The Article That Changed Everything
Today, Paul Robinson is a blogger for the students section of XXXchurch.com, a popular website devoted to helping Christians struggling with pornography. He also leads one of the site's 20+ x3groups—online recovery groups helping men and women heal from porn or sexual addiction.
But when he first came across "Gutsy Guilt," an article by John Piper that ran in the October 2007 issue of Christianity Today, he was in the throes of a porn addiction, unwilling to admit even to himself the extent of his problem. That article opened his eyes to a new reality, one in which God's love was not conditional upon the things he did alone at night.
He spoke with Laura Leonard about how that article changed his views on sin and the God who loves unconditionally, and how it freed him from his own shame so he could help others find freedom in Christ.
Where were you in your journey with porn and addiction when you came across this article?
When I read the article "Gutsy Guilt," I was right in the middle of my porn addiction. I was probably viewing porn around 3 or 4 times a week, which isn't a huge amount compared to some people but it was a steady addiction that had lasted over 10 years. I just couldn't shake it, and I had only really spoken to a couple of people about porn, never admitting I had a problem. It always felt like something that I shouldn't be doing but at the time I didn't think it was hurting anyone, least of all myself.
How did the article impact the way you thought about porn and the role it played in your life?
I had been brought up in church believing that there were a list of things that you shouldn't do. You know, the Sunday school answers that kids give when they're asked what sin is. This made me think that if I did any of those things then I was letting God down, and he hated sin so he must hate me, too. Porn was right at the beginning of my list. So I kept things buried, like the fact I looked at porn most nights when everyone else was asleep. The article helped me realize for the first time that God wasn't simply concerned that I never screw up, but actually perhaps more importantly, know that when I did, it didn't make him love me any less. I realized at this point that God understood me.
The idea that I was forgiven for everything I would ever do, thousands of years before I was even born, was something that really hit home. It changed everything for me. I started to think that if this was really true then I didn't have to hide in shame anymore; it was already forgiven. Most people who struggle with any type of sin over and over will tell you that shame is the biggest thing that keeps them trapped. So when Paul tells us in Colossians that those voices, those lies of shame, have already been defeated by Jesus—this mean they can't hurt you anymore. They're not true and they don't have the power to condemn you. This is something that even now I still think about daily.
How has that new perspective shaped your work with XXXchurch.com?
If you're a porn addict, believe me, the last thing you need to hear is that you're a sinner. We already know that. We know that it hurts us and it prevents us from becoming fully human and experiencing true freedom. We get it. The one thing we don't know is that we're free to let go of shame. If it's true that nothing we do will separate us from the love of God, then that has to work both ways. It means that even if we are 10 years sober we are no more loved by God than if we looked at porn an hour ago. Right away, there's no need to feel shame if is separated from all these ideas of who you are and whether God loves you.
So when we meet in our communities, in our x3groups, we stand beside our friends and family who may have had a difficult week. We tell them that this is not everything that is true about them. We tell them that they are accepted and loved. We're free to be honest with each other because we know that shame has no place in the group: only love and grace. When that happens, big things change. We stop comparing ourselves to others. We stop thinking our sins are worse than anyone else's. We stop hiding and accept that our flaws are there but they don't stop us from being loved. We can face the parts of ourselves that we were afraid of people seeing. Most of all, we realize that we're not the only one who struggles.
But perhaps the biggest thing I took from the article was not that the goal is to live these unattainable, perfectly pure lives. Rather, the goal is to allow ourselves to be part of life and to live freely in the beauty and ugliness of it all, knowing more than anything that God loves us. Unconditionally.
Laura Leonard is managing editor of BuildingChurchLeaders.com