Sexual Temptation and Pornography

The quest for holy living seems antiquated to those who hold to the modern secular worldview.

May 30, 2018

The quest for holy living seems antiquated to those who hold to the modern secular worldview and living for holiness has been relegated to something that is quaint at best or repressive at worst. How does a faithful believer quest for holiness in a world that makes it incredibly difficult? This week, Vince and Jo discuss how to resist the temptation in our lives while living in a world that says that succumbing to those temptations equals human flourishing.

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Transcript



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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I'm your host, Michael Davis.

Our culture is awash in sex. From the television we watch to the advertisements we see to social media, there is no escaping this reality. The quest for holy living seems antiquated to those who hold to the modern worldview, and living to holiness has been relegated to something that is quaint at best or repressive at worse. How does a faithful believer quest for holiness in a world that makes this incredibly difficult? How do we resist the temptation in our lives while trying to live in a world that says that succumbing to those temptation equals human flourishing?

But before we get started, Vince, could you tell us a little bit about our upcoming Refresh Conference happening July 24th through the 27th at the Zacharias Institute in Atlanta, Georgia?

Vince Vitale: We're really looking forward to this. This is our program specifically for those heading off to college, so it's upperclassmen in high school and those who are heading into their freshman year in college. It's the second time we'll be running the program, and we just had so much fun with the students last year. So many questions, so much interaction. We bring down a lot of our teams so that we can really have a lot of time in small groups with the students. Come down if you can. If you're a youth pastor, bring a group down. If you're a parent, maybe gather some friends of your children and come with them as well.

Last year, we even had one parent of a student who came as a non-Christian, because her children asked her to come, and she gave her life to Christ on the final day of the program. The whole family was baptized a week later. So God's doing really powerful things through this program and we hope you can be a part. We will probably live stream a few of the sessions in the evenings as well onto Facebook. So even if you're not in that age category or you can't be there, hopefully you can connect in some way.

Michael Davis: That was amazing. I was there when that the mom came to faith, and it was one of those moments I will never forget in my entire life, because no one had a clue that she was a nonbeliever until the end. It was amazing.

Let's get into the first question from Mark. “In First Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul is speaking to people of the church are carnal. Are they Christians or not? If so, how can one walk in the flesh and in the spirit?”

Jo Vitale: Mark, thank you so much for this question and in order to help us answer it, I'm just read some of these verses to us and then we can respond. So in One Corinthians three it says brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the spirit, but is people who are still worldly, mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food for you and not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You're still worldly, for since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like near humans? And it goes on from there.

A couple of things to say to this as a starter. Firstly, Paul is clearly addressing the church here. He's calling them brothers and sisters. Along with that, later in the passage, he actually says, don't you know that you yourselves are God's Temple and that God's spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's Temple, God will destroy that person for God's Temple is sacred and you together are that temple. So I think it's very clear from the context actually he is speaking to Christians, but the point here is that Paul is admonishing them because they're not behaving like Christians. He's actually calling them out because they're behaving like children.

I think this is sometimes a struggle for us when we're Christians because we sort of immediately want to be whisked away to heaven and perfected. But that's just not the way it works is it? We become Christians because we're saved by grace, but then we continue to go on being saved by grace because we still need that grace each and every day of our lives. I think we're just being dishonest with ourselves if we think that becoming a Christian means that you're not going to struggle with temptation anymore. You're going to struggle with all sorts of things, even the things you struggled with often before you became a Christian as well.

I often think of sanctification as like a tandem bicycle. I don't know if you've ever tried riding one of those. I once rented one with my sister when we were traveling in China and it was very, very disastrous. We were wobbling all over the place and I definitely nearly got her run over by a big truck. Thankfully we made it, but it had nothing to do with my good driving.

But the point was this, I was trying to steer and pedal, but it took us a while to work out that unless she was peddling in tandem with me actually, you don't go anywhere. You just wobble around. It takes both of you for the bicycle to move. So it's really the same when it comes to sanctification, the process by which we become righteous, we become a holy. We become the people God has made for us to be at. The Holy Spirit is the one in the front seat. He is the one steering, he's the one leading the bike, but we also need to be paddling. If we're not also working with him, God isn't just going to do it all for us.

