Jonathan D. Holmes and Deepak Reju

Becoming Accountability That Works

Written by Jonathan D. Holmes and Deepak Reju |
Monday, December 13, 2021
As you consider the strengths and weaknesses of your accountability style, remember that, in the end, a struggler needs to be willing to do the hard work of fighting sin and pursuing faith. If you are constantly tracking her down or pressuring her to take the next step, you should back off and talk about her lack of motivation. “Are you willing to do what it takes? And if not, why not?” Even the best accountability can’t save an apathetic struggler. Only God can.

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.—C. S. Lewis, “Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem?”
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2
Do you know what wisdom is? It’s not just knowing about God and his Word but faithfully applying God’s Word to everyday life.
Solomon tells us, “Wisdom is the focus of the discerning, but the eyes of a fool wander to the ends of the earth” (Prov. 17:24 BSB). The discerning care so much about wisdom that they make it their focus. Wisdom is better than gold or fine jewels (see Prov. 8:11; 16:16). It’s valuable and worth pursuing. Contrast the discerning with the fool, whose eyes roam to the ends of the earth. The fool has no purpose, no focus, and no goals. He wanders through life without clear direction or wisdom to guide him.
King Solomon also writes, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). He warns us, “Take heed to the company you keep.” If a struggler walks with wise people, she will become wise. If she chooses to spend time with fools, their foolishness will hurt her—or, even worse, she too will become a fool.
Porn strugglers desperately need wisdom, regardless of how aware they are of that need. They are not meant to fight this problem on their own. Accountability is crucial to their fight for survival, because faith is not an isolated pursuit but is relationally driven. What effect are you having on a struggler? You will either help or hurt her sin struggles.
In this chapter, we’ll look at nine characteristics of good accountability. Our goal is to help you to evaluate your efforts and see which areas of your accountability need improvement.
Accountability serves a struggler well if it presses into his life and roots out his sin. These intrusive conversations are tough. The vulnerability that they require is hard because fear, shame, and guilt motivate the struggler to hide his sin and not expose himself. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for a person to let others take a hard look at his sin. Yet vulnerability is necessary for survival. It exposes the ugliness of the sin as well as all the fears, despair, heartache, and messiness that surround it.
Superficial relationships don’t root out sin and build hope. You need to go deep, even when it’s tough. As the accountability partner, are you willing to ask hard, awkward, and direct questions? “Did you masturbate this week?” “Did you lie to anyone this week?” “Is there anything you are hiding from me?” Make sure you are not presuming you know all the right questions. The struggler knows his heart better than anyone else. Ask him, “Am I missing something? What else should I ask?”
You can ask tough questions all day long, but if your friend isn’t honest and vulnerable with you, you are wasting your time. If strugglers are hiding things, not sharing the entire truth, or, even worse, lying to you, they undermine your ability to help. For accountability to work, the struggler has to be willing to respond to your tough questions with brutal honesty.
This means that even as you are tough in your accountability, you should do everything you can to celebrate and encourage honest responses from your friend. I (Deepak) had a friend call me the other day and share with me that he’d fallen back into sexual sin and was viewing porn. My immediate response was, “I really appreciate how honest you are being with me about some very difficult struggles in your life.” I affirmed his honesty because I know that’s what God wants—that my friend would not hide but bring his sin into the light (see Prov. 28:13).
Take a risk—ask your friend about the nitty-gritty, ugly details of his life. Ask about the foulest parts of his heart. His sin will naturally push against this, wanting him to conceal or deny them, but redemption will beckon him to be truthful in all his ways. Solomon states, “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Prov. 24:26 NIV). Just as a kiss is delightful, so also is honesty.
Good, consistent accountability is frequent and reliable.
Frequent help is better than infrequent help. Inconsistent accountability shows up occasionally but not often enough. Sin daily finds ways to muck up a struggler’s life. If he lets it go unchecked for too long, it makes a mess of things. Your friend needs your repeated assistance in order to slow down and prevent the mess.
And when an accountability person does show up, he needs to follow through with what he has promised. For example, if you get filter reports, do you contact the struggler when something unhelpful shows up? If you don’t, you’re being unreliable. Because porn struggles are wreaking havoc in his life, a struggler needs help that is regular and reliable.
Local accountability is much more useful than distant accountability. Often we’ll ask a struggler, “Who is your accountability partner?” and she’ll respond, “So-and-so, who is a good friend from a few years ago, when I lived in a different part of the country, still checks on me.” Having someone who can check on the porn struggler only via technology (email, text, video call, and so on) is not ideal. At best, this kind of accountability offers only a slice of the struggler’s life rather than a look at his entire life. Relationships that are sustained through technology are limited in their scope.
In the year 2020, we endured a worldwide pandemic, during which many people isolated themselves and relied on technology to communicate with their friends and family and even to participate in church services. As people began to share life together again, we saw the joy with which the members of our congregations returned to church, hugged one another, and spent time in one another’s presence.
God could have left Adam alone with the animals in the garden of Eden, but he didn’t (see Gen. 2:19–25). He gave Adam a partner (Eve) who was personally present with him throughout his life. Jesus didn’t stay in heaven but came to earth to dwell among us and be personally present with us (see John 1:14; Phil. 2:7–8). And we see that the apostle Paul often yearned to be with his fellow believers, especially when he was locked up in prison (see Rom. 1:11; Phil. 1:8, 4:1; 1 Thess. 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:4).
These things show us that God has designed us, as image bearers, to give the most effective help when we are personally present in other people’s lives. The most powerful way for you to give and receive accountability is for you to be regularly involved in someone’s life. This way, rather than share a few words with an image on a screen, you get to enjoy life with the person you are discipling. You can sit across the table from your friend. Sit next to her in church. Go out to lunch with her. Go for a run with her. Give her a hug. Laugh together. Search the Scriptures and pray together. All this is possible when two people live geographically close to each other.
If you aren’t able to provide local accountability for your friend, can you help your friend to find someone who is?
Pursuing local accountability is not just about finding folks in close proximity to the struggler but about teaching the struggler to turn to an entire gospel community for help. John Freeman says, “We need a community to help us process our soul’s discouraging elements and learn how to live a life of faith and repentance.”1 Thus the struggler needs godly friends who go to her church.
But why a church? Why can’t the struggler just figure this out with one friend and leave it at that? Consider three reasons.

