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Beyond Pornography:
Spiritual Formation Studied in a Particular Case
Presented in September 2008 as part of the Talbot School of Theology’s Institute for Spiritual Formation Lecture Series. This talk was transcribed by Paul Rheingans and edited by Steven Porter for publication in the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 9, no. 1 (2016), pp. 5-17. It was later published as “Beyond Pornography” in Renewing the Christian Mind, by Dallas Willard, ed. Gary Black Jr. (New York NY: HarperOne, 2016, pp. 66-82).


I have decided to discuss the use of pornography [(porne = prostitute) + (graphy = drawing)] because (1) it presents us with a peculiarly vivid case of spiritual formation and possible spiritual transformation, and (2) it is such a widespread problem for people today, and also among Christians and those in ministry. Indeed, it is a problem which generates a lot of hopelessness in those involved.

We need to make clear at the outset that everyone gets a spiritual formation. The most degraded person in the world has had a spiritual formation and that is why they are like what they are like. Hitler had a spiritual formation. A person who is engaged or involved with pornography is so because of their spiritual formation. Spiritual formation refers to how the basic elements of human life: the will, the thoughts, the feelings, the body, the social relationship, and the depths of the soul have been shaped so that character and life come out of how they have been shaped. The fundamental distortion is in the human will but the will quickly subordinates the mind. The will that is turned against God or turned against good hijacks the mind to justify what it is doing. The mind takes the emotions and feelings with it, and very soon you have a whole person who is wrapped up in something which perhaps others who are not in that position would look at and wonder, "How could that ever possibly happen? How could that be? How could someone do that sort of thing?" 

So, I want to consider pornography as a peculiarly vivid case of spiritual formation and of possible transformation. Also, of course, since pornography is such a widespread problem, we need to discuss it with a view to helping people find their way out of it. A Promise Keepers survey found that 53% of its members consume pornography. A Christianity Today survey in 2000 found that 37% of pastors said pornography is a current personal struggle. 57% called pornography the most sexually damaging issue in their congregations. A Barna research study released in February of 2007 said that 35% of men and 17% women reported having used pornography in the last month. The pornography industry in the United States is large. Adult Video News, an industry publication, estimates the industry's 2006 revenues at 13.2 billion dollars. The U.S. is the world's largest producer and consumer of pornographic material with pornographic websites drawing 72 millions visitors every month and more than 13,000 pornographic video titles are produced yearly.1


Nature of Pornography

Pornography consists of writings, drawings, images and pictures for use in arousing sexual desire, and frequently in stimulating the body to achieve sexual discharge or release. The production of pornography and its use involves the degradation of human beings and cannot be an act of love, which wills the good of all involved. Pornography can vary somewhat in how it is presented and how it is consumed, but fundamentally it is an exercise in the excitation of desire. It is on a continuum with viewing actual people around one in order to stimulate, foster and cultivate lust, which Jesus warned against in Matthew 5:28. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus responds to those who said, "I'm okay sexually because I don't do the deed," by stating, "That's not the full story." The person who uses others to excite their desires (i.e., sexual lust) is on a continuum and they are entering willingly into temptation. If someone says yes to temptation, they have already said yes to the wrong thing. Jesus is not talking about having a thought. Rather, he is talking about cultivating thoughts for the purpose of exciting desire.

It is important to remember that there is nothing inherently wrong with sexual desire and sexual thoughts. If we do not remember that, sexuality itself takes on a shady or wrong tone that actually makes it more powerful because what is forbidden has in itself a way of calling for action and desire. Paul discusses how the law forbidding certain things actually excites the will and pulls people into it (Rom 7:5-12). So, it is important to understand that sexuality, thoughts of sex, and sexual desire itself are good things and not bad things. And that is true of desire in general. 


