Creating a Battle Plan
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Joe RigneyJoe Rigney is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He oversees the Theology and Letters program, an undergraduate major that focuses on the Great Books and the Greatest Book. He is the author of three books: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013), The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2015), and Strangely Bright (Crossway, 2020). Joe...more
When you’re in a war, like pornography, it makes sense to have a strategy for the battles. Dr. Joe Rigney talks about how to overcome the enemy and walk in victory.
Creating a Battle Plan
Bob: There are a lot of husbands who have a lot of messed up ideas when it comes to their expectations around marital intimacy. Joe Rigney says there’s a good reason for that.
Joe: What’s happened is: “For a number of years, you have been taking sex ed curriculum from liars and incompetents”—that’s what pornography is—you have been conditioned to think that this is what sexuality is. Then you get into marriage and you go, “That’s not how it is!” [Pornography]—That’s a lie; that’s artificial; it’s fake; yet, you’ve conditioned yourself by the choices you’ve made; and now you need to unlearn some things.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 3rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There are lots of things about sexuality that many of us need to unlearn and lots of things about dealing with our own lust that many of us need to begin to practice. We’re going to talk about both of those things today. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I remember speaking to a group of men—it’s about 1500 guys—and we were talking about lust and temptation/sexual sin. I asked every guy in the room to stand up; I said, “Everybody stand up, except the single guys. Single guys, you can stay seated. Just all the married guys stand up.”
Then I said, “I want you to sit down if, since you got married, you have not had any ongoing struggle with pornography or lust. Go ahead and sit down.” I think maybe four guys in the room sat down.
Ann: Ah, that’s so depressing.
Dave: You’re saying four guys had not struggled—
Bob: —since they—
Dave: —everybody else had.
Bob: I said to the single guys, “I wanted to do this for you because I wanted you single guys, who are thinking, ‘I’ve got this struggle going on in my life, but when I’m married—
Bob: —“‘and when I’m able to be intimate with my wife regularly, then—
Ann: —“‘it will go away.’”
Bob: —“’this battle will go away.’” I wanted them to see: “Here’s the testimony of the tribe; it’s not going to go away. That’s not the cure you’re looking for; that’s not going to fix this for you.”
Ann: Bob, most women that are engaged, and their fiancé has come and talked to them, like, “This has been a battle in the past,”—and he’s usually reassuring—“but I’m sure, when we get married, it will no longer be a battle.”
Ann: I think it’s important for her to know: “This could be something that we need to battle together.” It’s not an easy conversation to have.
Bob: Your fiancé almost certainly has had exposure to pornography. The question is: “What’s that ongoing exposure looked like, and how is this going to impact your marriage?”
Dave: We need help, Bob.
Bob: We do need help.
Ann: You do need help. [Laughter]
Dave: We need a doctor in the house. [Laughter] And we’ve got one.
Bob: Joe Rigney is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Joe, welcome back.
Joe: It’s great to be here.
Bob: Joe is a pastor in the Twin Cities. He is an associate professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary; and He’s written a book called More Than a Battle, which is a battle plan for guys to know how you get free from what is a battle for all of us.
Joe, you’ve talked about your own struggle with this issue. One of the things you say in the book is the whole idea of what it means to walk by the Spirit was kind of a revolutionary game-changer for you. Now, you’d heard about walking by the Spirit for years; but some light came on that affected your battle with porn.
Joe: Yes; there’s this great text in Galatians, Chapter 5, where Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In the original Greek, it’s actually an intensified negation; it is: “Walk by the Spirit and you will absolutely not gratify the desires of the flesh.” That’s an amazing promise. Immediately, he comes back and he says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, so that you don’t do the things that you want because they’re opposed to each other.”
For a long time, I thought, “What that sounds like: great promise; realistic walk back,”—like Paul’s sort of saying, “Hey, if you walk by the Spirit, you won’t do this at all; but you still kind of will,”—
Joe: —like, “desires of the flesh”: “There’s going to be a war, and you’re going to lose some.”
Dave: By the way, you just described most men’s Christian walk: “You kind of will.” We got to hear the rest because—
Joe: What the game-changer was/is—I had a friend in seminary, who was working on that passage. He said, “You know, if you flip it around, but kind of keep the logic of the passage.” The logic of the passage is: “Walk by the Spirit; you won’t gratify the desires of the flesh, because those are opposed to each other,” and “You don’t do the things that you want.”
