August 2013


Sandeep Poonen

Dear Sandeep,

Right from the day I gave my life to Jesus, my Christian life has been up and down. But the biggest problem for me is that I indulge in pornography from time to time. I live victorious for a while, but then start to fall down and stay down for a while before getting up. I have been living this cycle for a while now.

When I get up, I repent of my sins sincerely and God gives me the strength to get up every time I fall down. I strongly believe God has started a good work in me, but I am filled with so much guilt that I struggle to approach God because of this sin. I am often filled with grief, but I simply cannot overcome the temptation. Please help me. I am so desperate to get victory over that sin.

Dear brother,

I am very sorry to hear about your struggle. Thank you for feeling comfortable to share this with me. We do not have to live this life by ourselves. This does not mean we tell everybody about our struggles, but at the same time, we do not have to try to do everything on our own.

I know that many men may appear holy or all fine in church on Sunday, or when you talk to them. I have found that it is a battle for all men, and that many more Christians are defeated in this area than I first would have thought.

So there is no need to think that we have an exceptional sex drive, or that we are unusually weak and defeated, etc.

From my experience, I have not found any quick-fix solution that can be applied to this. I do not think that there is one verse that I can point you to, or one truth that I hope will be revealed to you, that will magically solve this problem. I simply do not know of any such thing. So, what I would like to do is share some lessons that I have learned through my own battle with sexual lust, and share my current thoughts on this.

1. God is completely holy and hates all sin. There is no sin that God winks at and ignores. There are no sins that God excuses more than others. So we must take this sin very seriously. There is an added weight that God places on immorality (1Cor.6:15-20).So we must not take sexual lust and pornography lightly.They are the precursors to more serious sexual sins.

2. There is no need to give in to the guilt and shame associated with this sin. There is definitely guilt and ugliness associated with every sin, because that is not what we were created for, and because it cost the Son of God His life to pay for our sins. But there seems to be an inordinate (excessive) amount of guilt and shame for men as they deal with the sin of sexual lust and pornography.

As a deceiver, the devil paralyses many Christians simply by the shame and guilt of sin. So, as soldiers in God’s army, it is critical that we recognise this crafty trick of the enemy. It is imperative to realise that shame and guilt are two virtues that accompany the devil, and are not found at all in God’s presence.

Knowing that the deceiver loves to bind us with shame and guilt (if he can’t bind us by the sin itself), we must then fight hard against this shame and guilt.Now we do not fight against the guilt and shame of sin by some trick of the brain that simplistically believes that an all-loving God just ignores our sin and forgives it without a cost.No, sin is always and has always been a terrible affront to God. But we approach God with great confidence because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the covering that He provides for us.

So we do not fall off one edge of the cliff by thinking that there is no guilt and shame in sin.But we also stay off the other edge of the cliff, by realising that the immensely great sacrifice of Jesus gives us confidence to enter God's presence.

3. Our biggest fight is against an incomplete view of God. Behind every lingering sin is an inaccurate and incomplete view of God. So as we become more and more aware of the crafty deceptions of the devil, we must fight most in the hardest battle, which is against the lies that the devil wants us to believe about God.

In this case, I find that the guilt and shame of this sin makes us stay away from God.So we who believe that we are forgiven by God because of the blood of Jesus, nonetheless stay away from God because we somehow think that the blood of Jesus has limitations on its use.

To believe that Jesus only died to forgive us of our sins, but not also to always give us full access to the Father in heaven is to believe in only part of the Gospel. If we believe one and not the other, we are then guilty of reducing the truth to a half-truth.

For me, this is where the most radical fight is fought.I find that the fight to always go to God (no matter what I’ve just done) is even greater than the fight against lust and pornography itself. And I fully mean what I just wrote. I must radically and violently stand against every thought that tells me that I do not have full access to the Father through Jesus. I find that this is the biggest fight that I must wage.

