Revive Our Hearts Podcast

When Your Spouse Is Addicted to Pornography

Leslie Basham: True repentance is more than merely turning from your sin. Here’s Kelly Needham.

Kelly Needham: Repentance isn’t primarily a turning away from something; it’s what you’re turning to, it’s a returning to Someone. And so, to just flee the sin without fleeing to Christ is not actually repentance. It’s just behavior modification.

But it’s in running to Jesus that is the primary goal, coming to Him, that will sort out the sin issues. But without running to Christ, we’ve missed the point.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, coauthor of Seeking Him, for October 31, 2018.

This week we’ve been listening to a conversation between Nancy and Jimmy and Kelly Needham. You might know Jimmy from one of his Christian music albums, and Kelly writes on a regular basis for the True Woman blog.

They talked yesterday about some of the hard things God has used to challenge them and shape them into who they are today. They’ll address a particularly hard challenge they encountered early in their marriage. Let’s listen.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I’m so grateful for this opportunity we’ve had over the past few days to hear from Jimmy and Kelly Needham. Kelly’s been connected in various ways with Revive Our Hearts for a number of years. Now I’m getting the chance to meet Jimmy.

I can see why the Lord put you two together. You’re just a great combination. You have such mutual and shared respect for Christ and His Word and for each other. We talked yesterday about some of the hard things and the hard places that God has used to deepen your love and your oneness with Him and with each other.

You keep coming back to these bedrock, solid, foundational truths. In fact, as we were talking yesterday about the hard places, the thought that kept going through my head is something that I’ve said many, many times on Revive Our Hearts:Anything that makes me need Christ is a blessing.

We do need Him, but anything that makes me more aware of my need for Him is a blessing, and you guys get that and how this is all intended to point us to Christ. You get how, in marriage, it’s pointing each other not to “I am the savior,” or “I am the solution to your problems,” or “You are my savior; you’re the solution to my problems,” but you point to “Christ is our Savior!”

He is who and what and all that we ultimately need when it comes down to it. I so resonate with the ways that you two look at life and family. There’s so much more we could talk about, but I want to take a little bit of a different turn today.

Jimmy, I’ve read blog posts you’ve written (and we’ve actually linked to some of those posts on our website, ReviveOurHearts.com). You’ve written pretty openly about a battle with pornography as a young man. I want to unpack some of that story.

I was thinking, I don’t know that in eighteen years of doing this program that we’ve ever actually addressed this issue head on. It’s not because we didn’t want to or didn’t think we should, but it’s just not come up in this way. I know this is a huge issue for many wives in their marriage.

Kelly, I know you hear from some of those wives who have read what Jimmy has written or heard his testimony. As we know, it’s not just an issue that men struggle with. You used to think of it more that way, but it is something that is not uncommon now with women as well.

Kelly: It’s definitely not. I think statistically it is even. It is shaping up to be almost even in men and women—as far as percentage-wise. There are a lot of young women that will share their struggles with pornography with me through our small group.

It’s definitely not just a man’s struggle. It’s a human struggle. Lust is a human problem, not a male or female problem. So we all have an issue with it in some degree.

Nancy: We’re going to go into some deep and difficult waters. But, again, Christ is our Savior. He came to deliver us from sin, to save us from sin. So we’re not exalting this sin above every other sin or any other sin, but we’re saying it’s a very real trap.

It’s an “addiction”—we could use that term, but ultimately it is “bondage,” “slavery.” We don’t want to be slaves to anything or anyone other than Christ! So let’s unpack some of this. If you have small children with you, you may want to get them busy doing something else while we have this conversation.

Jimmy, as you think back, I understand that it was at the age of nine that you first got exposed to pornography.

Jimmy: That’s right.

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about your upbringing. Did you grow up in a Christian home? What was the environment? How did you first get exposed?

Jimmy: I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, though my parents were great parents. They raised me and my brother well. They were not Christians. I’d want to look this up, but I think I heard somewhere that the average age of first exposure is around eight or nine, so my age of exposure wasn’t all that dramatic or unusual.

