Our recent live event looked at Jesus’ teaching on lust in the Sermon on the Mount. We were challenged in that event to consider once more the lives of holiness befitting Christian disciples. This includes abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage, but we also looked at the problems of pornography and living lives in the midst of a sexualised culture.
In this episode of the podcast, we’re following up on that live event with an extended Q&A session with our guest presenters, Dr Marshall Ballantine-Jones and Dr Dani Treweek. We work through many of the outstanding questions from our live audience in the hopes of getting even more clarity about what it means to live for faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus.
Links referred to:
- Watch: Commanding the heart: Lust
- Our next event: Commanding the heart: Deception (24 August)
- The Single Minded 2022 Conference
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 39:32 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Chase Kuhn: Our recent live event looked at Jesus’ teaching on lust in the Sermon on the Mount. We were challenged in that event to consider once more the lives of holiness befitting Christian disciples. This includes abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage, but we also looked at the problems of pornography and living lives in the midst of a sexualised culture.
Today on the podcast, we’re following up on that live event with an extended Q&A session with our guest presenters. We’ll be working through many of the outstanding questions from our live audience in the hopes of getting even more clarity about what it means to live for faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus. Hope you enjoy!
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn. I’m coming to you from Sydney, Australia, at Moore Theological College. Today, I have the privilege of welcoming back some guests: Marshall Ballantine-Jones and Dani Treweek. Thank you both for coming back today. Great to see you!
Marshall Ballantine-Jones: Great to be here!
Dani Treweek: Thanks for having us!
CK: Very glad to have you back. You’re here because we recently did an event on lust and we had such great content at that event, and so many questions that came out of that event, that we thought we needed to follow up in an episode. You’ve graciously travelled back here to meet with me to address some of these questions. So thank you very much!
What is lust?
CK: I’ll just start, really, with the heart of the matter that’s going to frame up a lot of it. We want to talk further about defining lust. What actually constitutes lust in our lives? Marshall, we’ll put that to you, because you presented this to us. Is all thoughts about sex or sexual thoughts the same thing as lust, and how do we distinguish lust from attraction?
MBJ: Yeah, we’re going to have to talk about a few definitions here to be able to box sexual lust in a clear way for people. Not all sexual thoughts are lust and not all lustful thoughts are sexual. [Laughter] Desire can be spontaneous and reactionary, and when that happens, you’re really a passive agent in that—at least in the short-term, though there may be reasons why you have that inclination to desire certain things. You might have triggers or, as neurologists call it, neural cues that flare up because you’ve fed your brain and your soul a diet of triggers that you happen to have an appetite for.
But in terms of sexual lust, I see it really as when we’re talking about desires that generate the sexual engine room of our body—when we start getting sexually aroused—when we start putting ourselves into an intentional place where we are moving towards arousal—where we’re dwelling on a concept that we were triggered by, and not just loitering there, but becoming focused on it for the ends of the enjoyment that it gives.
So when people say, “Well, was my sexual thought right or wrong?”, the question we used to say in youth group was, “What did you do with that sexual thought?” Did you hold onto it and let it grow? If it grew into turning you on, that’s wrong. That’s the sort of lust-of-a-woman-type lust that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5, I believe.
CK: That’s very helpful. Just fleshing this out a little bit more, the kinds of triggers you’re talking about: you may see an attractive woman, for example, but the kind of images you’ve allowed to come into your mind keep you on the lookout, then, for other kinds of features, or you’re attentive to certain kinds of features. Or if you’re a woman, the kinds of magazines or other things that you may be dwelling on may actually then turn your attention towards different places.
MBJ: Well, yeah, I’d probably just—let’s jump to the porn example as a great way of explaining this: people who regularly, habitually use pornography to stimulate their sexual desires, over time, have physical brain changes, which can be observed under MRI conditions—which show that they have a faster and more aggressive retriggering of sexual desires when similar experiences are brought before the awareness of the person. Now, the fact that we have a world that is saturated with sexual media at every level—whether it be advertising or our TV shows or what just comes up on our feeds when we’re watching YouTube or TikTok, or advertising on the sites of websites we’re at—let alone, obviously, more gratuitous triggers like nudity or porn or so forth. We get, very quickly, neural cues that flare up and generate this sexual engine progress. So we get turned on quicker. We’re fed that situation because of our past behaviour.