Some helpful verses in this regard are Hebrews 4:14-16, Romans 8:1and Romans 8:15. Please take the time to look up these verses and meditate on them. And ask God to open your heart to the truth of what is written there.

4. The temptation to sin with sexual lust is constant and relentless. The reason we must learn to always approach God confidently, is that the temptation to sexual lust is perpetual. And we live in cultures and in a time where the temptation is getting harder and harder. The fashions and thinking of this world drive women to reveal even more of their bodies, and to capitalise on the fantasies of man’s mind to induce us to lust. And there’s nothing we can do to avoid this completely, unless we decide to live in a monastery.But that is not the solution taught in the Bible. Jesus does not ask to take us out of this world, but to be undefiled by this world.

5. A good track record of staying faithful in this area helps, but is not everything. The more we stay pure in this fight and say no to sexual sin, the easier it becomes to keep saying no.The attacks will never cease, but it is obviously easier to maintain an existing habit of saying no to lust, than to have to change our habits from saying ‘yes’ to lust to now saying ‘no’ to lust.

However, a good track record is not everything. I’ve known of strong Christian men who had been faithful in marriage for decades and then fallen into adultery. I’ve known of Christian ministers who have stayed pure for years, but then gotten addicted to the habit of pornography.

So, on the one hand, we understand the added power of staying faithful in this area.Yet, we do not place any confidence on our track record, no matter how long we’ve stayed pure.

6. God wants us to constantly depend on Him for help. God has created a pathway out of sin. I think most Christians would readily believe this. However, most Christians do not want to accept the pathway He has created. They want the pathway out of sin to be a magic pill they swallow, or a supernatural experience they have, and which permanently solves the problem with their sin.

But this is not the pathway that was ever prescribed by God; it is simply our human laziness that assumes that. God’s pathway away from sin is by a constant dependence on God for His grace. So, it is not a one-time fix, but an all-life-long choice to constantly choosing to reach for His helping hand of grace.

7. We sin because we do not have grace. We don’t have grace because of pride. Grace is the power of God to overcome sin.Romans 6:14 teaches us this. And why we do not have grace is because we are not humble.1 Peter 5:5 teaches us this.

These two truths are so simple, but this is all we need to know why we still fall. Now we may think that we are helpless and dependent on God, but pride can be so deeply encrusted in our hearts even in areas where we do not realise.

But what do we do when we sincerely go to God to depend on Him, but there are still layers of pride that keep us from receiving the grace we need to overcome sin?

8. We do not give up! This point also ties in with my point #3 above (about always returning to God). James 1:2-4 tells me that every trial is a testing of my faith (the testing of my dependence on God). And all such tests are for me to grow in endurance and perseverance, first of all. Of course, we look forward to victory over sin and even perfection (end of James 1:4). But even as we look forward to that, we must recognise that endurance or perseverance is what God is trying to build in us first. Paul taught the same principle in Romans 5:1-5.

This is why I say that we must never give up. We must keep getting up even if we are knocked down. And not only do we get up, we relentlessly choose to always return to God. Even if we only feel worthy to be an inferior slave (and not a son), even then we return to God.The story of the lost son in Luke 15 underscores this spirit.

9. The Holy Spirit will faithfully chip away at our pride with His power. We need not be distressed over the enormous layers of pride that exists within us. To be sure, I don’t think any of us have a proper understanding of how proud we really are. I think we all believe we are more humble than we really are. And it is God’s mercy that He doesn’t completely devastate us with the level of pride we all have.

But we do not need to lose heart. If we keep coming to God, He is faithful to give us His Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit works within our hearts to chip away at our pride. Of course it will hurt at times as the pride is pried away, chipped away, or blasted away. But the Holy Spirit is doing the work we want as well—He wants all the encrusted pride to be removed from our hearts. Then He can give us sufficient grace to help us overcome our sin. And the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to deal with every last bit of our pride.

