The Only Effective Way to Overcome Your Porn Problem

Anchoring Your Fight for Purity in God's Justification

The only way that Christians can effectively overcome the problem of watching pornography is by the Spirit and grounding their fight for purity in an unshakable spiritual reality—namely, justification. This article will attempt to (1) uncover the root issue behind watching pornography; (2) provide a biblical definition of justification; and (3) demonstrate the only manner in which Christians can kill the sin of watching pornography.

Recognize the Root

Imagine that you have a house. And imagine that your house has a back yard with an apple tree in it. When spring rolls around each year, the apple tree inevitably begins to produce buds, flowers, and then finally small apples. And each year, unless picked, the apples fall firmly to the ground—and sit there.

Then the spring showers come, and so now you must mow your grass. But there is only one problem: you have about twenty apples laying on the grass right where you must mow. So, you grab a bucket and fill it with the half-rotten apples and throw them away and mow the lawn. Then, in two weeks, you repeat the process. In two more weeks, you do it again—and again. 

This illustrates a dangerous fight that many Christians engage in when it comes to battling pornography and lust. Many Christians only address the externalities that are manifested from a deeper reality. In other words, if some Christian struggles with pornography, he may only remove the images from his computer or purchase an accountability software. And, although these are good tools for keeping us from temptation, they can never solve the problem. You must dig deeper to find the root. In other words, if all you are doing is merely picking up apples over and over and over again, then you are not solving the problem. You must lay the axe to the root, wielding it with all of the strength God supplies you, and you must slay the tree by striking the root.

If you do not kill the root sin of watching porn, your sin will persist, or you just might find yourself in the clutches of legalism—which, perhaps, is more dangerous than pornography. Let Jesus Christ explain:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:27–30).

Notice first that Jesus quotes a direct command of God: “Do not commit adultery” (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18). Second, notice that Jesus goes deeper to make known the root cause of adultery: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In other words, adultery isn’t the main problem here. Lust is.[1] Adultery is simply the harvested fruit of lust being sown in one’s heart. This principle is applied also in James 1:15: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Notice the progression here. It’s like a seed which is sown and gives birth to a small sprout. Then the small sprout grows into a small tree. Then the tree matures and grows and brings forth buds, flowers, and then finally apples, which fall firmly to the ground.

The root problem with watching pornography isn’t pornography. The root problem with watching pornography is lust—an idolatrous coveting (Col 3:5) that denies the all-satisfying nature of Jesus Christ, and that he is capable providing superior pleasures.

Radical Violence Leads to Radical Pleasures

So, once you have found the root of watching pornography, how do you strike it so that it dies? Let us go back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. Look at verses 29–30:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:29–30).

Notice the implication of v. 29—namely, that people will go to hell if they make watching pornography a life-long practice. Therefore, this is a very pressing matter. Pornography is no game. Pornography is not something to dabble with. You will go to hell if you make this a life-long practice (1 John 3:9). 

But notice that Jesus promises an alternative that secures radical and eternal pleasures, provided that radical violence is enacted: “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” In other words, if you are radically violent about cutting off any temptation whatsoever that might cause you to watch pornography, then you will experience a more satisfying and eternally pleasurable reality (Cf. Ps 16:11). Your fight for purity is rooted in a confident hope that if you cut off any opportunity for sin, eternity with Jesus awaits you.

And here is where you must fight. And you must fight because you are in a war. Though you aren’t carrying an M-16 on your back and crawling through the mountains of Afghanistan, you are in a war far more dangerous because your eternal destiny is at stake. Here is where you call up a friend and confess your sin because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Here is where you might purchase accountability software and find a courageous friend to tell you hard things, because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Here is where you might need to disable all images in all your internet browsers (Google Chrome, Safari, Mozilla Firefox, etc.), because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Here is where you might even downgrade to a non-smartphone, because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

But your practical fight for purity, and thus against pornography, cannot terminate on this radical violence, though mandatory as it is (Matt 5:29–30). This fight is like merely picking up the apples so that you can begin to walk the Christian life in purity and holiness. As we shall see, if all we are doing is picking up apples (i.e., doing only what the preceding paragraph just mentioned), we will never kill our sin, and we just might be in the clutches of legalism because the root sin was never slain. Therefore, a God-honoring radical violence against pornography is the fruit of a good root (Lk 6:43–44). And as we have seen, roots always give birth to fruit.