The Lord tells us that his manifold wisdom is displayed through local churches (see Eph. 3:10). If that is God’s plan, we want to be a part of it! We want to root our accountability in a gospel community.
Scripture tells us there is more success with many counselors (see Prov. 11:14; 24:6) than with one.
It’s not good for the pressure and burdens of accountability to fall on one person’s shoulders. Especially when things get difficult for the struggler, the situation may be

a lot for the discipler or close friend to bear alone. Ideally, several people together will carry the weight of the struggler’s problems, working as a team to care for their friend. This is something churches are designed to do (see Gal. 6:2; Heb. 10:24–25).
So if someone says, “I’m not sure who I should tell,” we respond, “How about someone at church? A small-group leader? A godly discipler? A few of your closest friends at church? And, most importantly, your pastor?”
We all have concentric circles of relationships. Those in the inner circle are our most intimate friends. The further out we go into the concentric circles, the more superficial the relationships get. A struggler tells a few folks from his or her inner circle—a pastor, a small- group leader, a few close friends, and a discipler. It’s normal for the struggler and the discipler to meet up. But what if the small-group leader or pastor occasionally shows up too? They talk, pray, and press in at the same time, working together for the spiritual well-being of the struggler. That way, they all get on the same page about what’s wisest and best in the struggler’s fight against sin and striving for faith.
Immature accountability is marked by a lack of wisdom. The apostle Paul describes the spiritually immature, who are worldly in their thinking, as infants who drink milk instead of eating solid food (see 1 Cor. 3:1–3; 14:20). All too often, a single person finds another single person who is fighting against sexual sin or a married person finds another married person who also struggles. That makes sense—a friend will understand what the struggler is going through (after all, he or she struggles with the same problem!). However, that friend likely won’t have the aggressive disposition needed to help the struggler to fend off his or her sin (see Matt. 5:27–30).
Instead, accountability must be mature—a godly person who is loving, wise, and faithful, who is a season or two ahead of the struggler, and who doesn’t wrestle with sexual sin. If you are a discipler, does that describe you? If not, where do you fall short? Listed below are criteria to help you to see if you are growing in spiritual maturity:2

Do you hunger for God?
Do you study God’s Word such that you are growing in confidence in God and his promises? Is your life increasingly governed by Scripture?
Do you pray and depend on the Lord for help?
Are you committed to a local gospel-preaching church and modeling for younger believers what commitment looks like? Have you grown more concerned about the needs of others?
Have you become more loving?
Do you grieve over your sin? Are you quick to forgive? Have you learned to apply the gospel to your sin and suffering?

