NO SATISFACTION: James’ Epistle on pornography

If I were to do a sample of readers to ask what they think is the driver behind pornography, my guess is that the most common answer would be just one word: lust.

As far as it goes, this is true. But we need to get behind that word, so to speak, to find out what we actually mean by it. A good place to start is by studying the words of James in his Epistle:

“From whence come wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust and have not. You kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain. You fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3).

I have bolded out three phrases here, because it seems to me that they are key to understanding lust (and incidentally not just lust, but all sorts of other sins that James alludes to). Now, I don’t always use the King James Version but did here, because it uses the word “lust” where other translations use “passions” or “desires.” “Lust” gives the better flavoring here, because while desires and passions can be both good or bad, lust is what happens when passions and desires go awry, which is what is happening here.

Lust, according to James, is at root a desire to have something that we haven’t got and which isn’t rightfully ours, to seek to obtain it but always fall wide of the mark, and consequently to fail to be satisfied. It is a vicious circle in which failure to obtain the satisfaction we desire drives us to seek it again in other places.

This, by the way, at least partly explains why pornography, as with drugs, is often a gateway habit, with users going on to seek harder and harder stuff in order to be satisfied. But of course true satisfaction never comes.

Sexual desire isn’t bad, until porn twists it

Like all other vices, pornography is driven by the twisting of good and noble inclinations in a direction to which they were never meant to go. Pardon the pun, but there are no “original sins.” There is “Original Sin,” but there are no “original sins” in the sense of actions that are entirely thought up by the devil or by man with no reference to God. Rather, all sins are perversions and mockeries of something good that God has given to man.

Imagine a father who buys his son a toy drum, only to later find him using the stick to whack his little sister. The stick was meant to be whacked. It was meant to beat something. But it wasn’t meant to beat people. And so, although some of the actions involved are nearly identical to what the stick was meant to be used for, in his mind and in his actions he has twisted it out of all recognition so that it is now actively used for vastly different purposes than the one intended.

This is how pornography works. God has given us the good and noble inclination to want to be satisfied. Physiologically, he has given most of us the good and noble need to be sexually satisfied. Why do I call it good and noble? Because it is the consummation of and the most intimate part of the marriage relationship, which the writer to the Hebrews tells us is honorable (Hebrews 13:4). And without it, humanity would die.

What pornography does it to take this God-given desire for satisfaction, and the physiological need for fulfillment, and wrench it out of all recognition, fixing the gaze on another object than the one intended.

Twisted, it can’t satisfy

Yet the irony is that by using the gifts that God has given us for entirely different and incompatible purposes than the ones intended, we find that fulfillment eludes. If the sexual drive was created to lead us towards intimacy, how can pornography, which is entirely non-relational and involves people who have never even met, fulfill?

The answer, as hinted at by James, is that it can’t. To the extent that it appears to users to provide some fulfillment, it does so only in the way that scratching an itch does – entirely temporary relief, but with the catch that when the itch returns, it will be even harder to appease than before.

Herein lies the pornography trap. We are designed to find fulfillment in a real relationship, but it is partly the fact that pornography is non-relational that makes it so appealing. Relationships are hard. Life is often a monotonous routine. Living with another sinner is often far from easy. But as for the people in the pictures or the video, you don’t need to worry about their sins. You don’t need to live with them and deal with their issues day after day. And so the thrill and excitement of being taken out of normal life into some fantasy world where real satisfaction apparently resides can become intoxicating. No faithfulness is required to obtain satisfaction there. No commitment is required to achieve satisfaction there. No dealing with another person in an ongoing relationship is required to get satisfaction there.

And yet the irony is that true, lasting satisfaction is the one thing it can never bring.

Lots of reasons to stop, one remedy

What then is the remedy? That might seem like an odd question. Surely I’m not about to suggest that there is one remedy for all of this? Actually I am. There are plenty of reasons and inducements for somebody who has a pornography habit to break it, but ultimately there is only one remedy, which I’ll come on to that in a moment. But first here are some reasons and inducements.

1. Come to see how much it dehumanizes, both yourself and others

Pornography is by its very nature dehumanizing. Not just for the people who make it, but also for the one viewing it. By its nature it objectifies and commoditizes people, which means that if you are a user of pornography, you are both an objectifier and commoditiser of people. That’s not a good thing to be.

2. Understand that it cannot bring you the satisfaction you desire

As mentioned, the use of pornography is rooted in a desire to be satisfied. Yet as any counselor of those with a porn habit will tell you, it has never yet brought anyone true joy or lasting happiness. If you are looking for satisfaction in something which demonstrably cannot bring you what you are looking for, it’s probably a good time to question whether you are seeking satisfaction in the right places.

