This is the final entry in a series of articles about sex and, in particular, about sexual detoxification. First I wrote about Pornifying the Marriage Bed, then about Breaking Free and A Theology of Sex. The fourth article dealt with Detoxification. The series was written specifically to target young men–those who are newly married or nearly married or who will, like most of us, be married at some time. I chose this narrow focus because this was the kind of person who triggered the series in my mind and because I felt a narrow focus would be more valuable in the end. That means that, though there were some principles in the series that might benefit any reader, there was a lot that I could not say. For example, I had little to say to singles or to the wives whose husbands may be sinning against them.
One immediate effect of the series is that I can see that a lot of Christian men are just awful leaders in their homes. Their wives truly want husbands who will lead them and yet the men have either abdicated leadership or have abused it by leading their wives into sin. Many of the problems exposed through the Sexual Detox series go back to nonexistent or poor or just plain horrible leadership. Therefore I hope to address leadership in a series targeted to husbands (and future husbands) which will address the necessity of being strong, godly leaders.
I will also try to speak to singles in at least one article. Or perhaps I’ll find someone who would be able to do that. In either case, I received a lot of questions about sex and the single.
Finally, as emails came in, I asked Aileen to help me reply to many of the ones that came from women (both for sake of propriety and to benefit from her wisdom). She and I are preparing an article or two that will focus on women, responding to many of the questions and concerns that arose.
For now, I want to offer a final word–a final challenge and encouragement–to the young men who were the target of this series.
I know your struggles because not too many years ago they were my struggles. It was not long ago that I was a young man, fighting (and sometimes not fighting) against lust and pornography and all the rest. There was a time when it wooed me and drew me and sought to captivate me. And yet today I can say that pornography does not interest me in the least. God delivered me from the desire to indulge. I can understand your struggles and also assure you that it is possible to find freedom.
There were a handful of Scripture passages that were foundational to my understanding of sex when I was young and considering marriage and when I was young and newly married. They were instrumental in my determination not to succumb to the allure of pornography.
The first of these is one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. Proverbs 5:18-19 says, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” I love the sweetness of this passage. It calls a man to always find joy and satisfaction and intimacy in the wife God has given him. It calls him to recall the delight he had in the days when he and his bride were newly married and to live out of that delight. He has no right to go elsewhere, no right to “drink from another cistern,” to use Solomon’s terminology. And why would he ever want to? The verse both celebrates the gift of sex and the exclusivity of it.
If you are married, God has provided for you the wife of your youth. You are to be intoxicated in her love and not with the body or the heart of another woman or endless series of women. If you are not yet married, then God may well have that woman for you. Every time you look at pornography, every time you give in to lust, you are diminishing your ability to be intoxicated in her love, to find your joy and satisfaction in her.
Just a few verses later in that same passage come these sobering words. “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.” Men who refuse to be intoxicated in the love of their wives, men who find delight in the bodies (or images of the bodies) of other women, are committing acts of great folly. This is not foolishness that is akin to silliness, but folly that puts a man in mortal danger. It is a moral foolishness that leads to spiritual death. Their foolishness, their lack of discipline, their lack of concern for their sin, leads them to the paths of death. There are consequences to your sin. When you sin before marriage you bring into marriage all kinds of baggage–all kinds of sexual history that impacts you and your relationship to your wife.
You may be eighteen or twenty and thinking that the occasional look at pornography right now, images to fuel your masturbation, will have no consequences. You are wrong. Even now as you do those things you are sinning against God and against your wife or future wife. You are piling up sin that will make it more difficult for you to be an effective leader and an effective lover. You are thumbing your nose at God’s grace.
Another verse, and a bit of a strange one, I know, is Genesis 26:8. This is the story of Isaac and Abimelech. You remember that Isaac, like his father before him, traveled through a strange land and feared for his life. As a coward he denied his wife rather than risk his life. But then Abimelech looked out of a window and “saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife.” That word laughing is obviously a difficult one to translate and versions of the Bible render it quite differently. When I was young I read a commentary that said, rightly, that it could be translated as sporting. Abimelech looked out of his window and saw Isaac and Rebekah doing something that made him realize that they were clearly not brother and sister; yet he also knew Isaac’s character well enough not to accuse him of anything immoral. Isaac and Rebekah were sporting, they were playing, flirting, undoubtedly just enjoying young love (though perhaps in an inappropriate setting). Somehow that captured a kind of freedom and innocence that I wanted to have with my wife. A freedom and openness that I knew we could not have if we were sinning sexually against one another.
The third verse was 1 Peter 3:7 which commands, “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Here I realized that my relationship with my wife had huge spiritual importance. If I am not showing honor to my wife, my own prayers (not hers!) will be hindered. As the leader of my home I need to keep growing spiritually and in order to do this I need to be faithful in prayer. I can only do this, I learned, if I treat my wife as she deserves to be treated. Were I to give in to lust and porn and all other kind of sexual sin, I would be devastating my family. I would not be the only one to suffer. How could I bring that kind of pain and devastation upon the people I love most?
The final passage was 1 Timothy 5:1,2 which reads “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” I saw here the connection between the women of pornography and God’s command that I treat all young women as sisters. How could I do that if I was leering at them on the screen? And how could I leer at anonymous young women on the screen and then assume that I’d be able to then turn off that lust and treat other young women in my life as sisters? Giving in to lust in one area would impact every area. God commanded me to see young women not as sexual objects but as sisters. I had to treat them in all purity, in my heart, in my mind, in my life.
These verses, though they may be a bit of an eclectic collection, challenged me deeply and reset my mind. I memorized them, pondered them, called them to mind and lived by them. And any desire to pursue lust melted away. I know it was a work of God because he worked through his Word, just as he says he will. In its place he gave me a great (and still-growing) love for her and increased joy and satisfaction in my relationship for her. I would not want it any other way.
My encouragement to you is to find a biblical basis for purity, a biblical basis for avoiding pornography. Some men can turn away from pornography by an act of the will. Some can do it by constructing walls of legalism and forcing themselves to live within those boundaries. But it is best, I’m convinced, to find freedom through the Word of God. We need to fight sin with God’s truth; we need to replace the lies we want to believe with what God says is true. Perhaps some of the verses that God used in my life will help you; perhaps he will help you find others. But in any case, go the Bible and find there both the foundation for purity and the wisdom that can help you moment-by-moment.
The saddest emails I have received in the past few days came from women who are older than you are and perhaps even old enough to be your mother. They told tales of utter devastation–of husbands who got into pornography when they were young and who never cared to give it up. And here they are, all these years later, still damaging themselves and their wives and families. The choices they made as young men threaten to tear apart their families today. The women, the one God calls these men to be intoxicated in for all of their lives, live with gaping holes in their hearts, longing for their husbands to step in and fill them up. Could this be your wife some day?
The fact is, God does not give young men free passes when it comes to sin; he does not allow you to run wild for a time and just “get away with it.” Sin carries with it consequences whether you sin at eighteen or eighty. Turn from your sin today. Pursue freedom. Pursue Christ.
This wraps up the Sexual Detox series. Tomorrow I am going to provide a list of recommended resources for reading, counseling and so on. I will also be putting all of these articles together in a booklet. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know when that is ready to go.