After reading these questions, you might think, “I fall far short. I’m not ready.” If that’s you, it’s good to humbly admit such a thing and then help your friend to find a godly person who is ready to take on this responsibility. (If you are not sure what to think, then consult with your pastor or a wise Christian in your church.) Don’t be surprised if a godly person’s study of the Word and life experience make her well of wisdom much deeper.
Accountability must be placed in a larger framework of Christian friendship rather than restricted to the topic of fighting the sin of pornography. A relationship quickly becomes static if it is built solely on checking on sexual struggles. Your friend wants help with fighting his lust, but he needs much more: hope for daily struggles, more honest relationships with godly believers, and instruction on applying the gospel to the different aspects of his life. Accountability for sexual sin is just one component of his growth in Christ, and good accountability acknowledges that.
A gracious attitude is essential for good accountability. You need to encourage the hopeless believer, show kindness to the fool, and love the struggler who has failed for the third time in a week. Remember, it’s God’s kindness that leads a sinner to repentance. If God is kind, shouldn’t you be too? Don’t be harsh and demanding, evoking the law often and displaying little of God’s grace.3 God is the final judge, and he has already forgiven the struggler in Christ. If you act like you, rather than God, are the ultimate judge, repent of that attitude.4
Anyone can spend a lot of time focused on the horizontal dimensions of life—building friendships, paying bills, exercising, eating well, working hard, helping a neighbor—and lose sight of the vertical. Don’t lose sight of faith. Faith in Christ is the chief goal.
When I (Jonathan) was meeting with Mateo, I knew he was discouraged because of his repeated falls over the last few weeks. We talked about the tactics of shutting down access to the Internet, not staying up late but getting to bed early, and rebuilding friendships in his church community. But I knew I shouldn’t let him go without talking about Christ. So I asked him, “How does your faith make a difference in the fight against sexual sin?” Over the next few minutes, we had a fruitful conversation about how Mateo wanted to grow in greater trust in Christ. He desired greater faith.
It is the Word that revives a dead heart and brings life. If you find you are not bringing the Word into enough of your conversations, change course right now. Rather than talking about anything and everything but God’s Word, commit to making your conversations Word-driven.
As you consider the strengths and weaknesses of your accountability style, remember that, in the end, a struggler needs to be willing to do the hard work of fighting sin and pursuing faith. If you are constantly tracking her down or pressuring her to take the next step, you should back off and talk about her lack of motivation. “Are you willing to do what it takes? And if not, why not?” Even the best accountability can’t save an apathetic struggler. Only God can.
Wisdom will grow through tough, consistent, local, communal, mature, broad, gracious, faith-focused, and Word-based accountability. If this is not what you are offering to a struggler, you can change. Ask the Lord for help, and adjust your approach in your next few meetings.
Chapter 7 of the recently released book, Rescue Skills, by Jonathan D. Holmes and Deepak Reju. Used with permission.

Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography

Written by Jonathan D. Holmes and Deepak Reju |
Monday, December 6, 2021
Limiting open access and anonymity starves the appetite of our sinful nature. But this takes time. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Addictions start early, are cultivated for years, and become ingrained as personal choices begin to rewrite our embodied existence. The longer the addiction has been cultivated, the longer it will take to get rid of it. Ingrained patterns take time to unwind. So be patient. Take a long-term view of starving the appetites of your friend’s sinful nature.

