[Editor's Note: This guest blogpost is written by Greg Mathias, Associate Director of International Missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He writes about an ever-pertinent issue in Southern Baptist mission efforts.]
“The Smuttiest Cities in America” is the title of a recent article in Men’s Health Magazine. The article uses statistics of the number of DVDs purchased, rented, or streamed; adult entertainment stores per city; rate of porn searches; and the percentage of households who subscribe to a cable channel that shows soft-core porn to come up with a snapshot of the most ‘pornified’ cities in America.  The findings are disheartening on many levels, but what troubles me is that Raleigh, NC ranks as the #4 smuttiest city.
This troubles me because I am employed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) which is in Raleigh’s backyard. A large number of our students and seminary employees live, raise families, and work in the Raleigh area. Every year we send many men, women, and families to the mission fields of North America and the globe.
God continues to bless SEBTS, yet I wonder if the numbers of those going overseas could be much, much more. Our primary international mission sending partner at SEBTS is the International Mission Board, SBC. According to their estimates 70-80% of applicants every year have some sort of pornography history, and many of these applicants are either slowed down in the application process or stopped all together.* A legitimate assumption is that these numbers are similar with the North American Mission Board, SBC as well.**
At SEBTS we are committed to equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission. Yet, according to this study, bad sex is undermining these efforts. Some fundamental issues are at stake when it comes to the corruptive nature of pornography:
- Questioning God’s Goodness. When you engage in pornography a fundamental assumption is that God is not good. James 1:17 reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father. God gave us the sexes as a good thing. He gave us sex within the bounds of marriage as a good thing. God is good. Pornography in any shape or form judges God’s provisions as not good enough.
- Living too Long on Fantasy Island. The world is not about you and your fantasies, nor is it a playground for your personal pleasures and desires. 1 John 2 tells us that this world, along with its desires, is passing away, but the mark of a true believer is one who is captivated by the will of God not the things of this world. It’s time to leave Mr. Roarke, Tattoo and “The plane!” behind and get back to reality!
- Laziness Trumps Self-denial and Discipline. It’s easy to click a mouse, type in a Google search or rent a DVD. Real relationships take time, work and energy. The Christian life is one of sacrifice and perseverance. Jesus reminds us of this very point in Luke 9:23. Paul urges us to be self-controlled lest we be disqualified in 1 Corinthians 9.
- Enslavement. Pornography is a common sin among many men and women in today’s world. Too many settle for an identity of sin and struggle. You are not your sin. In Romans 6, Paul tells us of our new identity as slaves of God, not slaves to sin. If you are in Christ, you have been set free indeed! Live like who you REALLY are.
We all need to live a confessional life before God and others. If you are one of those who struggle with pornography, I urge you to love God more than pixels or images. Sin always overpromises and under delivers. After the rush of adrenaline and excitement, you are only left with guilt and shame.
With any sin pattern, there are times when true freedom seems hopeless. If this describes you, the situation is not without hope. There is a way forward:
- Seek out help. This seems obvious, but there are people who can and will help you. Seek them out. Go to your pastor, your small group leader or another mature, trusted friend. Seek out those Proverbs 17:17 people. 1 Corinthians 10 reminds us that temptation does not automatically lead to sin. There is a way out.
- Get serious about God, your sin, and you. God hates sin. He is also better than anything that sin promises. Repent. Call your sin, sin and bring it into the light. 1 John 1 helps us see the need to live in the light. If we confess our sins God is the faithful one who forgives and cleanses us.
- Kill sin, don’t simply anesthetize it. John Owen powerfully states, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Run from your sin. This will mean a radical lifestyle change and some brutally honest and invasive accountability with your spouse and others, like those people in number 1 above. Jesus is harsh on sin in Matthew 5. You should be just as harsh with your own sin. Remember, this will most likely take time. Proverbs 4:23 admonishes us to guard our hearts. This is a long and arduous process. For some, repenting of a certain sin is a onetime thing, but for most, a continual struggling repentance is the means to defeating sin and its entanglement.
- Consider NOT going…right now. Pornography does not automatically disqualify you from being used of God. God wants His name glorified among the nations, not your sin. Mission work often intensifies struggles and sin. Deal with your sin; allow time for healing and a new pattern to be formed in your life. The point is not to simply put off sin, but to also put on godly character (Colossians 3). Then consider where God may have you serve.
The Great Commission is our mandate. God is great and He has given us a Great Commission. Why aren’t more going? The complicated answer might be bad SEX.
*These are rough estimates. More research needs to be done in order to provide an accurate picture of pornography usage among IMB applicants. Also, these numbers do not take into account other sexual sins and deviations which hinder or stop applicants in the process.
**Research needs to be done to verify numbers with the North American Mission Board, SBC.