What to Say When Someone Confesses a Porn Struggle

“Here are some traits I have seen that helped me when I confessed to others.”

In my years of struggling with pornography, I have had dozens of friends with whom I shared my slip-ups and struggles. Some were better than others.

Many of you at one point or another will have a friend come to you and confess that, once again, they have given in to the demonic machine of pornography, and it helps to have a response ready. Here are some traits I have seen that helped me when I confessed to others. They did not shame me, but they did not let the sin go unacknowledged either.

I will recount some of the best and worst traits to have in receiving a confession, with the aid of Psalm 51, David’s song of confession after sinning with Bathsheba, which I consider to be the best source for grace after a sexual sin.

Don’t say nothing.

Some of the most awkward times of confession were when I confessed to an old roommate of mine in college. He would silently listen and nod, then when his turn to speak arrived, he said nothing. Perhaps a ‘thanks for sharing,’ and that was all.

One time, I asked him about this. He said he was silent because he didn’t know what to say. I think silence was his best response because it seemed the most graceful. In his mind, he was acknowledging that sin had no power over me by not ‘tearing his robes’ to grieve my sin, and his silence showed that my sin was not a big deal.

But to me, his silence did two things: It gave me permission to continue to sin, and it made me feel awkward and dirty because he could not even come up with anything beneficial to say. Additionally, sin IS a big deal, so letting it go unacknowledged is not beneficial to anyone.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Bring it to the Lord.

Another roommate from college had a much different response. When I confessed to him, he would simply turn to the couch in our room, kneeling before it as an invitation for me to join him. We would kneel side by side, our elbows sinking into the cushions, and pray together for forgiveness and deliverance.

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Although he had similar struggles to me, he was much more mature and farther along than I was. His response to me did not make me feel alienated or awkward, because he knelt with me. He joined my side in the battle as we brought our sins to the Lord. His was not a finger pointed at me, but a hand coming alongside me in the fight.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

    so that sinners will turn back to you.

Stay far away from shame.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when a friend confesses to you is that they have already acknowledged that they have screwed up. When I go to a friend to tell them about my misstep, I do it out of an awareness that I have done wrong and need grace. (If a friend does not see a problem with it, the conversation should look much different from the outset.)

Therefore, the last thing to do is emphasize the wrongness of what they have done. They probably already know this. There is fine line between shame and guilt. Guilt tells someone that they have done wrong, but shame tells them that they are wrong. That they are a bad person and don’t deserve good things.

It is right to acknowledge that they have messed up, but move on to grace. Do not dwell on their sin.

Do not let their sin define them.

3 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.

Dispense grace.

Possibly the best person I have confessed to is my friend Elliot. Though we are the same age, I feel like his wisdom and capacity for grace is eons ahead of mine. When I confessed to him, he was not surprised or scared of my sins. He would not recoil or be off-put by my admission. He would simply continue the conversation in his normal tone of voice and offer constructive questions and observations.

He would ask things such as, “What’s going on in your life (or missing from your life) that led you to this?” Or, “What exactly happened last night?” He wanted to fully comprehend what I had done, not out of a busybodied curiosity, but so that all my sin could be brought to light and he could adequately speak grace to me.

Elliot consistently preached the gospel to me in these times of confession. What this looks like is a clear communication to me that I am washed and made new. I may have stumbled last night, but to Jesus, it is in the past, and through Him, I have complete forgiveness and acceptance. Elliot would tell me that my sins do not define me, and I am still lovable and whole, despite a slip in character.

He would also usually begin one of his sentences with, “You know, something I was thinking about the other day on this topic was …” and then proceed to share some insight on waging war on our flesh or receiving mercy.

Dispensing grace is the most important part of receiving a friend’s confession because it is what breaks the cycle.

Grace is the antithesis to shame.

Shame is what keeps a man in the cycle of pornography because it is a voice telling him he is not worthwhile and no real woman will ever love him. Therefore, he turns to digital women. This, in turn, causes more shame, and the cycle only worsens as it sends him in a helpless spiral deeper and deeper into the pit of addiction.

Grace needs to replace shame by saying, Your sins do not define you. Through Jesus, you can be made whole and clean. You are worthy of a real woman (or man, if it is a woman). 

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

Be patient and consistent.

Most likely, this will not happen in a day.

I cannot count the number of times I went to Elliot or my roommates to tell them of my iniquity. Each time, I feared that this would be the final straw. That this time they would be tired of hearing of my slipping up and I would finally be beyond repair.

But each time, they listened and offered me grace, putting me back on the path toward healing. You probably won’t heal them in one day, and this is not your fault. It’s a journey more often than an epiphany. Each one of us should persistently be preaching the gospel to one another to be reminded of who we are, and what has been given us in Christ.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
     and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Ethan Renoe
Ethan is a speaker, writer, and photographer currently living in Los Angeles. He has lived on 6 continents, gone to 6 schools, had 28 jobs, and done 4 one-armed pull-ups. He recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. Follow him on Facebook here at ethanrenoe.com.

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