Jim had been married to Rachael for eight years when she caught him viewing Internet porn, which he told her had been happening several times a week during the previous two months. Rachael was appalled and in shock! For the ten years she had known him, he’d seemed like an outstanding, moral Christian man. Jim agreed to seek counseling with their pastor. Jim and Pastor Paul agreed to the following:
- Jim would be asked a series of accountability questions every week.
- Jim would move the computer to a more public place in the home.
- Rachael would put a program on their computer to block access to inappropriate sites.
- Jim would start a program of Scripture memorization regarding purity.
Though Jim stopped viewing Internet porn, Rachael subsequently discovered that he had gone to an adult bookstore to purchase a pornographic magazine. Both Rachael and Pastor Paul were surprised and frustrated with Jim.
Pastor Paul approached me with these questions, “What did I do wrong? Do I have any business trying to help someone with this type of problem?”
“Paul, I don’t think you did anything wrong. Each of the strategies you used with Jim was fine. Asking accountability questions confronts Jim’s double life. Sin thrives in an atmosphere of deceit and secrecy. Placing the computer in the living room makes it harder for him to sin with it. That is consistent with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:29–30 (ESV): ‘If your right eye [or] your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,’ rather than go to hell. In other words, it’s good to make it difficult for Jim to sin again.”
“But it didn’t work! Do you think the Bible is appropriate for this type of problem?”
The Bible is sufficient for discipleship
“Yes, I do think it’s appropriate. Let me clarify: The Bible is sufficient to give us what we need to know in order to honor God in all areas of our lives. Peter tells us that everything we need for a godly life is available through our knowledge of the One who called us so that we might become more like Him (2 Pet. 1:3–4). As Jim’s pastor, the Bible is your tool to accomplish what God wants you to accomplish with him (Ps. 119; 2 Tim. 3:16–17). Although cultures and technologies change over time, the human heart has not changed since the fall. Jesus, Paul, and Peter did not have computers, but they had to deal with the same motives and desires of the human heart that drive the search for computer porn today. Lust now is what it was then.”
“But what I did—which I think is ‘biblical’—didn’t work. What more could I have done?”
“I think what you set up with Jim was fine as far as it went. We just need to make sure your strategies reflect the depth of the Bible’s portrayal of the human condition and God’s response to it in Christ.”
“Go ahead …”
The Bible is sufficient to expose our double-mindedness
“Two characteristics of the fallen human heart are ‘double-mindedness’ and ‘self-deception.’ James (1:8, 4:8) uses the concept of ‘double-mindedness’ to describe a professing Christian who tries to live according to two opposing value systems simultaneously. Trying to live by God’s standards and the world’s standards at the same time produces these effects: instability, inconsistency, hypocrisy, conflict, and ultimately, a friendship with the world that makes the person an enemy of God.
“For Jim, this means two things. First, being at odds with God blocks his access to the power and wisdom that God provides when we humbly ask Him (Rom. 6:5–11; Gal. 5:22–25; James 1:5–7). Second, double-mindedness means there will be an ongoing drain on his resolve to live a Christian life. The resulting emotional distress will set up Jim for impulsive, self-centered reactions, like retreating into the fantasy world of porn. Pornographic fantasizing can distract him from the distress temporarily, and that is very reinforcing. But in the long run, the consequences associated with the self-centered reactions will overshadow any perceived benefits, and his life will spiral downward in a tailspin. If that happens, then he likely will seek short-term relief, driven by a sense of desperation. ‘People are slaves to whatever has mastered them’ (2 Pet. 2:19).
The Bible is sufficient to expose our self-deceptions
“Double-mindedness is nurtured by the capacity we have for self-deception. We can layer untrue beliefs about the world upon untrue beliefs about ourselves in such a way that, without someone intervening, we don’t even realize the inconsistencies in our lives (Jer. 17:9; Gal. 6:1–3; James 1:22–25).
Self-deceptions seem to justify sinful behavior
“We deceive ourselves in a variety of ways, so I think you need to help Jim come to recognize how he manages to deceive himself. You need to ask him a question like, ‘What do you say to yourself leading up to your use of porn?’ In essence, you’re asking for his rationalizations that seem to ‘justify’—or even ‘warrant’—the use of porn. Then you need to help him replace that thinking with more biblical thinking.”
“I wonder what possible justifications he could have for this.”
“Jim might be telling himself that he is unworthy of his wife’s affection. If so, inquire about what evidence supports his conclusion. Or Jim might be telling himself that Rachael is not going to satisfy him the way he ‘needs.’ If so, you should help him understand the distinction between ‘need’ and ‘desire.’ He may have convinced himself he ‘needs’ something from her that is unnecessary or ungodly. Jim might be telling himself that ‘it’s better to use porn than to go out and have an affair with someone.’ If so, he should be reminded that lust ‘in the heart’ is no less offensive to God than acting on it with another person (Matt. 5:28)—even though the social consequences are less severe.
“Some of these ungodly beliefs could come out in your conversations about his temptations, but not necessarily. Jim could focus more on circumstances or other external considerations without going any deeper into the thoughts and desires of his heart. But that’s ultimately where the conversations need to go. It might take a while for him to come up with answers to these questions, and it will take time for his thinking to be constrained by the Bible. Be patient with him.
Self-deceptions can confuse our regrets
“A particularly important self-deception you need to be on the alert for is ‘worldly sorrow’ substituting for ‘godly sorrow’ in Jim’s life (see 2 Cor. 7:10–11). In both types, there is regret and an emotional burden (guilt and/or shame). In both types, there can be tears and apologies. Unfortunately, we can deceive ourselves into thinking that the experience of worldly sorrow is sufficient to prompt positive changes in our lives. In fact, worldly sorrow can motivate lifestyle changes, but there’s a fundamental problem with changes motivated by worldly sorrow: they don’t honor the Lord. If they don’t honor the Lord, they afford no protection against further sin; in fact, they actually prepare the person for further sin.
“Therefore, if Jim is showing signs of remorse, you should ask him, ‘What are the consequences of your behavior that you regret?’ If God’s honor is not a prominent part of his answer, you can assume he is experiencing worldly sorrow. In that case, help Jim grasp the depths of God’s holiness and grace, like Isaiah did from his vision in the temple (Isa. 6). Impress upon him the reality mentioned in Galatians 6:7–8: You should not allow yourself to be deceived. God will not be mocked. You will reap what you sow. Fortunately, you can reassure Jim by telling him God’s grace is always sufficient to insure a good harvest.”
“Great. I’ll give this a try. Thanks.”
The fallout from a relapse can touch many lives in many ways. In Jim’s case, his wife’s trust has been shattered. His pastor’s faith has been challenged. Jim, of course, has several significant challenges ahead of him. In this article I touch on the challenges of double-mindedness and self-deception. Another challenge for Jim will be dealing with shame–a sense that now he is fundamentally flawed. Shame will push him to reconsider the way he’s always thought of himself. In my article Responding to Relapse: Dealing with the Shame, I pick up Jim’s struggle with this potentially pernicious fallout of sin.