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Help for Fighting Lust: Transparency

covenant-eyesI’ve been doing a lot of studying on the topic of lust lately—as a pastor who wants to help the people in the church I pastor, as a father who wants to protect his family, and (especially) as a sinner who knows too well the power of his own flesh. Over the next several weeks, Joe Tyrpak and I hope to share some of what we’re finding to be helpful in our own battles with lust.

One of the first steps to fighting lust, I believe, is to drag it out of dark secrecy and into the light of honest transparency. I believe this with all my heart: especially in the day of internet pornography, anonymity is the enemy of your soul. It seems it has always been so, whether the battle has been against a private liaison or a private fantasy. Part of the lure of sensuality in Proverbs is its promise that “no one will know”:

“For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” (Prov 7:19-20; cp. 7:9; 9:17)

Unlike life-giving plants, lust grows best in the dark. Thus, Richard Baxter counsels you to drag it into the light:

“If less means prevail not open thy case to some able faithful friend, and engage them to watch over thee; and tell them when thou art most endangered by temptation.”

“Concealment is Satan’s great advantage. It would be hard for thee to sin thus if it were but opened.” (Both quoted by Mark Dever in Sex and the Supremacy of God, 260).

First, we must be honest enough to admit that we struggle with lust. All of us. As one comically accurate statistic puts it, 95% of all men struggle with lust, and the other 5% are lying. So admit it. Men in conservative churches have denied the reality of our struggles for far too long, in part to keep up appearances and in part because we’ve feared (rightly in many cases) that our appeal for help would be met with church discipline rather than compassionate instruction. The  result of our timidity and silence is that the same “unspeakable” pornography and infidelity that runs rampant “out there” runs rampant in our churches and homes, as well. It’s painfully obvious that any sin anyone has ever committed—including pornography, adultery, and even pedophilia—is one that can visit churches and homes like ours. It’s time to stop hiding in the dark and admit that you struggle with lust.

Second, we must be honest enough to admit that we need some help. The shape of OT Judaism and NT Christianity is not so much a redeemed individual, but a redeemed assembly. One of the Lord’s gifts to the Christian is the church, filled with brothers, sisters, and leaders who can sharpen us, provoke us to righteousness, and restore us when we’re in trouble (Prov 27:17; Heb 10:24-25; Gal 6:1; Jam 5:20). In my battle with lust, I need help.

At the risk of sounding untheological or unspiritual, in the pursuit of the fear of God (Prov 1:7), some healthy fear of man can sometimes be of help. For me, that means using Covenant Eyes, an accountability program that sends an email listing all of my internet activity to my wife and three pastor-friends. So when I’m alone, I’m not alone, and I don’t view anything in private that I wouldn’t view with those four looking over my shoulder. Many men have sought out accountability partners, but Covenant Eyes has this advantage over other programs: accountability that relies on honest answers (e.g. “How are you doing, friend? Have you viewed anything you shouldn’t lately?”) allows a large loophole, and the flesh loves loopholes. Think of it this way: if your flesh can convince you to look at garbage and pleasure yourself, it probably won’t have a hard time getting you to lie about doing so.

Now, has using Covenant Eyes made me more godly? No. No accountability program or friend can do that. And of course, no accountability program is foolproof. I wish it weren’t necessary—that awareness of God’s omnipresence were enough accountability for me (Prov 5:20). But too often, it’s not. So I lean on my wife and these men not because I am godly, and not to become godly, but because I’m sinful. And while it hasn’t sanctified me, it has kept me from acting as though my temptation to sin is a private matter, and it has prohibited me from spiritually brutalizing myself while I’m growing in grace.  The assurance that sin can remain a secret is a lie, of course, and intentionally demonstrating it to be so and removing that lie from the Tempter’s arsenal has been helpful.

Again, lust is a nearly universal problem. The only people who aren’t struggling with it on some level are probably those who are just surrendering to it without a fight. I struggle, and I sought out help both as an “ounce of prevention” and as a “pound of cure.” Quite honestly, my efforts to battle temptation on my own too often ended in failure. I wish it weren’t so, but there it is. Many of you are probably there, too. I urge you to humble yourself and get some help. Don’t believe the lie that getting help is “beneath you” or will take away from your appearance of “pastoral impeccability.” People don’t mind following a leader who is fighting his flesh; they mind following a leader who denies that he has to fight his flesh, then crashes and burns in a public and irreparable way. Don’t be that guy.