3. Recognize how ridiculous it looks

There’s something to be said for just sometimes stepping out of yourself and your circumstances, so to speak, and looking at what it is you are actually doing. What do you call fantasizing about having some sort of sexual encounter with a person you’ve never met, never will meet, and if you did meet them it would never take place? Isn’t it about as absurd a scenario as it’s possible to conjure up?

4. Stop referring to your habit as an addiction

The word addiction has become one of the most abused words of our day, and is often used as an excuse for responsibility avoidance. While I have no doubt that pornography produces certain chemicals in the brain that can take a powerful hold on us, the idea that we become passive victims is not borne out either biblically or practically.

Biblically, pornography falls into the category of sexual immorality, and Scripture is plain that this is a sin that we should avoid, can avoid, and must avoid, chemicals notwithstanding. Practically, the fact that many “porn addicts” break their “addiction” shows that, though undoubtedly hard, it can be done. “Porn addiction” is in reality a “porn habit,” and it is there to be broken with willpower and determination.

5. God tells us that those who don’t break with it will be excluded from the Kingdom of God

In 1 Cor. 6:9-10, the Apostle Paul says this:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Despite the wonderfully elaborate attempts of many modern Christians to ignore, twist, deny, camouflage or dispute much of this, there it is. Seems pretty clear to me. Make of it what you will.

The solution? No half measures

Yet finally, as I mentioned above, whilst these are all good reasons and inducements to break the porn habit, they are not the remedy itself. What is that then? Biblically speaking there is only one, which is this: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

That’s it. All the reasons and inducements in the world will not help the user of porn to break his or her porn habit unless they are prepared to do the one thing necessary. Flee from it. Don’t walk, run. Don’t dabble, don’t skirt along the edges, don’t case furtive looks. Get away from it. Have nothing to do with it.

Rob Slane lives with his wife and six children in Salisbury, England, about 90 minutes drive from Wales. He is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything and contributes to the Samaritan Ministries blog where a version of this article first appeared under the title “The pornification of society, part 2.”

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  1. Joseph

    March 17, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    This article still missed the solution!!!! If verse 11 in 1 Corinthians 6 would have been added to the “solution” then the actual solution would be COMPLETE! Yeah know, The Gospel (the Good News of Jesus Christ! That because He offered Himself as a blood sacrifice, the unstained and unblemished Lamb of God, the only acceptable payment for the pardon of sin, so that any who might believe in Him would have hope to bother to “flee”, because it is His righteousness that He gives to the believer that makes Him right before a Holy and Just God. The Grace and Mercy of God, “the kindness of God”, is what draws us to repent. No Legalism!!!! This article teaches to be a white washed tomb pretty much. What a shame!!! Totally missed the opportunity to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But hey! The writer could always correct his mistake to represent the character of God, his self, by loving his neighbor and give him the hope of victory in Christ of sin.


    • Reformed Perspective

      March 18, 2019 at 9:38 am

      That it is only by the blood of Jesus that we are saved is a good point. But it isn’t absent from the article. It is assumed – that’s the starting point. This is an article for Christians, and yet Christians still struggle with pornography. Why is that? Because they know about the forgiveness of sins, and then go no further. They know Jesus’ blood can cleanse them, but they’ve somehow missed out that repentance involves fleeing from sin. Instead, they use excuses to minimize the sinfulness of their sin. So the author exposes the sinfulness of pornography and emphasizes the need for fleeing.

      That’s where speaking of this as legalistic, and the equivalent of a white-washed tomb is needlessly insulting. If you think an explicit mention of the justifying, cleansing power of Christ’s sacrifice is a good addition, make that addition. But then stop. There’s no need to read in an uncharitable take into the article. The author assumed his audience would all already be in agreement as to the basis of our salvation. Considering his Christian audience that was a reasonable assumption.

      • Joseph

        March 20, 2019 at 4:05 am

        The author did a great job of exposing the sinfulness of pornography. I learned more about my two decade old vice and what it does to the sinner committing it and who gives into it. And I hate myself for it and that I have allowed something so stupid as porn to rob me of so many blessings I could have already been experiencing in God, and that I will never get the chance to experience because those chances are in the past and are gone. And there’s no way that we can fulfill the 1st and 2nd greatest commandments (which on these two depend ALL the Law and the Prophets) if we hate ourselves because of sin. You can’t love your neighbor as YOURSELF, if you don’t love your self. I know the forgiveness, mercies, and grace from God the Father through Jesus Christ. But when you put down Truth and stay out of it – His Word, the Bible, you forget. You aren’t renewing your mind daily with things above and that are pure and holy. So when a son (or daughter) of God falls into bondage, or never got out of it, or when one who is not of Christ who has for some reason or another believed He is, but didn’t enter through the only Door, it is most helpful to any that should read, to be reminded of the only victory there is over ones own sin. Weather it be pornography or the blessed man who has obeyed God in so many ways, he believes he doesn’t have his own idols because society doesn’t categorize them as sin. Whatever each man’s vices are, he ALWAYS needs that reminder, however tiny it might be (because we would rather excuse it off on that it is or should be assumed so we don’t have to bother with the task ourselves).