Now, sometimes he's very gracious in that he takes certain temptations away from us when we've gone Christians and we don't struggle with them anymore. But for the majority of us and for the majority of struggles, that isn't the case. God by his Holy Spirit, he gives us the strength to resist. He empowers us, he begins to transform us. But we have to be willing participants in that process. He won't just do it all for us. And that can be very frustrating. But it's also an amazing joy actually because it's through that process that we learn how to lean on him. We learn how to ask God for help, and we learn how good he is when we experience time. And again, the truth of his statement, my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect through weakness.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, so Paul is talking to Christians here, absolutely. And yet he still has the severe challenge for them. As I was reading over this passage again, I remember someone saying to me once, if you continue to live in sin, then what did Jesus die for? Or another way of putting it, if your relationship with God continues to be weak, if it continues to be in that infancy stage, then what did Jesus die for? It was a reminder that Jesus didn't just die to give us some sort of ticket to get to some place called heaven. He died so that we could be in flourishing relationship with him.

So if we're not taking steps into that intimacy with him. What did he actually die for? Then we're actually insulting the sacrifice that he made if we're content to just remain as infants because we're content to just be Christians in the minimal sense rather than to be people who are pursuing Christ in a deep way and in a passionate way.

Now, how do we avoid remaining as infants in Christ? As you go on in the passage, it tells us something about that. IT sounds like at least one of the things is by not competing with one another as Christians, by not comparing ourselves to one another or other Christians to each other, but by valuing every brother and sister. Rather than saying, I follow Paul, you follow Apollos instead the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, for we are coworkers in God's service. I just think it's a great attitude to bring to all aspects of life.

Reminded me of a conversation I had this past week with a guy named Rourke Denver who I met at a gathering. He was a long time a Navy SEAL and I told my best friend from New Jersey that I was going to be seeing him. My best friend is a state trooper in New Jersey. And he said well, tell him that I've read his books and that they've really benefited me and say thank you. As soon as I said that to Rourke, he immediately turned it around and just said I want you to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to your friend Chris. Then he said it's interesting. Because I was a Navy SEAL, people often thank me. Then I might turn around to a police officer and thank them and they, so I didn't do anything. And he said, well that's not true. I was doing what I needed to do in a certain place of the world, but my family was back home on its own. And if they were in trouble, they couldn't call me. I wasn't there. They called you. He said, that's a trade I'll make. He's like and I say the same thing to the cooks in the military. If I'm out doing my job on an upset stomach because they didn't do their job very well, well then we're not in a good situation.

And I just thought, you know what? That is a very biblical mindset to have, that every part of the body is necessary and equally valuable for the purposes of God. And it seems like Paul was saying that is one way that we avoid this negative attitude that we can have that can lead to us just remaining infants in Christ.

Jo Vitale: I think this is actually such a timely passage for us in the culture we're in because it's interesting in your question, we often think of things in terms of carnality as if I'm the only sin out there is like sexual temptation. And yes, we're talking about that today and that is something that as Christians we need to face and it's a huge problem in our culture. But isn't it also a huge problem in our culture that there is quarreling among us and among the people of God as much as it is in society today and on social media? We are a world that is at war with each other and too often that's happening in the church as well. And actually that's the sign of infancy among God's people. Even in this particular passage you've picked, the sexual immorality, it's about the way they're treating one another and the way they can't get on with one another.

So it's a good challenge for us, as Vince just said, just to think through are we so aware of other people's problems and pointing out, oh, there's sexual immorality over there and not recognizing that in doing that very thing, we could be quarreling and being divisive and actually being just as guilty of being infants rather than being spiritually mature.

Vince Vitale: If you look at yourself, I think this is the issue that I had in regards to when I became a Christian and got conviction of sin, is that it's the one way of not thinking about your sin, is really focusing on the sins of others. When you ask can you walk in the flesh and in the spirit at the same time? I sure hope so because otherwise I'd be in a lot of trouble because this is my life and this is the life of every believer. Just like riding that tandem bicycle, the Holy Spirit has played an active role and until death or until Jesus comes back, we are going to be dealing and living in a world that is one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom of heaven. It's just the nature of it.

It's the reason why Paul was talking to believers who were in sin. Just like if when you go to church, every believer, it says, is in sin. It's just the nature of it. But the difference between us in the world is we have been forgiven. We have been redeemed through the blood of Christ.

Jo Vitale: And just to encourage you as well, because I knew sometimes that it can feel like such a struggle that we think ah, is there any point in keeping going and trying when day to day I'm not seeing any difference in my own life? And sometimes in the day to day or the week to week or the month to month and we don't see changes, but over the years you do. Over the years you can look back and be like okay, I used to live that way. But actually I can see a distinct difference now. And for me it's a huge encouragement to look ahead to Christians who walked with Jesus for like 40, 50, 60 years. I had the privilege of having a mentor in England, someone I would just meet with from time to time. Her name was Joy and she just absolutely embodied that. And honestly to be in her presence, you felt like you in the presence of someone holy. It was like the air was different, but it was because she cultivated the most amazing prayer life.

