**Note: If you're somebody who finds yourself struggling with the sin of pornography consistently, you fight it and fight it, and sometimes you give in, the very last thing in the world that I want you to hear is that you are too lost to be loved or saved. You may be a believer who is still in the thick of it, struggling to figure out how this dragon can be conquered. It is likely that you will fight the temptation of lust throughout your life, but you can still find tremendous victory through the gospel of Christ and true freedom from pornography. The main point of my article is not that a true believer never commits this sin; rather, it is that, as believers, God calls us to hold nothing back in conquering this sin, and God will, in fact, bring his true children into fuller obedience and joy in Christ.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” — Matthew 5:29-30.
If you grew up in church, you’ve heard those words. However, most of us have never truly considered them. In this article, I’m going to use this passage to beg you to use what feels like extreme measures for the sake of holiness before God. I will primarily address the sin of pornography, but hopefully the principles can be widely applied.
1) Yes, the stakes are that high.
Most of us see this passage and anesthetize its impact. “Surely he doesn’t truly mean that if I don’t take my sin seriously, I’ll go to hell. After all, I’m saved by grace through faith, right?” The fact is that scripture says over and over that if we do not have holiness in our lives, we will go to hell. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries,” (Hebrews 10:26-27, which is just one example). According to Jesus, this deliberate kind of sinning may not mean totally sorrow-less sinning, but simply failing to see holiness as worth lifestyle mutilation. This is not because we earn our salvation — we are justified and given eternal life by repentant faith and Christ’s righteousness alone (Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 3:28; 4:5; Titus 3:5-7; 2 Peter 1:1). Rather, it is because obedience to Jesus Christ is the inevitable result of being a child of God:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” (John 14:15), “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,” (John 15:8),
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 — notice that the answer to Paul’s question is not “If you do this, you will be lost!” but rather, “How could that happen? It’s not possible!”)
No Christian is perfect — we are all on a journey of having our sins uprooted and replaced with love for Christ. When we sin, we have an advocate, our righteous intermediary (John 2:1-2), who stands before the Father as our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). But God loves us too much to leave us in the misery of life in sin; he will bring his children into the joy of holiness and fellowship with God.
2) It takes serious lifestyle changes.
The image of chopping your hand off and gauging your eye out is graphic — and purposefully so. Christ expects his disciples to make intense changes to their lives for the sake of holiness. The point of this passage is that, if it were, in fact, your hand that was causing you to sin, it’d be worth chopping your hand off to keep from sin. How much more is it very worth it to disable an internet browser or remove a social media account? My wife own my Photography Instagram account — it’s not on my phone and I rarely access it on her phone. I don’t know the password to it, and I don’t want to. Pornography is an industry that focuses on pursuing and enslaving young men to lust. I don’t need to convince you of the harmful effects of pornography on relationships and the human body — check out fightthenewdrug.org for info on that. A good way to ensure that you will not fall into the temptation to look at pornography is to have what I call “preemptive self-control” — deciding to set boundaries that you are incapable of breaking so that, later, when you don’t have self control, you cannot access porn. I have never met anybody who has truly overcome pornography who has not done this.
Another implication of this passage is that we ought to intentionally avoid every situation in which we will be tempted toward lust. My mind goes to shows like Game of Throne. I have seen many self-proclaimed Christians justify watching that show. The fact is that Jesus Christ, our Lord, said in Matthew 5:28 (The verse that directly precedes the previously quoted verses for this passage), "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Why would you put naked women in front of your eyes and not expect to sin? That's like walking into Bagdad while cursing Mohamed, spitting on a Quran, and singing The Star Spangled Banner. You're walking into a lions' den. It is incredibly reckless for a believer to intentionally watch shows with what is essentially porn. It doesn't matter how good the plot is. Jesus made no caveats when he called lust adultery. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, "Flee from sexual immorality." Run for your life! You don't stick around when you know a tornado is about to destroy your house -- you flee for shelter! It is not more sophisticated to watch shows with nudity and call it "art." It is foolish.
3) It is worth it.
It’s not just about overcoming porn — it’s about your relationship with God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8). Do you want to see God and be engulfed in his glorious love for you? Purity in heart allows you to see the beauty of God more clearly, and experience him more personally. Can you simultaneously have true intimacy with your spouse while habitually cheating on her with multiple women? Of course not! In the same way, you cannot experience true intimacy with God while committing adultery with images, exchanging the glory of God for images (Romans 1:23). I told a friend recently that God rewards those who deny fleshly lusts for the sake of holiness. How does he reward it? With himself — you will experience true joy, true love, and true intimacy with God. Believe me, I've been on both sides -- Jesus Christ is better than you could ever imagine.
4) Lay hold of forgiveness.
The best way to ensure you do not overcome pornography is by not laying hold of the forgiveness freely offered to you through Christ. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus Christ holds out his nail-scarred hands to you and says, “Give me your sins; I will bear them to the grave, and they will never return to torment you. You will be fully, eternally forgiven.” Focus on God’s love! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” (John 3:16-17). Jesus holds out the gospel to you and does not wish to condemn you — he wishes to save you. If you have trusted in Christ, you exist in the sweet embrace of God’s infinite love. You cannot outrun the compassionate gaze of your Father, but he will continually see you as his child, and he will never stop at anything to get you.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12)