Many Christians struggling with habitual sin become frustrated in their spiritual growth, because they blur the lines between God’s role and our role. If we overemphasize our role, we will turn into legalists, who won’t truly change in a deep way. On the other hand, if we underemphasize our role, God might let us flounder until we take action.
Of course, it’s easy to see that we must have some sort of role in spiritual growth. For instance, if spiritual growth was entirely up to God, then why are there any imperatives in the New Testament? Moreover, we consistently see some Christians grow quickly, while others don’t seem to grow at all. This all implies that we have a role in our growth.
Spiritual Growth Quiz
Before you take the quiz, read through these relevant Scriptures to help inform your answers:
(Rom. 12:1) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
(Gal. 3:3) Are you so foolish? Having begun [past justification] by the Spirit, are you now being [current sanctification] perfected by the flesh?
(Mk. 7:6 NLT) Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
(Heb. 11:6) And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
(Phil. 4:8) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
(Gal. 5:17) For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
(2 Pet. 1:5-7) Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
(Heb. 12:1) Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
(2 Cor. 10:5) We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
In light of these verses (and others that come to mind), take a quick quiz: which of these are TRUE and which are FALSE statements about spiritual growth? Use Scripture to support your view. Feel free to dialogue and discuss your conclusions on each of these questions:
- “It is our role to grow ourselves spiritually.” (T/F)
- “God will produce in us a desire to change.” (T/F)
- “It is up to us to have faith in the promises of God regarding spiritual growth.” (T/F)
- “We will grow spiritually, if we are willing to grow.” (T/F)
- “It’s my job to challenge false beliefs that come in my mind about myself, others, or God.” (T/F)
- “God will change my attitude if I pray about it.” (T/F)
- “God will make me a more thankful person for his provisions.” (T/F)
- “It’s my choice to change my attitude—not God’s.” (T/F)
- “Spiritual growth will occur for me today, because I prayed about it yesterday.” (T/F)
- “Spiritual growth is easy.” (T/F)
Feel free to discuss your answers with one another.
Desire to Change
Having a desire to change is one of the most important areas to cultivate in spiritual growth. If we don’t desire to change, God will usually let us go our own way until our need for change intensifies.
Before you break your porn habit, you need to ask yourself a very important question: Do I really want to change? This might seem like a trivial question, but it really isn’t. Spiritual growth doesn’t occur for people if they are merely willing to change; it only occurs for those who want change. By comparison, consider two young single men. Which of the men will get a date on a Saturday night: the one who is willing to go out with a girl, or the one who wants to go out with her? Of course, only the person who wants to go out on a date will get the girl. The other guy will stay at home, eat Doritos, and play video games all night!
What are some of the key differences between someone who is willing to grow and someone who wants to grow spiritually?
We can’t passively plop ourselves in front of God and merely tell him that we’re willing to grow. We need to tell him that we desire and want to grow. Before Jesus healed the paralyzed man, he asked him, “Do you wish to get well?” (Jn. 5:6). It’s easy to think that this was a rhetorical question, but maybe wasn’t. If you do not desire to change in this area, then nothing in the rest of this study will be of any use to you. On the other hand, if you can honestly say that you desire to change, here are some steps to take to help change.
1. Identify when you are most vulnerable
Each person is different in their vulnerability to porn. Ask yourself, am I most tempted…
- When I haven’t spent alone time with God?
- When I haven’t had enough rest?
- When life is difficult and stressful?
- During times of change?
- After significant victory?
- When life is going smoothly?
- During times of recreation or boredom?
A good acronym to remember is this: BAD HALT. This stands for bored, anxious, depressed, hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. If you find yourself consistently falling into porn during one of these periods, then you’ve found your time of weakness. By learning the events that “trigger” falls into porn, you can be more aware and able to protect yourself from falling.
2. Learn to confess
According to Covenant Eyes website, “Regular church attenders are 26% less likely to look at porn than non-attenders, but those self-identified as “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to look at porn.”