He said, “Flip it.” What he said was: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit; the desires of the Spirit against the flesh. These are opposed to each other; therefore, walk by the Spirit and you won’t gratify the desires of the flesh.” It was like the light just went, “Boom.” What it meant was—it’s not that you have this promise, and there’s a realistic walk back—it’s that you wake up, every day, in a war. You’re a Christian—there’s the spiritual desires; there’s fleshly desires—they’re opposed to each other. It’s this pitch battle, so what should you do?—“Walk by the Spirit,”—and then there’s a promise—“and you won’t gratify those desires of the flesh.” That was a major thing.
Then what it signaled was: “We start in a war.” The destination that we’re going for is not gratifying the desires of the flesh, which isn’t the same as not having any desires. The language of gratify is: “Basically, desires want to take you someplace. Desires entice, and they pull you”—right?—desires want you to go someplace. If you let them take you there, that’s called gratifying the desire or indulging the desire. The promise is, not that there won’t be a desire, but that you won’t gratify it.
“Then what’s the bridge between where we start and our destination?”—answer: “Walk by the Spirit,”—which means that the question: “What does that even mean?”—becomes massively important in terms of our sanctification. “How do we get from this warfare, where we’re frustrated, to measures of victory that maybe we can’t even imagine yet?”
Bob: Joe, what does that even mean?
Joe: What does that even mean? [Laughter] I wrote a book about it. [Laughter] I think one of the things it means is it reorients us to the kind of struggle that this is. I’m borrowing this from the late Dr. David Powlison; he was another game-changer. In 2004, I heard him give a message called “Making All Things New” at the Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis.
I came up, as a college student; he gave a talk called “Making All Things New,”—eventually, turned it into a little book/Crossway published this little book—kind of an expanded version of that. In that talk, he basically said, “Look, this is a longer war; this is a deeper war; this is a wider war; this is more…” It just opened my eyes to things in my life that I had no idea had anything to do with the struggle against sexual sin, but absolutely did.
I lean on him heavily to really get a vision of: “Part of walking by the Spirit is recognizing this is a long obedience in the same direction.” This is not a flash in the pan/you just—God suddenly flips a switch—He’s not going to zap you probably. Maybe He knocks you off your horse, like Paul; but more likely: “It’s going to be you waking up, day after day, and making certain choices by the Spirit of God to be confronted with the temptations and to walk away.”
There’s layers of the fight. Walking by the Spirit is—“By the Spirit’s power, there’s a lifestyle; there’s a way of conducting yourself/a way of walking in the world that fits with the Spirit’s desires,”—that’s what we’re after.
Dave: It’s interesting—Paul’s getting at it; and Joe, you’re developing it so well that the answer—“The victory journey is not horizontal. It’s capital ‘S’/Spirit; it’s not my human spirit.”
It’s almost like—I mean, when you were talking, I picture a human being, with a plug in his hand, looking for an outlet to get my power source. What Bob said earlier, when those men stood up—is we think, “If I get married, I plug this into marriage and my spouse; we’ll be able to have sexual intimacy. The struggle’s going to go away, so that’s going to be my power,” and then it isn’t.
Joe: It’s not.
Dave: So you go, “Pumpf”; and you unplug. You’re like, “Okay, it’s…” What you’re saying/Paul is saying: “That has to go vertical.
Dave: “You’ll never win this battle in human spirit. It’s Holy Spirit power—‘Walk by the Spirit.’”
Dave: You said that means we’re making daily choices. Help us! There’s a guy listening, going, “Okay, I believe it; but I still don’t know what that looks like. How do I win this thing?”
Ann: Let me add this, too, Dave. Because it’s a battle that’s going on—not only in the husband’s life—but it’s the wife’s life as well; because there’s a battle taking place to pull us apart from one another. For women, we too need to know: “How do I battle alongside my husband?” because this topic draws us/pulls us away as partners but, also, our whole family. We, as women, can become so resentful, so angry, so numb that we want nothing to do with our husbands. At that point, Satan wins.
Joe: Right; one thing is that the story Bob told, I think, in a weird way, ought to encourage women. You said, “It’s depressing.” It absolutely is; but for a wife then, who has a husband who is dealing with this, she needs to know it’s not about her.
Ann: Right; it’s so hard not to go there though.
Joe: You assume it’s about: “It must be me—some flaw in me/some failure. If I was different, he wouldn’t do this.”
Joe: That’s not true.
Ann: Many women will say, “He’s basically having an affair with another woman that’s not real.”
Joe: That’s right. I think for wives, one of the things to get straight on is: “This isn’t my fault; therefore, I have to be able to entrust him to God. This is between him and the Lord, fundamentally.”