The Role of Desire in Pornography

The use of pornography is rooted in the fundamental role of desire in human life. Desire, on the biblical understanding, is not in itself bad, but it is dangerous because it has the tendency to take over one’s life. What happens with desire is that we lose sight of what is good; that is how desire takes over one’s life. And if we relent to desire as the guide to our life, then we lose touch with what is good. Desire has the power to make us do that, which is partly because desire makes us focus on something. Desire gives us a very intense obsession with something. Desire, by its nature, obsesses. It is interesting that we rarely find anyone who is obsessed with what is good. We should be obsessed with what is good, but we are not. Instead, we regularly find people who are obsessed with something that is not good because they have come to desire it. Now it may be something that is silly—for example, winning the game—but they are nevertheless obsessed with it. Obsession closes the horizon of the mind, and there is just that one thing that is there before the mind. The question, "is it good?” is not allowed to arise.

So, desire must be subordinated to what is good, and it is the role of the will to see to it that it is subordinated to what is good. That is the difference between will and desire. Will always has a broader view. The will is looking at alternatives: "This may be good, but is it the best?" That is how the will functions in our life. The real danger is that desire will capture our will. There are many people who do not know they have a will distinct from their desires because their will has been captured by their desires. They think that if they desire something that is all that is needed. They have allowed their will to be obsessed by their desires, and when they do that their mind closes down. They learn that to hold onto their obsession, they must not open their mind to the truth. And, of course, when it comes to freeing someone up from obsession, we have to go to the mind and the will. The will can do what it is supposed to do only if it understands what is good and is strongly oriented toward it.

This is definitely not the case with those who are unaligned with God. In them, the will falls captive to desire: they live to do what they want. We can think here of the paradigmatic temptation in the Bible: Eve and the serpent. The serpent calls into question God’s trustworthiness and then Eve desires the fruit. Since the teaching about what God had said was good disappears, Eve goes along with her desire and does the stupid thing. That is the general form of sin: to decide that I know better than God or better than good and that I will have what I desire.

In this sort of way, the world runs on desire and not on what is good. This general condition of fallen humanity is carefully laid out by Paul in Ephesians 4:17-19. We have to understand that Paul was a profoundly insightful person about the makeup of human life and why it goes the way it does. Here is what Paul says:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They 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. They have become callous [i.e., unfeeling] and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.2

Paul is describing a progression. When persons have become calloused, they do not have normal feelings. They go to sensuality to feel something because it is very important to have feeling. Sensuality in the nature of the case does not satisfy and dulls quickly. And so, to get more and more feeling, they practice every kind of impurity with greediness. “But,” Paul says, “that is not the way you learned in Christ" (vs. 20). Christ has another way. 

Or consider Romans 7:15-23. The heart of that passage is the saying: "the things I would, that I do not, and the things I would not, that I do."3 That is the basic condition of humanity when it has been captivated by desire. It no longer thinks about what is good; it just thinks about desire. The will is, in the fallen personality, enslaved by desire, and so "I am doing the very thing I hate" (NASB vs. 15).

This is a precise picture of the person in some degree of bondage to pornography. In fact, this is why we need morals in human society. The task of morals is always to put people in a position where they can do what they do not want to do and not do what they want to do. If it were not for the overpowering and distorting, or to use Peter's words in 2 Peter 1:4, the "corrupting" role of desire in human life we would not need any ethics. The whole task of ethics is to find a reason or a basis on which to stand to enable you not to do what you want to do. That is why I often ask my students in class, "Do you think ethics is a good idea?" How do you think they respond? The most they say is that ethics is a necessary evil. But you do not find people cheerleading for ethics or saying, "Thank God for ethics." That is due to the corruption that is in the world through lust. And, of course, any individual who does not have the power to do what they do not want to do, and to not do what they do want to do is in real trouble. We would not want to hire them. We want to hire someone who can do something they do not want to do--maybe even come to work on time. People need ethics if they are going to do that. 

So, we really must pay attention to desire ("lust," "longing," επιθυμία) if we are to understand spiritual formation. We must understand that desire is not bad in itself, but if we allow it alone to control us, it will ruin us and ruin everyone around us because desire is not determined by what is good. And that leads us to one of our deepest cultural quandaries that reaches into the very heart of our churches. This cultural quandary is the idea that we can know what is good independently of what we want. The prevailing idea is that it is only desire that tells us what is good. And then love, which should be directed to what is good, is distorted to what you want.

