Read an Excerpt
fighting for purity with the power of grace
By Heath B. Lambert
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Heath B. Lambert
All rights reserved.
Grace as the Foundation in the Fight against Pornography
Matt is a nineteen-year-old college student who discovered pornography at the age of eight when his uncle showed him a video and told him not to tell anybody. Taylor is thirty and never even thought about pornography until succumbing to the temptation of an advertisement in a hotel room on a trip out of town. Ethan has been married for ten years and saw a report on the news about the pornography industry one evening. His curiosity was piqued, and he searched the Internet "just to see what all the fuss was about." Sarah is a single thirty-five-year-old who began looking at pornography as a way to fantasize and get her mind off her loneliness.
I know dozens of people (men and women) who struggle with pornography. Each was introduced to pornography in a different way. Some people sought it out, while others were introduced to it by sinful people. Regardless, pornography has now chewed them up and spit them out. At the beginning of the journey, watching people commit acts of sexual immorality seemed fun, intriguing, comforting, and exhilarating. Now, the sin has bitten back hard. Their hearts are weighed down with guilt, their relationships are strained, their view of sex is corrupted, and their Christian witness is marred.
I know these people. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have sat with them, cried with them, and talked with them for hours. I have seen firsthand the carnage that pornography has inflicted on their lives. Perhaps you or someone God has given to you to help can identify with their stories.
Perhaps you, like them, began to look at pornography with rationalizations that made a certain amount of twisted sense at the time. How bad can it be? It's just this once, then never again. My spouse doesn't seem that interested in me. It might actually help our marriage for me to have another sexual outlet. I'm sick of feeling lonely. I deserve this. Now, the sandy foundation holding up those lies has eroded, and you are in turmoil. You desperately want help to get out of the mess, but you don't know how—or even where to begin. In fact, you are deeply afraid you're so trapped that there may be no means of escape.
If this describes you, then I have breathtakingly good news to offer: Jesus Christ died to set you free from every sin that can be committed. That includes pornography.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.
It is possible to be free from pornography. Because of his grace, God sent his Son to pay the just penalty for the sins we all commit. When you believe in God's grace toward you, you get God's righteousness. You can be forgiven and free when you trust in Christ and what he has done for you, no matter how many times you have looked at pornography and how hopeless the struggle can feel. When this seems like it isn't true, it's because you are thinking more about yourself and your porn than you are about Jesus and his grace. You can be free, but freedom requires grace.
It is a wonderful blessing to live in a time and place in which large numbers of Christian leaders and laypeople are focusing on the gospel of Jesus in new, fresh, and powerful ways. Multiple books, sermons, and blogs describe the rich resources of grace that overflow from the good news about Jesus. While this current emphasis is admirable, there is a danger that grace can become a topic we discuss rather than a power we experience. We can never be saturated with too much grace. The danger in our day is taking grace for granted and not considering how to make it practical.
I want to heed my own warning. I don't want to just talk about grace in this book; I want to show you how you can make use of the grace of Jesus in your fight against pornography. In Romans 1:5, Paul writes, "Through [Jesus Christ] we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name's sake." Here Paul is teaching that God has given his people grace so that they are able to obey and bring honor to the name of Christ among the nations. Grace is not merely "unmerited favor" — that God has a pleasing disposition toward us; grace is also power. Grace is divine strength given to us so we can live in ways that please God. God is calling Christians to obedience in Romans 1:5. He is also promising that we will have the power to accomplish this obedience. God's gift of grace is the power to obey.
I want to show you how to seize two important aspects of God's grace in your struggle against pornography.
The first thing you absolutely must know about God's powerful grace is that through grace God forgives our sins. Listen to what the Bible says about this forgiving grace in Colossians 2:13–14: "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross."
God describes in shocking terms how we can have these amazing blessings. We have life and forgiveness—but these things do not come cheaply.
Paul gives a sobering illustration of this when he compares the sins we have committed to a credit card bill—a "charge of our legal indebtedness." The sins we commit do not vanish into the air, but are documented and preserved. Just like we must pay our credit card bills to avoid legal penalties, so the record of our sin debt makes demands on us that are legally binding. The legal demand of our sin debt is divine punishment. Sin must be paid for. But here we discover a glorious truth: even though you and I are entirely and solely responsible for our sin debt, God makes provision for the debt himself by nailing that debt to the cross of Christ and satisfying its demands. When Jesus was crucified on the cross, he paid for all of our sin. Every instance of treasuring images of sexual immorality in our hearts, every eager glance at pornography, all of our lustful gawking—everything—is paid for by Jesus in his death for sinners.
