Wretched St. Paul and the Cure to Porn Addiction

The following is a post suggestion received via email.

I have received a comment via email from John. John has a comment on my recent blog post ‘Porn Addiction; Here is your Cure‘. If you haven’t read that post yet then I recommend you do so as it will help shine some light on our discussion. Also, if you have a comment or a suggestion that you want featured in an upcoming post send them to me via the Contact page. John writes…

I saw your recent post on pornography and I was struck by the statement `You cannot be a Christian and be addicted to porn.’ I emphasise that this not anything that interests me: I am not, never have been and never will be addicted to this. But there is the whole business of being a Christian and sin. As I indicate at the beginning of my note on Romans, the whole of the`wretched man’ discourse of Romans 7, culminating in Romans 7v24, 25 is written in the present tense; this is the current Christian experience present tense of the apostle Paul who is, at the time of writing, a mature Christian. It is Paul, the mature Christian who writes `For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’ While I do not imagine for one minute that the subject matter of your
recent blog post was Paul’s problem (whatever other difficulties he had,
I can’t imagine that it was pornography), he must have been writing about something. He also alludes to a besetting sin (and he does not tell us what it is) in 2 Corinthians 12 with the `thorn in my flesh’. So – on your `contact’ page, you ask if there are suggestions for future posts – and I’d suggest that you could try something on Romans 7v24,25 and what Paul means by the `wretched man’.

John, thank you for writing. I’m glad that you read my post and you have made some excellent points. The statements in my post about not being able to be a Christian and being addicted to sexual sin is also followed by passages from Scripture and from Luther and Walther. This is a difficult part of my post because it was the Law part of the post. It is meant to show the seriousness of losing the Spirit due to open rejection of true repentant faith/ lack of fruit in keeping with repentance.

Simul Iustus et Peccator (simultaneously justified and sinner)

You had cited a passage from Romans. What an excellent passage to show Christian repentance. Even St. Paul was not able to overcome sin on his own efforts. This is a comfort to us all that the Law cannot break us free. Yet, we will always sin. Anyone who meditates and studies the Ten Commandments or understands Original sin knows that we are never, even for a second, not without sin. Yet because of faith, it is not held against us. You suggested I expand on Romans 7:24-25.

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law.

Paul calls himself terrible and saddened for the state that he is in. This turmoil of wanting to follow the Law completely but never being able to do it due to the Original sin in his flesh. He comes to the conclusion that he is both sinner and saint at the same time, as Chapter 8 continues and says that there isn’t any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We see here that one is both justified and yet also still struggles against sin. (Simul).

This is to say that as we have sin in our fallen nature it is not natural for us to sin, this is not the way that God created us. So this disease of sin is always with us and we are unable to be perfect and sinless apart from faith until the resurrection.

So, we still struggle with sin in daily repentance. Does this mean that a Christian can be in bondage to porn, sexual promiscuity, to daily live striving for the passions of the flesh, to gratify it’s desires, because “meh, I’m forgiven anyways” or to struggle against such sins of the flesh only to give the flesh dominion over the Spirit daily, weekly, etc? No. Repentance means that through we do fall into sins, for we will not be without sin in our bodies until the resurrection, we are gradually growing fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22-23) and mortifying the fruit of the flesh(Gal 5:19-21). Which means these sinful lusts and fleshly passions must daily decrease (Gal 5:24). This isn’t to say temptation and sin won’t come but if you are still struggling and in no way have changed such sexual gratification as time goes on then where is the fruit? There is a major difference between the Spirit having more control of you and your flesh having more control over you. We will never reach perfection in this lifetime, as some might teach, yet that is not to say we can be enslaved to our sinful nature through rampant sexual immorality.

As my previous post stated there are plenty of examples from Scripture that warn of falling away and how if the sinful nature continues to have its way the Spirit will leave. This is nothing but openly choosing to sin, to actively reject the Spirits work, by actively consenting to sins. This isn’t a slip up followed with a repentant heart, this is a bondage, a choice, a “I must because I want to”, rather than..”Oh what am I doing.. ” and immediately stopping, pray, and going about the days tasks without consenting to, or gratifying the flesh to completion only to regret after the deed is done, which is usually a false repentance because it’s mainly due to being satiated. Much like eating too much and realizing it was a bad idea, saying you won’t overeat anymore only to do so the next day when you feel hungry again. That’s the bondage that I’ve seen Christian’s suffer with, and Law and Gospel is really where they understand and start to allow the Spirit to grow fruit by the power of the Gospel.

John has sent me a PDF file of his commentary on Romans and I’d like to share with you what he says on the Romans passage that we discussed.

Romans 7v24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? This is an expression of the inevitable tension that arises for the believer through the ambivalence of his position ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the flesh’. This is the only possible way of understanding this short passage. Freedom from sin cannot be equated with actual sinlessness, which is an impossibility in this life. In Paul’s thought, to be set free
from sin means to be no longer under the dominion of sin.

