In my conversations with Christians about pornography—especially those who are caught in the snare of it—I am often asked if there is any good reading they could do that would help them wrap their minds around their obsession with porn.
I have recently added a book to my “must read” list for porn strugglers, and at it might seem like an odd recommendation. It is a short but very famous novella by Robert Lewis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Meet the Face of Evil
The story is so familiar in our culture that it hardly needs introduction—even among those who’ve never read the book or seen a dramatic portrayal of the story.
Dr. Henry Jekyll grew up from a young age with a burdened conscience. On one hand he had a desire to hold his head high and be a respectable member of society. On the other hand, since his youth he possessed a dark side of carnal desires. This led to what he later call “a profound duplicity of life.”
He was tired of the inner war, these polar twins continuously struggling, so, being a brilliant and eccentric chemist, he invented a potion that would separate these two personas. He theorized that he could become literally two people: his evil self could run free, unencumbered by conscience, and his noble self could live the respectable life he wanted.
When Jekyll ingested the potion, it brought about a hideous change—inside and out. He became another man altogether, a man who called himself Edward Hyde.
Everyone who laid eyes on Hyde’s face was immediately struck with an uneasy dread. They saw in his face not an ounce of mercy. Hyde’s unsettling appearance was almost impossible for people to describe, as if something was deformed and inhuman about him, though no one could say exactly why. He had a detestable smile, a “black, sneering coolness.” A look from Hyde would fill spectators with revulsion. “Satan’s signature upon a face,” as one character put it.
The Double Life
The potion would also transform Hyde back into Jekyll, and so these two persons, housed in one body, lived like this for some time. Jekyll could live as the respectable and benevolent doctor while Hyde could indulge his every sinful whim.
This double life continued. Though radically different in personality, Jekyll and Hyde shared a common memory. When Jekyll would consider the deplorable actions of Hyde, he would console himself with two things. First, it wasn’t really him doing these terrible things; it was his evil other self who did these things. Second, Jekyll figured he could more than make up for Hyde’s crimes through his benevolent deeds.
Hyde Becomes Stronger
Jekyll became intoxicated with the power that this double life afforded him: he could indulge in reckless sin with no consequences to his reputation. He later wrote, “[M]y new power tempted me until I fell in slavery.”
He was shocked one morning to find himself waking up as Edward Hyde—without the aid of the potion. What control he though he had over Hyde was starting to slip.
Moreover, Hyde was becoming more and more reckless in his behavior. What started as undignified and sensual behavior soon became monstrous. He would go into fits of anger with an ape-like fury. This finally culminated one day in a murder as Hyde mercilessly beat a man to death with his cane.
Jekyll Attempts to Take Control
Dr. Jekyll realized that things had gotten out of hand. Hyde was now a wanted man, so it was no longer safe to take the potion. Jekyll decided to put Hyde away forever and never ingest the potion again.
After Hyde disappeared, Jekyll became more social, made a commitment to renew his friendships, entertained more guests, and went back to church regularly. For two months he lived as the respectable doctor.
But there was something building in Jekyll’s heart. More and more it felt like Hyde was a caged animal within him, clawing to get out. “I began to be tortured with throes and longings, as of Hyde struggling after freedom,” he wrote.
Finally, one day, in a moment of quiet reflection, he was thinking about Hyde’s sinful exploits, and he could feel the animal in him getting stronger. He knew he needed to shove the memories down and repent of them, but he savored them instead. He justified his indulgence by also remembering that he was not just Edward Hyde—he was also the good doctor who served and helped those in need. Certainly, despite all of Hyde’s crimes, he was still better than any of his neighbors. It was in this moment of pride that his body went into violent convulsions and he transformed into Hyde again.
Hyde Takes Ultimate Control
Only the potion could change Hyde back into his tamer self, but the potion was losing its original potency. Hyde wanted to be free, and he loathed transforming back into Jekyll, but he knew it was the only way to avoid the authorities.
Jekyll, in the mean time, was sending servants to search the city high and low for more of the chemicals he needed to make his potion, but to no avail. He was slowly running out of the original batch.
It was through this terrifying ordeal that Jekyll realized what he feared most—not being executed for his crimes, not losing his precious reputation—he feared being the monster.
“I could have screamed aloud; I sought with tears and prayers to smother down the crowd of hideous images and sounds with which my memory swarmed against me; and still, between the petitions, the ugly face of my iniquity stared into my soul.”
Jekyll hated the spirit of hell that raged inside him. Hyde had become a soul boiling with causeless hatreds. Jekyll barricaded himself in his laboratory, and only one thought consumed him: the horror of his other self.
Meanwhile, Jekyll’s friends had gotten wise to the fact that something was terribly wrong with the good doctor. At the end of the story, in a final desperate action, his friends broke into his lab and found the body of Edward Hyde on the floor, a vial of poison in his hand, having just killed himself.
Are We Really Two People?
Stevenson’s gothic novella depicts in eerie detail Dr. Jekyll’s deeply held belief in man’s dual nature. Jekyll called this duality a “hard law of life, which lies at the root of religion.”