CK: Yeah. That’s very helpful.
Can you lust after your spouse?
CK: So as we’re thinking about this, then, maybe, in another direction, is it okay to have any lustful thoughts towards anyone? So if you’re in a marriage relationship, it seems as though you would have this kind of sexual attraction—sexual desire. Is it okay to be desiring your spouse this way?
MBJ: I would say absolutely! I read Song of Solomon, and at the very the least, it’s a narrative of two people who are full of desire, and it’s celebrated. I think the package of the sexual gift that God’s given men and women is, at the very basis of it, the concept of desire. Desire is good: you want to desire your spouse. What’s the proverb say? Remember your—
CK: “The wife of your youth.”
MBJ: “The wife of your youth” (Prov 5:18). This is all about sexual desire. That’s a good thing. I think the fact—for people who have been married a long time and things go stale and their sexual desire wanes and they’re tempted in other areas, or indifferent, there’s a lot of great techniques from counsellors and so forth to really get you back into that pocket of desire and fun and so forth. But this is part of the package of gifting that God’s given us. We want to celebrate that. We want to acknowledge that it’s in the domain of marriage, and where it is there, we want to encourage it.
DT: Yeah, I was just going to echo what Marshall said there—that part of God’s wisdom in creating human beings in the way he created them is as sexual creatures: he’s made us to be creatures who have a sexuality—who experience sexual desire—who can actually look at the world around us, but particularly other people, and recognise beauty or attraction, in all sorts of varied forms.
Those things are good! They’re part of the good aspect of what it means for us to have been created by God in the way that he did create us. The problem is when our sinfulness turns those things in on themselves, away from God—away from loving other people—and in on ourselves. So I think, certainly, sexual desire in marriage for your spouse is actually part of God’s good gifting for that relationship.
Though I do suspect that it can be easily turned in on itself in ways that actually objectify your spouse, rather than loving your spouse. It makes your sexual desire about your gratification, rather than service of them. So it’s a really complicated question, isn’t it! [Laughter] So much to unpack there!
I think we have to be careful not to say “Sexual desire = always bad”. Actually, no: there’s lots of good reasons that God has made us the way he has. We just have to be aware of the way that our sinfulness turns those good things in on themselves, so that they become evil things.
CK: So helpful, because I think we often think Christianity means no sex, or sexual desire really takes a back seat. But actually what Christianity confesses is that God has made us a certain way, as you’ve just said, Dani. It is meant to be expressed in right ways in each context. One of the things we do in faith is entrust ourselves to God’s wisdom and plan for us. So the right expression for us in each stage of life is different, but it’s entrusting ourselves in faith to these things.
I love what both of you have just said. Dani, you’ve said it’s not about objectification in our marriage, and Marshall, you said, actually, sometimes it’s about recovering fun, and I don’t even think you mean that necessarily in just the sexual sense, but actually enjoying each other’s company—having fun together recaptures some of that desire. A lot of the couples who see sex go off the boil in their marriage, for example, have just lost sight of simple enjoyment of one another—actually just enjoying a conversation or going out on a lovely walk or something—really beautiful, simple activities that kindles that kind of desire in other ways.
Can you lust after your fiancé/e?
CK: I also think, without having to get into this question, you’ve given us a helpful guide here about other stages of life, like a fiancé/e—whether or not a fiancé/e should be having sexual desire for their soon-to-be-spouse. You said, Marshall, that in Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, there is this anticipation in that narrative of moving towards the wedding day. But it’s always channelled towards that end. It’s not channelled towards the momentary gratification. It’s the anticipation, if you will, that makes the marriage celebration so much more beautiful. Is there anything you’d like to add to that?
MBJ: Firstly, people who are dating, and particularly who have moved to that moment of commitment that says, “I want to marry this person”, it should not be surprising to them that they find that there is a very rapid kindling of sexual desire for the other person. This is part of how you’ve been designed and it would be a concern if it wasn’t there, given the choice that you are making to want to marry the person.
So the anticipation’s there. The acting on the anticipation: well, we’ve got to go back to the first question: what are you doing with it? If you are dwelling on it and jumping the gun in stimulating your sexual desires to the point—and I’ll just say it—to want to or to actually masturbate and have a fulfilment experience using that fiancé/e as the object of your fantasies, I think that that’s not right. I think that’s a misuse of God’s gift of marriage. The sexual reward or sexual gift is for once you have committed and pledged yourself to each other. It confirms the bond. It doesn’t precede the bond.