One of the best illustrations on that point is when a person says he loves chocolate cake. But, of course, he does not love chocolate cake. He wants to eat chocolate cake and that is very different from love. If you were a chocolate cake and you heard someone standing by saying, "I love chocolate cake," you would not expect a knife coming next! That illustration helps show that there is a distinction between what is loved and what is desired. They are not the same thing. Love is always directed to what is good. You love something if you are set to advance what is good for it. So, if you love chocolate cake, you would be taking care of it and not eating it. Love seeks the good of what is loved. Desire seeks to have its way with what is desired. To love rightly is, of course, what redemption is about. The purpose of redemption is to bring us to love rightly. In relationship to pornography, the cure is love—-treasuring what is good and what is right. But that is not something you can do just by telling yourself to do it.

The primary role of desire in human life is to impel us to action. If action were solely under the direction of thought, we would never survive infancy, and life would be an intolerable burden in which much that is good would not be realized. We have to have desire because we are not capable of thinking about all of the things that we need to do. Of course, that is just a part of the economy of the self. Habit is also involved in that habit allows us to act without thinking, which is, of course, a good thing. For instance, the person you do not want to be driving the car is the one who has to think about what they are doing. You hope they think occasionally, but if they have to think about when to put on the breaks, how to do that, how to turn the wheel, and the other aspects, then you are going to be lucky to get out alive.

So, desire moves us and hence we speak of passion. Passion grabs us and that is the reason why people get addicted to things. Being grabbed, usually involving desire, involves them in life, keeps them moving, and that is essential to addiction. We have to keep that in mind, because when we address the causation involved in pornography, we are going to find things like boredom, alienation, and purposelessness are major factors in inducting people into pornography. We will rarely find anyone with a rich, full, exciting life who is engaged in pornography. There is a connection and it is very important in understanding why there is such a thing as pornography and what we can do about it.

So God has arranged that we have desire and that it gives pleasure, and desire gives pleasure because it thrusts us in a direction and makes us feel alive.4 Thus we get pleasure from desiring itself, and so we desire to desire. Moreover, the gratification of desire gives us a sense of completeness and power— at least for a moment or so.5 And yet, if people just did what they wanted all the time, there would be chaos. So, we have to understand the importance of desire and at the same time understand why it has to be limited. The primary problem is the contrast between what is desired and what is good, and the fact that desire brings feeling, excitement, and passion so that we wind up doing things just to get the feeling. And that is where serious trouble begins. 

Thus, we do many things just to excite desire. Flirting (of various kinds) and titillation are major parts of life in fallen humanity. Temptation to sin is exciting because it plays with desire.  And this is a danger zone where people tell themselves, "Oh this is innocent." And, in a sense it may be, but it leads into dynamics that can destroy persons. So, for instance, someone says, "I'll just try cocaine once." For some people that's enough, and they wind up addicted. That is the trouble with flirtation and titillation: it is exciting, it plays with desire, but when a person steps into it, they have no idea what is going to happen. Indeed, the adventure is part of what makes it exciting and interesting. A lot of troubles with faithfulness in marriage come from the excitement around flirtation and titillation.

Pornography, then, is only one of many ways in which the will can be enslaved by desire. In addition, the will can be enslaved to getting what one wants, looking good, dominating others, sex, violence, etc. These are all ways of exciting desire. In addition, many are enslaved to simple rebelliousness: the will enslaved by the will. Thus John says that there are three things that are in the world: The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (I John 2:16).


Pornography and V.I.M.