It was just so wonderful to see a woman like that and be like oh, okay, I'm not there yet, but I pray that in 50 years I could be like Joy, someone who really has learned what it is to walk before the Lord and be transformed by him and just been faithful in that process of letting him lead but obediently following. So yes, it's hard in our own lives sometimes to see it, but when you look ahead you can see other great examples of that. They encouraged me to press on and be like Lord, help to be like Christ and also help me to be like Joy. I'd like to be a Joy one day.

Michael Davis: Well, let us go into the second question and this is from Hamloy. “The temptation of pornography is very strong, how do I handle that? Is there any hope left after failing God for so many times?”

Vince Vitale: Hamloy, thank you for this question. Thank you for admitting this, that temptation of pornography is very strong and for putting your name to it. That is so healthy and needed in the church, for us to be able to just put our hands up and say this is a challenge for many, many within the church. Actually probably everyone, even as I say that I doubled back on myself and say actually in some form when Jesus raises the bar so high that to say to look at someone lustfully as to have committed adultery in your heart, this is a challenge for everyone.

I found some statistics on the Gospel Coalition website and it says that pornography and sex related sites make up 60% of daily web traffic. Of internet users in the US, 40% visit porn sites at least once a month and that number increases to 70% when the audience is 18 to 30 year old males. Half, this blew my mind. Half of hotel room patrons purchased pornography from their rooms. 90% of eight to 16 year olds with internet access have viewed pornography online. And the average age of exposure is 11 years old.

And this is, as we've already said, a problem within the church as well. A Christianity Today study from several years ago recorded that 40% of clergy acknowledged visiting pornographic websites. Another survey found that 21% visit regularly. Yet another survey pastors.com found that 50% of pastors reported viewing pornography in the previous year.

So this is a really an epidemic outside of the church and within the church. And as you've done in your question, we need to actually talk about it and we need to say that it's a challenge. We need to be brave enough to do that. That has to be the first step here. I sure hope that there is hope despite the fact that we have failed many times, if not, as I've already said, and as Michael has said in the question, we're all in trouble. Jesus sets that bar so high. Paul himself says I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. We need to have hope in Christ that despite the fact that we have failed repetitively, not just in this, but in many ways, there is still hope.

And another thing just reminds me of, there's a whole literature in philosophy called moral luck. It analyzes the fact that when I make a moral decision and when you make a moral decision, we may be making those decisions after having had vastly different experiences of life and even vastly different chemical makeups that put us in different positions in terms of how strongly we experience a temptation before we do or don't give into it. The reason I mention that is just to say that as we begin to talk about this topic, let's really work hard to not assume that anyone is doing better or worse than we are. Some people are going to struggle with this more or less than others. I don't know what they've been through. I don't know what that temptation feels like when they're sitting there making that decision compared to what it does with me. We're all in the same boat. We're all sinners. None of us meet Jesus' standard and so we need to deal with this together.

Jo Vitale: Also just recognizing that sometimes we deal with it in different forms. For some people it may be a more visual thing like watching pornography online, but there's also all kinds of pornography and the things we read. There's a reason 50 Shades of Gray was such an international bestseller. Or it might be things like I met someone the other day who was struggling with an anime pornography addiction. It just takes all kinds of different forms.

I think in terms of answering the question is there hope, there is always hope. Let me just suggest the re things that I think are helpful in terms of us and dealing with pornography.

One of them would be to say recognize the power of it. That actually it really is an addiction. Watching pornography, it really does change the way your brain functions. It changes and patterns within your brain. And because it's an addiction, it just means that as you continue to watch pornography, as people go down that path, the high you get from watching the same thing isn't as high. it's not the same high each time. So basically it escalates because in order to achieve that sort of high from the experience, it almost becomes more graphic and more extreme as you go on into it because of the way that addiction works.

So in that sense, it does take you on a trajectory that may start with pornography, but eventually the porn becomes more graphic and then it can go from it being something you watch on a screen to actual physical sexual immorality on faithfulness, adultery. IT kind of leads you down a path that is quite hard to break because of the power of the addiction.

