The power of identity
My name is Josh and I am 29 years old. I’m a follower of Jesus and a husband and a father of two really precious little girls. This is my story.
I met Jesus, really, because of pornography, which is kind of a crazy thing to say, probably something that you don’t want to preach. But I was one of those kids that I was probably, I don’t know what day I was born on exactly, but you could say I was probably born on Saturday and I was in church on Sunday. My parents raised me in a Bible believing, grace preaching, Jesus believing church. I really owe a lot to them, and to that church for that and just giving me a foundation of faith. But I didn’t appreciate that whenever I was in middle school, and it was really important to me to be cool and really, I just wanted to have a girlfriend. Jesus didn’t really matter to me.
Looking back, I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t care anything about the Bible, or God. I was even kind of a bully at school in order to try and be cool and make cool friends and things like that. I didn’t care about Jesus and didn’t want anything to do with Jesus. [So much so] that my parents would try to take me to church, like on Wednesday nights, and I would get there, they would drop me off, and I would call them and I’d be like, “Church was canceled; there’s no church.” and just lie to them about that. I did that several times. I’m pretty sure they were probably wondering why church got canceled so often, and they never heard anything about it, except through me. But so I just didn’t really want anything to do with God.
I never had a moment where I was like, I’m gonna go look at porn. It did start just as a teenager, just finding things that were kind of like, available. You know, finding a magazine in the bathroom pantry, that’s not like a pornographic magazine, but it’s like an exercise magazine. Some of the ads in there had some scantily clad women and then that just piqued the curiosity. Once you get the internet, then it’s just wherever your imagination can take you.
I heard somebody say one time that sin will always take you further faster and longer than you ever wanted to go. That was definitely true in my case, because I was addicted to pornography. Even though I didn’t really care much about God, I knew that I didn’t like what I was doing and I felt the filth of it. I knew that I wanted to stop. There were many times where I would look at pornography and after I was done, I would feel the guilt and the shame from it. So I would stop and I would just pray a little prayer. I’d be like, “God, if You’re there, take this away from me. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to look at porn. I’m trying to stop. Can You just take it away from me?”
I would try my best to stop looking at porn and, you know, maybe I’d make it one day, maybe I’d make it two days, three days tops. I never made it much further than that and then I would just fall into it again. It just had a hold on me. I couldn’t shake it. By the time I was 15, I was addicted to hardcore porn to where I couldn’t go longer than two or three days without looking at it if I’m trying really hard.
There was one day that I’ll never forget when my dad came and picked me up from practice at school. I got in the car and instead of driving down the road, he just put the car in park. He said, “Josh, I found something on the computer. I wanted to know if you knew anything about it.” At first I lied and I said, “No. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said, “Well, you know, this is gonna be a really awkward conversation to try and have with your little brother.” When he said that, I owned up to it and I fessed up. I said, “Yeah, that was me.” And I don’t really remember all that he said. But what I did was, I just went home and I went into my room, and I fell on my knees. I just started weeping. I didn’t pray anything profound or different. I just prayed the same prayer that I had prayed, you know, 100 times before that. I just asked, “Jesus, if You’re there, if You’re real, take this away from me, because I don’t want to do it anymore.”
I almost didn’t notice it at first, but a week went by and I just didn’t even have the desire. The thought didn’t even come to my mind of even looking at porn, and that was crazy to me. That went on for a month, and then two months, and then three months. And then six months had gone by and I realized, Oh, my gosh, God answered my prayer! Like, He took away pornography from me. He took away the temptation. And so, I don’t know all the details, you know, I got baptized when I was seven, I prayed the prayer when I was five and stuff like that. I don’t know how all that works out with Jesus, I’m not going to say I know when I got saved. But I know that I really loved Jesus, after this happened to me. After he had taken away pornography, because I had just come to a revelation of Wow, God is real! He’s powerful and He loves me. Those things just changed my life.
