How Jesus Overcame My Porn Problem

Jake Johnson was an elder at an Acts 29 church before he and his family moved back to Seattle to join the staff at Mars Hill. Jake helps oversee all of our print content and is a gifted writer and helpful researcher. In light of the recent sermon I preached, he asked permission to share his own story in this area. It’s brave and helpful for him to do so. I know it will help others. And I want to publicly thank Jake for always seeking ways to serve others and advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.

–Pastor Mark

The hardest thing I ever did was to admit to my wife my six-year porn addiction. As I sat there at Lucille’s BBQ on a Sunday afternoon across from her, our little baby boy in the high chair next to us, my heart beat like a drum and my body shook with nervous chills on a warm Arizona day. I had no idea how this would play out, and I just hoped it wouldn’t break up my marriage.

After much back and forth in my head, starts and stops, I finally came clean. In that moment, things could have gone badly—and if they had, I’d have deserved it. Thankfully, by God’s grace, they didn’t, and my wife reflected Christ to me like no one I’d ever known before or since. For the first time I understood how grace worked. My healing process began.

Porn Problems

I wish I could say that my story was unique. Sadly, it isn’t. In the years since I came clean, God has helped me find my identity in him. He has also opened the door for me to minister to young men dealing with porn addiction. And, sadly, there’s no shortage of ministry opportunities.

In my many interactions with young men, I’ve only met one who actually claimed to never struggle with porn—and I think he probably struggled with both porn and lying. That’s not to say there aren’t men who by God’s grace haven’t run into the temptress’ trap, but they’re the exception, not the norm.

As Pastor Mark shared a couple weeks back, 70 percent of men between the ages of 18 to 34 confess to viewing porn weekly. It’s a big problem, both in the church and outside of the church.

“How do I conquer my porn problem?”

Often, when I meet with guys, the first question they ask is, “How do I conquer my porn problem?” My response is always the same: You don’t conquer a porn problem. Jesus does.

Many people intellectually know but can’t faithfully grasp that truth. It’s counterintuitive. We want to be the savior of our life and to earn God’s grace, which is precisely why we don’t experience the benefits of grace.

In experiencing Christ’s victory over my porn addiction, there were three crucial steps: 1) understanding my sin, 2) admitting my sin, and 3) believing in faith that Christ defeated my sin.

Understanding the Sin of Porn

 “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” – 1 John 5:21

That is the last verse in 1 John, the parting word. In a way, it is the summation of the whole letter. As Tim Keller says, sin is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing, the thing in which we find our peace, our assurance, our joy, and our fulfillment. At the root of our sin is our idolatry.

When engaging with porn, your sin is not just looking at it: it’s idolatry. You take a good thing, sex, given to us by God to be enjoyed between a husband and a wife, and make it an ultimate thing. You replace God with lust and are a slave to lust rather than a servant of God. In the process, you deeply hurt God, your spouse (if you are or will be married), and those who love you.

The first step in dealing with an addiction to porn is to stop minimizing it and truly understand the gravity of sin. When you view porn you exchange the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25). You worship the beauty of the created body and the pleasures of sex rather than the God who created beauty and sex. You are idolatrous.

You can’t be free from porn addiction until you understand and admit this, realize the severity of your sin, and understand your position before a holy and just God who hates sin.

Confessing the Sin of Porn

If you are struggling with porn, the first step to recovery is to be truthful with yourself about your sin, and the second step is being truthful both with God and with those whom you love, including your church.

I realized the severity of my sin and addiction thanks to a heart-wrenching message from 1 John 1:5–10:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

And the Holy Spirit’s conviction moved me from darkness into light.

Jesus requires that all our sins be exposed to the light, knowing that the grace of God and his righteousness is imputed to us through his bloody death on the cross. In God there is no darkness, and we cannot be in God if darkness is in us, nor can we enjoy fellowship with those whom we love. I had been in darkness for many years and that realization wrecked me.

Though I learned to manage my sin (I had not looked at porn a year prior to confessing), I was immediately convicted that I was still living in darkness because I hadn’t confessed my sin to my wife and my church. As a result, I was weighed down by guilt and continually on the precipice of falling back into porn.

I hid my past sins in darkness, fearful that they’d be exposed. I was ashamed. I wasn’t walking in the light, not truly in fellowship with God, my wife, and my church, and didn’t trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse me from all sin. That day, I took my wife to lunch and confessed my sins against her and how I had hid my sinful and idolatrous addiction to porn from her for over six years.

It was the most fearful moment of my life—and the most freeing. For the first time in our marriage, my wife knew who I really was and I no longer needed to spend so much time and energy worrying about whether she’d find out. Rather than fight the battle alone, I was now able to make restitution and have my wife and my church community fight with me.

Believing in Christ’s Victory

The final step in my recovery was to understand that my sin couldn’t be managed, but rather had to be defeated. Thankfully, we don’t have to defeat our sin because Christ has already done it for us.

One of my biggest revelations was that I didn’t do anything to conquer my problem. In fact, my self-effort was the reason I fell over and over again. I couldn’t conquer the problem and couldn’t manage my sin.

As Christians, our victory is in Christ Jesus alone. As 1 John 2:1–2 says:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

That’s not to say that practical steps aren’t prudent. But they become a problem if we trust in them instead of trusting in the saving work of Christ. Sin management doesn’t change our sinful hearts. Unless our heart is changed, our idols won’t be torn down—and we will fall again.

Often we’re so focused on avoiding temptation that we fail to realize that the problem isn’t temptation. Even Christ was tempted (Hebrews 4:15), and we’re promised that we won’t be tempted beyond our ability (1 Corinthians 10:13). The problem is that we’re sinners in need of a Savior. Avoiding temptation doesn’t change our hearts, but a changed heart, something that can only be accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, allows us to overcome temptation.

I found these verses particularly helpful as I moved from avoiding temptation to trusting in Jesus to help me overcome temptation.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

“I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God [Jesus] abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” – 1 John 2:13–14

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” – 1 John 5:4

In light of this, if you’re struggling with porn, I encourage you to stop trying to just manage your sin and avoid temptation. Stop working in your own strength. Admit to yourself the severity of your sin and idolatry. Admit to those whom you love the darkness of your heart and sins, walking from now on in the light. And finally, trust in Christ Jesus as your righteousness and overcome evil by the faith you have placed in him—not in your own actions and righteousness.

Only then will you be free.

God Loves You

Finally, I want to remind you that God loves you. His desire is to redeem you and bring you back into full relationship with him. You cannot achieve this for yourself. That is why he sent Jesus to accomplish this for us.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:14–19

Meditate on this and realize what a life-changing concept it is.

God’s intentions for you are restoration, not judgment. That judgment has been handed down to Christ as your propitiation, and Christ’s righteousness has been given to you.

You are free. Walk in that freedom.

Jake Johnson is a deacon at Mars Hill Church Downtown Seattle.