The reason why single guys, who are dealing/who are neck deep in porn, think marriage is going to fix it is that they think: “Intimacy is intimacy,”—that—“Sex is just sex.” But it’s like, “No.” What’s happened is: “For a number of years, you have been taking sex ed”—this is a quote from a pastor friend of mine—“sex ed curriculum from liars and incompetents,”—that’s what pornography is—right?—you have been conditioned to think that this is what sexuality looked like. Then you get into marriage and you go, “That’s not how it is!” [Pornography]—that’s a lie; that’s artificial; it’s fake. Yet, you’ve conditioned yourself to be aroused by that; therefore, making love to a real woman just doesn’t work. Therefore, you get stuck. Part of it is you’ve been conditioned wrong by the choices you’ve made; and now you need to unlearn some things about what women are, and who women are, and what a man is, and all this stuff.
For a wife, she needs to go, “This is ultimately between him and the Lord; therefore my role is supportive. I need to be worried about me: “Where’s the trap here?” This is one of the main things I talk about in the book—is the schemes of the devil. Paul has this great phrase: “the schemes of the devil.” “We’re not unaware of his schemes.” The idea is—you guys remember the old TV show, 24?
Ann and Dave: Yes.
Joe: You guys remember Jack Bauer?
Joe: If you’re watching that show, you know there’s 24 hours. You’re watching that show, and about hour six, if Jack’s closing in on the bad guy, you know there’s about to be a twist; right? [Laughter] You know he can’t catch him now; we’ve got 18 more hours to go. At hour six, you know there’s about to be a deeper plot revealed. Then at hour 12, there’s going to be a deeper plot revealed; and there’s always going to be a deeper plot.
That’s how the devil is. In a marriage, plot number one/scheme number one is: “I’m going to get this guy to fall. I’m going to get him to look at pornography.” Once that’s accomplished, success for the devil. It’s not like he packs it up and goes home. He goes, “I’ve got another plot now. I’m going to get him to hide it.”
Say that one doesn’t work; say he comes clean: “Oh, it’s okay. I’ve got another plot. Now I’m going to use it to tear his marriage apart. I’m going to work on his wife. I’m going to stoke the fear, and that resentment, and that anger in her,”—so you’re the target of that spiritual attack—it’s not just that you’re watching your husband fall into sin. There’s a danger for a wife. This is where you get mutually-feeding spousal sins. His temptation to lust and your temptation to anger and fear is going to create a dynamic in the marriage that’s going to build a massive wall. Part of walking by the Spirit is not being ignorant of the devil’s schemes.
Ann: So good.
Dave: Some of that’s just training your mind and being—again, a mentor can really help you—
Dave: —understand that scheme/that pattern, what goes on, and what/the deception behind it.
But you just mentioned something that I found intriguing in your book: the connection between anger and lust. Now you mentioned it with the wife being angry; but in the book, you’re talking about a man’s anger sometimes connects or spurs on a lustful desire. Talk about that.
Joe: Yes; so this is an insight from a counselor named Jay Stringer, who wrote a book on this subject on sexual brokenness.
Dave: We had Jay on the program.
Joe: Oh, did you. His book’s very, very helpful. He did all the research, and I just got the benefit of it; right? He talks about how it’s interesting/the way he says he’s never met someone, who has a lust problem, who also doesn’t have an anger problem. Oftentimes this is why, especially as the pornography epidemic has multiplied, that the pornography that guys are getting into these days is much more degrading; because there’s an anger involved.
Again, we talked earlier the desire for validation that guys feel. That’s part of the craving that they are seeking to satisfy through pornography is: “I want to be known and admired as a man.” The anger is: “I’m not known and admired as a man in my daily life, at work, in my marriage, with my kids,”—wherever it is—“In life, I’m not known and admired as a man. That makes me angry, and I’m going to go get admired by a woman,” or “I’m going to go degrade a woman in my imagination.”
Again, this is where—if you only treat this as: “Guys like to look at naked women,”—and you don’t recognize there might be a deep anger at the world, and at God, and at wife—that, as a mentor, I’m going to be keying in on that because, until you diffuse that little time bomb, it doesn’t matter how much you talk about software programs and things to help keep that away—as valuable as those may be—those are treating symptoms. You’ve got to go down for the roots.
