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Is It Possible to Stop Watching Porn?

by J. Garrett Kell, contributed by our Friends at Crossway
Time: 15 Minutes

From the Editor: Is is possible to stop watching porn? Some people think this habit is too rooted, the desires are too great, and the power to overcome just isn’t enough. But is that what the Bible teaches? We hope this helpful chapter from Garrett Kell’s book Pure in Heart: Sexual Sin and the Promises of God gives you confidence that it is possible to overcome a pornography addiction and any other sexual addiction through Jesus Christ. May the Lord Jesus set you free today. 

1

Sin No More

Mike broke his silence as he leaned over the table: “If I’m a Christian, why do I keep doing this? We both know we’ll be back here in a couple weeks having this same conversation. I’m not sure there’s any reason to keep trying.”

If you were sitting across the table, what would you say to Mike?

In such moments, when I’m the one across the table, I feel helpless. I want to drop a magical gospel bomb that blows back his hair and makes him shout, “That’s the answer! That settled it. I’m finally free!”

In all my years of pastoral ministry, however, that’s never happened. Not even close. And it won’t for you, because there are no quick fixes in the war against sin. Nevertheless, the truth that Mike and every other Christian must believe is this: you don’t have to obey sin anymore. This does not always feel true, but it is—because God says so in his Word.

If you are in Christ, you are not who you used to be, so you do not have to do what you used to do.

Consider what the apostle Paul says:

How can we who died to sin still live in it? . . . just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. . . . our old self was crucified with him . . . so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. . . . So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you. (Romans 6:2–14 ESV)

2

Dead to Sin

You are not who you used to be. Mike struggled to grasp this truth. Maybe he knew it intellectually, but not experientially, not in a way that seemed to actually help him. The itch to scroll through sensual images can be strong. The urge to masturbate seems reasonable, if not insatiable. The thrill of a hookup or adulterous rendezvous is powerful.

Yet in Christ, we are free to flee. God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13 ESV). And walking in freedom requires understanding and acting on what God has done for us in Christ.

Who You Were

We were once alive to sin and dead to God (Ephesians 2:1–3). We wanted to sin because we loved it. We suppressed truth about God and traded him for idols that catered to our lusts (Romans 1:18, 23). We dreamt up ways to sin and encouraged others to join (Psalm 36:4; Romans 1:32). We isolated ourselves from people who told us the truth. We did not fear God, and we confused his patience for approval (Psalm 36:1; Romans 2:1–4). Even when we avoided evil, our motivation was rooted in self-preservation rather than pleasing God. Sin owned even our best days.

We had to sin, since sin was our master (Romans 8:6–9; 2 Timothy 2:26).[1] And like a slave master, sin forced us to embrace our identity as slaves. You are a porn addict. You are gay. You are a failure. You are unwanted. You are a cheater. You will never be free. Sin demoralized us and stole any hope of escape. Perhaps it even told us our slavery was liberty: You have the right to do whatever you want with your body. Anyone who doesn’t affirm your choices is your enemy.

Have you heard these lies? Believed them? Slavery to sin isn’t just a theory about human trouble; it’s the reality of our condition apart from Christ. Sin controls not only what we do, but how we see God, ourselves, and others. It shapes our view of our bodies and our sexuality. Sin makes us think we’re free, when in fact we’re not. It makes us think we’re on the road to happiness, when in fact we’re headed for destruction.

Who You Are

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . and were by nature children of wrath. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2:1–5 ESV)

“But God” is one of the sweetest phrases ever uttered. It turns the spotlight from our hopeless slavery to our healing Savior. We were dead, but God rescued us (Ephesians 2:4–5, 12–13; Romans 5:8; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 2:15). We were enslaved, but God bound our oppressor. We were far off, but God brought us near. Jesus was buried, but God raised him again (Luke 11:21–22; Acts 2:24; Ephesians 2:13).

What makes this good news is that Jesus did this for us. Through faith we are united with Jesus and given both new life and a new identity. Positionally, we stand accepted by God’s grace; practically, we step as liberated children loved by God. If we are in Christ, we are brand-new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).[2]

Of course, our union with Jesus doesn’t immediately extinguish all sinful desires. Far from it. Sin tempts us to think like we’re still slaves. But in Christ, we have been given innumerable heavenly blessings to oppose it. We are clothed in his righteousness, sealed by his Spirit, forgiven of every sin, secure in his love (John 10:29; Acts 10:43; Romans 4:5; 8:28–39; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 5:16–26; Ephesians 1:3, 7, 13–14; 4:30; Hebrews 8:12; 9:22; 13:5; 10:18; 1 John 1:7–9).

In Christ, we have been delivered from sin’s penalty. We will not face God’s wrath, since Jesus took it for us (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). We’re also being liberated from sin’s power. We don’t have to yield to it any longer, since Jesus is our Lord (Romans 6:15–23; 1 Corinthians 6:19–20). And someday we will be delivered from sin’s presence. When Jesus returns, he will glorify our bodies and set us free to sin no more.

We are free from sin because we are united to Jesus. What is true of Jesus is true of us.[3] He died for sin; we have died to sin. He was raised from the dead; we have been raised spiritually as we await the final resurrection. He ascended to sit at the Father’s side; we are seated with him, too. He is raised to live forevermore; we are alive to walk in new life (Romans 6:2, 6–9; 8:11; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:3).

The gospel of Jesus does not just free us from hell someday; it can also free us from sin today. It’s true that we are to be pitied if our hope in Christ affects only this life (1 Corinthians 15:19). But we are also to be pitied if it affects only the life to come. If there is no good news for Mike, or you, or me as we fight sin today, then we might as well quit. But there is good news—and our union with Jesus has just as much a miraculous effect today as it will on that last day, when he pulls our bodies from the grave.

Union with the Savior liberates us from slavery to sin. Again: we are not who we used to be, so we do not have to do what we used to do.

As union with sin produced a slave identity, so union with Christ produces a new identity. Your old self is dead. You are alive to God. You are eternally loved. You belong to God. You are forgiven. You are blessed. You are delighted in. Your life is so united to Christ’s that he will not appear in glory apart from you (Colossians 3:4).[4]

You are in Christ, and he is in you. You can become like him. You will become like him. No matter how faintly his beauty flickers in your corrupted body now—plead that God and others would help you see it. And as you catch glimpses of his grace in your life, know they are the firstfruits of God’s eternal purpose to make you like his Son.[5]

Footnotes:
1 For a helpful study on our love for and slavery to sin, see Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards and Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. These brothers approach the subject from different angles, but arrive at similar conclusions.
2 The phrase “in Christ,” or some derivation of it, appears over 150 times in the New Testament. God continually reminds believers of their union with Jesus because they are so often tempted to forget it.
3 This does not mean, as Mormons or some prosperity teachers say, that we actually become little gods. That is blasphemy. Rather, through union with Christ, we partake of God’s life, as a branch does a vine, and produce the fruit of godliness.
4 See Sinclair Ferguson, “The Practice of Mortification,” TableTalk, January 1, 2007, www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/practice-mortification/.
5 For a wonderful reflection on this truth, read J. R. Miller’s sermon “Transformed by Beholding,” 1888.
Content taken from Pure in Heart by J. Garrett Kell, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.
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