It was some friends of mine who said, “Hey, there’s a magazine buried under the rocks at the playground down the street. Let’s go check it out!” It was that thing. That really began, for me, a decade-long addiction to pornography that wouldn’t end for me until I was nineteen years old and in college. . .

I had been walking with the Lord for probably four years at that point. I became a Christian at fifteen. It was a massive problem for me, and one especially when I became a Christian. It was really the first time it felt like a problem, you know?

I became a Christian in the context of dealing with my pornography struggle. I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I had a friend in high school who I knew was a believer, and one day I just felt so compelled to get this weight off my shoulders. It was this thing. Iit was all-consuming.

Nancy: And it was a big thing in your life?

Jimmy: It was! In fact, the summer before I talked to this particular friend (this was the summer before my sophomore year of high school), it was all I did . . . everyday. It was how I passed the time.

Nancy: I know that, today, Internet pornography is so huge. Was that . . .?

Jimmy: It was Internet-based, yes. Early on it wasn’t. Earlyon, sadly, it was my friends’ dads’ magazines under their beds. We just knew what friends had those dads, and we went over there.

But then, at some point, it became a computer at the house. I had access in my room, and it was a really dangerous thing. It was unfiltered. My parents didn’t have a grid for that going on.

Nancy: Do you think they were aware?

Jimmy: I don’t know. I think, now, a parent would have to have a sense of, “Yeah, that’s a reality.” But, the Internet was just starting to catch on back then. It was definitely not a thing that I think my parents thought was really happening in that context.

Nancy: Right. So for you as a teenage kid, was it a love/hate thing? You loved it, but you didn’t love it?

Jimmy: That’s a great question. Before Christ, I was all about it. I had no problem with it. In fact, a lot of my friendships were established over that. It was like, “Oh, we both enjoy that. We have this in common.”

But that summer before my sophomore year was the first time that I felt a hollowness. I look back now, and I say it was the Holy Spirit convicting me of sin and working on my heart. But it was the first I time I felt it.

Nancy: And what a gift from Him that is hollowness is, when you realized, “This can’t fill me.”

Jimmy: No doubt! That God would care for me that much, to give me a sense of that, and to give me a friend in high school that had the only hope for me . . . the gospel. We were walking home from school the first week of my sophomore year, and I just unloaded on him!

“Man, I have to tell you this. I’ve never really told anybody, except the guys that I look at it with.” I just broke. I started weeping. I never cried over this thing, but the Spirit was just heavily convicting me! We made it to his house . . .

It’s funny, you grow up in America—in Texas—where “everybody’s a Christian.” Your atheists are “Christian” in Texas. Everybody has a sense of the cross and Christ, and yet, I never knew what the cross was for. I never knew it for anything more than just being something you wear around your neck.

My friend unpacked for me what Jesus’ sacrifice meant‚—that it atoned for the evil that I was talking about. He absorbed my deserved wrath, took it upon Himself, and He offers me pardon and His righteousness. It blew my mind! I just never heard anything like that.

I remember, I went home that day, and it was just one of those line-in-the-sand moments. It was like, “God, I want to change. I want You! If that’s true, if what I heard today is true, I want that!”

At that time I’d burned a bunch of CDs, disks, that sort of thing. I just remember breaking them in my room, shattering them. It was funny, the memory, because they were really kind of cheap DVDs, and when you shattered them, the film on them exploded into confetti. It wasn’t like it just snapped in half.

So it was like there’s this “party” in my room of that going on. That was the moment for me—fifteen years old—when God rescued me and changed my appetite. So, post that. Now the struggle is there, but it’s now this thing that, “I don’t want this anymore!”

I feel for the first time a war within me—the flesh-and-the-Spirit war with each other. You don’t do what you want, like Paul says. Sadly, it took four years to really see that decisive victory. That didn’t really come until college for me.

I think the reason that I was able to start walking in some freedom was because I began to understand something about the gospel that I don’t think I understood at first. A lot of times when we are saved, that initial moment, it’s definitely a sense of, “I want to be with God in heaven. I don’t want my sins to be counted against me in the day of judgment. I want to be free from that.” It was definitely like a flee-from-wrath/flee-to-Christ thing.

