Peter sits in his room, staring at the screen. He’s been in this position a thousand times, and yet again, he feels trapped. Earlier in the day, he saw a scantily clad woman walking down the street, and it stirred him. He hasn’t shaken the image of her. He’s aroused. He wants to act out. He knows where to find pictures online. Will he do it again or will he hold off?

Cheryl fought (again) with her boyfriend, and afterwards, looked at nude pictures online. She didn’t want to do it, but it helped to numb her charged feelings. A mixture of shame and guilt overtake her, and she avoids eye contact with her pastor when she leaves church on Sunday. Will she ever defeat this wretched sin?

As you counsel Peter or Cheryl, consider eight questions.

1. Does their sin define them more than Christ?

An addict’s sin overtakes them. It rules them. It affects how they think, what they believe, and how they live.  What a dreadful place to be.  Does this sin characterize them more than Christ? I often ask this question, and addicts break down over this thought, crying in my office. This is where the battle begins—Christ should be primary, not secondary. There is a war for their soul—a battle between the desires of their flesh and Spirit (1 Peter 2:11; Gal. 5:16-25).

2. What lies are Peter and Cheryl believing?

Dozens of lies siege the addict’s mind, lies that let him or her self-justify their sin.  Consider just a few: “If God really wants me to stop, he’ll give me strength.” “I can control it.” “I’ll just do it one more time.” “Pornography only hurts me.” “I need this. I’m celibate and burning and can’t bear it anymore. Something has to give.” “I’m single and I’ll stop after marriage.” “If my sex life were better, I wouldn’t be tempted to do this.” “Everyone is doing it. Why not me?” “No one is watching. No one will ever know.” “God will forgive, so it doesn’t matter.” “Fighting is a waste of time, so I might as well give-in.” “I’m stuck and nothing is going to change.” “There are no consequences, so who cares?”

Do any of these lies sound familiar to you? Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). He takes great pleasure in undermining a Christian who fights against sexual sin. Our carnal flesh adds in, acting as an ally to Satan’s devices. Bringing these lies to the light and exposing them are an important first step (Eph. 5:7-13). Root them out—confess, repent, and throw them away.

3. Will they be radical or passive about cutting off their sin?

Jesus’ charge is to be radical about our sin. “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 your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). Our Lord uses hyperbole, but he does so to make a point—don’t be passive about your sin, lest it ruin you. Sin dumbs down our spiritual senses. Peter and Cheryl have grown comfortable with their sin. They coddle it rather than cut it out. Remind the believer to take a more radical posture in obedience to Christ.

4. Are there holes in their firewall?

Unfettered access to the internet can destroy a person’s soul. In a weak moment, when there is access, Peter will look. If he confesses to me, I aggressively pursue with him cutting off access. It’s healthy and wise to set up roadblocks to unmonitored access.

Imagine a person walking into an emergency room with profuse bleeding. The nurse would treat it immediately. She would not say, “Take a seat. I’ll be with you in 20 minutes.” Same thing with a porn addict. Open access is a serious problem for a person with no self-control. If we ignore this problem, the ongoing access to pornography will ruin the believer’s heart and mind. If you disregard the open access problem, you are like the nurse who ignores the bleeding and says, “It’s not that important.” Yet, the addict is dying a slow death. Treat it right away. Do everything you can to cut off access so it doesn’t do any further harm to the believer’s soul.

But a firewall that blocks access is not the solution. It doesn’t stop the motivations for acting out, it merely slows it down. Any self-constructed firewall encases a sexually-crazed heart. That leaves us to pursue the deeper matters of the heart. Let a growing affection for Christ expel the lesser affections for sexual sin. What better way to help a porn addict than to repeatedly set their eyes on the cross? Click To Tweet

5. What motivates Peter or Cheryl to act out?  

If we stop at behavior, we miss the deeper heart issues that motivate. Why does Peter look? What makes Cheryl pursue sexual sin? The heart is the command center for all of our behavior (Prov. 20:5; Luke 6:43-45). Jesus said: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

I have a friend who reduced his pornography struggles to a lust issue. Yet, as we talked, it was clear he was angry at God, hurt by his boss, and lazy about his responsibilities. There was a lot going on in his heart.

What is going on in Peter or Cheryl’s heart? Does porn fill the boredom of a pious lifestyle? Are they looking for a sense of adventure? Are they frustrated with God for not giving them a way to satisfy their sexual needs? Are they looking for affirmation or comfort? Are they looking to escape the stress, pain, or disappointment of their life? Is there a greedy and reckless pursuit of pleasure because they want to satisfy their sexual cravings? If none of these things fit, what is it that motivates them?

6. Do Peter and Cheryl believe God can change them?

The seasons of struggling with pornography stack up. It’s far too easy for Peter and Cheryl to doubt their faith rather than trust. “How can a Christian struggle like this?” “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” “What’s wrong with me?” With each passing year, they grow to believe they are beyond God’s grace.

Grace will triumph over sin (Rom. 6:1-2). Christ’s victory on the cross guarantees it. So your role in counseling is to be hopeful for the hopeless. Don’t argue their doubt away. That won’t work. Fan even the smallest ember of faith. Help them adopt better habits—cutting off their sin, spending time in the Word, fellowship with other believers, regular attendance at church.

You might feel like a broken record after a while—“repent, believe, read your Bible, go to church.” But persist in your love, patience and tenacious pursuit of their sin (Rom. 12:9-12).

7. Do they have healthy accountability?

Good accountability is honest, frequent, local and tough.

Without honesty, everything else is a waste of time. If Peter is hiding things, not sharing the entire truth, or even worse, lying, he undermines his friend’s ability to help. Honesty matters. Peter must give his accountability partner the ugly details of his life. His sin naturally pushes against this, wanting to conceal or deny, but redemption beckons him to be truthful. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Prov. 24:26). Just as a kiss is delightful and something to be sought after, so also is honesty.

Frequent help is better than infrequent help. Sin daily finds ways to muck up Cheryl’s life. She needs the repeated pressure of others pressing in on her sin to slow it down, and to prevent the mess.

Local accountability is much more useful than distant. Often I’ve asked a man or woman, “Who is your accountability partner?” They’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 only check on you via technology (email, text, Skype or Facetime, etc.) is not ideal. God has designed relationships such that the most powerful way to give and receive accountability is through someone who is regularly involved in your life. Look for someone who lives in your own local community and who goes to the same church. As image-bearers, the most effective way to receive help is to be personally present in the other person’s life. Sit across the table from them. Sit next to them in church. Go out to lunch with them. Go for a run with them. Give them a hug. Laugh together. Search the Scriptures and pray together. All of this is possible because you geographically live close to one another.

Tough conversations are intrusive. Peter and Cheryl need friends who will 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?” Accountability serves them well if their friend presses into their life and roots out their sin.

8. Is Christ their living hope?

A typical mistake is to take a narrow view of the person and become far too focused on their sin. But faith is the wind in a sinner’s sails. Without it, there is no true forward progress.

Help them to adore Christ. Hold out the riches of our glorious Savior. Let a growing affection for Christ expel the lesser affections for sexual sin. What better way to help a porn addict than to repeatedly set their eyes on the cross?