With this understanding of desire before us, I would like to turn to my “VIM" formula for personal and spiritual growth.6 The VIM formula is the idea that spiritual transformation into Christlikeness results from getting the right Vision of reality and goodness, the right Intention and decision (to actually become like Christ), and adequate Means to carry out the intention. The same principle is involved whether one wants to lose weight, develop their muscles, save money, learn to speak French, or whatever. Personal change works through Vision, Intention, and Means. If we have someone who is oriented towards something, has a vision of its goodness, has decided to do it, and gets the means, then we will see them be successful. However, everyone has had a spiritual formation—including those involved with pornography, or gluttony, or whatever—and it incorporates a VIM. Every condition of the sort—good or evil—incorporates a VIM that is in action and that VIM is the key to understanding whatever condition one is in. This applies equally to the spiritual life.

It is very important for Christians to understand this point if we are going to come to grips with the picture of the good life that the Scripture sets forward to followers of Christ. Such a life will be accessible if we want it, if we have the vision, and if we implement the means. There is not a single thing that Jesus taught us to do that we cannot do, but we have to have the vision, we have to have made the intention, and we have to employ the means. We cannot do it merely by grunting it out. There is not a single thing Jesus taught us to do that we can do that way. But there is not a single thing he taught us to do that we cannot do if we appropriate this kind of pattern. 

So, what is the "VIM" of the person engaging with pornography? Involvement with pornography is not an ultimate, indefinable fact that simply falls upon a person. That is also true of anger, resentment, contempt, and so on. These conditions do not just show up magically. They come from someone’s vision, intention, and means. We just have to think of the lengths to which some people go to implement their resentment of others, or their resentment of certain types of people, or their resentment of their situation in life, and so on. So, if a person wants to get out of involvement with pornography, he works on replacing the VIM that put him there and holds him there with a godly VIM oriented to what is good to desire. That is something the person in question can do. God will help, but he will not do it for that person. Inevitably, at this point, we encounter issues in theology having to do with misunderstandings of grace. For example, the idea that grace eliminates effort or that effort eliminates grace. Such theological misunderstandings keep persons where they are because they cannot make the intelligent effort to change the conditions which result in situations like basing their happiness on food, pornography, or whatever else. 

So, what is the Vision of pornography use? It is a vision of women (for simplicity sake) as something to be used to stimulate and/or gratify sexual feeling and desire. Now that vision may be complicated by moments of repentance and thinking differently about things, but the vision of women as something to be used to stimulate and/or gratify sexual feeling and desire is the Vision that governs the use of pornography. If someone does not have that vision, they will not engage in pornography because they will be thinking about the woman involved in a way that shuts down the whole enterprise. But, typically, a person engaged in pornography is thinking that women are for sexual gratification. Usually this is accompanied by contempt for women, which makes it easier to treat them as "sex objects." If one knows what pornography is and does not see that it is contempt for women, then that person is blind.

Pornography is also contempt for the one using it. I have never known a person who was engaged in pornography who thought it was something to be proud of and to talk about with others in a favorable way. Almost all are engaged in hiding because of how it makes them feel about themselves. They are actually using their own bodies and minds to gain pleasure and desire, and they know that that somehow is not right. Also, in most cases this will be accompanied by a vision of one’s own body as a source of and means to pleasure. It may be that this view of one’s body develops earlier in childhood than the pornographic view of women. But these foundations of pornographic involvement easily develop further into various forms of perversion, as one pursues sexual stimulation and satisfaction. This is because it is in general a rule of desire that if you satisfy desire you do not stay satisfied. And, if your goal is simply satisfaction of desire, the satisfaction of desire will dull your gratification and you have to up the ante and go for something more stimulating. Of course that is why, in the end, pornography is so terribly destructive.

So, this prurient "Vision" must be replaced by a vision of women and of oneself as creatures of God for his blessing, walking the hard path of life where they suffer afflictions and death but are headed for an eternity with God. This vision will allow us to look upon others with compassion and love as creatures of God. Such a vision—to see everything in the light of God—is what has to come back into place, and actually, that alone, in many cases, simply puts pornography away and one no longer has to deal with it. This is another illustration of how desire narrows your vision and how the will opens your vision, because the will is looking for alternatives. In general, the way to deal with any temptation is to broaden one’s view. You put things in a larger context, and of course the context is God.