But I didn’t have near the sense of (as I started to over those next four years of discipleship) “Christ is more for me than just a get-out-of-hell-free card. He’s more for me than just a saving from future punishment. He is my satisfier!” ‘

He’s more than just, as I’ve heard one preacher say, a “vial of blood. Just take this blood. That’s all you need, like, that’s the antidote.” He is Bread. He calls Himself New Wine and Living Water and the Bread of Life.

When I began to realize that Christianity wasn’t just about not going to hell and going to heaven, but it was about getting access to the only One my heart was designed to enjoy fully and be satisfied in, everything changed!

Kelly: And that journey of seeing Christ as satisfier has been something important in my own life. Though pornography has not been a struggle for me personally (I know it has been for many women.) But even in my own wrestle, that’s the antidote often: “Is Jesus my all-in-all? Is He my satisfier?” When He is, “the things of the world grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Nancy: So this relates to a lot of issues that we face in our struggle with sin, in being tempted. It’s not just in sexual matters, though certainly there. Food can be what we look to for satisfaction or friendships or relationships or marriage or children or whatever . . . job.

Kelly: Yes. I think the struggle, though, with sexual sin struggles and part of what makes them so hard to get rid of is the shame element for them—which in some elements, it is an appropriate shame, right? We should feel shame for sin, but when it keeps it hidden and in the dark we find no freedom.

Christ is our satisfier, but we can’t walk that journey alone. Like Jimmy confessing to his friend on the way home, there’s a confession element. There’s confessing to a person that is liberating.

Pornography is often seen as a man’s struggle. And because of that, when women struggle with that, they face an additional sense of shame because don’t have just normal sin struggles. They have “the sin struggles of a man”—that’s often how they feel.

A lot of times I’m encouraging women in my life, “You need to find safe places to talk about these things. You need safe women in your church to whom you can confess that and ask for prayer, because that will give you people to fight alongside you to help you fight for Christ to be your satisfier, to help you chase Him. You can’t do that in the dark by yourself.” That, I think, is one of the biggest struggles for women dealing with pornography.

Nancy: There’s a lot of power about coming into the light with any hidden area. So as you were walking through this, Jimmy, and you’d come to know Jesus and you’re finding Him to be your satisfaction, was there anybody walking this path with you?

Jimmy: Oh, yes. I was blessed with just a really great group of guys—roommates in college. We were all believers, and we all were fighting for the same thing. One-hundred-percent of us were struggling with it.

In fact, we lead a college ministry at our church, and I would say, at least when it comes to the guys I interact with, it’s almost a hundred percent situation there, too. That is the wrestle, that’s the temptation. The access is there.

Having guys to fight alongside me who could pray for me, and I them, was a massive thing. It was a massive thing! I don’t think it was possible for me to find lasting freedom without doing that in the context of community.

Nancy: What else was a part of that journey for you?

Jimmy: I think it’s important to say this, because I’ve seen it a lot in the guys that I’ve fought alongside for freedom from pornography, and also in my college context, I see this a lot. There is a way to fight against sexual sin—and sin in general—that can actually be misguided and even sinful in itself.

That is, when we make the goal only about getting free from this particular hang-up. The verbiage in my context when I’m ministering to these college guys is, “Hey, man, it’s been three weeks since I’ve gone on the Internet,” or “It’s been five weeks.” That’s the celebration; that’s the end-goal for them.

Nancy: The behavior.

Jimmy: The behavior, yes. As if getting that under control is somehow pleasing to God. It was really surprising for me to share with them that that’s not actually the main aim of Christ in freeing you from this. They were surprised that, but that’s not the main aim.

That is an aim, but that’s not the whole thing. You can become pornography-free and now be really boastful and prideful that you were able to white-knuckle your way through it.

Nancy: Self-righteous. It kind of reminds me of the Pharisees.

Jimmy: Yes, no doubt. Clean on the outside, but inside, full of dead men’s bones.

