Punishment of Pornography

by Dr. John Yates

Personal Matters

Pornography has never been a big problem for me, though to say it had never been any problem would be untrue. “Pornography” is much wider issue that sexual images. Whilst acknowledging that this sort of porn is a devastating plague in our world, it is just as valid to speak of “food pornography”, “coffee pornography”, and so on. Hopefully the brief reflections in this article are applicable to all forms of pornography, even if I only address the sexual sort. This subject came to my attention recently through two related incidents.

I was reading a book when this sentence struck a chord, “Sex in the context of covenant is far more likely to be healing for our whole beings than sex without commitments.” (Peppiatt)1)I believe that only in the covenant of marriage can a person experience true sexual healing.. The connection between sex and healing, rather than pleasure, fulfilment, intimacy etc. presented itself as something to be explored with God. Shortly after this a Christian leader came to see me about some broader life issues. When we had completed what seemed to be the order of the day he started to talk about his lengthy history of struggling with an addiction to pornography.

Some things started to powerfully witness to my spirit, and what I sensed forms the substance of this teaching. I am not trying to take up the role of a sex therapist, but proclaiming that healing for the whole person comes only through the gospel of Jesus.


Pornography is a substitute for true worship. The marriage service of The Book of Common Prayer includes this profound vow, “with my body I thee worship”. Set in a covenant context of serving one’s spouse this is expression of is part of the mystery of the devotion between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). Porn however is a particularly aggressive form of self-worship i.e. idolatry.

Paul goes so far as to say, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Cor 6:18).  He adamantly reflects the New Testament’s that the human body was designed to be a temple indwelt by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 6:19; John 2:21). Pornography (in all its forms) is a violation of the first commandment that God alone be worshipped as the ultimate source of our delight (Ex 20:3-5a).

This is why Paul proclaims very clearly in Romans that all manner of sexual sins are a consequence of substituting false images for the revelation of the true God (Romans 1:22ff.). He repeatedly states that the wrath of God “gives people over” to all types of destructive and disgusting sins, especially sexual perversions (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). This means that pornography is itself a punishment, before it draws a punishment from God. Sexuality is a very intense and intimate issue close to the heart of our humanness.

Punishment and Porn

The visit of my Christian friend helped give me a new depth of insight into our shared humanity. As we talked about the condemning attitudes to sexual transgressions in his legalistic Christian family of origin I could sense that this atmosphere of punishment filled him with shame and a conviction that God the Father distanced himself from sinners. Shame is a sense of loss of intimacy with the F/father figure. Retribution, revenge and wrath in any sort of fallen family situation and for whatever reason2)Not just in Christian families and not just about sex., communicates indelibly to children an image of God as an essentially angry Father.

An atmosphere of law and condemnation multiplies a sense of shame and rejection and thus empowers the very sin it is designed to prevent (Romans 5:20; Romans 7:7-9). Seen in this light pornography/masturbation is an attempt to self-medicate and heal inner wounding through self-stimulation. Since the root issue of rejection is however relational this attempt to heal oneself is painfully futile.  The dignity and glory of what it means to be human cannot be reduced to momentary physical pleasures, so the end result of porn is the experience of further wrath and shame.

Porn addiction is a dire situation; far deeper than merely a “sinful habit” it is a deeply corrupted expression of fallen identity. Since porn involves self-worship without the presence of another living person, it is essentially de personalising. One tragic dimension of idolatry is blindness as to its true causes and consequences; “they glory in their shame” (Phil 3:19).  The Only Way out of the spiral of shame, porn, shame, porn…is Christ. Where we hand ourselves over to ourselves, Christ can hand us over to the Father (Luke 23:46).

Finding the Way Out

As I was listening to my Christian leader friend talking about his early life and porn addiction, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of the Father’s grieving heart for his wounded child. Our Father is a Father of relentless disciplining love (Heb 12:5-11), but the fruit of his discipline is never distance but a holy life that intimately binds us to himself (Heb 12:14).

If the false image of an essentially angry Father is the root cause of all substitute worship, the revelation of God as an essentially pleased Father is what alone can bring healing to the deepest levels of broken human identity. This is the true image of God communicated in the gospel. On the cross Jesus absorbs the impact of the image of God as essentially wrathful, ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34). This offering of his life as a sacrifice is the acceptable worship of the Father in Spirit and truth that fills God’s heart with the pleasure of resurrecting his faithful Son from the dead (John 4:24; Heb 12:2).

If worshipping sexual pleasures is the way into pornography, worship of the one true God is the way out of pornography. This is a worship far removed from the often shallow devotions of contemporary Christianity. Much of the Church is held bondage to a multitude of fetishes – exciting prosperity doctrines, moralistic convictions about the Bible, eschatological intoxications about the imminent Return of Christ, obsessions with Hebrew roots, the rush of spiritual gifts, the high of social justice, are all too often forms of what some call “spiritual masturbation”. This is not a harsh judgement, for the tragically high prevalence of sexual porn amongst Christians today shows this verdict is all too true.


Jesus died and rose again for us because he was absolutely persuaded that the true image of God is one of a Father who desires to give immortal pleasures to his children. To be filled with this likeness of the Father and to reveal him to others is the truth of Christ’s own identity; ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”” (John 14:6).  The Spirit of God longs to fill us with the pleasure of sharing Jesus’ sonship, this alone is the powerful identity that can heal the deepest longing of men and women to know who they really are.  Our age desperately needs a spiritual rediscovery of the truth that part of the mystery of the gospel is that the fulfilment of all the healing power that true covenantal sex could ever bring is found in the gospel of Christ.

References   [ + ]

1. I believe that only in the covenant of marriage can a person experience true sexual healing.
2. Not just in Christian families and not just about sex.

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