A group of young men once asked me to talk to them about the use of pornography. They knew that using porn was unworthy of the life to which they had been called (Ephesians 4.1), but they felt unable to give it up. Why didn’t God answer their prayers and take away their desire for it?
I asked them a series of very simple questions: Have you thrown away your magazines? Have you destroyed your DVDs? Have you asked someone who does not struggle with this issue to hold you accountable? Have you asked that person to install Internet filter software on your computer? For the most part, their answers were, “No.” They had prayed, but they had not taken practical action.
Prayer is obviously an important tool God has given us for experiencing moral change in our lives. So, whenever we face temptation to sin—whether that sin is using pornography or anything else—we ought to ask God for help to resist temptation, and he will provide it. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10.13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” But keep in mind that “the way of escape” involves practical action on our part.
Consider what Paul writes in Ephesians 4.17–24:
17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Verses 17–19 contain a diagnosis of the sinful condition. Notice that it is rooted in wrong thinking (“futility of their minds,” “darkened…understanding,” “ignorance”) and a spirit closed to God’s influence (“alienated,” “hardness of heart”). Wrong thinking and a closed spirit are not Christian (verse 20)! Instead, Paul instructs us to do three things (verses 21–24):
- Put off your old self. Take active measures to eliminate sin from your life.
- Be renewed in the spirit of your minds. We need to view sin from God’s perspective, as something that hinders us from being what God created us to be.
- Put on the new self. Bad habits must be actively replaced by good habits.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Paul applied this three-stage process of change (put off, be renewed, put on) to several areas of Christian behavior.