Kelly: I think that is really tapping into, “What is the goal of repentance?” What is repentance? Repentance isn’t primarily a turning away from something; it’s what you’re turning to. It’s a returning to Someone.

To just flee the sin without fleeing to Christ is not actually repentance. It’s just behavior modification. But it’s in running to Jesus that is the primary goal, coming to Him. That will sort out the sin issues. But without running to Christ, we’ve missed the point.

Jimmy: And that’s exactly what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee youthful lusts [so there’s the fleeing], but pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with all those who call on the Lord from a pure heart “ (paraphrased).

It’s a both/and. You run from sin, but you run to the Savior. You run to righteousness.

Nancy: And it’s interesting, you were telling me when we were talking about this earlier that as the Lord was dealing with you, it wasn’t just the pornography issue. There were other lust issues that weren’t necessarily sexual. You said food was a big deal.

Jimmy: That’s right. I’ve dealt with gluttony and obesity for years and years. When I was in high school, I was about 260 pounds. I’m not an extremely tall guy, and it was a real issue for me.

It was interesting. When God started to liberate me from pornography addiction, I started to lose weight without even knowing it. What I’ve come to realize upon reflection is, there is some sort of link, I feel, like between the lusts of the flesh . . . like, me giving in to my appetites.

When I begin to find my appetites satisfied in Christ, it rights a thousand wrongs—not just one specific one. I remember, I didn’t do a diet program; I didn’t do anything like that. I didn’t even know I was losing weight until I had to the doctor go for a physical one day. I got on the scale, and I was thirty-eight pounds lighter than I was the last time I went to the doctor.

I was like, “Oh, that’s why my pants aren’t fitting!” I ended up losing seventy pounds in the process without a diet. I’m not saying diets aren’t profitable or there’s not wisdom in that, but what I am saying is . . .

Nancy: There was a heart issue there.

Jimmy: It was a heart issue! In hindsight, I see it. I was running to food. I was running to Internet pornography. I was running to all these things to satiate what only Christ could do! When I found Christ to be as sweet as He is, those other things started to right themselves.

It wasn’t that I did nothing in those areas, but if we don’t get the main part right, you can white-knuckle it all day with the other things, and you won’t see lasting, consistent freedom.

Kelly: I think that speaks, too, to the role of maybe a spouse who is living with somebody struggling with those lust-of-the-flesh things. Especially with pornography, I know it can feel really hurtful as a wife to hear your husband struggling with that.

Nancy: You’ve had women talk to you about this.

Kelly: I do. I think because Jimmy’s so public about that struggle—and hoping to see both men and women be free—I get a lot of those side emails that go, “Oh, so you probably understand this.” Though that hasn’t been something that’s been current in our marriage, I know that they at least have a context of, “You understand the insecurity that comes with that or the fears that come with that,” or all these other things.

A lot of times, what’s really difficult is, these women will put themselves in a position as enemy of their spouse. In being hurt, they lash back in response. I think there is an appropriate feeling of hurt and grief. Women need to grieve that. It is hard when your spouse is stuck in a sin-struggle that does affect your marriage. Grief is healthy and normal.

But the thing that will change that sin-struggle is Christ—like Jimmy’s saying—is heart-transformation, is repentance. None of those are things that, as wives, we can do for our husband. In some ways they need to deal with the Lord, and we need to partner with them to help them deal with the Lord.
 

To get in the process and become an enemy to your spouse in that . . .

Nancy: . . . is counterproductive.

Kelly: Very counterproductive!

Nancy: But to come alongside and to say, “I’m getting under this burden, I’m getting under this load with you. Let’s together get to Christ.”

Kelly: Totally! I don’t want anybody to hear me say that that means if your husband comes and confesses this to you that you need to put on a happy face and say [in a light manner], “It’s okay, I forgive you” when really, what’s happening in your heart is grief.

I think it’s helpful for them to hear, “This is grieving me! This hurts me! This causes things in me that weren’t there before. I feel insecure now. I feel like you’ve been lying to me.” There is a place for that honest sharing.

