Terry Crews is a successful man: former NFL player, television star, person of seemingly impossible muscle density. But Crews is unusual for another reason: in a sexualized culture, he spoke up not long ago about the harm caused by his pornography addiction. “Every time I watched it, I was walled off,” Crews confessed in a video posted online. “It was like another brick that came between me and my wife.”
Crews’s testimony caused a strong reaction on social media. Many noted the destructive personal effects of pornography, effects that cannot be denied. But there is a greater dimension to pornography’s destructiveness. Even free porn comes at an excruciatingly high cost. Beyond severe psychological and social consequences, pornography hinders Jesus’s mission in the world. Here are three ways this takes place, with a word of hope for sinners like us.
1. Pornography hinders the mission of God in our own lives.
God has much work he wants to do through his people. He does not employ perfect people in his kingdom; every believer, all those who have been given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17), must still battle with the “old man” on a daily basis (Colossians 3:9–10). We yearn to shed our sin, but until God accomplishes this, we live in a state of vigilance. We exercise a zero-tolerance policy against our flesh (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5).
But when we give in to pornography, we allow our spiritual senses to grow dull. I’ve never heard fellow believers testify to growing zeal for Scripture and prayer in a season when they acted, over and over again, on illicit desires. In our individual lives, sin leads to defeat — not just in our sexual purity, but in our overall holiness (Romans 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). We find ourselves less attuned to our spouse. We care less about our children. We do not reach out to our unbelieving coworkers and neighbors. Because we know we’re living a lie. Our pursuit of the gratification of our lusts will always hinder our individual walk with Christ.
2. Pornography hinders the mission of God in our churches.
When different members of the church give in to their fleshly desires, they unwittingly sap the congregation of vitality. Elders who fall into a pattern of pornography no longer keep watch over the sheep, for they are no longer keeping watch over themselves. Servant-hearted members who indulge in pornography find that they have little instinct to lend help to the congregation or to reach out to the lost. When the leadership and membership of a local church drifts, people in need have little support there.
Every church of every size and place participates in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). But when believers let themselves be lured and enticed by their lusts, the glowing light of the congregation’s gospel witness dims. Because of weakness in the membership, the church’s mission to unsaved neighbors falters.
3. Pornography hinders the mission of God in the world.
When churches are filled with unconfessed sin, then the shared missionary work of those churches will suffer. Young men and women who would give up everything to spread the gospel worldwide will instead stay home, drained of zeal, lost in their own world. Elders who could propel the congregation to greater giving and greater missiological focus will stay quiet, fearing that others might discover their secret sins. Collectively, the body will turn inward, and the unreached peoples of the world will be lost without hearing a syllable of gospel testimony. When pornography inhibits God’s global mission, many suffer.
But even as great a tragedy as this is, it is not the greatest problem. Rather, it is that God does not get the glory that is rightly his in the praise of all the nations of the world. The God who commissioned his church to “go make disciples” sees instead people who would rather stay, mastered by the flesh rather than by the one with “all authority in heaven and on earth.”
Jesus Doesn’t Need Permission
There is good news for a flagging church: we do not carry out God’s mission in our own strength. The church is founded on, led, and sustained by Christ. We are not left on our own to get our sins sorted out. Rather, the Bible portrays a Christ who goes after his people with unflinching and gracious resolve.
Jesus does not wait for permission. He does not fit the picture of a weak-handed solicitor, hoping we can somehow find our way to him. Jesus goes to ordinary men and summons them to be his disciples. Jesus goes to the sick, and heals them. Jesus goes to the dead, and raises them. Jesus goes to the cross for sinners, and saves them, uniting them with himself. Pornography comes with an excruciatingly high cost — to us, our families, our churches, and our mission — but Christ paid it all for anyone who would believe and follow him.
Our understanding of Jesus matters for the struggle against pornography. Jesus knows that we are not who we should be. But he will not leave us there. He goes and finds the one wandering sheep (Luke 15:1–7). He invigorates us. Even as he rebukes us, he restores us. Satan accuses us, and seeks to torpedo us, but Jesus intercedes for us, and empowers us to conquer through his Spirit (Romans 8:37; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 12:10–12). The mission may have waned, but Jesus brings it roaring back to life, time and time again.
Stronger Than Porn
The ultimate need of the Christian fighting pornography is not new or better tips, tricks, or tools — it is Christ. For the individual believer whose spiritual pulse has slowed to a crawl, Jesus is the answer; Jesus will rouse the sleeper and strengthen the weak. For the church whose vitality has dimmed, Jesus is the answer; a fresh understanding of the Son of God, obedient to the mission given him by the Father (John 6:38), will strengthen the hands of the elders and members of the congregation. For a movement lagging in missionary zeal, Jesus will restore hope and purpose.
Whenever pornography is allowed to persist in a church, it will always leave her weaker. But Jesus, praise God, is stronger than pornography.
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