The pornographic "Intention" is the intent and decision to use sexual sensuality as a major source of gratification. Often this is supported by the view of oneself as deprived or hopelessly burdened. One researcher, Mark Laaser, found that people who have high demand but low structured jobs and who spend a great deal of time at their computers are most likely to be in danger of pornography use.7 Laaser points out three elements that foster sexual addiction: loneliness, anger, and boredom. In general, the focus of the pornographic "Intention" is rooted in the view of oneself as deprived and hopelessly burdened, facing some sort of situation where there appears to be no way out and no way to cope—for example, an unhappy marriage. For someone who thinks that they cannot get out of the marriage or deal with it in any other way, that person will say, "Well, this is my safety valve, this is how I deal with this situation." This Intention is rooted in a Vision of God and God’s world as a place of bitter disappointment where humans must go after what is available and somehow endure the rest. Thus, the wrong vision of God lies at the foundation of pornographic practice. Ultimately, the picture of life as hopeless and a bitter disappointment is a picture of one who is either alienated from God or has a view of God according to which God does not care. Needless to say, a right view of God and God’s world would of itself break the grip of a life of sexual sensuality.

The work to be done here should be obvious: the transforming of the mind by the truth about God and his world. But one also has to come to grips with the fact that they do intend and decide to use pornography (or food, violence, etc.). This is one of the things that people who feel hopeless find most difficult. These persons are unable to deal honestly with the fact that they do choose or intend to use pornography. We will come to discuss some of the things we can do to help with that, but we must come to the point where we can say, "I don't have to overeat, I decide to overeat. I intend to overeat." Or, if that is too difficult, then at least "I do not intend not to overeat." The role of intention in all cases of addiction-like phenomena is difficult to come to accept because nearly all of them involve intense degrees of shame. But to deal honestly with the role of intention in pornography and other things of this sort is essential.

Once one’s current intention has been owned, then the intention and decision not to use pornography must be formed. This will not be possible until the Vision element is transformed along the lines suggested earlier. We simply cannot accomplish at the intention level what has to be accomplished at the vision level and we cannot accomplish at the means level what has to be accomplished at the intention and the vision level. One common problem is that we tend to accentuate the means and get all the means, but we do not have in place the vision or the intention. One of the best illustrations of this is to look at how people learn languages in American universities, or rather, how they do not learn languages. For instance, one prominent American university has multi-million dollar language-learning equipment, but the students generally do not learn the languages. And yet in broad parts of the world there are people with no equipment, and they learn to speak English better than a lot of people in America. What is the difference? They have the vision and have made the intention. We have to do the work at the vision and intention level first, but once the Vision element is there, then the correct intention can be formed. It is possible to deceive oneself about what one really does intend, so one must be very careful, searching, and honest in dealing with what one does and does not intend: what they have and have not decided to do. The fact is that people engaged with the use of pornography have decided to be there and have not decided not to be there. But "will power" alone will not solve the problem. It will not be solved without will power, but will power alone will not solve it. The Vision and intention must be right and then the appropriate Means will have to be employed to extricate oneself from pornographic use.

Now among the primary Means to deliverance is taking care to see pornography in all of its dimensions for what it really is. For many people, to see the terrible degradation of others and oneself involved in pornography will strongly bolster their will to have no involvement with it. This is an application of the general truth that temptation of all kinds is defeated by "broadening the view" and looking at the solicitation in the larger context of life and of God. One has to have the intention to defeat that temptation or one has to broaden one’s view. So vision and intention interact, and that is where the main problem is and where the main solution lies. Desire overpowers the will primarily by obsessing the mind.8 What many think they experience as inevitability depends entirely upon their failure to see things as they really are. Will (i.e., the human "spirit”) in its very nature seeks alternatives and the best of alternatives. But when the person has conceded desire the right to rule, desire blinds the mind and appears to give the will no alternatives (I have got to have that donut, see that picture, etc.).

