Is using pornography a sin?
The apostle Paul warned about the unique nature of sexual sin when he says, “whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
But is this only limited to engaging in the physical act of sex? Or, does it extend to using pornography as well?
While pornographic images or video as we know it were not around in Bible times, the temptation to lust, which pornography fuels, is nothing new.
The Bible repeatedly warns us against falling into the temptation of sexual lust, which is really the sin of coveting (i.e. seeking to be satisfied through obtaining something that doesn’t belong to us).
Some Christians might not think of sexual thoughts as sin the same as committing those acts. But Jesus clearly did.
What Jesus said about lust
The Jewish people held strictly to the Bible’s command not to commit adultery. Acts of adultery were clearly forbidden by God.
But Jesus clarified God’s concern not only for our actions, but our hearts as well. He said, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
For Jesus, sexual sin was not just a matter of what we do with our bodies, but with our minds as well.
Lusting after another person, even if it remains in our private thoughts, is considered sin by God the same as if we’d committed the acts themselves. And for three good reasons:
1. Lusting after the bodies of those depicted in pornography has the same soul killing effect as committing sexually immoral acts
It takes what God intended to be an act of self-giving love for our spouse and turns it into an idol of self-gratification.
Simply put, porn turns sex into an idol, which draws us further away from God. And like any idol, the more you pursue and use porn, the harder it is to turn away from it.
There’s tons of scientific research demonstrating the harmful impact that porn use has on the brain.
Working exactly like any addictive drug, pornography tricks the brain into releasing dopamine and activating the reward centre of the brain. And like any drug, the more you use porn the more you develop a tolerance for it.
This tolerance makes it necessary to search out more and more extreme images in order to get the same reward response. Porn actually re-wires the brain making it more and more difficult to withdraw from porn, even when you want to.
2. Pornography turns a human being, created in God’s image, into a mere object to be consumed
God never intended our sexual desires to be used this way. He created them to be the means of uniting and holding a man and woman together in a life-long marriage of self-giving love.
Pornography denies the most sacred part of a human being and degrades it into a commodity sold for selfish consumption. This is the exact opposite of what God intended for sex.
In addition, due to its addictive nature, pornography has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Not surprisingly this has led evil people into exploiting the weak and vulnerable in order to cash in on porn addicts’ continual hunger for more and more hard-core images.
Many vulnerable people, mostly women and children, are coerced, forced, or even trafficked into the porn industry and literally raped for entertainment. In essence, the porn industry is selling human beings into sex slavery.
All this to satisfy the appetites of those who sit at their computers and click, thinking that their “private” thoughts are not harming anyone.
3. Using pornography grieves the Holy Spirit
As mentioned earlier, the apostle Paul warned us to flee from sexual immorality because sinning sexually was “sinning against [our] own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). In verse 19, however, he highlights the real damage done from sexual sin:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Pornography exploits human beings, turning them into mere objects to satisfy selfish lust. It bypasses the self-giving love relationship that sexual desire was meant to find fulfillment in, and tricks the brain into supplying the pleasure reward in a selfish, loveless vacuum.
Hardcore pornography depicts violent and abusive sexual acts that are loveless and dehumanizing. How then can Christians allow themselves to invite pornography and its effects into their minds and bodies that are made to be “holy temple” where God’s Spirit dwells?
What do I do if I’ve used porn?
As with any sin, God can forgive us for using porn when we put our trust in the sin removing power of Jesus death on the cross.
Just before he died, Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) In that moment he was declaring that the punishment for our sin had been paid in full.
Every sin we’ve committed, and every sin we will commit, through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, is paid for. That includes using porn.
If we’ve trusted Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sin, there’s no longer need for us to carry a sense of guilt or shame. The burden of our sin is taken away by God and we’re free to carry it no more.
However, this wonderful truth of the gospel needs to be joined to the truth that, while we’re freed from the burden of sin, we’re still susceptible to its effects.
This means that as long as we live on earth, we can fall prey to temptation and sin. We’re no longer slaves to sin, which means with God’s help we’re always capable of saying no to sin.
But we’re still capable of being disobedient and choosing to sin. Our habits of sinful behavior are sometimes difficult to break.
How to break free from porn addiction: Three steps
If you find yourself in the snare of pornography, you should take seriously the danger you face. Living a life freed from sin requires attentive and Spirit-enabled effort.
As Paul said in Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Everything in that list is represented in pornography.
Breaking free from pornography means taking active and deliberate steps. Here are three biblical steps you should take right away:
Step 1: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
If you pray and ask God for forgiveness, he’ll forgive you. But not only do we need forgiveness from sin, we need to be healed from its effects.
It would appear that God desires for this healing work to take place within the fellowship of Christian community (i.e. the church).
If you’re struggling with porn use, call your pastor or a trusted Christian friend right away and ask if you can talk to them.
With an understanding of confidentiality, confess to them that you’ve been using pornography and want to stop. Ask them if they would be willing to pray for you and hold you accountable.
It may be difficult, and certainly humbling, but three things happen immediately:
- First, you will experience Spirit-given joy for obeying God’s command to repent and turn from sin.
- Second, you’ll “break the back” of both shame and secrecy. which have kept you in bondage to your porn addiction.
- Third, you’ll enlist a spiritual ally to support you as you begin Step #2.
Step 2: “Put to death…what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5)
Paul isn’t suggesting we give it our best shot to put our sinful nature to death. His language is very forceful: “Do it!”
Many Christians often miss the truth about what Paul is saying. They act as if once you become a Christian, your sin nature will just go to sleep. On the contrary, like an injured animal backed into a corner, your sinful nature will put up a good fight before it goes down.
Consequently, Christians should be very conscious and active about putting sin to death.
The most effective way of putting a sin to death is by starving it. Just like a plant needs water and sunlight to grow, sin needs to be fed in order to thrive. Deprive sin of nourishment, and it will start to wither.
When it comes to porn, the most obvious place to begin is by making it inaccessible.
Unfortunately, the temptations are hard to escape in our sex-saturated culture, but there are still steps you can take to place porn beyond your reach:
- Use content restriction tools and give someone else the passwords.
- Get an internet filter.
- Create an accountability process.
- Avoid being alone with web-enabled devices.
- View media intentionally. Stop aimless web or channel surfing.
- Confess sinful fantasizing and daily surrender your thought life to God in prayer.
- Ask God for help you each day (see Psalm 119:33-40).
Step 3: “Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1)
Have you ever tried to stop thinking about something by simply trying really hard not to think about it? It doesn’t work. The harder you try to not think of a thing, the more you will think of it.
The only way to stop thinking about one thing is to start thinking about another.
That’s why in the same passage that Paul commands us to “put to death” our sinful nature, he also tells us what we should fill our hearts and minds with instead.
These words are so powerful they are worth quoting in full. Here’s Colossians 3:1-4:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Only the grand vision of Jesus Christ glorified and exalted in heaven, and the future prospect of appearing with him in glory in our resurrected and eternal bodies, can truly satisfy our hearts and mind.
As important as starving our sinful nature is, the only sure-fire way of killing our love of sin, is to fill our hearts with a love for something even greater. This only Jesus can satisfy.
Conclusion on pornography as sinful
Pornography is having an enormously destructive impact on our culture. As Christians, we must guard against it. Parents especially must be vigilant to ensure their children are sheltered early on, and then prepared and equipped to defend themselves against its seductive lure.
In the related links at the end of this guide, you’ll find some helpful resources to equip and defend you and your family against the danger of porn use.