Yes, I am going there. I was a pornography addict from the ages of eight until twenty-nine when I came to Messiah, at which point I gave up all pornographic materials, struggled minute by minute in my thoughts for another four years before I was released from those. Then sadly, for about ten more years, although I would never watch or read anything even remotely sexual, I had an overactive fantasy life in my head during times of stress before vowing by the Name of YHVH never to consciously do it again – so yes, I do get to address this. Yom Kippur is almost upon us, and this is an important topic that plagues the Body of Messiah – especially those in the ministry.
If you have never heard my testimony, it is here.
My problem was very typical – partial repentance. Don’t get me wrong, the bonfire of all the porn in my Idaho backyard took enormous willpower and a love for what is right. What I didn’t have was enough love to give up the most potent form of porn, the fantasy life. Honestly, I felt that I deserved to experience that rush of emotions, the endorphin drugged state that any porn inspires. This was about entitlement – it was always about entitlement. Make no mistake; pornography is the cheapest addiction there is – you need nothing except an active imagination, although generally, that isn’t enough. In my case, it had to be enough because I had no more willingness to look at the filth I had once wallowed in. I didn’t want God to be looking at it through my eyes. I convinced myself, however, that I had every right to feel those feelings when I was stressed out, or sad.
The worst part was the mental gymnastics I would go through to justify it beforehand, “I know this is wrong, and I will repent afterward, but I need this. I need to feel this right now.”
That right there is the difference between merely feeling guilt and having any intention of repenting. I had no intention of repenting! I sinned willingly, with forethought and self-justification – all the while knowing it was wrong and I simply planned to beg forgiveness later.
I felt guilty, but I wasn’t truly sorry because part of me felt entirely justified. I had no intention of turning away from it, I simply begged forgiveness and said I was sorry to alleviate my guilt. I didn’t love God enough or trust Him enough to believe that I could live without that perversion running around in my head from time to time.
Make no mistake – there is more false repentance associated with pornography addiction than with any other sin. People want to be free from the guilt and torment, but not from the pleasure.
I don’t know what changed, but one day I did feel repentant – repentant but still too weak to resist on my own. I did my most drastic thing – I swore an oath by the Name of YHVH. It was the first time I had ever done such a thing – and at every point of temptation I had to ask myself, “Am I willing to drag His name through the mud and make it worthless just so that I can feel the endorphins?” Praise God, no, I was never willing to do that. I wasn’t willing to break the second commandment even though I had been willing, in my mind, to shred the prohibition against adultery. As time went by, I found that I really didn’t need those fantasies at all – I haven’t died from endorphin deprivation all these years later.
Whenever we do something, after justifying it to ourselves with the intention of repenting afterward, that is not repentance – that’s simply what we do in order to avoid the discomfort of feeling guilty. Really, not only is it self-deception, but it’s just a different sort of drug to make ourselves feel better. Do we want to justify gossiping, or holding a grudge, or whatever pet sin we have cloaked in “I have a right to do this because…” – we need to see it for what it is. Repenting afterward is nothing if we sinned with that plan of action in mind, just so we could feed our flesh, and experience something forbidden – true repentance means that we stop with the justification beforehand because it is a grave insult to God. Don’t get me wrong, that guilty feeling is usually a good thing – unless we shut it down or divert ourselves from having to deal with it. Then that guilt becomes a form of condemnation sending us deeper into sin – because we have been warned by the Spirit.
True repentance is hard. It is much easier to admit we were wrong and say sorry later after we did exactly what we wanted in the first place. Saying sorry is a small price to pay – and meaningless in this situation. Stopping, turning around and walking in a new direction is hard. Have you ever heard that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission? Easy isn’t usually right, and oftentimes it is a presumptuous sin.
All that is to say, if you keep lapsing back into pornography, check out the validity of your repentance. Did you repent simply in order to make yourself feel better? If so, then the deep root of the problem is a focus on self, and I would wager it has its tendrils wrapped around every aspect of your life. I have never met an addict, myself included, who wasn’t self-absorbed – I still fight that. You have to be willing to deny yourself – pleasure, comfort, solace, excitement – and with women, generally the feelings of love and safety that we incorporate into the fantasies. We have to learn to sometimes be alone, sad and stressed out so that we can find and root out the real issues driving us towards the drug.
I am completely free now. It was difficult, nothing has ever been more difficult, but God helped me. I had to fight and fight but in the end, the self-control I exerted was met with divine help. It was worth it. He didn’t leave me to fight alone, but He didn’t sweep the issues away like magic either. Repentance and redemption are a team effort – but our repentance has to be more than a relief valve for well-earned guilt.