This is absolutely correct. We will never be sinless this side of the resurrection. As I stated above, repentance is a daily drowning of our sinful nature in the waters of baptism and the new man, through the Spirit, living and growing fruit in keeping with that repentance.

As for your comment in your email referencing 2Cor. We are not told what the thorn is, it is most likely a chronic health problem, as the weakness in vs. 5 could mean illness. Either way we cannot be certain. What is certain is that through all of his affliction has Paul is totally dependent on God, and that is how Paul is strong though he be weak (2 Cor 12:10). This works well with my point because it is not the sinner that is to overcome their bondage to sin by works of the Law but by being dependent on God through faith in His Gospel promises, given and sustained by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore bring forth fruit worthy of repentance! (Matt 3:8)

Overall that really is the point of my post. That a sinner cannot by the Law, overcome a sexual addiction. The only freedom comes from the Gospel. My post was laid out in Law and Gospel format to allow God’s Word to do what He intends to do; to call sinners to repentance and break them free from impure sexual bondage. Namely the pattern of, lust, satiated desire from having my fill but now I feel guilty, false repentance, repeat tomorrow. Instead true repentant faith is such that temptation comes but the falls to such temptation are rare compared to the bondage of being shacked to the desire, followed by the feeling of hopelessness that comes with false repentance. The Spirit brings new desires to daily live and grow. Yes, we will sin every moment of the day but, it does not have reign over us. Those in this repentance no longer fall as often as they used to and typically when they do it is rarely to satiated satisfaction.

This is basically summed up as to say that God’s Word condemns certain (mortal) sins as being detrimental not the faith of a Christian. Lutheran’s have a much different definition of this than the Papists. The LCMS Cyclopedia states the following on this subject:

Sins, Venial and Mortal.

The Luth. Confessions speak of sin* that is mortal, or deadly, i. e., irreconcilable with faith (Ap IV 48, 64, 109, 115). When believers fall into open sin, faith has departed (SA-III III 43–44). One who obeys his lusts does not retain faith (Ap IV 144). Original sin (see Sin, Original) is mortal; it brings eternal death on those who are not born again (AC II 2 Lat.). One who is dead in sin is insensitive to sin (LC, V: The Sacrament of the Altar, 77–78). Sins remain in believers (SA-III III 40FC SD II 34). Many regard the following as 7 deadly sins, fatal to spiritual progress: pride,* covetousness,* lust,* anger, gluttony, envy,* sloth. But man cannot weigh, distinguish, or differentiate sins; all sins manifest total corruption (SA-III III 36–38), merit God’s wrath (Mt 5:18–19Gl 3:10Ja 2:10), and are deadly (Eze 18:4Ro 6:23); every sin loses its deadly effect when Christ, apprehended by faith, intervenes (Ro 8:l; 1 Jn 1:792:1–2).

The LCMS Cyclopedia

From the Book of Concord:

48] The adversaries feign that faith is only a knowledge of the history, and therefore teach that it can coexist with mortal sin. Hence they say nothing concerning faith, by which Paul so frequently says that men are justified, because those who are accounted righteous before God do not live in mortal sin. But that faith which justifies is not merely a knowledge of history, [not merely this, that I know the stories of Christ’s birth, suffering, etc. (that even the devils know,)] but it is to assent to the promise of God, in which, for Christ’s sake, the remission of sins and justification are freely offered. [It is the certainty or the certain trust in the heart, when, with my whole heart, I regard the promises of God as certain and true, through which there are offered me, without my merit, the forgiveness of sins, grace, and all salvation, through Christ the Mediator.] And that no one may suppose that it is mere knowledge, we will add further: it is to wish and to receive the offered promise of the remission of sins and of justification. [Faith is that my whole heart takes to itself this treasure. It is not my doing, not my presenting or giving, not my work or preparation, but that a heart comforts itself, and is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ.]

Defense of the Augsburg Confession

64] But since we speak of such faith as is not an idle thought, but of that which liberates from death and produces a new life in hearts, [which is such a new light, life, and force in the heart as to renew our heart, mind, and spirit, makes new men of us and new creatures,] and is the work of the Holy Ghost; this does not coexist with mortal sin [for how can light and darkness coexist?], but as long as it is present, produces good fruits.

Defense of the Augsburg Confession

109] But they have also devised sophistry whereby they elude them. They say that these passages of Scripture, (which speak of faith,) ought to be received as referring to a fides formata, i.e., they do not ascribe justification to faith except on account of love. Yea, they do not, in any way, ascribe justification to faith, but only to love, because they dream that faith can 110] coexist with mortal sin. 

Defense of the Augsburg Confession

115]Nor, indeed, is this faith an idle knowledge, neither can it coexist with mortal sin, but it is a work of the Holy Ghost, whereby we are freed from death, and terrified minds are encouraged and quickened. Wherefore, the faith which receives remission of sins in a heart terrified and fleeing from sin does not remain in those who obey their desires, neither does it coexist with mortal sin.