Our problem is that we walk in unbelief. We fail to believe that God cares or that he desires to enter into our struggles with the sins of lust, pornography, and sexual temptation. —John Freeman, Hide or Seek
Those entrenched in porn tend to live suffocatingly small lives, constantly looking for their next fix. Those who begin to find freedom begin inhabiting a larger, more colorful existence. —Matt Fradd, The Porn Myth
Manuel is sitting in his room, all alone, at 10:32 p.m. The door is shut, and his phone and laptop are on his desk directly across from him. He could go to bed, but he’s feeling the pressure of fierce temptations. He feels aroused. His thoughts have been on an attractive woman he saw at the gym this afternoon. There is a war raging in his heart, and he wants to make a godly choice. His flesh pitches him lies, all of which attempt to justify his sin: “Just one more time, and then you’ll stop.” “You deserve it.”
What will lead Manuel to act out? Four ingredients enable a fall—access, anonymity, appetite, and atheism.1 Remove any one of these four As, and you make acting out much less likely.
In our effort to rescue prisoners of pornography, we’re getting to know the enemy. These four As are formidable foes. The goal of this chapter is to understand them and figure out how to disrupt them so their power is broken. What does a discipler need to know to help his struggling friend?
In the age of the Internet, access to an online world is available virtually everywhere. That creates a huge problem for porn addicts because the Internet is littered with sexually explicit material of every description. Thus, open access is dangerous for any struggler’s soul. Though the Internet can be used for great good, it also causes extraordinary harm.
A common strategy for fighting porn addiction is to restrict strugglers’ access. We take away their freedom in order to protect them from themselves. Their pride makes them think, “I can handle this,” but they are wrong. Until they grow in maturity in Christ, the desires of their flesh are too strong, and their self-control is too weak.
You Need to Be Radical
Our approach to limiting access is shaped by Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. (vv. 27–30)
He reminds us of the seventh commandment: do not commit adultery. But he takes the command one step further. He’s not just talking about the physical act of adultery. Christ expands the definition—if a person looks at another with lustful intent in his heart, it is as if he too has committed adultery. An addict doesn’t need to touch a woman to commit sin. He merely needs to look at her lustfully—and he does that every time he looks at porn.
Jesus goes on: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. . . . If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29–30). He’s using exaggeration for effect. The point is not that a sinner should actually do physical harm to herself but that she should understand how serious sexual sin is. Christ uses graphic imagery to say, “Be radical. Don’t take a soft approach to fighting sexual sin. Brutally cut it out of your life.”
Pause and think for a moment. As a discipler, start with your own approach to sin. Are you radical in cutting it out of your life? Think about your last bout with sin—what did you do? If you are not ruthless with your own sin, how do you expect others to follow suit?
On their own, addicts typically aren’t radical in cutting off their sin. That’s the case with Preston. He looks at porn because he’s held on to access points, and he’s grown too comfortable with his sin to cut it out. Rationalizations, excuses, and a love for his sin encourage him to hold on. Preston often thinks, “This will be the last time,” or he lets himself off the hook by saying, “Everyone’s doing it, not just me.” He yearns for the naked photos and spends a lot of his time scheming how and when to look at them again.
Christ said to be radical. When you talk to an addict, do you plead and exhort him to take a more radical approach? We often say to strugglers, “Be brutal in cutting off access points.” Get the person you are discipling to measure her last few months against Jesus’s words. Has she taken drastic measures, or has she made excuses, delayed making adjustments, or continued to hide? Has she tolerated her sin, coddled it, maybe even welcomed it, and, in so doing, continued to give it a chance to ruin her life?
Many porn strugglers don’t like losing access to the Internet, and so they fight against restrictions. You’ve heard the complaints: “How do I live without the Internet? I need it to do my job. . . . I’ve got to check my email. . . . I need it to connect with my friends. . . . I must have it for X, Y, and Z.” Our response? There are consequences for sexual sin. The person should have thought about these consequences before he or she acted out. What is better—for your friend to lose an eye or hand but walk toward heaven or for her to run toward hell? If she chooses to indulge her sin, to ignore God’s commands, to disobey and shake her fist at God, then her rebellion and foolishness will lead to death.2 If she wants to grow in holiness, it will require sacrifice.
Fighting sin is serious business. Don’t let your friend indulge her sin. What drastic steps can she take today to cut off her access to pornography? If she confesses looking at porn the previous week, your conversation should revolve around her access point and how to cut it out. Show zero tolerance for her sexual sin. Graciously and lovingly exhort your friend to get rid of access points!
Strategies for Closing Off Access Points
Here are some practical steps to consider as you help an addict to get rid of his access points.

Ask the porn addict about every e-device he owns.
Encourage him to get a software monitoring program, such as Covenant Eyes, and to put it on all his devices.
Get rid of standard web browsers and rely on a browser that is carefully monitored.
Get rid of the applications store. If he needs to download a new app onto a tablet or phone, provide him with access only temporarily.
Use special restrictions to cut out the web browser and app store, set time limits, and so on. Make sure the restrictions code is known only to an accountability partner. If the addict knows it, he will remove the restrictions in a moment of weak- ness and act out.
Get rid of all apps that have an embedded browser.