I liken it to, let’s say, the Crown Jewels—and I mean the literal Crown Jewels in the UK [Laughter]. The Crown Jewels for Queen Elizabeth happen to be in the Tower of London in a series of vaults. Now, the Queen doesn’t use them except for special occasions. They are hers by right. But she doesn’t use them whenever she wants to. She doesn’t go down and put on a tiara, or pick up a rod with a big ruby on it or whatever, and just go for a walk with the corgis. [Laughter] She knows that those very special things have a special place, and they have to restrain their access to them and to the point where it’s appropriate. I think if we got a grip of the vision that God has for the power of sexuality as a gift to humanity, and realise that it is a very treasured thing, we would treat it with the degree that it deserves—that is, put it in a vault when it’s not being used for the right thing, because it’s that precious.
We have cheapened sex in our society to the point that we believe we’re entitled to sexual fulfilment whenever we want it. That’s the narrative that exists in all of Western society now. Yet God says, “No. You are not entitled to it and it is not that cheap”. It is hugely expensive and has such a powerful effect on a marriage, which is other-person-centred—it has a powerful effect on contributing to that oneness that is lifelong—that to treat it cheaply is to really treat God’s gift of marriage cheaply. For those who listened to the talk, that then has a problem with treating the metaphor that marriage is cheaply—and that is, namely, Christ and his church (Eph 5). So it’s almost blasphemous at that point.
So if you’re engaged, you need to show discipline and structure in your conduct. You need to be forward-looking and remember the ceremony’s coming. Then you can open the vault and get those jewels, and all is good.
DT: I was just going to follow on from that, listening to Marshall then. The world we live in says, “Sex is all about me”. My sex drive, my sex desires and my sexual longings are about me. God’s word actually says, “No, they’re not. They’re about you in relationship to other people.” So if you, for example, are engaged to someone and you are experiencing that sexual desire—that sexual longing—perhaps a good diagnostic question is, “What am I doing with this? Is how I’m acting upon this actually about me, or is it about loving my fiancé/e?” That might be a helpful diagnostic question to stop in the moment and recognise the motivations that you’ve got going on for you there, and it might actually help you to redirect those longings towards your love for that other person, who is not yet your husband, or not yet your wife, but who you’ve committed to making your spouse in the future. So that might be a good question to keep in mind.
CK: That’s very helpful.
How do we speak against the world’s view of sex and sexuality?
CK: Just maybe launching off that, then, for a moment, Dani, because you’ve raised this so helpfully: so much now in the narrative of our culture is about our identity being expressed in our sexuality. I’ll ask the question to both of you: where do we start in a conversation with someone who is convinced that sexual expression is empowering them or even maybe about their own self-realisation, and anything that would go against that would be oppressive?
DT: That’s a big question and there’s probably a lot of places to start engaging with that. I feel quite convinced that one of the most helpful places to start can be actually just sitting down and teasing out what they are saying there—asking questions to not just help you understand more where they’re coming from, but to help them understand more about what their convictions are at that point. As I just said, the world around us says, “Very self-evidently, sex is about me and my gratification and my desires being fulfilled, and who I am—what my identity is.” That’s just the air that we breathe.
I think a helpful place to start can be, “Hang on, let’s actually recognise that. Let’s recognise—look at and understand—the air around us. And then let’s start teasing that out and working out what some of the implications of that are.” If it is true that my ability—my freedom to express myself sexually in whatever way I so choose—is actually fundamental to what it means for me to express who I am, what are the implications of that? If I’ve got unfettered freedom to be who I want to be according to my own desires, what consequences might have that for other people in my life? Just starting to pull those threads, I think, can be a helpful way to start pulling that down off the pedestal and helping people to realise, “This isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are problems here that have to be dealt with” before we then get to “What are some alternative ways that we might think about this?” So that’s one place to, perhaps, start.
CK: Very wise and very helpful, and it asks the overarching question as well of what’s guiding our morality. So if it is simply whatever I feel is necessary for me to be genuine, I have limitless opportunities to do whatever I want and no one can tell me “No”. So I can define whatever I want to be moral and the only thing that justifies it is if it’s authentic. That’s a very, very dangerous thing. If we actually press that to its end, it can get us into a lot of messes.
