How to Fight Porn Addiction Like Saint Augustine

Augustine was no stranger to lust. In fact, if he was living in today’s world, he might even describe himself as an addict. He writes in his Confessions:

…I was bound not with the iron of another’s chains, but with my own iron will. The enemy held my will; and of it he made a chain and bound me. Because my will was perverse it changed to lust, and lust yielded to become habit, and habit not resisted became necessity.

Necessity. He felt as if he needed sexual pleasure.

Sex is Life?

I can identify with Augustine. What fed my addiction to porn more than anything was the lie that sex was life. I was single at the time, and I had bought into the lie that sex was a basic, fundamental “need” of which I was deprived. To hear that God wanted me to give up porn sounded like God wanted me to give up life itself. Moreover, I got angry with God for creating me with such strong cravings and then ripping the candy out of my hand like a capricious father.

I had to learn that sex, though good and pleasurable, is not life. The desire for sex and intimacy is good, but even the best intimacy in marriage was designed by God to be a reflection of something greater.

A Bigger Vision

What brought about the change in Augustine’s heart? In his Confessions he writes of a day that his soul so was tormented by his own sin that a mighty storm arose in him, bringing on a flood of tears. As he cried he could hear the sound of a child’s voice singing in the distance, “Take and read, take and read.” He took it as a sign from God to find his copy of the Scriptures and read the first thing his eyes fell upon.

This is exactly what he did. He grabbed his copy of the book of Romans and his eyes landed on Romans 13:13-14, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Augustine writes that as he ended the sentence, “a light of utter confidence shone in my heart, and all the darkness of uncertainty vanished away.” From that day forward, he committed his life to serving Christ.

Sex Addiction is About Faith

The faith rose in Augustine’s heart that day was an unshakable confidence that Christ was more than enough to satisfy his restless heart. The only way he could live out the commands of Romans 13:13-14—rejecting all lust and sensuality—was to embrace the all-satisfying words “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is what breaking free from lust looks like: not just rejecting the pleasures of lust but embracing the greater pleasures of God.

We chase after porn because it is promising us something and we buy into those promises. In his fantastic book, Closing the Window, Dr. Tim Chester identifies six promises the fantasy world of porn often makes to its viewers:

  1. Respect. If we feel inadequate or rejected, our sinful hearts often crave human respect, and porn offers that fantasy. In the fantasy world, we are worshipped by fantasy women or men. Porn gives us an eroticized world where we are man enough or woman enough to capture the respect of others by our sexual prowess.
  2. Relationship. We desire intimacy, but we don’t like its risks. We want to be close to others, but we don’t want to be vulnerable. We want a real relationship, but we want to be the one in control. Porn gives us this illusion: we can feel “connected” but not have all the mess of a real relationship.
  3. Refuge. In times of hardship or fear of failure, we want to relieve our stresses. When life is getting hard we want somewhere to escape, we want to pretend to be someone else or somewhere else. Porn gives us a fantasy world where we are never a failure: you always get the girl or guy.
  4. Reward. In times when we are bored or when we feel like we’ve made great sacrifices, we often want to reward ourselves. This sense of entitlement drives us back again and again to the world of fantasy where our overworked minds and underappreciated egos can “get what we deserve.”
  5. Revenge. In times of frustration and anger, we might turn to porn as an act of revenge against another person (like our spouse who isn’t having sex with us when we want) or against God (who isn’t giving us the life we want). Porn is our tantrum at the world that isn’t catering to our desires.
  6. Redemption. In times of guilt and self-loathing, the fantasy world of porn offers false redemption. If we are feeling guilty, pornography says, “You’re okay just the way you are. Nothing about you needs to change.” If we are mired in self-hatred, porn is our way of punishing ourselves. “This is the shameful life I deserve,” we say to ourselves. Porn is a way to indulge our dark world of self-pity.

These are the false promises of porn, and for each person it is a little different. Just one of these might ring true for some people. For others, several or all of them ring true.

But when it comes to breaking free, we need the better promises of the gospel to trump the power of sin. Breaking free from lust is ultimately about faith: will you believe God or porn?