What’s the principle behind these six points? We’re removing control from the addict and giving it to others because the addict can’t steward the freedom of open access.
The nuclear option is to get rid of televisions, tablets, phones, and laptops for a period of time. In our Internet age, that’s hard to do, but it is viable, especially if the Internet is available in safe settings, such as a workplace that monitors its own computers.
If an addict does need access for some legitimate reason, such as to download an application for work, then the addict should notify his accountability when an access point is opened and follow up when the access point is closed. If the accountability doesn’t hear back soon, he should get in touch with the addict directly. Maturity is demonstrated when the addict takes initiative on these matters and is open and honest about what’s going on.
Because of his guilt and shame, a struggler typically hides his pornography use. He may sit in a bedroom by himself or in an office with the door closed. If he is around others, he may orient his screen so that no one can see what he is doing. It’s rare for strugglers to view porn in coffee shops or in the middle of open areas where people are going back and forth. Rather, they pursue isolation and anonymity.
Solomon writes, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov. 18:1). The one who deliberately isolates himself is focused on his own desires. As he feeds his sexual urges, his selfishness grows, and his corrupt desires become the centerpiece of his life. His selfishness separates him from community and, even worse, makes him unfriendly to those who should matter the most.
Pornography pulls an addict away from the very thing he or she needs—God’s wisdom available through God’s people. The one who isolates himself because of his desires “breaks out” against wisdom. The sound judgment that leads him down safe paths is abandoned or, even worse, mocked. He ignores or discards the wisdom that is available from a few choice godly friends or in his local church com- munity. In this way, isolation can kill a person’s soul.
Isolation allows addicts like Manuel and Preston to keep a safe distance from accountability relationships and community. And, in some cases, a consequence of isolation is that the addict remains unknown to others. We can’t press into Manuel and Preston’s lives if they hide, avoid accountability, put up protective walls, and refuse to be vulnerable about their sin struggles.
Why does a struggler act in this way? Sin likes to hide, and sexual sin in particular has a field day when it is kept secretive and hidden. It prefers darkness, which, in the Bible, is associated with an immoral, sinful life apart from God. The apostle John warns us, “If we claim to have fellowship with him [God] and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6 NIV). We are hypocrites if we claim to love God and, at the same time, coddle sexual sin.
One of the antidotes to sexual sin is to yank it into the light. God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (see 1 John 1:5). As a struggler steps into his light, he repents (see Mark 1:15), confesses (see Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9), and exposes his sexual sin (see Eph. 5:11–14).
Strategize to get rid of anonymity in an addict’s life. For example, an addict will watch pornography and masturbate late at night, alone in a room, with the door closed. That’s what Preston does. He isolates himself so that he can sin. Lily, a graduate student, studies for long days and nights at home by herself, where no one will know if she chooses to view porn.

If Preston and Lily are not talking to anyone about their sin, the first step is for them to open up and get others involved in their lives. They need to take a step out of darkness and toward godly relationships.
Since Preston struggles late at night, we ask him to give his laptop to his roommate at 9 p.m., to hang out in more trafficked parts of his living situation, such as the living room, and not to shut his door until he’s ready to go to sleep.
We also ask Preston to always keep his office door open. When he’s overwhelmed, he’s not allowed to shut the door and plunge into porn. He should turn his desk so the screen is visible to employees who walk by his office.
We ask Lily to study in public places, such as the local library or coffee shop. Long periods of study alone at home often lead her to act out.
We encourage Lily to tell her friends to hold her accountable to not be home alone for extended periods of time.

Men and women have passions, desires, and motivations that drive what they think and do (see Gal. 5:16–17). We all have cravings or appetites. Sex. Coffee. Good food. Fun. Comfort. Power. Success. You name it, someone wants it. But imagine a desire that takes over a person’s life and becomes a ruling desire. That’s what your addicted friend is fighting—a desire that he or she has fed, nursed, and cultivated until it’s grown big and strong. We saw this in detail in the last chapter.
You could think of this desire as a dragon: a tall, ugly, scaly, fire- breathing, beady-eyed beast generated by a struggler’s sinful nature. Whenever a struggler looks at pornography, he throws the beast a thick, juicy steak. He is making provisions for the sinful nature, satisfying its desires (see Rom. 13:14). The more he feeds it, the more it grows, and grows, and grows. It always wants more. It’s never satisfied. Eventually, it takes over.
To fight the dragon is to ally with the Holy Spirit in the war with the sin nature. The apostle Paul proclaims, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17). The dragon’s power is destroyed when the struggler starves her sinful nature’s desires and puts them to death. Some days, those desires get the best of a struggler, and the dragon wins as she gives in to temptation.
Adelynn felt that way most days. She’d been losing her battle with a porn addiction for over a year. There were dozens of moments every week in which she felt as though her selfish cravings for porn had overtaken her life. Other days, she found victory as she walked in the power of the Spirit who dwelled in her. A year later, with a lot of help, prayer, adjustments to her life, and brutal honesty with God and friends, she saw tangible changes in her addiction.
Although we teach addicts how to handle temptation and how to restrict access, it’s the desires that rage within them that are the ultimate problem. As a discipler, are you focused only on fighting off temptations, or are you also working to curb the struggler’s corrupt desires? Are you paying attention to the war within? Practically speaking, you can’t focus only on eliminating access and anonymity. You should talk to an addict not just about his external circumstances but also about his appetites. Ask him,