10. The Holy Spirit comes not only with power, but also with a love for Jesus. We generally think of the Holy Spirit as being full of power and supernatural strength. And that He is. As I’ve mentioned in Point 9 above, He comes with great power to remove every last bit of pride within us. But that takes time and patience and endurance.

But the Holy Spirit is interested in more than just victory over sin. He wants us to be filled with an all-consuming love for Jesus. In 1 Timothy 1:7, Paul tells us very clearly that the Holy Spirit is more than just a Spirit of power. He is also the Spirit of love. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Jesus also tells us in John 16:14 that the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” The Holy Spirit desires to make Jesus bigger and bigger in our eyes. So the love of the Holy Spirit is a growing love of adoration for Jesus.

Every time I sin but choose to return to God, the Holy Spirit desires to remind me again and again, about the sacrifice of Jesus that even allows me to enter God’s presence.If it were not for the great sacrifice of Jesus, we would not be able to even look at God.So yes, we are deeply sorry for sinning when we return to God, but the Holy Spirit wants to replace that heart of sorrow with a heart of gratefulness and adoration to Jesus.

11. The Holy Spirit also comes to help us with personal discipline. Especially with sins that seem to constantly trip us up, I believe that we must embrace this particular asset that the Holy Spirit also brings, as we see in 2 Timothy 1:7.

The discipline of the Holy Spirit is through the personal choices that I must make to stay away from sin. He asks me to

  • turn off the computer or close the Internet, and I must listen;
  • turn away from looking with lust, and I must discipline myself;
  • back away from a friendship that is unhealthy, and I must obey;
  • even pay attention to my eating and sleeping habits, and to change these too.

We must recognise that the greatest problem within us, namely our pride, is simply perpetuated and left unmitigated when we choose not to listen to the Holy Spirit of discipline. We do this by choosing to live our lives our way, look at whatever we want to look at, dabble in lust and pornography and think it’s no big deal, or even sinning and thinking that we must stay away from God for a while.

The Holy Spirit comes to build discipline in us, an increasing discipline to stay away from sin, and the relentless discipline to keep returning to God even when we sin.

12. God will complete His work in us. This may be hard to believe, but at the end of the day, a life of holiness is not a work that we must complete, but a work that He will complete. The Bible tells me that we are not our own craftsmanship, but His craftsmanship (Eph.2:10). So we are His masterpiece that He is designing and most desires to complete. This is why it is most important that we stick with Him and His work in us. Also, we are not asked to complete the work that He began. No, He will complete the work that He began (Php.1:6).

The devil would like us to believe in another kind of God. He’d like us to believe that God has given us a seemingly impossible task, and leaves it to us to somehow make ourselves holy.But this again is the deception of the devil that we fight against.

Finally, as you might know, there is a famous programme called ‘The 12-Step Programme’ that many addicts follow when they are trying to break their addiction to chemical substances. I know that these steps have helped thousands of people break from their addiction to various kinds of harmful chemical substances (alcohol, nicotine, narcotics, etc.), and I am deeply thankful for this programme. Well, I too have written 12 points above, but they are not from that programme. However, I look at them as my own personal Bible-centric 12 points (steps) that I see from Scripture.

Also please know that while some Christians may struggle with sins that are considered shameful in today’s culture (like pornography, smoking, narcotics, etc.), all of us are probably still addicts to ways of thinking or behaving that are un-Christ-like. There could be ways of thinking, speaking or acting that we have adopted from our culture, our family, or our past influences, but that we know do not bring honour to Jesus. These could be sins such as a way of speaking, a lack of forgiveness, a critical spirit, etc.—things that have been with us for many years, or maybe even decades. If so, these 12 steps above can be leveraged to fight such ‘addictions’ as well. And my desire is to give you my current balanced understanding of God and His heart for us in such struggles that seem to have a deep control over us.

I am a pilgrim like you, trying to discover God’s hand and His will for me in the valleys and the mountain tops, and in the dark times and the times of open heaven. May God help you, and reveal His great love for us in an increasing way.

Love, in Him,


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