I want to tell you the story of a friend who, for the sake of confidentiality, we will call “John.” He is in his mid-twenties, single, and is preparing to serve God in local church ministry. John is looking forward to the day he will get married, but he is not currently dating anyone. He and I met for several months. On average we met about 3x a month. Our meetings are largely for the purpose of accountability. I asked John to come to our meetings prepared to answer two primary questions:
1. How consistent have you been in your quiet times? (Or another way to ask the question: tell me about your time with Jesus)
2. Have you looked at any pornography?
My meetings with John typically lasted well over the 15 minutes allotted, often lasting about twice that time since we talk about life and surrounding issues.
John has a pattern, as do many of the men I meet with who deal with this issue. He will do well for a period of time, often weeks or months, and then fall to sin for a short period of time. He will repent and ask forgiveness, confess, and then do well for a few more weeks, then fall. And so the pattern continues. The last time we met we discussed John’s pattern. He was frustrated with his recent sin and while he needed some strong words from me, he was also frustrated with my encouragement and suggestion to create a plan to stop this repetitive pattern.
John got a little defensive, “I know I need to stop. I realize I need a plan…but in every ambitious attempt, I’ve heard people say that it is realistic to ‘plan for the fail.’ I need to recognize that if I do well, eventually I’m going to fall into sin again. Besides this sin isn’t really hurting anyone.”
I have to confess that at this point in the conversation it was now me that was becoming a little frustrated. The lies that had just come from John’s mouth were so obvious to me that I wanted to pounce like a lion, to stop him before any more words came out. Fortunately, patience prevailed and I let John finish. So, I began by asking, “Do you hear yourself? Do you hear the lies that you have bought into? Do you really believe that your sin isn’t hurting anyone else? How about your future wife? Have you even thought about the ramifications of your adulterous lifestyle before you’ve even met her? John, you are setting a terrible foundation for your future marriage. You are at a crossroads: either you must kill your sin OR your sin will kill you. Either you figure out a plan to put this pornographic lifestyle to death, or your adulterous patterns will kill your future marriage and any possibility for future ministry.”
Here’s my big problem with John’s rationale: he has already planned to fail. If you are not familiar with the story of Hernando Cortez, it is a favorite of mine so I’d like to share it here:
In 1519, sailing under the flag of Spain, Hernando Cortes led 500 men to the shores of Mexico in what should have been an impossible mission. Cortes and his band were headed to the Yucatan Peninsula in search of Aztec gold. For the past 600 years no other nation had succeeded in overthrowing the Aztecs. Other battalions with far more resources had tried, but none had succeeded. As the story goes, Cortes gave his men compelling speeches about the fame and glory that awaited them in victory. As their emotions swelled and visions of grandeur filled their heads, Cortes gave the order: “Burn the boats!” With this move, Cortes made it clear to his men that defeat was not an option. Victory would be theirs. If not, there was only one other choice: death. They would be victorious…or they would die trying. The move proved to be the right one for Cortes. He and his men were the first to defeat the Aztecs in 600 years, and to the victor go the spoils. Cortes used the threat of death as a motivating factor to push his men to victory. Retreat was not option. Retreat was equivalent to death. “You either win or die.”
I know exactly what John meant when he used the words “plan to fail.” He was referring to another military strategy known as a “contingency plan.” Cortes eliminated his contingency plan. Cortes knew that failure was not an option. It was either win or die trying. There were no other options.
Here’s the problem: when it comes to sin we must not create a contingency plan. Satan has already done that: it’s known as DEATH! Satan is like a roaring lion that is looking to devour us (an important point to recognize in that verse: Satan is like a roaring lion. It does not say he is a roaring lion but like a roaring lion. There is only ONE lion of Judah, and that is Christ Jesus. It is not Satan). Satan wants to see us die – by any means necessary. Whether it is quickly or slowly, he does not care. Whether you are caught in an illicit extramarital affair, or if you die a slow painful death in addictive pornography, Satan does not care.
Let me say it again: we cannot have a contingency plan for sin. The contingency plan is a plan to die. It is death by a thousand cuts. We will keep sinning. We will keep falling. It becomes easier and easier and we lose the will to fight. Eventually your sin will be exposed. If you are in ministry, the shame and embarrassment will be devastating and you have disqualified yourself from ministry. You will lose your job, and possibly your marriage.
Ladies and gentlemen, there can be no contingency plan. There can be no plan to fail. Failure leads to death. Therefore, we must burn the boats!
Other resources dealing with the sin of pornography:
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn
Mortification of Sin by John Owen
More information on Cortes and the story of “Burn the boats”: