Pornography: Biblical Insights
The confession Ted Bundy gave before his 1989 execution for multiple sex crime murders was shocking but not surprising. Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers, admitted that he had been addicted to pornography since childhood, progressing until he had no regard for the worth of an individual and was acting out unspeakable violence toward women. And criminological research reveals Bundy was not the only killer to be motivated by pornography.
The use of pornography is one of several kinds of addictive behavior that undermines and distorts a person’s moral and spiritual judgment. Judging from its multi-billion-dollar annual revenues, its use affects more families than we would like to admit.
The following insights present what the Bible says about the destructive lifestyle of which pornography is a symptomatic addiction.
Robert Herrington also contributed material to this article.
Pornography Is Part of a Spiritual Battle
The existence of pornography is an evidence of a spiritual battle that is going on in our world. Pornographic material is specifically designed to appeal to human lust. It is Satan’s counterfeit to biblical sexuality. The onslaught of this kind of material is a result of the spiritual warfare waged against the human family by our adversary, Satan. He delights in the control of, distortion of, and perversion of the human mind (2 Cor. 10:1-5). Furthermore, pornography is indicative of the intense battle between the spirit and the flesh (Gal. 6:8).
We are exhorted to put on spiritual armor in order to be able to withstand the attacks of Satan (Eph. 6:10-20). This is a battle that no one can hope to win by his own strength (James 4:1-6). Unless we humbly seek God’s help and strength, we are an easy prey for the adversary (1 Pet. 5:6-11). Within each believer there is a daily struggle that is waged; this struggle can only be overcome by walking by the Spirit. The Bible tells us that when a person walks by the Spirit they will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
Jesus said lust is a sin of the mind and the will. Lust is an intense sexual desire which is preoccupied with self-gratification. It is the basis for the sin of adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). A look of admiration can quickly degenerate into lust. We need God’s help to control our thoughts and motives. It is God’s will that we abstain from behavior that would feed the lust in the mind and produce sin in our lives. Pornographic material is used as a weapon designed to undermine moral purity in the human will by encouraging lust.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 God commands us to “abstain from fornication” (KJV). The word “fornication,” from the Greek word porneia, is the same root from which we get the word pornography. Fornication refers to any sexual behavior deviant from God’s moral law. Thus, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is a command to “abstain from pornography” since it is God’s will that we be sanctified or set apart. Attempting to live a life of holiness and moral purity is a spiritual battle and personal struggle (Rom. 7:8-23). But it is not a struggle that cannot be overcome.
Pornography Is an Evidence That We Live in a Fallen World
When sin entered the world, both human beings and the environment were affected. The man and the woman who had lives in harmony with God and their world felt alienated (Gen. 3:8). They also discovered that the curse of sin brought the advent of a spiritual struggle as well as disharmony with the environment (Gen. 3:14-24).
A desire for self-gratification in our first human parents led to their downfall and sin (Gen. 3:5-7). It must be understood that sin exists as a distortion of what is true and good. Pornography is an example of such a distortion; it distorts something wonderful (sex) that God has provided for mankind. God created sex as a wonderful act between a man and a woman, and it is important that we understand why God created sex so that we understand the difference between distorted sexuality (pornography and lust) and biblical sexuality. God created sex as a physical expression of the “one flesh” union between a man and a woman in marriage (Gen. 2:24). It provides intimacy and pleasure within marriage, and leads to the miracle of procreation. It is important that this proper view of biblical sexuality is understood, taught, and practiced.
Throughout the Bible we are warned not to love what the world has distorted: “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world— the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Pornography is a visual medium of both physical and mental images. We must constantly remind ourselves that we live in a world wracked by sin, which constantly distorts what is good; we must therefore be careful what we think or see. We have to continually remind ourselves that if sowing to please the flesh will reap corruption, but we sowing to please the Spirit results in eternal life (Gal. 6:8).
Pornography Is a Perversion of Our Liberty in Christ
Unfortunately, many are committed to a false belief that once saved we have the liberty to do as we please. Some in the church of Corinth believed such a lie and were using their liberty to gratify the sinful nature; the Apostle Paul continually warned them against such a belief. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that, once born into the family of God, believers are free to do as they please. Once saved, a believer must seek to please God with his or her life (1 Thess. 4:1). When saved, we are free from the law and from works by which no one can be saved (Gal. 3:11). We are not free, however, to do as we please; we are free to do that which pleases Him (1 Thess. 4:1). We please Him when we use our spiritual liberty to walk in the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17-25).
Pornography, which includes print, films, television, and adult entertainment clubs, is not morally neutral. We should recoil from such an absurd suggestion. The reason for the call of purity among believers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 is that a believer’s body is the temple of God. Paul singles out sexual sin as particularly reprehensible because it is a sin against the body, which is a temple of God (1 Cor. 6:18-19).
Pornography’s Effects on the Common Good
Government was ordained of God for the mutual benefit of all citizens (see Rom. 13:1-7). This concept of mutual well-being was what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they established our democracy. Many argue that freedom of speech guaranteed by our Constitution gives anyone the right to say what one wants, see what one wants, and read what one wants. This is an incorrect view of the liberty that some are claiming exists in the traditions of the United States. As Americans, our personal freedom must be ordered in a direction in which we can pursue our goals and ambitions while also having concern for the common good. This is called ordered liberty. Autonomous liberty places an over-emphasis on personal freedom and cares nothing of the common good; autonomous liberty pursues goals which have no concern for society. It is ordered liberty that best balances personal freedom and common good.