MBJ: Well, it’s very easy to press it to the end when you just look at the statistics of the consequences of selfish sexuality on relationships and on society. There’s been so much research done on relationships and the impact of the use of pornography, the engagement in sexual relationships with people who aren’t part of that relationship, and the influence of past sexual behaviour on those current relationships. The statistics are consistent—that it wreaks havoc on people’s confidence, on their trust, on their intimacy and on sexual fulfilment. It’s no accident that study after study shows that the most happy sexual lives are of those who are in monogamous, lifelong, committed sexual relationships in marriage. So at that level, we can see that once you tease out the implications of this self-entitled, endless sexual expression, it just falls apart.
But it’s also falling apart at a legal level in society. We find so many people just getting caught up in the law because they realised that they were hurting other people—they were breaking laws—they were being abusive—they were creating damage in other people. For those people, to have any shackles on their sexual desires, invariably very vulnerable people get exploited—children—
DT: And we see that! I mean, look at the age we’re living in—the #MeToo age, the #ChurchToo age, the right outcry of how abuse has been covered up, how power has been corrupted in these. As a society, we’re completely recognising that. But at the same time, we’re still trying to say, “But it’s okay to do exactly what you feel like doing, because that’s the essence of your identity.” These two things, they are completely contradictory to each other, but somehow, as a society, we’re still trying to pretend that you can believe both of these things at the same time.
MBJ: Well, the Chanel Contos petition that blew up in February 2021 was a great example of what’s happened at a very base level of society, where you’ve got tens of thousands of young females reporting just terrible negative sexual experiences with teenage boys. The hurt, the pain and the abuse that happened, and the sense of entitlement, and ignorance from these males—it’s just an example of how widespread and destructive this is and how illogical it is that you can have a fulfilment of your sexual desires whenever you want it, because that’s really who you are, and to quell that is somehow wrong. So it just falls apart.
As Dani said, look, that’s just one side of the equation. This is a small area of deconstructing that. We could keep going and we could spend many, many, many hours doing it, because I think I’ve read close to 300-400 peer-reviewed research papers on the negative effects of sexualised behaviour, pornography and so forth on relationships and people. So it’s out there.
But then there’s another issue, as Dani said, and that is the issue of alternative worldviews. As Christians, there is a very clear alternative worldview: that’s the worldview of Jesus and the Scriptures. I think one of the problems with the young Christian who might be feeling a great tension—if not feeling offended they’re being challenged on their sexual behaviour and sexual autonomy—I just question whether or not they’ve actually become familiar with what Jesus has to say on this. The New Testament alone has a lot to say on sexuality, and Jesus has a lot to say on sexuality and on how to do good relationships. People, I think, should really put a pause on their sense of entitlement and come spend some substantial time listening to the words of Jesus and just see if they match. If they don’t, I think you then to do some serious questioning about which worldview you think is the one you need to follow.
DT: And following on from that, do I believe Jesus when he says, “I have come that you might have life and have life to the full” (John 10:10)? We’re talking here about wanting to be our full authentic self and how the world says that we do that. Jesus says the way to actually have full, authentic, holy, fruitful, flourishing life is in him. So really, the challenge for us as Christians is do we believe Jesus when he says that? Or are we going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay. But this thing over here: this is actually going to offer me what you can’t.” That’s an enormous challenge—not just in the areas of sexuality, but certainly including areas of sexuality that we have to grapple with.
CK: Yeah, absolutely. It comes back to what we said a moment ago: this is about walking by faith. Do we actually take God at his word? Do we actually trust the words of Jesus? Do we really believe that he has the words of life? Following him, we know paths of righteousness.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I’d like to tell you about some resources for your Christian life. The Centre for Christian Living is continuing our series of live events on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. Our next live event on the theme of “Deception” will be held on 24 August. I’m very excited that Dr Tony Payne will be returning to help us think about the significance of our words as Christian men and women. Please plan to join us. Registrations are open online at ccl.moore.edu.au.
Also, Dani Treweek, one of my guests today on the program, serves as the chair of the Single Minded Conference. Later this year, the conference will be held in Sydney on 30 July and in Brisbane on 6 August. The theme this year is “Being a body”, and the keynote speaker is Sam Allberry. I highly recommend that you check out this conference and plan to get along to it. Of course, if you can’t make it in person, there are also livestream options available. You can find out more information at singleminded.community.