The news gets even better. Forgiving grace is only one part of the power Jesus gives. God's powerful grace also gives us strength to live in new ways. Forgiving grace is wonderful and essential, but sinners need more than forgiveness. It's not enough that our record of debt is paid; we also need grace to live like Jesus; we need grace that changes us so we can be like him in his holiness and love. In Romans 6:4, Paul declares, "We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."
Paul is talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus. For all who trust in Jesus, his death and resurrection is also our death and resurrection. Jesus' death and resurrection not only pays off our record of debt and gives us forgiving grace; Jesus' death and resurrection leads to our transformation. Through God's transforming grace we can live a new life because of what Jesus has done for us.
Many people spend a lot of time pursuing forgiveness. They beg and plead for forgiveness after indulging in pornography, but they don't know what to do next. The Bible teaches that in addition to confessing sin and seeking God's forgiveness, you need to pursue God's powerful transforming grace by believing the good news and walking in faith and obedience to the gospel. God's grace pardons you and forgives your sin, and God's grace empowers you to live differently and be obedient to him.
Oh, how you must treasure the sweetness of this grace! You need to ask for forgiving grace after you look at pornography, but don't stop there! Ask for God's transforming grace, his power to change you from the inside out. Because God is faithful to his Word and his promises, over time you will receive God's power to never look at pornography again. God's powerful transforming grace can give you a pure heart, and you can subdue your desires for pornography. You can honor your brothers and sisters in Christ when you look at them instead of dishonoring them. You can have all of this, and more. You just can't get it in your own strength and effort. You need the powerful transforming grace of Jesus.
God's powerful transforming grace is available to you, but many people don't know how to make use of it. Having the power of Jesus to change without knowing how to use that power is almost like not having the power at all. It's like being stranded on an island with a fueled-up airplane you don't know how to fly. It is crucial to discover how to grasp God's grace if you are going to benefit from it. If you want to use Jesus' transforming grace, you have to do something so easy that many people find it impossible.
You have to believe it.
Transforming grace works when you believe that Jesus gives it to you. The moment you believe in Jesus' grace to change you, you are changing. The more you continue to believe it, the more you will continue to change.
Paul writes, "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11). Paul is saying that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ when you count it to be true; that is, when you believe it. If you want to change and be like Christ—whether in the area of pornography or anything else—you must believe that in Jesus you have the power to change. When you believe the power is yours, it is yours.
Repentance and Grace
Forgiving grace and transforming grace are crucial for Christians to embrace. Repentance is the way we grasp and unite these two essential aspects of God's grace. In the aftermath of sin, we must learn to interact with God through repentance. In the Bible, repentance describes the process of moving from sinful living to obedient living. When we repent, we must always take at least three clear steps. You can remember these three essential steps by using the acronym CAR.
The first step in the process of repentance is to confess your sin. The apostle John writes, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8–9). Sinners need grace more than anything else, including the grace to recognize and admit our sin. We reject grace when we deny our sin, according to John. When you deny your sin, you deny yourself access to God's grace. When you admit your sin to God, you access his grace. The first step in repentance is to talk to God and tell him about your sin. He already knows this, of course, but we still need to tell God about the sin we are aware of in our life. In a marriage, when a husband has an angry outburst and speaks harshly to his wife, he must still admit his wrong and seek forgiveness—even though she experienced it and knows it happened. In the same way, every Christian who struggles with sexual immorality needs to humble himself or herself before God, telling God what he already knows.
The second step in the process of repentance is to affirm God's forgiveness of your sin. John provides two directions to follow (see 1 John 1:8–9). First, he gives a command to obey: you must confess your sins. Second, he gives a message to believe: when you confess your sin, God is faithful to forgive and cleanse you. It is easier to talk to God about your sin than it is to believe you are forgiven. Perhaps this is your struggle.