And even a place to say, “Can we talk about this tomorrow? I just need a day to just process right now, because I’ll probably say things I don’t mean.” There may be a place for that. But at the end of the day, that you get other women next to you to support you, saying, “You need to work toward forgiveness. That’s your role as a Christian—forgiveness—and also partnership along with your spouse.”

It is recognizing that their sin is primarily against God more than it is against you. And so, the need for repentance is primarily toward God and then secondarily there’s a place for apologies and repentance toward you as a spouse.

They won’t be able to fight that battle without you! And so, if you really want them to be free, you have to be able to come alongside as a partner in that. That’s a hard thing! I just know that there are probably women hearing that, thinking, There’s no way I can do that! And the truth is, you can’t . . . apart from the strength God provides.

If it forces you onto your knees to say, “God, I cannot come alongside my husband in this. I have no strength to do that. Please help me!” That’s a great place to begin, that you would begin sharing with other women honestly and asking them to help you come alongside and help your husband, because that’s what they need. They need a wife who’s going to fight that battle alongside them.

Nancy: If that continues to be a battle, as it is for many women where their husband is not even moving toward freedom, not moving toward Christ, what is the hope for that wife?

Kelly: We talked about this earlier, but in some of the hardest and most despairing seasons of our lives it has forced us to answer the question: “Is Christ enough?” A lot of times, my answer in those really hard seasons has been, “No. I don’t believe that. I believe I need Christ plus my marriage to look this way. I need Christ plus children or plus all these other things to be okay.”

It really forces us with that decision when we don’t see change happening. And in marriages, too, when we feel like there’s no end in sight, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, the question arises in the heart, “Is Christ enough?”

He said He is. I think that is a great place to begin, talking to God about those things. I mean, even confessing, “I don’t feel like You’re enough, God. I don’t understand why You’re doing this . . .” Drawing near to Him with questions, and wrestling through that.

As Jimmy said earlier, when we have Christ and nothing else, we have everything. And so, I think there is a real hope for joy in the presence of God. That’s where the fullness of joy is. It’s not in a healthy marriage, even.

The fullness of joy is in the presence of God; peace is in the presence of God. We have covenant faithfulness, that when it’s missing on earth, it is accessible to us through Christ and through our marriage with Him as the Bride of Christ.

And so, there are so many things to hope in and to look to, but that’s a battle to fight, to put your hope there. It is not an easy one. In my personal experience, it requires hours of wrestling with God and in prayer and in the Word and with other people--not doing that alone. But there’s a lot of hope! And God says He’s able to change the heart.

He’s able to humble those who walk in pride. His arm is not so short that it cannot save. And so in the earthly circumstances, there is always hope for change, but it rests in God and we have to wait on Him for that.

Nancy: I watched a really dear friend of mine wrestle through this when her husband was struggling with this as it came to light in their marriage in relation to pornography. And for her, this became a fighting for grace, a fighting for joy, fighting for leaning into her husband and into her marriage when he wasn’t there yet.

I was with that wife not long ago. I just see what God has done in her life, in his life and in their marriage. It didn’t happen quickly. It didn’t happen overnight, but it has been, and is, very sweet today. I think both of them would say, “Worth the battle!”

Both partners in that marriage have a battle. He may be battling this sexual addiction, this lust of the flesh. But your battle as a wife may be battling for joy, for covenantal contentment, and perseverance in that marriage.

If there were no battle for you and only a battle for him, how would you understand his need for grace, and how would you understand his need for a Savior—if you don’t have a need for a Savior, too?

So there can well be a battle going—not between each other. That’s what you don’t want to be the battle, where you become your enemy and he becomes the opponent. But you’re battling together, fighting for grace!

Jimmy and Kelly: That’s right.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, talking to Jimmy and Kelly Needham about a temptation that is so prevalent in our day for both men and women. In a moment, Kelly will be back to pray.

How did today’s conversation make you feel? Slightly uncomfortable? Pornography is not an easy topic to address, but it’s one we simply can’t ignore. As Nancy mentioned earlier, Jimmy and Kelly have written some helpful blog posts on this subject. You can find links to some of those on ReviveOurHearts.com.

