How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:9–11 (ESV)
Pornography is not a new problem. In one way or another, the marks of a pornographic reality have always infiltrated human culture. The game changer today is the onset of free, easy, and unlimited access to porn. The fact that a twelve year old child now carries around a porn shop in their pocket speaks to this reality. For many people, their first experience with pornography came not because they were seeking it out, but rather because it was seeking them out. However, once they are exposed to pornography, it can take hold of their most intense desires in ways they could never have foreseen.
Granted, as a child, one may not have the discernment to say no to such a temptation, but as they grow into maturity as a believer, they learn that they need to deny themselves and seek to live in obedience to Christ. Yet, after being formed by porn for so many years, it is very difficult to reform the desires that have been built into you. However, unless those desires change, the battle against pornography will not be won.
I would suggest, that Christians have gotten so caught up in different strategies and techniques to be rid of this sin, that in so doing they have actually forgotten or at least overlooked the means that God provides for them in Scripture.
In Psalm 119, the Psalmist asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” This question can encompass many different aspects of one’s life, but for now we will discuss it in light of pornography. Most, if not all, Christians would agree that pornography is the opposite of purity. Pornography is a polluted, lust filled, and warped understanding of sexual intimacy. The Christian knows they need to avoid it, but the desire for it is often too great to say no.
The psalmist, however, does not leave his reader in the lurch. He answers his question with, “By guarding it according to your word.” The key to walking a life that is marked by purity is by walking a life that is marked by God’s word. This may be a simple concept, but I think because it is so simple many Christians do not think it is a satisfying enough answer to their longing for purity. However, this is God’s word and God is speaking through it. Therefore, this must be a reliable means to remaining pure in one’s life. The next obvious question, though, is how does someone walk a life that is guarded by God’s word?
The Psalmist says in verse 11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” You may be thinking at this point, okay, but I memorized many different Scripture passages as a kid and they don’t seem to be working for me now that I am 22 years old and my porn addiction has come back (or maybe never left). I sympathize with this frustration, but I think it comes out of a wrong perspective on why a Christian should memorize Scriptures.
I think many Christians memorize Scriptures and expect that just because they stored God’s word in their mind, God must help them put their sin to death. The problem with this view of memorizing God’s word is that it does not get after storing God’s word in your heart. It focuses solely on storing God’s word in your brain. When the word “heart” is mentioned in the Scriptures it is talking about the deepest part of who you are as a person. It is talking about your most intense desires. Therefore, storing God’s word in your heart is not the same as memorizing math formulas for your midterm exam. You may spend countless hours thinking about and memorizing different formulas, but at the end of the day, those formulas do not radically change your life. They made you more knowledgeable, but they didn’t cause you to change your sinful habits. Instead, they helped you to ace your midterm. Is it possible that we need to approach Scripture memorization differently then math formula memorization?
James K. A. Smith makes the argument in his book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, that human beings are not primarily thinkers, but rather lovers. Smith thinks that people often do what they do not because they have done some rational thinking about the activity, but rather they do what they do because they desire it. He says,
“The telos we live toward is not something that we primarily know or believe or think about; rather, our telos is what we want, what we long for, what we crave.” (11)
The things we do in life tell us what we ultimately want, love, and desire. So if pornography is something you continually go back to, then it is probably a sign of what you actually desire. In order to change this desire, we need to immerse ourselves in the memorization of Scripture, so that we can have intense, intimate, and lasting communion with our heavenly Father. We need to do this over and over again, so that the pornographic formation we received throughout our lives can experience a re-formation and be replaced with the healing words of God.
I’ll be the first to admit, that this process is painful, difficult, and takes real effort and perseverance, but just as the athlete must train to receive the prize, the Christian must be retrained to walk in obedience to Christ. A heart soaked in God’s Word will be a heart that is desirous of God himself. A heart soaked in pornography will be a heart that is desirous of more pornography.
For Further Reading:
James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.