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Supporting Member question: I appreciate the content on your site. My thoughts are transforming in many areas. Recently, I just finished your book, So, You Want To Get Married? It has opened my eyes to a few things I had not considered.
You answered a lot of my questions and gave me clear direction on how to think about guys and porn, but more specifically about the struggles (or potential struggles) of my fiancé. I feel better equipped to serve him as a helper after we get married.
With that said, you also stirred up a few questions, and I wondered if you could answer them for me. After going through some of the things you suggested (see my list), I wondered if questions 8-10 would be too personal to ask now. Can you advise me?
I would also like to know if there are any physical signs or attitudes a guy who is secretly in porn may exhibit that a girl can perceive? Is there a difference between struggling with lust–with seeing girls dressed immodestly or in the media–versus struggling with porn?
Lastly, would you agree with me that there is a difference between a short struggle with porn versus a multi-year-addiction for a Christian? Repentance characterizes a true believer, right? Sin no longer describes believers because 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says that “such were some of you, but you were washed.”
It seems to me that some sins should no longer be a regular, habitual part of a Christian’s life because he can repent. Wouldn’t it be true that a man who claims to know the Lord, but has a multi-year addiction to porn and hasn’t overcome, he probably does not know the Lord?
Thanks again for helping me think through these things!
The questions you highlighted are personal questions, and I suppose they would make most people uncomfortable. I’m not a good person to ask because of my vocation; I have dealt with these things for decades, nearly on a weekly basis. Sexual temptation is on a short list of the most common problems in which we all struggle.
Putting my vocation aside for the moment, I do not see them as too personal as much as I see them as loving, self-protective questions.
If a girl is thinking about committing the rest of her life with a guy, those questions are necessary. Which would be worse: (1) to ask personal questions before your wedding day (2) or to be devastated ten years into your marriage, after you find out he has a sexual addiction?
With that said, I don’t want you to think I’m avoiding or dismissing the tentativeness of your questions. You are sincere, and the adult world–especially the darker side of it–should cause a cautious and wise posture in your soul. I’m thankful you have not experienced exposure to some of the seedier things in our culture.
I appeal to you to ask the Spirit to give you the thought-filled illuminations and empowering grace you will need as you launch into the longest and most challenging time of your life. Though I don’t want to put your future marriage on par with buying a car, please allow me to use an illustration.
When purchasing a car, a wise person would not hold back from asking all the right questions. She researches, investigates, makes comparisons, and asks the hard things. Why? She is about to make a significant commitment. How much more wisdom and courage do you need when thinking about your marriage?
It is common for many marriages that go off the rails to miss out on these essential discussions while they were dating. They do not fully explore these talks because of their most common tendencies.
More than likely your first seven questions will tell you what you need to know about your more personal ones. A man who looks at porn more than once has probably masturbated. It would be exceptional if that were not the case.
If he has looked at porn and is honest with you about what he has done, go ahead and assume he has masturbated. Don’t bury your idealistic head in the sand. If he has sought help, you can ask him if you can talk to the person who helped him so you can gain a third-party’s perspective.
If your boyfriend is humble, open, and honest, he has nothing to hide and nothing to protect. A gospel-centered worldview compels a Christian to a higher opinion, which empowers him to fight the temptation to hide his sins or protect his reputation. Free men are free. They are not habitually bound, insecure, or easily offended.
If he doesn’t let you speak into his life at this level at this time, consider it a red flag. One of the most common complaints I hear in marriage counseling is a husband’s unwillingness to let his wife probe into his life. These husbands resist openness, honesty, and transparency.
If you are planning to marry this guy, and if he resists your questions, consider his response a precursor to what your future marriage experience. It would be fair to multiply his replies to you–whether good or bad–by ten after you are married. Our good or bad behaviors will only increase after marriage. Only repentance can change a sinful trajectory.
The first sign you should look for is his responses to your questions. That will tell you nearly all you need to know, though there are other things you will need to discern.
For example, how close to the edge does he walk regarding sexual things? Paul told us to flee youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22). Which direction does he lean: toward lust or does he run from it?
Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house. – Proverbs 5:8
The language of Scripture is severe, strong, and clear when it comes to lust. You don’t go there. If a person does, it will be perceived. Eventually. Here are a few things you can look for as far as signs and attitudes:
You ask, “Is there a difference between struggling with lust–with seeing girls dressed immodestly or in the media–versus struggling with pornography?”
The answer is, “Yes” and “No.” There is an obvious difference, but the better question is, “What’s the relationship between these two actions?” As you go through the section on signs and attitudes, you should be able to discern if looking at girls and media are the appetizers to the main event.
If he does not struggle with or if he responds in a mature way to the cultural temptations of immodesty, there is a good chance he does not struggle with pornography.
My mother used to say, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” It applies here. If he struggles with the signs and attitudes, you have a problem. The writer of Proverbs answered your question this way:
Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? – Proverbs 6:27-28
While there is a difference between cultural temptations and porn, the cultural temptations are often the precursor to more destructive sin patterns.
We understand David lived in unrepentant sin for at least a year before Nathan confronted him. (Bathsheba had already given birth to their son.) We also know he was under deep conviction from the Lord. (See Psalm 32:1-4)
There is not a strong case in Scripture for the backsliding Christian. The mantra often used by people who “got saved at five, but walked away from the Lord,” and now they are thirty-five” is problematic. One of the few testimonies we have of a person who walked away from the Lord in Scripture is David, and this is what he said about that season of his life:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. – Psalm 32:3-4
I’m not sure how you can walk away from the Lord for thirty years and experience what he experienced. With that said, I think I can make an argument for a person caught in an addiction and still be a Christian.
Personally, I’ve seen it too many times not to believe this. I have counseled a few addicted people, and I do not believe all of them were unbelievers. I’m talking about individuals with a multi-decade addiction. Paul’s language in Galatians 6:1 seems to support this.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” – Paul
The word caught is the Bible word for addiction. You referenced 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which is a good text but not a solid one for this discussion. The general idea in Corinthians is the person who is a blatant rebel against God–a person who doesn’t care about God–a reviler.
Based on all the texts that speak to sinning Christians, I don’t think you can make a case that a habitual sinner is automatically an unbeliever. There are many Christians who bring addictive lifestyles into their relationship with God (Ephesians 4:22), and sometimes it takes years for them to overcome.
The key you are looking for is their attitude about their sin. Are they humble, honest, open, transparent, and seeking help? Or are they hiding, defiant, and reviling the Word of God? The first group could be Christians while the latter group probably is not.