Now let’s get back to our program.
Is pornography use grounds for divorce?
CK: Moving on from this for a moment, we’ve talked about this, really, despairing pit of porn and how nasty pornography can be, and you’ve raised this a bit in your talk, Marshall, some people have asked the question about pornography and its dangers, and they want to know is porn grounds for divorce? So when Jesus equates lustful thoughts with adulterous behaviour, and he draws that line equation and punishment, as you helpfully showed in your talk, how do you counsel a spouse, perhaps, who’s in a relationship with someone—it could be male or female, obviously—a husband or a wife who’s finding this, and they’re addicted to pornography—is this grounds for divorce?
MBJ: There’s no doubt that any spouse who’s been surprised to find that their husband or their wife has been secretly using porn and being sexually gratifying themselves to it would be very deeply hurt and betrayed. I see so many people in situations across my ministry who are dealing with this—the rubble of a destroyed relationship—what some would say is such a benign discovery. It’s not when you’ve put all your trust and hope and promises into someone and find out that they weren’t returning it.
I think this is why Jesus was very quick to group lustful thoughts of another person with adultery. It’s certainly a serious as an act of adultery. It is serious in the sense that the marriage vows are broken: the person has betrayed their promises. We look to what Jesus says on divorce and he says that marital unfaithfulness is a grounds for divorce. So if we want to pause there and think just mathematically or legalistically, you could probably say, yes, there is grounds for divorce there.
But I think we want to pause there first and step back and look at what Jesus really is doing in his ministry, which is not to just clarify legalism; he is revolutionising legalism. He’s brought forgiveness, because we are all failures of God’s laws. So in him bringing forgiveness through his death and resurrection, he’s bringing transformation that makes us not just a forgiven people, but a forgiving people. It’s embedded in the Lord’s Prayer itself: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.
Now, I would never want to diminish the depth of pain and hurt that an individual couple has experienced and a spouse has felt because of the other person’s porn use. I think each case needs to be looked at in its own situation. But I would not want to jump to divorce as the first “Aha! I can leave you now” solution. When Jesus taught about divorce—when he mentioned that adultery was a grounds for it—he’s really making the argument to the Pharisees at the time that divorce is a last resort. God is not happy with divorce (Mal 2:16). This is not the destination we want to pursue. We want to exhaust all other options.
So forgiveness, really, is the question: can I forgive the person? This is not an easy question for someone feeling very deep pain. Forgiveness requires repentance. So if the spouse is not prepared to repent, their behaviour is not changing. They keep repeating it. That’s not obviously a very big problem and it’s going to be an inhibitor for not only forgiveness, but reconciliation.
The person who’s been wounded in the relationship with have to bear a cost. Depending on the degree of that cost—because, I got to say, not all porn use is the same. Some people may have been triggered and stumbled, and it was very occasional. I would say that’s different to someone who is a six-day-a-week user of pretty debauched categories of porn, where they’re very depraved in their fetishes and their interests. We’re talking about someone who’s gone way down a pathway that is so far, it seems a long distance to come back and a lot of hard work. So I think just on the divorce question, that’s the last thing we need to be asking in that situation. People who are pastoring hurt couples and damaged couples in this need to be working really hard to bring restoration.
But in the long-run, if a spouse is persistently enduring this betrayal, they should not be obliged to stay married to the person, I think. At least, they’re justified to separate.
How do you counsel a victim of a spouse’s porn addiction?
CK: How do you counsel someone—maybe, Dani, you can answer this—how do you counsel someone who’s coming out of addiction—that is, their spouse has been addicted, they have repented, they’re working towards reconciliation, but the longstanding hurt and probably distrust remains? How do you counsel somebody through that?
DT: Oh gosh! With a lot of love and patience and care and reflection on the reality of who we all are as sinful people. I don’t have a silver bullet answer to that—except I think it—well, I guess it depends on what your context is. What does it mean for you to be a counsellor in that person’s life?
Now, I take it actually encouraging them to go and see someone who is professionally able to help them in this way is a very good thing to do, and I’d certainly encourage people to pursue that. But if it was a friend of mine—I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, and if it was a friend of mine who came and said, “I need you to help me through this,” that’s done in relationship with them, alongside them, knowing them as I do.