Dr. Jekyll writes:
“I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth…that man is not truly one, but truly two…I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”
This is exactly how the Bible describes sinful human beings: we are not just one person, but two. On one hand we are creatures created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); the law of God is written on all of our hearts (Romans 2:15). We are God’s image-bearers, and nothing we can do can change that. On the other hand, everyone is also “dead” in sin (Ephesians 2:5); none of us seek after God (Romans 3:11) or honor God the way we should (Romans 1:21). Our minds are hostile to God—we are unable to and unwilling to submit to God’s law (Romans 8:7-8). We have no power in us to make our dead hearts live.
This is why Dr. Jekyll could say that both sides of him were always in a deadlock. One side could not win over the other because both sides were irreducibly him.
Living a Double Life is Not the Answer
When we are conflicted about our sinful desires, we often resort to Jekyll-like strategies: we turn to living a double life.
The porn addict, for instance, turns to the world of the Internet as his elixir. There his truly carnal desires can come out to play. There the addict can echo Dr. Jekyll’s sentiments:
“I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine.”
Waking from these online exploits, we take the antidote of good deeds and plunge ourselves back into our socially respectable lives where we serve as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, ministry leaders, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We put on our best faces and pretend our darker self doesn’t exist.
The problem is, like Jekyll, we underestimate just how dark our darkness is. We think we can segregate our lives, only to later find out that the little beast is really a invincible monster.
How to Kill Mr. Hyde (Romans 7)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has a tragic ending, leaving the reader in a state of tension. At best, Dr. Jekyll’ story shows us how not to deal with our sinful impulses. The answer is not to hide them, nor to quarantine them, nor to give them specific times to run wild under a cloak of secrecy. But what is the answer?
Having grown up in a Presbyterian home in Victorian Europe, many believe one of Stevenson’s influences was the famous passage by the apostle Paul in Romans 7. “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (v.21). Stevenson, however, didn’t include Paul’s answer to the dilemma in his novella.
In Romans 7, there is a subtle but important shift in Paul’s language. Everything before verse 14, Paul is speaking in the past tense—he is speaking about a past struggle. But from verse 14 until the end of the chapter, Paul writes in the present tense—he is talking about a current struggle.
For the Christian, knowing the difference between these two battles is key. The first battle is a pre-Christian struggle. The second battle is a Christian struggle. Pastor Tim Keller comments:
“The war between the selves before you meet Christ is a war without hope you cannot win, and Robert Lewis Stevenson does a wonderful job showing the bleakness and the hopelessness of it. But the war after you meet Christ you cannot lose.”
The war you can’t win (Romans 7:7-13) – The apostle Paul was a real Dr. Jekyll—an upstanding person with a religious, moral upbringing. One day, when God’s commandments really hit home for him, he came to understand just how covetous and grasping his heart was, just how vile Mr. Hyde could be. God’s perfect law revealed his imperfections.
Yes, while God’s Law promised life, it also empowered Paul’s sinfulness—his moral upbringing, with all its rules and regulations, only aroused his sinful desire to be his own master. “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8).
No matter what Paul did, the internal war between these two selves was never-ending.
Before meeting Christ, both selves have equal claim to be truly you. Your conscience-self that knows God is real and glorious. God’s law is written on your heart. But your vile-self is bent on being his own master, and nothing can cure him.
The battle you can’t lose (Romans 7:14-25) – When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, we are no longer fundamentally two but one. My true self now delights in the law (v.16, 22), desires to do what is right (v.18), and serves the law of God (v.25), and the sin I do now is not really me. “So now it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells within me” (v.17). Yes, we still sin, but the power of sin in me is not part of my truest and deepest self. Sin is now lodged in our outer husk, in our the physical members of our body (v.23), in our “body of death” (v.24).
In another letter, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). United to the living Christ, we are new people. Our identity has totally changed.
The answer for the Dr. Jekylls of the world is not about pushing down our sinful impulses, nor is it about letting them run free in private online worlds. It is about confessing our wickedness, placing all our trust in Christ to save us from our sin, and then believing—according to God’s promise—that we have become new people.
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Roman 6:11). Paul does not say we are dying to sin (a process). He does not say we should die to sin (a command). He said that because we are intimately united with the risen Christ, because His resurrected life flows in our veins, we should consider ourselves already dead to sin.
The word translated “consider” is an accounting term: it means to add something up, to take stock of something. When a child adds up how much money is in her piggy bank, at the end of the counting she doesn’t have any more or less in the bank than when she began. The only thing that has changed is her knowledge about the value of what is there. This is what Paul means. You already believe these basic gospel truths—Christ died to sin’s power, He rose from the dead, and the Spirit of the risen Christ lives within you—so now reckon it to be true; reconsider it; meditate on it; get the idea of your new identity deep into your soul.
As much as porn feels alive to you, if you are in Christ, you are dead to porn. The Spirit of the living God is in you.
If you are in Christ, you are an entirely new person. You still live in the old husk, but in your deepest self, you are a new creation. In the continuing battle, you now fight from a new identity, believing that Christ is bringing life to your mortal body and that one day Jesus will finish the job.
* Images are taken from the 1920 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore (public domain).