your hope is not in your own strength. Blog posts don't fix things. God fixes things. And God is with you now as you read. Let him be your strength as you walk the path to change. After all, he's walking with you.