So, desire shuts down alternatives that the will might contemplate. That is how desire works. So, if you want to loosen the grip of desire, you broaden your vision and you look deeper into what you are thinking. One of the things you do is you look at the people in the pictures as persons.9 I can tell you from my personal experience that learning to see in this way changes everything. So you see that doughnut and you think, “Mmmmmm," and then you think, "blood sugar, diabetes, feet falling off…" All of a sudden that doughnut looks different, because now you put it in a broader context. I am really hoping that this basic point grips you, and that you go away with that burned into your mind. 

But other Means must be employed in most cases. Two of the most useful are: openness to others and resolute avoidance of situations in which pornography can be indulged. As for openness, this may involve confession (to appropriate persons in appropriate ways), sharing with others in the same difficulty, an accountability system with a small group of others (not all necessarily in the same difficulty) that allows you to meet, discuss regularly, and to call on others for prayer and support in the hard times. This functions somewhat like AA, which is an ingenious system for helping people break alcohol addiction. It would be a good idea for most churches to institute a similar program and not just for alcoholism (e.g., gossip).

Another measure that can be taken here is to kneel down publically and pray out loud for deliverance from your temptation. Perhaps "in church." St. Benedict threw himself into a briar patch upon the occasion of salacious thoughts, and it seems to have done wonders for him. Now, at this point one might say: Are you serious? My answer would be: Are you? Actually, a briar patch has a lot to recommend it against some other things you get into by avoiding the briar patch. I have seen many people who would have been much better off to have found the briar patch. To many these things will look outrageous, but they really are not. The real question is: Does the person intend to change?

With respect to "resolute avoidance," make sure that pornography is not within your reach. Get rid of it, and when tempted to replace it, resort to the helps mentioned in the previous paragraph. Someone will say: "I just can’t do that." But anyone who says that has not decided to break the involvement or still has the poisonous vision or probably both. You cannot do the work at the "Means" level that must be done at the "Vision" and the "Intention" level. And if you do not do the prior works, Means will certainly fail to help you.

Of course you can get rid of pornography, and you can avoid replacing it. It is not like fighting gravity. You are in a process of breaking habits that possess all dimensions of your being: will, thought, feeling, social context and soul. It will impose some serious difficulties, but you can do it. You will be aided if you are practicing a sensible schedule of spiritual disciplines—solitude, silence, study, fasting, worship, etc.—that are not focused upon the avoidance of pornography, but upon the healthy fulfillment of your life under God in the dramatic goodness of God’s world with others you love and serve. Pornography involvement is a sure indicator of the impoverishment of life. And here you need to remember Paul's advice in Philippians 4:8.



Jesus promised that "whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14; cp. 6:35). By "thirst" I believe he refers to unsatisfied desire and its ravages upon people, such as the poor woman by the well to whom he spoke. The woman knew about unsatisfied desire. She was coming out in the heat of the day to get water because she did not want to have to deal with people around her who knew her. I do not mean to say it was her fault, because sometimes the unsatisfied desires you may suffer from are the unsatisfied desires of others. But the promise of Jesus is that if you drink of the water that he shall give you, you will never thirst. What is the water that He shall give you? It is the life of God. You participate in the life of God and that is how you escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. You become, as 2 Peter says, partakers of the nature of God.

With reference to pornography or other enslaving fascinations, we are not talking about repressing desire or denying its reality. We are talking here about not having the desire. The person who would change must desire to not have the desires they now have, and be willing to do the things on the VIM pattern that will eliminate the desire or render it of no influence. Although there may well be cases where medical treatment, specialized counseling, or deliverance ministries are required, most people involved with the use of pornography have not come to the place where they desire not to desire it. For whatever reasons, they think it is too important to them and that they would be "missing out" if they did not have the desire for it. That concession traps them into continued use. It is like people who cannot imagine what it would be like not to be angry. It is so much a part of their life that they would not know who they were. Their identity is tied up with their desires. So, a person involved with pornography may wish they did not do what they do, but they have to go deeper. They have to be willing not to have the desires that they now have.

