When a church member first confesses pornography consumption, they’re usually relieved to admit their battle and get help in their fight. And rightly so—they’ve taken the hugely necessary first step on the long road toward holiness.
As pastors, how should we counsel them in this initial conversation?
1. Remind them of their identity.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). Sexual sin turns this blessing on its head: “Cursed are the impure in heart for they shall not see God.”
Pornography clouds a Christian’s view of God and leads him to feel like he is galaxies away. In other words, we can assume they’re exhausted from carrying the guilt and shame associated with feeding their lust. So as their pastor, we should remind them “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
At the same time, we must not minimize sin. It deserves the very wrath of God. And yet, for the Christian, Christ drank the full cup of God’s wrath—down to the very last drop. He died for the sins of his people, and three days later he left their lust and pornography consumption in the grave as he walked out, victorious. This is why Paul says to all those who are in Christ: you are a brother and “no longer a debtor to sin” (Rom. 8:12). Furthermore, God has given his Spirit to clear up Christians’ cloudy view of God by reminding them that in Christ they can cry out, “ABBA! Father!” (Rom. 8:15).
As pastors, we can do nothing more important than to remind our struggling church member that they are a child of God with a perfect Father who loves them enough to discipline them so that they might flee from all sexual immorality and pursue the freedom of personal holiness.
But holiness doesn’t just happen. By God’s grace and dependent on the power of the Spirit, we must work toward it. This is why—after reminding them of their unchanging identity in Christ—we must give our church members practical steps, too.
2. Assess the intensity of the battle.
In order to help them develop an appropriate mortification plan, we need to know how long this sin has been going on (decades, years, months, etc.), how often (monthly, weekly, daily, etc.), and how long (a few minutes at a time, an hour or more, etc.). Sadly, it’s generally wise to ask what kind of pornography they’re engaging in—heterosexual, homosexual, something involving children or youth?
This information will help us as their pastor to identify an addiction and to discern if there’s a need for unique help.
3. Establish accountability for the battle.
The Spirit has placed this particular Christian in our care, but also in the care of his or her other brothers and sisters. After confessing this sin, they must find one or two fellow saints who will regularly hold them accountable. If they don’t know anyone, then help them find someone. It’s an absolute necessity to bring in others for both accountability and prayer.
4. Plan out action for the battle.
The Spirit convicts Christians of sin so that they will stop hiding in the darkness and instead walk in the light. The initial confession is only the beginning of this process, and though it will be humbling, emotional, and perhaps even embarrassing, it doesn’t necessarily change the heart.
Moving forward, we will help them by adding barriers that discourage them from feeding their lust. I usually recommend software like Covenant Eyes, and then I ask them if I can adjust viewing permissions on their smartphone with a password that only I know. Perhaps they need to get rid of their private internet access altogether. Different situations call for different responses. But as their pastor, we must leave them with next steps even as we teach them that they need more than mere behavior modification.
5. Address the heart of the battle.
There are lots of good books out there to help struggling saints rip out the roots of sexual sin. One of my favorites is Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is by Joshua Harris. But more than a book, we should encourage them to memorize God’s Word, particularly verses like Matthew 5:8, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and Romans 8:13.
If the person confessing to pornography use is married, we must make sure the spouse is cared for and the marriage is prioritized. If a person is confessing to a pattern of looking at pornography, I usually encourage them to tell their spouse—at least once. Then they can decide with their spouse how to move forward in the future. Some spouses prefer, after the initial confession, for a man to confess to a trusted male friend.
Depending on the data gathered from this first meeting, we may commit to a few more meetings and then give the primary follow-up to an accountability partner while still touching base every now and then.
If there’s an obvious addiction, I’ll seek outside help to supplement the discipling process. But in the moments after the battle is first confessed, my primary goal is to remind them of their identity in Christ and their responsibility to wage war against lust. Only then do I seek to equip them with a few action steps.
Editor's Note: This originally published at 9Marks.