I think it is, as Marshall was just saying, a reminder of the complex grace of God that calls us to respond to pain and betrayal, with a sense of hope and optimism of the power of the Spirit to bring about repentance and forgiveness and change. But that does need, as Marshall has just said, to be balanced with the reality that ongoing sin and endemic sin in our lives is something that we can’t just pretend will get better without there being a genuine commitment to that repentance, forgiveness and change.
So I don’t think there is a “1 + 1 =” answer to this. I think it very much has to be done in relationship in context of circumstances, with you and your role as a counsellor or a friend there being one person among a number who are actually supporting—not just this individual, but this married couple, to hold onto this incredible gift of the covenant of marriage insofar as they are able to do that.
CK: These are promises that we make often in our church contexts—to be supporting. One of the reasons why we go to weddings is because we are committing to walk with a couple through life.
How do we help someone trapped in porn addiction?
CK: I find that pornography in the church can be quite a hidden, undisclosed sinful area, both for men and women. I think it’s often thought that men talk about this more and that maybe, perhaps, true to some degree. Marshall, you probably have statistics about this. But how do we as a community begin to work through challenges of lust by talking about it, confessing sin, perhaps? Who do we do that with? And if—we’ll move through these questions in succession—but how do we actually help somebody who may be trapped in something like addiction?
Maybe we’ll start at the last question first. Marshall: people who are really in the deep end of pornography addiction, you’ve been developing a program for porn addicts or people to recover from these things. How do you help someone who is really finding themselves stuck? Where do you tell them to go? What do you tell them to do?
MBJ: I think it’s very complex and to take Dani’s phrase from before, there’s no silver bullet to overcoming addiction. But it’s very important that people understand that porn addiction is a very real and powerful category of behavioural addiction. It requires a lot of structure, a lot of work, a lot of determination and a long time to really get to a state where you’re able to manage yourself. Whether or not an addiction can be cured, I doubt. But these things can definitely be managed.
So basically, the person who’s got an addictive behaviour to porn or some other sexual behaviour, they need, at the very interim, to start to get some therapy so that they can really disclose, be honest and start to understand themselves. You’ll find, more often than not, there’s more than just a habit; there’s a back story to the person. So that needs work.
People need to work together. With porn—and maybe this touches on that distinction between males and females in church communities or just in public—there’s much more porn prevalence use in males than females. So in a church, males will probably be more inclined to talk about it, because there’s more of them and there’s more of them in any group.
For females, I can only really report what I hear from the female specialists who work in this field, and what they tell me is that because female porn users are one in five, they’re very much a minority. In any small group, there’s not much understanding or empathy from their friends, and so it can feel very isolating. I’m told it also has a different type of embarrassment that is more deeply psychological and bound in their identity than the guys. So I just think it is harder in a church community to have pathways for help for females who are struggling with this.
As I say, it’s one in five: that is still a substantial number in the church. So churches need structures in their organisation—leadership structures, program structures. They need to have culture that is prepared to advance easy access and gracious access to support. For guys as well, that’s really important.
There are few forces that are very instrumental in helping people overcome addiction. One is the power of community and the power of dialogue with peer groups. When you’re working together with other people of like mind, you find that you can get a much quicker state of countercultural determination and opinion. It’s amazing how powerful the isolation is on keeping you embedded in that addiction.
You also need to keep feeding your mind with truth—not just about God and about his world order, but also about the wrongs, the dangers and the negative effects of what you’re doing. You’ve got to see where those consequences are. It’s all documented. It’s in the secular literature. It’s not hard to find. You’ve got to just open your eyes and see that you got actually see what harm you’re doing to other people. And you need, of course, to start growing a heart of love and so forth. So that helps as well.
CK: Just on that quickly, somebody comes to you in church and they say, “I need help with this” and they need to begin, say, counselling or something. What’s the first port of call for them? Where do you steer them to go get help? Is there a hotline? Is there a website? People sometimes feel stuck and I realise people are going to be listening to this all over the world.
MBJ: There are a number of ministries—parachurch ministries—that have arisen that try to fill this gap, because there’s been a general realisation that churches are really lousy at dealing with this. In my studies of quite a few churches here in Sydney, it’s virtually universal that they don’t have what I call “easier pathways” to have access to help.
