If you’re a Christian, does it matter if you keep using pornography? The Bible answers this question in Romans 6. Paul has just finished explaining in chapters 3-5 how we are saved by grace through faith. But in chapter 6, he asks an important question: If I’m saved by grace and not by good works, should I just keep on sinning so I can experience more of God’s grace? Paul doesn’t beat around the bush with his answer: Absolutely not. Out of the question.
What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
If you’re here I suspect you realize that, and you do feel uncomfortable with your porn habit. Otherwise, you wouldn’t bother with a website that helps people quit porn. But if you struggle with porn, you might have questions about being “dead to sin” and “alive to God.”
- If I’m truly dead to sin, wouldn’t that mean that I would stop giving in and looking at porn? Am I really a Christian?
- If I’m more disciplined in my faith, will I find victory over this sin? Do I just need to pray harder and read my Bible more?
- How is a porn addict “alive in Christ”?
Romans 6 has the answers, so let’s look at what it means to be dead to sin and alive to Christ.
Does “Dead” Mean I Don’t Have to Struggle?
In a word, no. Paul goes into a lot more detail in the next chapter, but even here in Romans 6 it’s pretty clear that being “dead to sin” doesn’t mean “I never sin.” Romans 6 assumes that Christians face temptation and even struggle with sin.
This is why verses 12-14 tell the reader to stop sinning. Paul assumes that this needs to be said. Christians still sin—a lot. However, there’s something very important that he wants to communicate regarding our Christian status and his relationship with sin. Even though a Christian still sins, it’s different from when someone sins apart from Jesus (more on that in a minute). The Christian is no longer under the power of sin.
Pornography cannot condemn the Christian, because the Christian is dead to sin. This means that even if a Christian feels trapped, there is actually a path forward to freedom.
Do I Just Need to Struggle Harder?
Many Christians come to a passage like Romans 6 and the message they take away is “just try harder.” In his book, The Healing Church, author Sam Black recounts sitting through a presentation on pornography at a large conference. Essentially, the message was “just stop it.” As someone who has been on the frontlines of battling pornography addiction, including his own struggles in the past, Sam found this deeply discouraging. Most people who recognize porn is a problem have tried to “just stop it” already.
Similar messages are:
- Just read your Bible more.
- Just prayer harder.
- Just love Jesus more.
Now, if we’re honest we all need to love Jesus more. And few of us pray or read God’s Word as we should. But is that what Paul is saying here—to “die to sin,” we just need to try harder?
Nope. That’s not the point. The point is that our salvation goes deeper than how we feel. It’s even deeper than what we do or don’t do. When Paul says that you are dead to sin, he is talking about an objective reality. It’s something that’s done by Jesus for you that changes who you are. Yes, it has implications for how you live now, but it’s even more fundamental than what you do or don’t do.
How Is a Porn Addict “Alive to God”?
“For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection… Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:5, 8).
So, if “dead to sin” is less about how I feel or what I do, it follows that “alive to God” is likewise a state of being. And this takes us back to the original question: What does this mean for me as a Christian? I think there are at least two things we find in Romans 6.
Alive In Christ Means Discomfort With Porn
But Paul says it’s because someone saved by grace is dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. That means being a Christian does not fit with a life of persistent sin. It means that as a Christian, even if you still struggle, you can’t be comfortable with your porn habit.
This is one of the things that makes it different when a Christian sins. When you’re alive to Christ, you will know deep in your soul that using porn goes against your core identity. It’s destructive behavior that puts up walls between you and God and between you and the people you love the most.
Hebrews 12:6 tells us, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.” That means when you’re a Christian, God won’t let you stay comfortable in your life of sin. The further you go into a life of porn, the more miserable you will become.
Alive With Christ Means Reckoning With Our Identity
So, being a Christian who struggles with porn just means I’m miserable? No, it’s not just that.
Romans 6 clarifies that our discomfort with sin is different from wallowing in guilt and shame. Verse 10 says that we must “consider” ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. The word “consider” is sometimes translated as “reckon.” This term was often used in accounting. It has to do with deep consideration or meditation on our identity.
So then, while the Christian may initially feel guilt or shame, our relationship with Jesus doesn’t allow us to identify as guilty or shameful. We reckon that he has taken our guilt and shame away, and we stand in perfect relationship with God because of him.
Alive With Christ Means Embracing Our Identity
Why is “reckoning” our identity so important? Because it leads us to embrace our identity and live it out. Contemporary psychological research offers some helpful insight on this. One study found that people tend to do the things most closely related to their identity but are less likely to do things unrelated to their identity:
[G]oal-directed behaviors that are identity-relevant are more likely to be enacted because they have greater subjective value than identity-irrelevant behaviors.1
This means if I identify myself as a healthy person then I’m more likely to eat right and exercise. The same is true for avoiding negative or unwanted behaviors:
[A]ll else being equal, a person will be more likely to succeed in resisting a temptation to smoke—both at a given moment and cumulatively across the quit attempt—to the extent that she identifies as a “quitter” and that her quitter identity tends to be salient at the times that she decides whether to smoke.2
And this is why Paul is keen to emphasize our identity in Christ rather than just giving a list of practical steps for behavior change. The stronger I identify myself as “dead to sin” and “alive to Christ,” the more likely I am to follow through with my commitment to overcome porn.
Living Vs. Dead Behaviors
The Bible is concerned with our behaviors and does teach us to stop sinful dead habits like watching porn. But it also reveals an important truth: Behavior change means very little if it’s only on the surface. Christians can’t settle for surface-level change. Our behavior change begins with a heart change that’s worked by God himself.
So, Romans 6 encourages you to take the time to reckon with your identity. Who are you? Who is Jesus to you? What does it mean for your life—and porn habits—that you’re dead to sin and alive to God? What kind of drastic steps are you willing to take to live out your identity?
1 E.T. Berkman, J.L. Livingston, & L.E. Kahn, “Finding the ‘self’ in self-regulation: The identity-value model,” Psychol Inq 28 (2017): 77-98. doi:10.1080/1047840X.2017.1323463.
2 “Finding the ‘self.'”