What do you love and hate right now?
How is selfishness or pride ruling your heart?
What do your actions show you that you want?
Lust energizes, but that’s not the only thing that causes you to act out. What else motivates you?
Are you angry at God?

Dig deep into his heart to expose the corrupt desires that have taken root there. As you pull out the roots, you expose what motivates him to seek out porn.
Our chief strategy as disciplers is to grow holy appetites in a sinner. Holy appetites expel unholy desires. As the addict grows in greater love for Christ, his affections drive out the weaker sexual desires.
That means we want to spend a significant portion of our time with sexual strugglers talking about Christ. We demonstrate that Christ really is the addict’s hope by thinking about who he is and what he done for us. As much as we can, we marinate them in gospel truth. Because we come to know Christ through his Word, we spend time in the Word with the people we are discipling. And we make sure that strugglers are engaging the common means of grace (God’s Word, prayer, fellowship with believers, consistent attendance at church, participation in the Lord’s Supper).
Is most of your time focused on dealing with the addict’s sin, or are you actively cultivating the addict’s love for Christ? Do you point the addict to the common means of grace to grow her relationship with Christ? There is no better way to help a porn addict than to repeatedly set her eyes on the cross.
Every believer wrestles with momentary atheism—she has occasions when she gives herself over to her unbelief. When Adelynn looks at porn, she chooses her sin over God. In that moment, she is embracing sin’s lies, rebelling against God, and disbelieving the promises of the gospel. Viewing pornography is Adelynn’s functional way of denying the existence of an all-loving God who has provided for her every need. It reveals her doubt regarding God’s character— in terms of not just his love but also his mercy, goodness, and sovereignty over her life. In the moment that she acts out and looks at porn, she is declaring, “I believe the promises of my sin will satisfy me” and “I doubt the promises of God right now.”
The struggler’s momentary atheism leads to dangerous spiritual consequences. It’s unlikely an addict will say, “I’m don’t believe God’s character or promises right now.” He won’t be that blunt. Rather, you’ll witness firsthand the consequences of the atheism and porn struggles—a lack of assurance, a hard heart, and self-deceit. We’ve highlighted them for you below so you can look for them.
Lack of Assurance
Each time Adelynn views pornography, unbelief acts like a swarm of termites, eating away at the foundation of her faith. Questions plague her: “How can I profess to be a believer and doubt like this? How can I call myself a Christian and continue to look at porn and masturbate?” When Adelynn doubts, the apostle James tells us she’s like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” and is “double-minded . . . unstable in all [her] ways” (James 1:6, 8). This double-mindedness leaves her feeling unstable, even somewhat crazy. Doubt undermines her assurance as a believer. This doubt may be accompanied by a lack of engagement with the common means of grace. If an addict is not reading the Word (see Ps. 1:2), not pursuing regular fellowship with other believers or regularly attending church (see Heb. 10:25), not partaking in communion (see 1 Cor. 11:23–31), or not finding ways to love and serve others (see Mark 12:31; Gal. 5:13–14), her heart will grow cold to the Lord.
A Hard Heart
To embrace sin is to turn your back on the living God in unbelief. If tolerated and coddled, unbelief leads to a hardened heart. The author of Hebrews warns Christians, “Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12–13).
Imagine taking a hammer and slamming it down on a solid rock. It cracks a little, but the rock holds together. A hard heart is in a very dangerous place spiritually. What would it take to soften a hard heart (rather than chisel it!) and see it more open to Christ and the gospel?
As we see from Hebrews, a possible antidote to a hard heart is twofold. We have a personal responsibility to fight our unbelief: “take care . . . lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart” (v. 12). There is also help in daily fellowship with other believers: “exhort one another every day” (v. 13). These show us how to soften a heart, but they are also the preventative measures for slowing down the hardening of a Christian’s heart.
Self-deceit starts early as the addict drifts away from God and the gospel. It doesn’t happen by itself. Long before an addict acts out, self-deceit conspires with his desires (and sometimes his fears). A guy sees a girl in skimpy clothes on a hot spring day and begins to imagine the possibilities. He wants her. He wants sex. He wants to be affirmed. He buys into the lie: Jesus is not enough right now. As his heart rages and his body gets aroused, he can ignore his conscience and actively convince himself of anything. This is the sin before the sin. Self-deceit sets him on the well-worn pathway to acting out.
In a moment of self-deceit, the struggler doesn’t want to see the truth or believe it. He doesn’t want to believe that Christ is sufficient.
He wants pornography to satisfy him. Like the Pharisees who didn’t want to believe Jesus was the Son of God, lest their Pharisaical house crumble (see John 12:19), so also an addict doesn’t believe Christ is enough, lest he be forced to give up his sin. Sexual sin makes him feel good quickly, so he wants to believe it provides the relational satisfaction that he craves.3 Is it any surprise that the devil wants us to question the One who is all-sufficient? The worst lies are the ones about the all-sufficient Christ.
This is the slippery path of a porn addiction—unbelief and rebel- lion lead to self-deceit, hardened hearts, and forsaking the Lord (see 1 Tim. 4:1). Practically speaking, you should encourage your struggling friend to take personal responsibility for fighting his doubts. As addictions get worse, believers can give up and give in.
But also take time to exhort your friend—to speak a gracious and loving but firm word. Ask him,