Vince Vitale: I'm just really glad that you use the word addiction there, Jo, because that's really what this is. In fact, certain experiments show that it's the same areas of the brain that light up with activity when people view pornography that light up when people take drugs. So I mean, it is an epidemic. It's like as if cocaine was free and all you had to do is reach into your pocket and pull out your phone to get it. It is literally an addiction, but it's free and it's incredibly accessible.

Jo Vitale: The second thing I would say, as well as recognizing this is an addiction, is to call it for what it is. Because I think sometimes the reason we get stuck in these cycles is because we try and justify it to ourselves and say, actually maybe it's not that big of a deal. After all, who is this really harming? It's not damaging anybody. Maybe if I'm not physically doing something with somebody, then what is the fallout here?

But we actually need to be able to call pornography the evil that it actually is. For example, let's talk about the fact that you're harming the people who are involved in pornography, in the making of these things. You're basically taking human beings who are made in the image of God and we're turning them into sexual objects and we're treating them not as those who are loved by God, but as if they're mere objects for our pleasure. But actually if you look at the statistics, it's horrifying the rates of suicide amongst porn stars, the rates of murder, it actually becomes an extremely violent industry in many ways. Also the drugs that are done, it's actually quite a depressing life and it's very scary and it's very hard for those who are involved in pornography.

There's also the simple fact that the more people watch pornography and the more it leads to prostitution and ultimately takes us down a path that that leads to sexual slavery. When we look at the statistics on sexual slavery today and the fact that every year around 100,000 women and girls and some men and boys as well, will be trafficked into sexual slavery and the average age of them is 12 to 14 years old, we think that pornography has nothing to do with it, but it's such a lie because that's where the addiction comes in. That's where the need is fed. And as we become more and more addicted, our tastes have become more distorted and warped. And that's what leads us down the path towards sexual slavery and the abuse of people in that way.

And it's not only those involved in the industry who are harmed by this, but it also messes us up. Like we said, it changes your brain patterns in terms of it becoming an addiction. IT also messes up your relationships. It really, really does. More marriages are ruined because of a pornography addiction than they are by adultery. It's that much harder to come back from.

We think of it as something that isn't unfaithfulness, but actually it really is. That's why Jesus says whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart because that's where these things begin. They begin in our hearts and it really is a matter of unfaithfulness. How do you have a pure desire for your spouse if at the same time you're watching or looking at things that are gratifying sexual pleasure, that should be found only within your marriage? So it's harmful on so many different levels.

Vince Vitale: The Bible also recommends a quite an aggressive attitude towards sin in our lives. Thinking of James 4:7, resist the devil and he will flee from you. I actually take great encouragement in that verse. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives within me. And so it's not me that does the running from the devil. It's the devil that does a running from me in Jesus' name. Genesis 4:7, if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it or you must master it.

Then I'm also thinking of Matthew five, if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. I mean, these are strong, aggressive words. I like the way pastor Kevin D. Young put it with the Gospel Coalition. He said, we are not good fighters, we're not good fighters against sin and we don't fight well together. And that led me to Hebrews 10. Many of you will know this verse. It says let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more so as you see the day approaching. Spurring one another on, one translation says.

I was just thinking that when I read that not neglecting to meet together, I intuitively just take that to mean how was my church attendance? Am I showing up on Sunday and sitting there even if I'm looking forward to whatever the next thing is? That's not what this verse is talking about. It's talking about meeting together in the sense of encouraging one another, spurring one another on to love and do good works. That's not just showing up, but it's being invested in each other's lives. It's fighting for each other. And Paul, he had this understanding.

Colossians one, he said Jesus is the one we proclaim so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. That's why he strenuously contends. He had this understanding that it was his responsibility to present others in the Christian community well before Christ. Then in Thessalonians as well, he he talks about the Thessalonians as his glory and his joy. That is what is his crown, he says, and what does he boast before the Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you, for you are our glory and our joy.

So I just love that vision of being involved in each other's lives where it's not just hey, from time to time, can you ask me this question? And if I give you an answer that I'm doing pretty well, you say great. And if I give you an answer that I'm not doing well you say too bad, try harder or pray more. That's not having the extreme ownership of actually feeling responsibility to present each other before Jesus in the end sanctified and ready to meet him.

Third John says I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. So I think that's a question for all of us as we wrestle with this topic. Who in the church can I legitimately say I am a spiritual father? In other words, they're my children, so I have responsibility over the way they are living. And I take that responsibility. And who in my life is a spiritual father? Not just that we're meeting once in a while to have a bit of fun and ask a few questions of each other, but they genuinely feel a responsibility for the way that I'm living. I think if more of us could answer those questions affirmatively, that would be really helpful as we struggle with pornography and other sins as well.