Finding freedom from sin begins with knowing the truth. According to Psalm 119:11, when we hide God’s Word in our hearts, His truth equips us to fight temptation and win. This is why we so often encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and to meditate on Scripture.

Right now we’re offering a resource that is an excellent way to get the truth into your mind and heart. It’s the 2019 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. With this beautifully-designed calendar hanging on your wall, you’ll have a visual reminder of your need for personal revival in areas such as humility, honesty and purity.

We’ll send you the calendar when you make a donation of any size at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can give by phone by calling 1–800–569–5959. And finally, if you are struggling with a pornography addiction, would you commit today to seeking help from a trusted friend or counselor?

Jimmy spent years unable to say “no” to temptation, but has seen the power of God transform his life. Tomorrow he and Kelly return to remind us that it is possible to find freedom from this seemingly irresistible temptation. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Now, here are Nancy and Kelly to close today’s program.

Nancy: It’s been a beautiful thing to see the grace of God in both of your lives in this huge area but in other areas as well: the hard things, the tempting things, the failing things, the areas of confusion or difficulty that you’ve wrestled through. It’s beautiful to see you get to Christ and to see Him be enough for you.

I know we have listeners who have been stirred by your story. They’ve been encouraged. They’ve been challenged and are maybe making some hard choices or decisions, thinking through some hard things and how this applies in their lives, how they can experience the grace of Christ.

Kelly, as we wrap today, I wonder if you would just pray for our listeners—maybe a woman struggling with a sexual addiction, maybe a woman in a marriage where her husband is battling that. Let’s just, together, lift our listeners up to the throne of God’s grace and ask Him to show mercy and grace.

That’s what the Scripture says, to come boldly before the throne of grace so we may receive mercy—which we all need! It’s not just my husband who needs it; I need it! And then pray for grace to help us in our time of need. So, lead us in praying for our listeners if you would.

Kelly: Yes, I’d be honored. Father, thank You that You are not a distant God and that You came near to us through Christ, that You allowed Yourself to enter into our world and experience all the temptations we face.

Jesus, it says about You that You’ve been tempted in every way that we have been, so there is no temptation that you have not felt. You understand the heaviness of that pull, and You succeeded, Jesus. You won in every single moment. You offer us that perfect righteousness, that perfect track record of fleeing every time. You offer it to anyone who will call on Your Name.

So for those struggling in sexual sin right now, God, I pray that You would allow faith to rise up in their hearts, that You offering righteousness is a real thing, that You actually offer perfect righteousness through Christ for all who believe on Your Name, and that you would give a humility to receive that to those who are struggling.

Lord, may that they would come with empty hands and thank You for that offer and that they would really believe that it is true—that all those who are in Christ have become the righteousness of God.

I just pray that you would encourage the weary, encourage the weak, those who are struggling in sin. And the reality is, we all struggle in sin. Even the wives in the room who are feeling defeated by sins of their spouse. Man, there is hardening of hearts that is tempting in that moment. There is a temptation to not be forgiving, to withhold forgiveness where You have commanded it of us, God.

There are plenty of temptations on that side of the fence as well. And You, again, Jesus, have defeated every one of them!

So I pray for the wives in the room who are just discouraged by the struggles of their husbands, that You would lighten the load by showing Your perfect track record. You are the only One that can be faithful to that wife perfectly. You are. I pray that they would grow in love for You, a desire for You, and that You would allow them by Your strength and Your grace to overcome every temptation to harden their hearts toward their husband, to give up in fighting alongside them.

God, would You strengthen those women to humble themselves, to extend forgiveness and grace, and to battle alongside as a partner with their husbands? God, that is an impossible task unless You come in! So our eyes are on You.

We don’t always know what to do, but we look to You, Jesus, and we say You are a very present help in need. We have access to You through Your blood, so thank You God! I pray that you would keep us going to You and running to You in every moment, every minute that we need You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to find freedom in Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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