So right now, if someone came to me and said, “I have a problem”, I would be forwarding them onto this website and that website, and to get resources. I’d be encouraging them to tell their Bible Study group, a trusted Christian mentor and one of their church leaders, and I’d be encouraging them to go to a therapist as well. That’s what I’d be saying now, because I know their church doesn’t have the suite of structures they need to be able to give an umbrella of solutions.
Once a person starts dealing with the problem behaviours of lust, of lust with porn or of other areas of sexual desire that are ungodly and habitual—particularly when they’re struggling with these things—stopping the behaviour in the interim is actually easier than people realise. You can very quickly sever the behaviour—particularly when you’re focused and determined.
Where you’re vulnerable is when you’ve got pressure in your life, when you’ve got triggers, when you’re bored and when there’s no guardedness. So actually part of the challenge for anyone who’s dealing with addiction is to understand that you need to erect around yourself structures and safeguards that will be able to protect you when those times of vulnerability come. Without that, you’re going to fall and you’re going to fall hard. That’s really what people keep experiencing with most behavioural addictions. This is why people need to work with others in their church or leaders and so forth to get accountability.
I’m a fan of software. I think reducing all those sorts of accesses to quick triggers are important: Covenant Eyes, Family Zone, Canopy—there are quite a few filtering software options out there and they’re good. There are some that go further—accountability software that both filter and link you up with other people: they’re good and I think you need to include them in the diet, moving forward. But never trust yourself and therefore make sure that you have, ultimately, a whole suite of solutions around you that protect you from those vulnerable times.
CK: Thank you very much for that, Marshall.
How do we encourage women to deal with the problem of lust in their lives?
CK: Dani, just thinking about the woman’s perspective for a moment and women you’ve talked to, how have you found getting women engaging in this space? What would you counsel women who are looking to get help with sexual addiction or even just lust generally–even if it’s not a major addiction, but there’s lust featuring in their lives? How do you encourage women to begin talking about this?
DT: Listening to Marshall just a moment ago when he said one in five, I thought, “Okay, yes, so that is significantly less than men.” But one in five is still, as Marshall said, significant. One in five women in any of our churches on average—this will be a reality for them. I think it is really important that when we’re talking about this topic—whether it’s lust, whether it’s specifically porn—that we are very careful to not make it a gendered thing. I hear—certainly not in our context here, but I read lots of articles that talk about porn as being something men have to deal with. That automatically will make women who are struggling with it themselves feel like they can’t talk about it. They’re a freak! We need to be able to go, “No, no, no. This is actually something that women—some women—one in five women—are actually grappling with—possibly more silently than some of their male friends and family members.”
Just as a side point, I think this is why it’s really important for our churches to have, develop and invest in women in appropriate leadership positions in our churches—whether that is on ministry staff teams or whether it’s actually making sure that there are women who are seen to be mentors available in our churches for other women to actually come to in trust relationship. So that’s a bit of a side point!
But I think for all of us, whether we’re men or women, this is about our relationship with Jesus and it’s about our relationship with each other. We just have to keep remembering this is about how I am living in light of the salvation that God has given me. It’s about how I live in optimistic hope of the Spirit’s work in sanctifying me to be more and more like Jesus. I’m not a hopeless cause. I’m a sinner, but I’m also a forgiven sinner, and I’m a sinner who is being sanctified day by day. And if we can put these things in that context, I think that gives us a theological framework to actually go, “All right. Now I’ve got a framework around me that goes, ‘This means that I’m compelled to action in whatever way that might then be.’”
CK: I love what you’ve just said, Dani—that at the base of our communities, there is a gospel motivation and a gospel liberation. I’m motivated to live unto Christ, living in the newness of life that Christ has given to me. That’s wonderful. That wants me to be holy. But I’m also freed to confess sin, because all of my life is only ever by grace. So when we’re in community, the fears of opening up our problems are really gospel insecurities—that I’m not entrusting myself to the gospel grace I’ve received. I’m now afraid of consequences in my life, or how I’ll be perceived, or whatever thoughts we’ll have about being established. But our establishment is only ever by the grace of God. That is our whole place. And so we have freedom there.
I’m so grateful for what you both have shared with us today, and I’m very thankful for what you shared with us at the event. I’m grateful for the ministries that you have beyond just what we’ve been doing here on the podcast—our event for CCL. So thank you both and we’ll look forward to having you both in the future.
MBJ: Thanks very much!
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