Defense of the Augsburg Confession

43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, … and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8If we say that we have no sinwe deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Smalcald Articles; Article 3

11] 8. We believe, teach, and confess that, although the contrition that precedes, and the good works that follow, do not belong to the article of justification before God, yet one is not to imagine a faith of such a kind as can exist and abide with, and alongside of, a wicked intention to sin and to act against the conscience. But after man has been justified by faith, then a true living faith worketh by love, Gal. 5:6, so that thus good works always follow justifying faith, and are surely found with it, if it be true and living; for it never is alone, but always has with it love and hope.

Formula of Concord; Righteousness of Faith

11] 6. Accordingly, we also believe, teach, and confess that when it is said: The regenerate do good works from a free spirit, this is not to be understood as though it is at the option of the regenerate man to do or to forbear doing good when he wishes, and that he can nevertheless retain faith if he intentionally perseveres in sins.

12] 7. Yet this is not to be understood otherwise than as the Lord Christ and His apostles themselves declare, namely, regarding the liberated spirit, that it does not do this from fear of punishment, like a servant, but from love of righteousness, like children, Rom. 8:15.

13] 8. Although this voluntariness [liberty of spirit] in the elect children of God is not perfect, but burdened with great weakness, as St. Paul complains concerning himself, Rom. 7:14-25Gal. 5:17;

14] 9. Nevertheless, for the sake of the Lord Christ, the Lord does not impute this weakness to His elect, as it is written: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8:1.

15] 10. We believe, teach, and confess also that not works maintain faith and salvation in us, but the Spirit of God alone, through faith, of whose presence and indwelling good works are evidences.

Formula of Concord; Good Works

26] Therefore true, saving faith is not in those who are without contrition and sorrow, and have a wicked purpose to remain and persevere in sins; but true contrition precedes, and genuine faith is in or with true repentance [justifying faith is in those who repent truly, not feignedly

Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord; Righteousness of Faith

Manifest sins drive out the Spirit, that is to say that the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow sin to have dominion. Sin still exists but it doesn’t reign over God, God must be the one to be guiding the Christian. If a Christian is more so guided by sin than God (the Spirit) then it is clear that the lack of fruit shows he/she is no Christian. This is clear in the book of James and also Galatians, to start. Jesus, in the flesh, spoke of such warnings throughout His earthly ministry, I think Matthew 12:43-45 is a prime example, yet there are many. To sum it up, someone who constantly persists against the law of God, calls good evil, and evil good. This is fruit of sin, not fruit of the Spirit. If the fruit is that which blends in with evil, if light doesn’t light in the darkness but joins the darkness, it is the fruit of evil, the Spirit has departed.

This is the repentant life of a Christian. There isn’t a sinless perfection, as we, with St. Paul, would wish; thus we are all wretched. Yet, we aren’t to be Antinomians and say that the Law doesn’t matter and we can sin and live as we please. The flesh, the disease of Original Sin, causes us to sin yet thanks be to God through Christ Jesus we aren’t enslaved to sin in our mind. Through faith, we are set free from the bondage that sin brings because we are now spiritually alive.

Through daily repentance, contrition and faith, we subdue the old Adam in us, drowning him in the remembrance of our baptism, living the new life in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Sinners, yes. Sinning, yes. Saints, yes, forgiven, yes, justified, yes. Simul. It is Simul because of faith and the work of the Holy Spirit. If manifest sins have the reigns and the Spirit departs then it is no longer Simul, it is only sinning sinner.

One final point I’d like to mention. Is that Christian sanctification is less about sinners getting better for themselves. Christian sanctification is not about self improvement but about outward fruit for others to enjoy. It is truly to love God and neighbor. I think there are times that Christians fall for the “self help” approach and easily become mixed with the “holiness” of the religions of the world. In this case ceasing from outward adultery is less about myself overcoming what is done with my body and more about loving those other people and seeing them less as objects and more as precious people that God has made, suffered, and died for. This is only possible through the fruit of the Spirit. Thus by actively continuing in that sin, the Spirit is rejected. Repentance is a gift, it’s given and done to you, the fruit that follows comes from submission to the Gospel, as we yield to the Spirit, and are yoked with the Spirit as a gnat (us) with an Ox (Spirit). We work together but feebly as a gnat can’t pull a cart if the Ox leaves. And a gnat can’t bear more, or pull even equal to the Ox. So it is easy to see that in matters of Sanctification, it is God who works and wills in us, the most we can do is to persist in open sin so He leaves, or submit and yeild to His leading and pulling. Romans 7 is a fantastic text that shows that Even St. Paul had to be patient and wait until the resurrection to be freed from the body of death.

I thank you John for your email and your thoughts. It has helped me to see that perhaps I could have been more clear by adding in and explaining Romans 7. I do hope I have been of some help in explaining and if I need to add further explanation then please do let me know. I would be very happy to do so. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. With your sins forgiven, you are free, go in peace.

Help spread the Gospel to the World; Like, Comment, Share, and Subscribe!

Have a Comment or Question that you would like answered in an upcoming post? Send them to me using the Contact Page.