In our flesh, we want to minimize, justify, and blame-shift our sin. However, progress only comes through confession. David wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat” (Ps. 32:3-4 NLT). Proverbs 28:13 states, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” Without confession, every Bible teaching you sit under will feel like it’s about you and your silence. This leads to a life focused on yourself and your own sin.
By contrast, James wrote, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16). Remember, God doesn’t call on you to confess to be humiliated; he calls on you to confess to be healed. Do you have someone in your life that you can share your struggles with? Do you have someone that asks you the hard questions? Seek out a few select people to become good peer accountability.
When we fall into sin, Satan wants us to feel like our problem is somehow strange or special. However, we need to take solace in the fact that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13 NIV). Our temptations are not unique according to God; instead, they are common. We need to learn to open up to others on this basis. When thinking about confessing, we often wrestle with repeated false beliefs:
FALSE BELIEF #1: “What will people think of me? People respect and look up to me.”
Often, people respect you more, when you are honest about your struggles. People respect the person that can come under grace publicly. Usually, when someone confesses in a group of committed believers, it becomes contagious. In addition, the longer you wait to confess, the harder it becomes to be open and honest about your issue.
FALSE BELIEF #2: “I’m forgiven, so it doesn’t matter if I fall into sin.”
While sin doesn’t affect our position in Christ, it certainly does affect our condition. We can be deceived by sin, if we don’t come into the light with other believers. The author of Hebrews wrote that we can be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). If you keep silent about your sin, you’ll find it difficult to get close with God. Worse than this, you’ll find that you won’t desire to be close with him.
3. Resist and replace
Paul wrote, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). It isn’t enough to “flee from” sin; we also need to “pursue” the good things of God. Remember that this verse says that we’re supposed to flee to the Body of Christ (“with those who call on the Lord”). Are you engaged relationally with those around you? Strong friendships with others can often counterbalance the urge to get into porn; likewise, getting into porn will have an effect on our ability to relate to others around us.
4. Take your thoughts captive
When we start to experience “preoccupation” or “ritual” (see part two above), we need to learn to take these thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5). Consider the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones:
We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself [or others!] instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you… [You need to learn to say]: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you’. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have had but little experience. The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself… you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done and what God has pledged Himself to do.
When was the last time you were struggling with sin and you took your thought captive like this? When was the last time you saw victory over sin by doing this?
What are some of the false beliefs that often spring to mind when struggling with porn? How do you combat each of these?
5. Learn to count the cost of porn
Every porn user needs to offer themselves reasons for resisting pornography, and when temptation sets in, the reasons better be good.
What are some of the reasons that you give yourself when you’re struggling with temptation?
List your goals. When you see what you have to lose by getting into porn, it helps take the sting out of temptation.
List the people that this will affect. We need to remember that we are members of one another (Eph. 4:25; 1 Cor. 12:27). Our personal and private sin affects the Body of Christ. How will your porn habit affect the Body of Christ around you?
List how porn will make you a less sexually attractive partner. While forgiveness and commitment can work through porn addiction in the context of marriage, this isn’t an attractive quality to bring into a relationship.
List how porn will affect your ability to relate to others in a meaningful way. In particular, dads are less able to relate with their own children when they are steeped in porn. Pamela Paul writes, “Among couples with children, 37 percent reported that children lost parental time and attention due to a parent’s online sexual activities.”
Take a minute to write down the top four or five ways that falling into porn will negatively affect you. Write these down on a piece of paper and tape it to your computer, so you can’t get into porn without looking at this list. Consider abbreviating your list, so others won’t know what it means, when they see it on your computer.
Paul tells Timothy to “flee from youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22), and he also tells us to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). From these biblical imperatives, we see that we should take strict measures to avoid falling into serious sin like this.
 Laaser writes, “After surviving stressful events, performing well, or doing a good job, sex addicts may believe they deserve to be rewarded sexually… A sense of entitlement gives sex addicts the belief that they are justified in their sexual behaviors.” Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 48. You need to build a healthy reward system into your life during the good times. Otherwise, you’ll burnout.
 Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982. 20-21.
 Paul, Pamela. Pornified. New York: Times, 2005. 155.