        Assumed??? That’s horrifying to know. That needs it own repentance in itself, just like the viewing of pornography.

        We should not be assuming your reader’s know Christ because you don’t know them. Maybe you can assume that with people you do life with. But how lazy of anyone to “assume”.

        My heart in writing my original comment was for anyone who read the article and found themselves hopeless because they have fled an uncountable amount of times, but to know point in trying anymore because evidently there is no use.

        Without the hope which comes from and continues to come through the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that God is no longer hostile to a wretched disgusting and wicked sinner like myself who has confessed and easily confesses but has deceived himself on his own repentance and has completely been a top ranking hypocrite (can’t imagine how ugly I have looked to the unbelieving eyes or how hurtful I have been to my brothers) and is engulfed with deception in my own mind from sleeping with the enemy so to say. Like a Lot, or Israel who married the daughters outside of Israel and joined with the things not of God.

        Also when I was writing my original comment I was in a hurry and rush and definitely could have organized my thoughts better and presented it a well formatted way like one who would be writing an article to post on a website.

        I wrote the entire article in my notes before I even read through it once. Because I did already assume it would be presented very Biblically sound because of the word “reformed” in your name, the beginning of the article where the book of James is used to expose the dark lies of my own heart, and because I just figured I would already know the “solution”. And I did. But to find that there WAS NOT anywhere in the article of any fashion or hint towards or directing one to, the Gospel; I was just saddened to think of the people who come across this or any article written that is “representing” Christianity that never points the death person to Christ, so that they can may believe and be born again with newness of Life/the Spirit, but only tells them how to live a better and more fulfilled life….become a whitewashed tomb. I’m not worried that that is insulting to anyone because the writer evidently wasn’t worried about directing the read to Christ.

        Is it not the kindness of God that draws one to repent? His mercy? His Son? Himself? Not “one solution”. All the solutions every good or great writer or doctor or scientist or top brain of the current age can come up with won’t truely solve the problem. Until you comeback to the Solution Himself – Christ. Then you can place your solution into the readers lap.

        We all must keep reforming our sinful ways and habits, towards a Christlikeness.

        I have been in that place before. So lofty a Christian that I didn’t need to go through the Gospel or make mention of it every time because; my gosh, come on people, who are we here? You don’t know that already? That’s so elementary?! Dude! We over here are so past that! We have risen to heights of studying God’s Truth that we don’t need to remind ourselves of the Gospel.

        I guess you didn’t read the other comments. One from someone who use to be a Christian. It is assumed by myself that you nor the write actually care for the man who walked away, or myself. Maybe you and I are both wrong and misunderstanding one another.

  2. Joseph

    March 20, 2019 at 4:35 am

    I hope you can catch my drift in all those jumbled and mangled grammatical errors. I use to be so critical of bad grammar, like any reformist would be because being clear matters. But I’m not writing to a broad audience. I am writing to well educated men who should be able to get my point. But then again, assuming things most often then not, proves we were wrong to assume anythung.

    All I care about is if Christ is first and foremost. I am actually convicted from James 2:14-26 that my claim to faith has and maybe is a sham because I have such very little to prove otherwise. I rejoice that I am still convicted of my sin. And I am going deeper into the darkness with Christ because I am tired of the evil in my own self and I don’t have to allow it any refuge or I don’t have to be afraid of what more I am going to find out about my wretched self because of Him. Grew up in the Church but never knew Him until October 16, 2009 at around 9:30 pm. Much less the importance of why we fellowship with equally yoked people regularly. Right now I am attacked from every which way because I got up and continue to get up because of Him Who died and rose from the grave. And I know that finding myself in Him is the only way I can approach a group of believers who have their lives together. Or at least don’t want to be transparent enough to let it be none that they don’t. And I can understand why. I guess that is why I have always tried to be open about my own failure and sinfulness and where I am at because it is so hard for people to do that on their own. But I have found a member of His Body where many are open to where He has brought them out of and it is surprising me to find (or remember why we are to fellowship with one another) because I had forgotten my first Love.

    So I apologize how I come across and probably sound in the writing of my comments. I have to sit and examine myself from His good good law. But I have to be so careful right now in doing so, from under grace. Or I will walk away in my heart again and become what we all hate. A whitewashed tomb

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