Are you wrestling with doubts about God’s character? If so, explain.
Can you share some of your thoughts and feelings about God? (It may be embarrassing, especially if you’ve been critical of God in your thinking. But I encourage you to be honest.)
Have you wrestled with any other kinds of doubts? If so, can you share them?
Would you say your heart is hard or soft toward the gospel? What softens your heart?
By its very nature, self-deceit is hard to recognize in yourself. So, let’s consider: What do you get from your pornography habit? In what ways does your sin satisfy you? What are the promises of sin that you are believing? In contrast, are there promises of God that give you hope?

You may think, “I’m not going to make much of a difference.” Who knows? Your words may be the very lifeline your friend needs to end his turning away from God and to persevere in his faith!
The first two As (access and anonymity) deal with external temptations; the second two As (appetite and atheism) reveal the battle in the heart. When fighting sexual sin, we start with restricting access and anonymity. We take a radical approach to cutting off access points and getting rid of opportunities for anonymity.
Limiting open access and anonymity starves the appetite of our sinful nature. But this takes time. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Addictions start early, are cultivated for years, and become ingrained as personal choices begin to rewrite our embodied existence. The longer the addiction has been cultivated, the longer it will take to get rid of it. Ingrained patterns take time to unwind. So be patient. Take a long-term view of starving the appetites of your friend’s sinful nature.
But keep in mind that restricting access and anonymity alone is not an adequate strategy. An addict can cut off access to porn but still wrestle with fleshly desires that rage inside his heart and doubts that fill his mind. At best, when you restrict access, you put a fortified wall around a sin-crazed heart. When an addict develops good habits for fighting external temptations and achieves significant victory over them, the battle often shifts inward. Satan puts more pressure on the struggler’s inner life—his appetites and atheism. The war in the heart becomes more fierce.
Consequently, our strategy shifts. Though we start by taking steps to limit access and anonymity, we then move to focusing on the internal war, in which the appetites of the heart are involved. As disciplers, we spend more time working through an addict’s desires, motivations, and doubts than focusing on limiting access, as important as that is. At the same time, since issues with accessing porn and fighting off temptation consistently come up, we expect them to be a normal part of our conversations.
In this fight, it’s a mistake to take a narrow view of a struggler and become far too focused on her sin. Faith is the wind in a sinner’s sails. Without it, there is no true forward progress. Help her to fight unbelief, root out self-deceit, and grow in her affections for Christ.
Hold out to her the riches of our glorious Savior. After all, what better way to help a porn addict than to repeatedly set her eyes on the cross?
Chapter 3 of the recently released book, Rescue Plan, by Jonathan D. Holmes and Deepak Reju. Used with permission.

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