No rights can long survive unless we use them for the common good of all. Pornography benefits no one for the common good. It is a prime example of using liberty for self-gratification of the consumer and the personal gain of the seller. It is false to believe that pornography is only an act between two consenting adults. Pornography seriously affects men, women, children, families, communities, and entire countries. Personal liberty has a limit: our rights of self-interest cease when they imperil the safety of others. No one has the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire, or to operate a vehicle while intoxicated. Pornography falls into such a category. Among the sexual predators in prison, nearly half had pornography on their persons or in their car at the time of their crime, notes ERLC President Dr. Richard Land in his book Imagine! A God Blessed America. That is only one of the many examples of pornography’s deteriorating effects on society.
Pornography Distorts Human Sexuality
The Bible clearly teaches several significant purposes for sex in human experience. First, sexual intercourse forms a spiritual-physical union between husband and wife (Gen. 2:24-25). The “one flesh” union established in marriage is not to be broken (Matt. 19:4-6). Second, sexual intimacy results in an intimate, personal level of understanding between husband and wife. The Old Testament word yadah, translated “to know,” refers to intimate personal knowledge (Gen. 4:1, 17; 19:8). Third, sex was also designed for mutual pleasure to be shared by husband and wife (Prov. 5:18-19). Fourth, sexual intercourse was given as the means by which the human race would be propagated (Gen. 1:28).
The use of pornography perverts and distorts all of the God-given purposes for sexual intimacy. It takes something that is good (sex) and distorts it for evil. First, by feeding the lust, both men and women are encouraged to have sexual relations with many partners. Pornography teaches people to disregard the sanctity of marriage and the “one flesh” concept in the Word (Matt. 19:7-9). Second, pornography teaches people to disregard the intimacy of “knowing” another person by encouraging sexual intercourse as a casual relationship. Casual sex creates a dualism between spirit and body. Casual sex tries to disconnect the spiritual side of sex from the bodily side. Yet, the two are integrated and it is impossible to separate them. Sex is viewed as a form of recreation for superficial self-gratification. Third, pornography teaches self-gratification without regard for the welfare of sexual partners. People are seen as objects to be enjoyed, not persons to be respected and loved. Once again this is an attempt to disconnect the spiritual side of sex from the bodily side. The lessons about the purpose of sex taught by pornography are opposite to those taught by Scripture. Fourth, procreation is never a purpose in such casual relationships. Such casual sex attempts to detach sex from its consequences, such behavior fears procreation and encourages the abortion of unwanted children as well as promoting abortive devices and drugs. Pornography represents a lifestyle that denies God and rejects the high and holy standards of His Word.
Many people have been deluded into believing that the use of pornography is acceptable because of the message and example of some prominent religious leaders in recent decades. Their lives and examples have brought the Gospel into open ridicule. Peter warns of such “false teachers” who exhibit a lack of self-control and despise the Word of God (see 2 Pet. 2:9-22).
The Battle against Pornography Is a Winnable Battle
Paul reminded the Ephesians of their former lifestyle directed by Satan (Eph. 2:2) and indulgent fleshly lusts (2:3). They had been delivered through the grace and power of God (2:4-10). Like the Ephesians, through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection we also are able to put off the old person corrupted by deceitful lusts (4:22) and put on a new person (4:23) created in righteousness and true holiness.
We must present ourselves to Him daily and allow Him to transform our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). We must also abstain from that which feeds fleshly lusts (1 Thess. 4:3).
We must replace impure thoughts with pure ones. Whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, should be our pattern for thinking (Phil. 4:8-9).
We must recognize that winning the battle against pornography on a personal level is the same as combating any other temptation. Joseph gives us a perfect example of the way to win this battle. When tempted to become involved in an adulterous affair with Potiphar’s wife, he won the battle through following these simple steps:
- He kept before him the trust that his master had placed in him (Gen. 38:8-9). God likewise has entrusted to us the opportunity for abundant life in Christ.
- He saw that such a sin would be not only against his master, but against God (39:9). Even before the Ten Commandments were written, Joseph maintained a high moral standard. We must not compromise God’s moral standards (1 Tim. 4:15-16).
- He separated himself from the persistent temptation of Potiphar’s wife and fled (39:12). Many people lose the battle by constantly flirting with temptation.
Winning the battle against pornography within our community and nation will require cooperation with all who oppose it. As good citizens, we should oppose pornography because it has a deteriorating effect on society. Pornography is a source for many marriage and family problems and is a hidden factor in many divorces. Pornographic material is another weapon in the attack on marriage and the home. We must go beyond simply opposing the sale and use of pornographic materials; we must express concerns in the community, parents must teach their children a biblical view of sex, pastors must warn their congregations about the dangers of pornography, and we must elect and support local and state officials who will stand against pornography.
Pornography is an attack from Satan in a spiritual battle that we cannot win in our own strength. It is also a result of the lust of our sin nature that seeks constantly to gratify the selfish desires of the flesh and mind. God has given us the armor to enable us to fight and win the battle. At stake in the battle is purity of our sexual behavior, our thoughts, and our character.
But we must do more. There are many others in the struggle who need help. It is not enough to say that pornography is wrong. We must be ready to share the clear teaching of the Bible concerning the dangers of pornography. We should do everything we can to stop people from exposing themselves to this destructive material. For those already stimulated to impure thoughts through exposure, we need to share biblical insights on how to achieve forgiveness and liberation from this addiction.