Better Promises

Dr. Tim Chester shows us how the gospel can overcome the power of sin.

  1. Respect. If we feel inadequate or rejected, we must remember that God is the one who offers us genuine acceptance through Christ. The men or women in the fantasy do not know you. They do not love you. Christ does. We must repent of needing the approval of others (what the Bible calls “the fear of man”), pursue God’s glory above all (1 Corinthians 10:31), and anticipate the glory he promises to those who trust him (John 5:44). His approval is far better than the approval of men or women made of pixels on a screen.
  2. Relationship. When we desire intimacy with others, but we fear the risk, we need to run to God as a Father who is sovereign over our relationships. Relationships are risky. Hearts can be broken. Emotions are messy. But God promises that everything we go through will work for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). God can and will take all our relationships—even our failed ones—and use them to conform us to the image of his Son (v.29). Knowing this, we can pursue genuine intimacy with others in a godly manner, not run to the fake security of digital sex.
  3. Refuge. When we are stressed or when life gets hard, God is our true refuge, our rock, fortress, deliverer, and stronghold (Psalm 18:1-3). No matter what our circumstances are, next to the mountain-shaking, thunder-breathing God, our problems are no match for him (v.7-13). Instead of medicating our bruises with fantasy, we can escape into him, casting all our cares on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).
  4. Reward. When we are itching for pleasure and excitement, we should run to God who is our living water. The well of porn is empty, and time will tell how little it satisfies, but God is our fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13). Instead of rushing to the quick fix of porn, we should cultivate a life of communion with God, through prayer, fasting, meditating on his Word, and worship. We should cultivate a longing for the eternal reward of living with him forever, rejecting the temporary pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24-26).
  5. Revenge. When we are angry that God is not giving us the life we want, we are like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:29-31). We consider our sacrifices, our obedience, and our devotion, and we believe God “owes” us something. But God does not relate to us this way: he relates to us as a loving Father. We are not God’s servants, but his sons and daughters. When we do not get what we want, we must focus our faith on God who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows exactly what blessings are best for us in his perfect timing.
  6. Redemption. In times of guilt or shame, we need to run to God who freely forgives us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We won’t find redemption by ignoring our sin or by trying to punish ourselves. We need to look to Christ, our perfect High Priest: “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). When we are reminded of our guilt and failures, we must repeat the words Jesus uttered on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Augustine’s Joy

Prior to his powerful conversion, Augustine felt the duplicity in his heart. He recalls his prayer, “I willed to worship you freely and to enjoy you, O God, the only certain Joy.” This is how he defeated lust: by making God the supreme joy of his life.

_________________________

Luke GilkersonLuke Gilkerson is the general editor and primary author of Breaking Free, the blog of Covenant Eyes. Luke has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and is working on an MA in Religion. Before working at Covenant Eyes he spent six years as a campus minister. Luke’s favorite activities include blogging, reading theology books, starting random philosophical discussions, dating his wife Trisha, and playing with his four sons. Luke and his wife blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com.

14 Comments

  1. Excellent! I highly recommend for EVERYONE. Please read.

    By Mary Lake | 4 years ago Reply
    • Thanks!

      By Luke Gilkerson | 4 years ago Reply
  2. This is an excellent post. But as a recovering sex addict, myself, I would return to the topic of shame because it was a primary driver of my addiction. You mention that porn promises redemption. In my experience (it is the only thing I can speak from), porn never offered a moral defense on its own behalf. Porn’s offer of redemption was the same clear and comforting lie that alcohol and drugs offer to other users: the opportunity to forget, to just “ease up a little” and unplug from reality.

    The result is often a cycle of lust, shame, and then back to lust in order to avoid the shame. And on and on and on. This probably explains why I would sit at my computer all through the night, watching porn, masturbating, and thinking,

    “Why am I doing this?! I’m exhausted. I’m not even attracted to these women. My body physically hurts.” and on and on. All the while, I was running from God, running from me.