I recommend that you find some genuine friends (a) who know you well, (b) who love you anyway, and (c) who have your respect and  pose enough of a threat to be a deterrent. Tell them you need help. When necessary, call them and admit when you need particular prayer or accountability. Sometimes you just need a friend to whom you can say “Please pray for me. I can’t keep my eyes in the right place” or “I’m remembering things I should forget.” I’ve done it, and I’ve received real help. In addition to that sort of on-the-fly honesty, sign up for Covenant Eyes or something like it, and list those friends as your accountability partners. Why? Because we need to get serious about fighting lust, because doing so requires enough transparency to get some help, and because “concealment is Satan’s great advantage.”

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15 Responses

  1. “Practical Atheism is the root of human depravity”
    ~Charles Bridges on Proverbs 5:20-23

  2. Chris, your post is very helpful and addresses a subject that so many try to avoid until forced to deal with it.

    Since I have access to the internet a good portion of every day, I have been using Covenant Eyes as an accountability program for some time now. I have chosen friends, one of whom is my wife, to be my partners on Covenant Eyes (1) who know me well, (2) who are concerned with me anyway and (3) who are nouthetic enough to confront me as well as people who I greatly respect. A few times I have been asked why I use an accountability program. My answer is always the same: “I still struggle with the enemy within.” Because my sin nature has not been eradicated, I need to do every thing that I can to make no provision for my remaining corruption.

    For some strange reason, we do not like to address these subjects but let me commend you for addressing this subject that may have eternal ramifications.

  3. Thanks for chiiming in, Dr. McCabe. I appreciate your encouragement and your willingness to share both your own struggles and the steps you’re taking to encourage obedience.

  4. Thanks for writing about this topic. It is not dealt with enough. Sexuality is a great gift to us from God and as such is under great attack from our enemy. I appreciate your candor in dealing with this issue. And now the shameless plug for some really good material on this issue. Two books, one called Dangerous Men and the other called Unveil (one for men, the other for women) are great books for individuals or small groups that help people work through sexual issues.

    thanks again Chris!

  5. Thanks for the heads up on Covenant Eyes. My wife and I have been looking for something along these lines for some time now. We got it today!

  6. […] This is from the Covenant Eyes “Breaking Free” blog, very good stuff. […]

  7. […] It is a very good article […]

  8. Chris, thank you. I appreciate the transparency. We need a lot more of that today.

    While there are many good filters for computers, it is much harder to find a way to filter the internet on phones. I got an iphone through AT&T with internet and e-mail. It was much harder to find a good filter for the phone. “Safe Eyes” has one for at least the iphone. It has been very helpful.

  9. Thanks for your post. I’ve used Covenant Eyes for the past three years, and it’s very helpful. Like you said, when I’m alone, I’m NOT really alone.

  10. […] This is my second “Help for Fighting Lust” post. The first (available here) argued that we need to be transparent as we battle lust, acknowledging our need of help. My candor […]

  11. […] This is my second “Help for Fighting Lust” post. The first (available here) argued that we need to be transparent as we battle lust, acknowledging our need of help. My candor […]

  12. […] Chris Anderson has written two very helpful articles on lust. I found them to be refreshingly practical and spiritually uplifting […]

  13. […] first two entries in the “Help for Fighting Lust” series can be found here (Transparency) and here (The Pious […]

  14. This article has been extremely helpful. This is an effective way to deal with lust (transparency). Having no confidence in the flesh is what has worked for me, but often times it’s harder to guard the eye gate. Almost every commercial or TV show you see has some type of reference to sex. Another area is casting down imaginations. One of the bigger problems that I have with this is noticing if another woman is seemingly noticing me & then finding out additional information from a third party who just happens to expound on the person who sparked carnal interest. I pray everyday that my wife is my sole desire & that I’m the same for her, but even with that said, the flesh will always pose a threat to that prayer.

  15. […] on May 6, 2010 by Chris I’ve posted in the past regarding my appreciation for programs like Covenant Eyes that provide a filter and accountability for people wanting to surf the web without drowning in its […]

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