Jo Vitale: I would just say have spiritual mothers as well. I think sometimes this can be played off as a male issue. And the truth is it's just not, it's not today. I remember being really surprised to hear the feminist society at an all-girls high school near where we were living back when we were in England, and the feminist society had a discussion on pornography. But this discussion wasn't even whether pornography is okay or not, but the premise of the discussion was well, we all know that we're all going to watch pornography, so let's just discuss the reasons when it's okay and when it isn't.

So it wasn't a question whether we should, it was a question of as a feminist, when is when is this okay, when is it isn't? I thought wow, the bar is being set so low here, if even the feminist don't want to stand up against the objectification of men and women on screens. So we really are going against a culture here, the Bible talks about those who call evil good and good evil. So let's not be afraid to call this what it is, even recognizing to do so is really to go against culture, to actually to say this is evil and the power that it has over our world, like Vince said, it really is an epidemic.

And just my final point on this one, so we call it an addiction. We call evil, but sadly just to not give up because I think we get into a defeatist mindset where we think oh, I failed so many times here, God must be sick of hearing from me about this because I'm sick of listening to myself having to pray about it. But God's capacity for grace towards you is so much be than the grace you have towards yourself.

I love Charles Bergeron said it really well. He said God is more ready to forgive than I am ready to offend, which I think in this area it can be hard to believe because we think I'm so ready to offend. I'm so quick to sin and to transgress and to mess up in this area, but how can it be that God is more ready to forgive? But it's true. No matter how many times you struggle with it, God isn't fed up with you. God isn't giving up on you. He'll never give up on you so don't give up on yourself. God is there ready with full forgiveness and wanting to empower you and to help you out of this area. You don't have to stay addicted.

Vince Vitale: That's really good. Sometimes I think we get into this mindset where we think God is a God of grace towards unbelievers, but then he becomes a God of works towards believers. And that's not the gospel. Interesting. Sometimes we have this dichotomy between we think there's an Old Testament God and a New Testament God. Well, that's false, but also this is false. It's not the case that God has grace towards unbelievers, but then a workspace mentality towards believers. And Lamentations three is just an encouragement. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.

Michael Davis: Hamloy, I'd like to maybe put a cap on this one. Ask yourself who you are. You are a child of God. When he looks upon you, he looks upon you like a son. When your son, I don't know if you've got children, but if your child messes up, you don't cease loving them when they mess up. It might grieve you, it might make you upset, but at the end of the day you don't stop loving them. And God's love for you is like that of a father. He is your father, the best and perfect father.

So realize that you are going to fail. It's just the nature of it. But realize, again, that you are on that tandem bicycle and he is driving it with you. Do not despair. Realize that he knows, this is one of the most amazing truths and I've meditated on this, but he knew every sin that I would ever commit and he still chose to love me. Hamloy, he knew every sin that you would commit in your entire life and still chose to love you. If that isn't a reason not to sin and not to succumb to temptation, I don't know what is. Understand you are loved by a perfect and Holy Father.

Well guys, we are out of time today. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: I'm going to pass the summary onto Kevin D. Young, a pastor with a Gospel Coalition who I mentioned earlier, but I just thought he put this so well. He said the Bible gives us many weapons to fight temptation. We can tell ourselves it is wrong, it is sinful, it will lead to bad things. It isn't what I should do as a Christian. All of those are helpful, but the one weapon we rarely use is more pleasure. We need to fight the fleeting pleasure of sexual sin with the far greater, more abiding pleasure of knowing God. The fight for sexual purity is the fight of faith. It may sound like nothing but hard work and gritting your teeth, the very opposite of faith. But faith is at the heart of this struggle. Do we believe that a glimpse of God is better than a glimpse of skin? Do we believe that God's steadfast love is better than life? We'd probably sin less if we spend less time thinking about our sins, sexual or otherwise, and more time meditating on the love and holiness of God.

We are so privileged that we have a God, the only God in fact, who knows what it is to be tempted. And as the Bible says, because Jesus himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. So that's our prayer for all of you and for ourselves. And may it be the case this week that you ask God, is there someone in my life that I need to be genuinely a spiritual father or mother to or who needs to be a spiritual father or mother to me so that I can live a life that is closer to the life that Jesus intends for me?

Michael Davis: Thanks Jo, thank you guys for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you next week.

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