When reflecting on my life, pornography looms like a dark cloud, casting shadows of doubt, despair, and fear over the state of my soul. These fears led me to what I thought for most of my life was the day of my salvation. I saw that I was sinning, I saw I needed grace, and I knew I needed saving. After confessing these things with my mouth and seemingly believing them with my heart, the sin remained. The crushing weight of my lingering sin caused an even greater sense of insecurity about my eternal destination. After 20 years of struggling with pornography and masturbation, in addition to the sins that tend to accompany: lying and deception, God has been faithful to free me from the bondage of this sin through the gifts of repentance, faith, and what at face value appears to be the same belief that I am a sinner in need of saving grace. In this article, I hope to explain the difference between my initial “belief” and the “belief that set me free,” show the importance of right belief, which will lead to right thoughts, feelings, and ultimately actions, and make clear that all of this is a grace of God.
WHAT ARE YOU BEING SAVED FROM?
When I first saw my need for a savior, my belief was so focused on him saving me from myself for myself and my kingdom. For many, many years of my life, I primarily saw his saving work on the cross as a means for me to be a better human being. I thought I was pretty good, and Jesus came, lived a sinless life, and died so I could be “better,” have a “better” life, and one day go to heaven. Specifically, I saw Jesus’ death as the way to freedom from pornography’s effect on my happiness, my family, and my perception of those around me. I wanted “better” for myself and saw Jesus as the means to that end. I wasn’t a hopeless sinner, I just needed help in this one area. An important clarification at this point is the truth that Jesus’ death will make us better. Christ’s death paid for the Christian’s sanctification, which means we will progressively become more holy as he is holy. The difference I am attempting to draw out is the end or purpose of your belief. For most of my life, my belief in Christ truly was a means to my own end. I was disdaining the blood of Jesus; I was using his blood as a mere means to outward self-improvement to assuage my guilt rather than to save me from my condition of being a sinner and the due penalty for my sin. Despite this attempt to have his blood fix my sinful behavior and make me “better” I was stuck, still sinning in this area. If I were to define this belief into a simple phrase, I would call it “worldly sorrow.” For myself and anyone else in this position, there is much to fear. While in some regards repentance seemed to be present, in reality, much like Esau, I desired MY inheritance, even, at times, with tears. (Heb. 12:17)
THE NEED FOR REPENTANCE
This worldly sorrow led to a few months of white knuckled success but primarily repeated failures, consistent doubt, and no true hope that I could change. Over time my faith was shown to be so me-focused that it’s questionable if it was Christian at all. What I had thought for years was repentance wasn’t. But God in his great mercy saw fit to reveal the fallacy of my belief through his word and the gift of the local church. God, through his word, showed me my need for “godly sorrow” which led to true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow required having an accurate view of the weight of my sin-I wasn’t just a pretty good guy who failed in one area, I was a sinner, sinning against a holy, perfect, infinite God, therefore, I deserved an infinite punishment. I had an endless debt. I was not “good” in need of being made “better,” but I was dead in need of new life. (Eph 2:5)
THE REALITY OF REPENTANCE
With this new life comes the free gift of repentance. As we mature in Christ, we will grow in repentance, much like any other aspect of the Christian life. However, we should not expect for ourselves or demand from others “perfect” repentance. While repentance may result in immediate change for some, for others (including myself), it may take time. What we instead must look for are “signs of repentance” or as Paul Washer calls it “kernels of repentance.” We must have objectifiable signposts of repentance in our life with Christ. We must be able to see progress towards holiness. However, these advances may be very minimal as God’s truth starts to take root in your heart. It may look like confessing your sins of lust for the first time to another member of your church. It may be acknowledging your inability apart from God’s work, and putting a filter on your phone, computer, or any other device you may have. It may even be repenting and believing for the first time that Christ’s work is for more than getting “better” for the sake of your kingdom, but it is coming to life for the first time, to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:5-6).
HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS
If you are struggling with pornography and masturbation and wonder if you’re saved, I urge you to look at your belief. Do you see Christ’s work on the cross as a band-aid to fix your scraped knee, allowing you to continue on YOUR way better than before? Or do you see Christ is the one who raised you from the grave, reconstituted your bones, ligaments, and muscles, and whose power daily sustains each breath you breathe to the praise of HIS glorious grace? For those who see the latter, take heart, continue to look to Jesus as the object of your faith who will continually lead you to repent and believe the Gospel. As Paul says in Philippians, “…I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Pray to God that he would give you eyes to see kernels of repentance and a heart that trusts that the same grace that saved you, will keep you. For those who believe the former, I ask you to examine your belief. Are you looking to Christ to make a good person “better”? If so, repent and believe the Gospel: I am not good in need of becoming better, I am dead in need of new life; I am a sinner, but my sin was paid for by the blood of Jesus, and by his blood, I am freely given this new life with the power to put sin to death and be called a saint-to the praise of his glorious grace.