Therefore, notice the “for” in Matthew 5:29. This “for” signifies the very reason why we fight radically against lust—namely, that there is a more satisfying eternal dwelling awaiting you, secured by Christ’s death and resurrection, if you do. The clear implication is that if you do lose one of your members for the sake of holiness, you will make it to heaven, but only because you trust in this secured eternal dwelling as the ground for your fight. 

In other words, the Christian’s only ground in the fight for purity, and thus against pornography, is the ground of justification, which was secured by Christ’s death on the cross.

Anchor Your Fight in Justification

You will never please God if you think his acceptance of you is grounded in how hard you work to abstain from viewing sexually explicit material on your computer. That is to say, your radical violence against lust will never gain you any merit before God. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 4:4–8:

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” 

The Pharisees probably kept the precepts of the Law better than anybody else in their day—and even still, they did not receive the reward of heaven (Matt 6:1–9, 16–18; cf. 7:21–23). Why? Because they worked and believed that they had earned wages for themselves. They thought, contrary to Jesus and Paul (John 3:16; Rom 3:28), that they were accepted by God because of their good works. They washed the outsides of their cups without paying any attention to the dirt on the inside (Matt 23:25–26). Jesus likened them to whitewashed tombs, “which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27). In other words, they disregarded the real problem and only addressed the fruit of the root problem.

If you are ever going to make headway in your battle to abstain from watching pornography, you must first and foremost get your eyes off of yourself and believe that if you trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins through his death, God has already forgiven you—i.e., he has already justified you. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly [that’s you], his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:5).

Let me clarify what I mean by “justified.” Justification is God’s declaration that sinners are made righteous by Christ’s righteousness.[2] That is, all of the perfect righteousness and holiness that Christ has in himself, God applies to sinners, and all the imperfect unrighteousness and impurity that sinners have in themselves, through identification with Adam’s sin (1 Cor 15:22), he applies to Christ. So, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “for our sake he made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Christian, you are already forgiven, just as Paul, quoting David in Psalm 32 says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Rom 4:7). This is justification. And because of this you will certainly, without a doubt, be glorified with Jesus in heaven (Rom 8:30). This spiritual reality must always be the anchor of your fight. If not, your sin will persist because the root of sin is providing more life to the tree of sin, which brings forth fruits of sin.

So, what does all that look like in practice?

The Only Effective Way to Overcome Your Porn Problem

If you get this backwards you will end up like the Pharisees. Anchor your fight against pornography in God’s justification of you through Christ. Believe that you are forgiven and say with Paul, “not that I have already obtained [the resurrection] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil 3:12). Because Christ owns you, he has now empowered you to resist and to fight with all the strength that God supplies you. And he will supply it to you, for the only way to kill any sin is by the Holy Spirit. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13). This task is an impossible task without God’s Spirit. And how do you know that it is the Spirit working in you? You groan for God (Rom 8:26). You groan because of your sin. You feel a godly grief that brings forth true repentance (2 Cor 7:10). And you press on just like Paul (Phil 3:12). 

Therefore, call upon God to provide you with all that you need to resist pornography in the strength of his might (Eph 6:10).

Being justified is freedom from the bondage to sin (Rom 6:19). Watching pornography is bondage. Resisting pornography on the basis of God’s acceptance of you through the death of his Son is freedom, and the only effective way to overcome your porn problem is to trust that Jesus Christ has secured for you a sure and eternal and perfectly joy-filled heavenly home (Heb 9:12) and to engage in radical warfare on that solid ground. When you walk and fight on this foundation, your feet will not fail and Christ will prove to be more satisfying than the fleeting pleasures of sin (Heb 11:25).




[1] When I first became a Christian, the first book I read was the short, but radical, book by Joshua Harris, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2003). I commend the book to any young man or woman who has a history not only with pornography, but any sexual sins that have left hurtful and perhaps lasting wounds. Further, I even recommend it to all believers, for it gets a the root of lust—and that is one of the primary thrusts of this article.

[2] That is, by means of Christ’s righteousness.