    That’s why I tend to think the internalization of shame is an important part of overcoming this addiction. Porn doesn’t promise moral salvation: it promises us salvation from the shame that we feel when we turn the imago dei into an object for self-satisfaction.

    Just my two cents. Great article!

    By Anonymous | 4 years ago Reply
    • As I said in the article, “If we are mired in self-hatred, porn is our way of punishing ourselves. ‘This is the shameful life I deserve,’ we say to ourselves. Porn is a way to indulge our dark world of self-pity.” As you said very well, this is the internalization of shame, and I totally agree: this keeps many men and women trapped in addiction.

      By Luke Gilkerson | 4 years ago Reply
  3. Wow!! It was so cool to read these things and be able to recall today’s morning prayer where we prayed Psalm 18 and some of the confessions of St. Augustine! This article was very helpful in reminding me not to focus on something that is easy to focus on – the pornography – but to continue to focus on God, who offers depth of relationship and love and forgiveness and who always is willing to run out and take us back, He who will take a lifetime to fully know and love, but loves us anyways, unlike any perceived satisfaction of this world.
    Let us praise the Lord and give Him thanks, for He has accomplished all things and will help us to do the same!

    By Johnny Blauw | 4 years ago Reply
    • Amen!

      By Luke Gilkerson | 4 years ago Reply
  4. The disproportion between the tremendous impact of porn addiction on contemporary human relations and the utter silence on the topic in the public square is alarming. I’ve always thought of Augustine’s Confessions as a pious Fifth Step for the truly humble to emulate, and it was this sincerity that led me to choose St. Augustine as my confirmation saint in my adult move into Roman Catholicism. I love those words from Romans, which are so appropriate in the mortification of sin: Make no provision for the flesh. What a simple, challenging way of living out the life of Christ.

    By David Hallowell | 4 years ago Reply
  5. Is this post really about St. Augustine…?

    By Jane | 4 years ago Reply
    • The beginning and the end are. 🙂

      By Luke Gilkerson | 4 years ago Reply
  6. Being addicted to port for so many years, has made me lose faith because I feel like praying to God for help each time makes no sense because I’ve asked for forgiveness but still end up backsliding into the same sin. I feel hopeless as if part of me don’t believe God could love someone like me who keeps letting him down and it hurts because I know for a fact that without Him I’m nothing…. What would you suggest I do?

    By Makesi | 4 years ago Reply
    • Run to the gospel. God does not love us as we should be, because none of us are as we should be. God gives grace to the humble, and it is a grace that not only overcomes the guilt of sin, but the grip of sin.

      One of God’s graces to us is the gift of the church. He has given spiritually gifted teachers to teach us divine truths that set us free. He has given us the body of believers to confess our sins to, encourage one another, pray for one another, and hold each other accountable. Get engaged in a small community of believers who love Christ, hate sin, and know a thing or two about why porn can have such a grip on our hearts. Become accountable to those people. Be disciplined and mentored by those people. Let them get to know you. Let them speak truth into your life. Let them unearth the deeper sins hiding in your heart that drive this whole pornography problem (porn is, after all, only a symptom of deeper sins). In this kind of community, we can find freedom.

      By Luke Gilkerson | 4 years ago Reply
    • I’m not sure if you still feel this way, but as someone who has suffered, I have learned that we must humble ourselves and allow ourselves to receive. That’s it. Be open to receiving. With this we must let God forgive us and love us and we must forgive ourselves and love ourselves, over, and over, and over again. That’s the beauty of Him…His grace is unconditional. He doesn’t say He will love you IF. No, He will simply love you. And you must learn to love yourself in the same way He loves you.

      By Jill | 4 years ago Reply
  7. I have one question; I’m battling a masturbation addiction. If I took porn out and kept my mind pure and clean, is the masturbation okay? Or is it wrong no matter what?

    By Eric | 4 years ago Reply
  8. Since God gave us sex only for procreation, why do many preachers say you can have recreational sex with your wife? Because they don´t want to lose popularity?

    By Alberto | 4 years ago Reply

Leave a Reply