You may find yourself thinking about all the pornographic images you've seen, the lustful heart you've nurtured, or the number of people broken by your immorality. These sorrows are part of the consequence of sin. When you dwell disproportionately on your sin and its consequences, however, you are neglecting God's grace. There is a time and a place to be broken over your sin and to soberly consider its consequences (the next chapter is devoted to this topic). After you have confessed your sin, however, you must fight to affirm what God says about you. For all who confess their sin, God pronounces the verdict "forgiven" and "clean." If God pronounces you forgiven and clean, you are forgiven and clean. While it may seem humble and modest to question God's forgiveness, it is actually prideful and arrogant to refuse to believe what God declares to be true about you. Repentance means affirming what God says about you.
The third step in the process of repentance is to request Jesus' grace to change. We have already seen the amazing power available to Christians in the work of Jesus. We must also recognize the biblical warning that is too often true of us as prayerless followers of Jesus: "You do not have because you do not ask God" (James 4:2). Having confessed your sin and trusted in God's forgiveness, you now need to ask God for the specific grace to be different.
It is important to talk about repentance because repentance is the means by which you lay hold of Jesus' forgiving and transforming grace. It is possible to talk about how grace forgives and transforms us but never actually experience those graces. God does not just want us to know about these graces; he wants us to live them out. The way we practically live, experience, and are transformed by the grace of Jesus is to talk to God about it. Asking for and believing in God's forgiveness of our sin and his power to change us is essential to experiencing it.
Knowing this changes the way we will respond to failure in the battle against pornography. We typically respond to moral failures with mental punishments. You've probably experienced this. You sin and look at pornography. Then you start thinking, I'm terrible. I'm awful. What was I thinking? If my friends knew what I was doing, they would never talk to me again. I can never be in ministry if I don't quit doing this. What if my spouse finds out? What if my girlfriend finds out? What if my parents find out? What if my pastor finds out? What if people at church find out? I don't deserve to be a Christian. Maybe I'm not a Christian. On and on and on it goes. You cycle through these mental punishments that grow out of guilt and fuel even more guilt.
None of this is helpful, but it's what most people do in their struggle with pornography and lust. Mental punishments are not helpful because they deal with sin in a self-centered way instead of a Christ-centered way. Meditating on how miserable and pathetic you are only perpetuates the sinful self-centeredness that led you to look at pornography in the first place. Condemning self-talk still has you standing center stage as you reflect on what you think about what you have done, and as you describe what you think you deserve because of what you did. It's all about you. The problem is there is too much you in all this. You need Christ. And the only way to break the vicious cycle is to get outside of yourself to Jesus. You need to stop talking to yourself in categories of condemnation and begin talking to God in categories of confession.
What I just shared with you is a big deal. You should pay attention to it and reread it if you didn't catch it. As the Lord sets you free from the sin of pornography, this will be one of the biggest changes he will make in your life. You will learn to stop responding to pornography by talking to yourself with condemning words and thoughts and start responding to your sin by talking to God with prayers of confession. Self-talk and self-condemnation do nothing to lay hold of God's forgiving and transforming grace. Repentance does.
The tide will begin to turn in your struggle against pornography when you begin to grasp forgiving grace and transforming grace, as you learn to repent. To experience freedom, you must repent. You will need to come to Christ in your brokenness, frustration, disgust, and shame. You must talk to him about it. Tell him what you did. Tell him what you were thinking and wanting. Be honest. Cry and ask him to forgive you. Ask him for grace to be different. As you do this, you are moving away from trusting in yourself as the solution to your sin and approaching the throne of grace where Jesus is ready to respond with mercy to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Hope and Grace
God's grace gives birth to hope. There is a good chance you've picked up this book in despair. Perhaps you recently indulged in pornography for the zillionth time and have finally had enough. Perhaps a spouse, parent, coworker, or law enforcement authority discovered your secret indulgence and now you're in trouble at home, church, or work, or with the law. Regardless of your exact circumstances, you're despairing that change can ever be possible.
It's not as though despair is unreasonable. It makes sense to despair as you look at a devastating problem that has hooked millions of people before you and will trap millions more after you. It makes sense to despair as you look at life-altering consequences—a broken relationship with the Lord, a damaged relationship with your spouse, suspicions from your children, parents, or friends, and a lost job or ministry position. It makes sense to despair as you look within and see a total inability to change by means of your own resources. There are many legitimate reasons to despair when you consider these bleak realities.
Excerpted from Finally Free by Heath B. Lambert. Copyright © 2013 Heath B. Lambert. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.