Dave: Yes; and I’ve found, as I sit with men in my church, I’ve also found—and you’ve just mentioned it—there’s an anger toward God—
Dave: —like, “God hasn’t come through. My relationship with Him is not what I thought it would be. The power that is in walking in the Spirit, I haven’t really experienced.” It’s almost like, “You know, you haven’t done it for me, God. I’m going to go somewhere I know I shouldn’t go, but it’s going to feel good,”—it’s like feeding that. Have you seen that as well?
Joe: Absolutely; yes, the anger at God. This could be true for married guys; it could be true for single guys: “I want to be married, and God hadn’t provided the woman; so I’m going to act out by looking at something.” You can’t actually punch God in the face. But what I can do is: “What I can do is—I can defy You. I can go seek satisfaction over here,” as a way almost of getting back.
Sin’s so subtle. We don’t recognize that until after the fact: “Oh, that’s what I was doing.” But this is where, again, wise mentors can say, “I see the temptation that’s coming down the way here. Where you’re at, this is the thing that’s coming next.” One of the things with the mentors, with the marriage question, is helping husbands and wives, who are in this, to have honest, but guided, conversations.
Here’s a real practical one. Because men and women are different, we experience attraction different. My wife and I would get tripped up in our first year of marriage when she would say, “Were you attracted to that waitress? You looked like you noticed. Were you attracted to her?” “Yes; she’s attractive.” “How could you say that?! What do you mean you were attracted to her?”
I was like, “Wait, wait,” and I would stop and I’d say, “You mean you’re not attracted to other men?” She was like, “Absolutely not.” I’m like, “No, no, no, wait. Hold on. Time out. You don’t think that other men are attractive?” She says, “No, I totally think other men are attractive. I’m just not attracted to them.”
I went, “That’s just not computing. I don’t/my categories—[Laughter]—you’re saying they’re attractive, but you’re not attracted to them.” In her mind, those were radically different things. She could recognize, “That man is handsome,” but have no desire or draw to him in a certain kind of way because, typically, it needed to be more emotionally fueled; right?
Joe: We were just missing each other, and there was fights and tensions in the marriage. Somebody else needed to come in and say, “Hold on. This is just a vocabulary problem, y’all.” We needed somebody to help us work through that; otherwise, we would just get stuck.
Dave: I’m thinking it’s so easy to do that, as a man, if you’re struggling with porn; because you don’t look at women as women.
Dave: You have to understand what it does to your mind.
Dave: It is not pure; you say in the book, “It’s immoral.” It really is because you look at people different. A woman that says, “He’s attractive, but I’m not attracted to him,” is like they probably have never allowed that to distort. You know what I’m saying?
Joe: Yes; women are not objects for male gratification; and men are not beasts who prey upon women.
That’s what pornography teaches: “Men are just animals and women are just objects.” If you—that’s the catechism; that’s what you’re taught—you’re conditioned to think: “That’s what men are,” “That’s what women are,”—which means you think of yourself that way as a man: “I’m just a beast, and I need to be put in a cage.” A wife is going to then feel like, “Yes, you do.” It’s going to condition; it’s going to affect the way you engage with other women.
Dave: Then you’ve got the guy that will say—because I’ve had them sit in my office, look me in the eye—one guy even wrote it down; he said, “I know what’s right, but I can’t do it. I find something in my soul that keeps me from doing what is right. I want to do what’s right, but I can’t do it.” You ever heard that one before?
Joe: Oh, yes.
Dave: That’s Romans 7.
Joe: That’s Romans 7. [Laughter]
Dave: I’m quoting Romans 7.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: The Apostle Paul wrote that. But I think a lot of men read that, and you talk about it in your book; it’s like, “Oh, I’ve/he battled—
Bob: “That’s my ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.”
Dave: — like: “He didn’t win; I didn’t win.”
Joe: Yes; that’s right.
Dave: “So, hey, you know, I’m just—
Joe: They settle.
Dave: “I’m just being a guy”; yes.
Joe: They settle; right. The thing about Romans 7 that’s interesting is that, in
Romans 7, the Spirit doesn’t show up in that struggle, where he’s like, “I know the good thing; I do what I hate.” In all that wrestling, the Spirit’s absent. The Spirit shows up in Romans 8.
Bob: You’ve got to keep reading.
Joe: You’ve got to keep reading: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free.”
Yes; I think Paul is giving voice—and we can identify and say, “I know what/okay, Paul gets it. He knows what I’m feeling in this battle,”—but we can’t stay there!
Bob: Joe, was your victory in this issue an instantaneous—
Joe: Absolutely not.
Bob: —miraculous or was it remission over a period of time?