That is where looking to lust, as Jesus describes it, comes in. Why do people look to lust? In part it is just habit and their body is cued in so when something comes across their field of vision they think, "this is it." Actually, they can train themselves to where, when something comes across their field of vision, they will realize this is an occasion to do something else. This sounds terribly precious, but as a young man in high school I learned that I could deal with that by praying for the person who had come within my field of vision. One has to learn to do something else, and the very cues that clicked one into a certain response—in this case looking to lust—are cues now to do something else. That becomes a habit. But before we will do that, we have to think, "I'm not really going to be missing out on something if I don't do this.”  How can we think that if our desires are obsessed with looking to lust? We cannot. So we have to be willing to not desire the things we now desire. It is not enough to say, "I don't want to do it." 

Anyone who follows the path of VIM outlined above will receive Divine and other assistance to step out of involvement with pornography. What that means is that when something like the occasion to indulge in pornography presents itself to them, their first thought will be: Why would anyone want to be involved with that? Their vision will have to have changed. Their intentions will have to have changed. And they will have had to use some means before coming to that place. And then they will look at what had formally fascinated them as, "What?" That is why the progress of sanctification is a process in easy living. It does not get harder, instead, it actually gets easier. This is why Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." But you have to come to Him and learn. And the learning process is what changes everything.

I often use the illustration of Jesus on the cross when He said, "Father forgive them." That was not hard for Him to do. What would have been hard for Him to do? It would have been hard for Him to say, "You blankety-blank-blokety-blokety-blank-blank, just wait till my Father gets His hands on you!" That would have been hard for Him to do. Why? Because that was not in Him. What we are talking about changing is what is in us. That is what spiritual formation in Christ-likeness does. So, it is not hard to bless rather than curse because blessing is in us. So, when Jesus says, "Bless those that curse you," He's not saying, "Get your will all whipped up, and be ready now; and regardless of how you feel about the matter, squeeze out a blessing." No, he is talking about becoming the kind of person for whom blessing is the natural response. That is changing the inside. 

What we have said here in relation to pornography can be generalized, with appropriate modifications, to apply to all issues of spiritual transformation into Christlikeness, both negative and positive. The field of Christian Spiritual Formation is an area of reality that lends itself to knowledge and to practice governed by knowledge. One certainly understands this from reading the Bible, and especially passages such as Colossians 3, 2 Peter 1:2–11, and so forth. The field of spiritual formation is a field of play for grace, the actions of the Holy Spirit, and all of the instrumentalities of the Kingdom of God. But it also requires well-directed effort on the part of human beings (2 Peter 1:5).



1. These statistics can be found in Amy Frykholm’s helpful article “Pastors and Pornography: Addictive Behavior,” Christian Century (September 4, 2007), 20–22. Return to text.

2. ESV. Return to text.

3. Paraphrase. Return to text.

4. But it turns out that feeling alive is a major problem for human beings, especially in a highly regimented and organized culture. You may, if you would like to enlarge that, and you're so moved, like to read Sigmund Freud's little book, Civilization and its Discontents (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010). Not everything Freud did was helpful but that particular little book is very helpful, because he talks about what happens when you have to have a system that depresses desire and, how, if you didn't have one, you couldn’t have a civilization. Return to text.

5. A depressed person is typically one who has little or no desire and "doesn’t want anything." When people get locked into that, it is extremely hard to do anything that is helpful for them. Sometimes just getting them physically active will help, but it is very hard to pull them out. Return to text.

6. See chapter 5 of Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002 & 2012). Return to text.

7. See Frykholm, 21. Return to text.

8. Those of you who have a scholarly interest might like to follow that sentence up by reading William James's chapter on the will in his two volume The Principles of Psychology (New York: Dover Publications, 1950), 486-592. Return to text.

9. A very effective DVD on breaking the grip of pornography is called Somebody's Daughter: A Journey of Freedom from Pornography. Directed by John Evans and released September 18, 2008, the title itself is enough to make you jump back. Return to text.