As soon as his wife pulled out of the driveway, Pastor Jessie booted up his computer. With shaking hands, he moved through the screens into the pornographic areas of the Internet he had become so familiar with. His anticipation mounted as he clicked on one of his favorite sites. Jessie did not realize that his wife had been suspecting that he had a problem. That morning, she decided to sneak into the house to see what he was up to. She was in the room before he knew it. The look of horror and betrayal on her face when she saw the computer screen would haunt him for months to come.
Jessie’s story could be multiplied by millions. According to statistics, internet pornography is raking in billions of dollars in revenues every year. One researcher estimates that 60 million Americans have visited sexually explicit web sites. Tragically, the percentage of Christian men involved is not much different than that of the unsaved. According to most surveys, at least 17% of Christians regularly view pornography. The internet has made the raunchiest sexual images available at a click of the mouse in the privacy of one’s home or office.
Many ministers and laypeople share a similar story to Pastor Jessie’s. Upon completing Bible College, he entered ministry with a sincere desire to “walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord.” At first, he maintained a healthy relationship with God, ministering to his flock out of the spiritual abundance that came from his vibrant devotional life. Eventually people began flocking to his church. This taste of success drove Jessie on. As his ever-increasing responsibilities demanded more of his time, his prayer life began to dwindle. When he did try to pray, heaven seemed closed to him. Rather than spending time in the Word seeking the spiritual nourishment he needed personally, he simply spent his time looking for sermon material. Over a period of months, the fountain of life had dried up for him. True, his ministry continued to flourish, but inwardly he was growing increasingly apathetic and cold-hearted.
Jessie didn’t realize it, but his spiritual listlessness made him an open target for the enemy. During this period of time, he began having occasional lustful thoughts. At first, he would shut them out, but as time went on, he increasingly entertained them. One day, while on the Internet, the thought came to him to type a sexual phrase in the search engine. With a mounting curiosity and a depleted spiritual life, he gave in to the temptation. What came up on the screen was so electrifying to him that he spent two hours rushing through dozens of adult websites. Jessie had just entered the dark realm of pornography.
Over the next several months, this once-godly-man plunged deeper and deeper into the sewers of perverted images. He kept telling himself that he would quit, not realizing that every single visit to a porn site was digging him into a deeper pit that would be harder to climb out of. Getting caught by his wife was a beginning, but he had developed a serious addiction by this time. He soon found out how weak his promises to quit were. The following excerpt from my book At The Altar Of Sexual Idolatry explains this:
"As the addict enters the beginning stage of remorse, he will often make certain promises to God vowing never to repeat the same sin again: ‘Lord, I swear I won’t do this ever again!’ As his eyes are opened to the reality of the horrible emptiness and nature of his sin, he readily makes such a vow; for, it is at this moment that he truly sees sin for what it really is.
However, the problem with making such a resolution is that it stems from the man’s own strength and determination to resist and overcome an evil. This sort of "promise-keeping" will never endure future temptations in the same area. It is for this exact reason that the sex addict has attempted countless times before to break the habit, yet to no avail.
The man desperately needs repentance. True repentance comes when a man’s heart has changed its outlook on sin. A man will only quit his sinful, destructive behavior when he has truly repented of it in his heart. As he moves closer to the heart of God, he begins to develop a 'godly sorrow' over his sin."
Jessie’s struggles continued. He grew discouraged after being disappointed over the exaggerated claims of “powerful” books and “life-changing” seminars about overcoming sexual addiction. He considered entering the Pure Life Ministries Residential program for men struggling with sexual sin, but close confidants told him that he did not need to take such a drastic step. Finally, he resigned his church and made the decision to enter the program. At that point, he didn’t care what it would cost him: he had to get right with God.
The Lord began to come to Jessie in a powerful way at Pure Life. He helped him to see that his problem wasn’t mystical. He simply had to begin where he had gotten off track in the first place: his devotional life. Having experienced great brokenness over how his sin had destroyed his walk with God, devastated his wife, and ruined his ministry, he sought the Lord with a new fervency. Being in a godly and protected environment, he began crawling out of the pit of sin. Temptation lost its stranglehold on him. Hope for a new life in Christ gave him an added incentive to press into God. It wasn’t long before the old fire from God had returned in his life.
The apostle Paul summed up Jessie’s newfound freedom when he said, “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” Each person must decide for himself how trustworthy this statement is, but I can testify that, in the fifteen years that I have been ministering to sexual addicts—including many ministers—I have never found any evidence to dispute this statement. A man can attend weekly support groups, receive on-going counseling, go to deliverance sessions, be prayed over by a famous evangelist, or even enter a sexual addiction clinic, but if he is ever going to be freed from sexual lust, eventually he will be forced to come to grips with what it means to walk in the Spirit. Some of these efforts can be helpful, but only God has the power to cleanse the heart which has been defiled by pornography and set a person free.
God accomplished many things in Jessie’s life that were instrumental in his victory over pornography—too many to recount in a short article—but the basic, fundamental principle that can be garnered from his story is that a spiritual problem involving sin is only going to be solved through the work of the Holy Spirit: if you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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