Joe: I would say, in terms—at one level, there was kind of an immediacy. It was the shock awake of: “I’m getting married. This is now serious. There are now other people involved, and I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want my wife to be hurt,”—that was a wakeup call.
But the actual process of unlearning things, of reorienting, of having my mind, of having my body—all of the long term—it was a long road. There were stumbles in a sense of like you’re conditioned in certain ways.
Joe: Certain things I noticed. I think this is one of the things that guys miss—is it didn’t get easier; it’s probably going to get harder. You’re going to feel like, “Wow; I’m fighting at a different level.” That’s not a defect; that’s God growing you up into maturity, so embrace that and keep pressing on. Don’t quit.
One of the principles at play here is: “Where you chose to fight is where the battle will be fought.”
Bob: Here’s the thing I’d say to all of us in this battle: “On the days you wake up and go, ‘Oh, I’m not really going anywhere today; I don’t need to put my armor on. I’m not really going to be in the battle today. I’m going to be home alone. How much trouble can you get home alone?’ If you’re not armoring up—this is Ephesians 6—if you’re not putting on the whole armor of God, engaging in the spiritual disciplines; if this is not a part of your daily ongoing reaction to this, then don’t be surprised when you find yourself suffering arrow attacks in the middle of whatever.
Dave: I think we’ve already said this; but I think it is also key to understand: “I’m not Romans 7; I’m Romans 8.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: “I’m not defeated. I was; I really didn’t have the power to beat this. Even though I might win here and there, I couldn’t win. I am Romans 8. I am in Christ. I’m a warrior; I can put on the armor. I couldn’t even put it on before.” Yes, the battle is real; Paul says that—but he gets to Romans 8:1—he says, “There…is no condemnation in Christ,” “I can walk by the Spirit of God.”
Today is the day. You’ve got to take the step; you’ve got to come out of the dark. Picture standing in front of your wife and kids someday, looking them in the eye and saying, “This marriage is blowing up, because I didn’t win my porn battle.” That’s where this is going.
Dave: You’ve got to remind yourself, “I can stop that starting right here, right now.” Get the mentor; get the buddies. Start walking by the Spirit and let God—
Ann: I would add this—
Dave: —bring you victory.
Ann: I would add this too—
Dave: My wife’s got to have the last little point; doesn’t she? [Laughter]
Ann: I’ve been trying to get it in. As a woman, I used to think, “I wish Dave would put his armor on.” Yet, we don’t have control of our husbands; but we have control of our own lives. One of the greatest places that we can do battle is on our knees; this is on us too: “Let’s battle for our families. Let’s battle for our husbands. Let’s battle for our children on our knees. Let’s get girlfriends to say, ‘Let’s take this home back for Jesus in the power of the Spirit and walk in the Spirit.’”
Bob: Joe, thank you for your transparency. Thank you for the book. Thank you for helping all of us in this battle.
Joe: It’s my pleasure.
Bob: Let’s hope that a lot of our listeners will get in touch with us and get a copy of your book, More Than a Battle. We’re making it available this week to any FamilyLife Today listener who’d like to get a copy and can make a donation to support the ministry. Whatever your donation is, ask for your copy of Joe Rigney’s book, More Than a Battle.
Plan to get multiple copies. Plan to go through this book with other guys, whether it’s a small group that you’ve got, or maybe you just need to get a group of guys together and say, “This is something I’ve been wrestling with.” I know that sounds threatening, but this is how you get help. This is where hope comes from. Get a group of guys/say, “I’ve been struggling with this. I don’t know if you are, but I’m guessing most of us have been struggling with this. Even if you’re not, maybe you can be a mentor to me.”
Get your copy of Joe Rigney’s book, More Than a Battle. It’s available when you make a donation to FamilyLife Today. What you’re supporting when you make that donation is this program being heard in your community and in communities all around the world. You’re helping us bring practical biblical help and hope to marriages and families every day of the year. We’ve got more people than ever listening on our mobile app, listening online, listening on this local station. You make that possible when you support this ministry.
You can donate, online, at FamilyLife.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, ask for your copy of Joe Rigney’s book, More Than a Battle, when you make your donation. We’re happy to send it to you as a way of saying, “Thank you for your support.” We look forward to hearing from you.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about: “What is the essence/what’s the core of real leadership? What does that look like?” We’re going to be talking to somebody, who’s seen guys, who have been leaders in the sports arena for years: Jason Romano from Sports Spectrum. But he’s got a lot to say to us—as husbands/dads—to all of us as we seek to lead in our marriages and in our families. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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