Before, I would lie and tell my parents that, you know, church was closed, [now] I was in church every time the doors were open. Any youth thing, I wanted to be a part of it. I started volunteering at the youth group. I started reading my Bible and it came alive to me. I love the Bible. The kids that I was picking on, those were the people that the Lord filled my heart with compassion for and just love. I sat with the kid who nobody else sat with in the cafeteria. But those kids, like the Lord just put them on my heart, and I started spending time with them and reaching out to them and all this just because I just met Jesus, through Him taking this away.
Six months went by, no porn. Seven months, eight months, nine months, and then almost a year to the date, a thought came into my head about going and looking at pornography. It was like it just came back and it was like before. There was the thought that came into my mind to go look at porn, and I would shake it off, and I would fight it. A few hours later it would come back and it was just like, I was back. Like nothing had ever happened, so I was freaked out.
I went to my youth pastor and I told him what was going on. He had known everything that happened, you know, with God taking it away from me before. I told him, “Hey, this, this desire to look at porn came back. I’m trying really hard, but I’m struggling. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on, you know.” And I’ll never forget what he said. He just looked at me and he kind of laughed, and he said, “You should be a youth pastor one day.” That’s all he said and I was like, that was not helpful at all. Especially when, just a few days after that, I broke and I gave in to that temptation. I was stuck in porn, again.
I don’t know if I ever got to the point I’ve been mad at God in my life. I don’t know if I was mad at Him, but I just was genuinely confused. “God, I know that You took this away from me. How could You have let it back into my life?” I was stuck in that for years, again after that.
I graduated from high school and I was addicted to porn, still. I went into Bible college and I was addicted to porn, still. But now I had a relationship with Jesus and even the porn coming back, like, that didn’t change the fact that I was in love with Jesus now. The Lord just made it clear to me that I was going to have to learn how to, instead of Him just completely taking it away all on His own, this time I was going to have to work with Him in doing that.
I had done all these things that they tell you to do whenever you’re trying to get out of pornography. You know, there’s just the few things that everybody’s supposed to do. You’re supposed to put internet blockers on your phone, you’re supposed to get an accountability partner who you can keep up with and they’ll help you get out of porn. I had done all those things religiously. I had put blockers on my phone. I had accountability partners, but none of that stuff really worked for me. I didn’t get any better.
But over the years, there were a couple of things the Lord taught me that really, I believe were key in setting me free. The first one was about my identity in Christ. I had grown up being told that you’re a sinner, and Jesus loves sinners. But when Jesus saves you, you’re still always going to be a sinner because Paul says, he says something that we all relate to. He says, “You know what, I don’t do the things that I want to do. But those things that I don’t want to do, I keep on doing. All the right things I’m supposed to do, I can’t do them and all the sin, that’s the stuff I keep on doing.” And so people point at that and they’re like, ‘Yeah, look, the apostle Paul struggled with this, so we’re all going to always struggle with sin.’
But if you go through and you look at the words that Paul uses in Romans 7, I believe Paul uses the word law, maybe 15 times. He uses the word flesh and words like it two or three times. He uses the word sin I think about 12 or 13 times. He uses the pronouns “I, me, my,” around 40 times. Do you know how many times he mentions Jesus? Zero, How many times he mentions grace? Zero. How many times he mentions the Holy Spirit? Zero. He writes Romans 7, just to put it in stark contrast of, this is what it looks like to try to obey God and try to follow God by your strength, essentially, by white knuckling it. By, “I’m going to do my best. I want to please God, by, ‘I’m just going to do it.’” As opposed to Romans chapter 8, he says, “Those who walk by the Spirit will live and will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” And you know, we all know Romans 8, the beauty of Romans 8, is freedom in life and power in the Spirit. Paul said, this is something that I had to, this is a verse that I had to memorize, and the password on my computer, if anybody finds my computer, you can get into my computer now. Romans 6:14 became just a life verse in this season of my life. He says, “sin shall no longer be your master, for you or not under the law, but under grace.”
If sin is no longer my master, it means I don’t have to do what sin is telling me to do. And that is huge for somebody who is addicted to pornography, because you feel so powerless, and you feel so enslaved. Like, I don’t want to sin. I don’t want to sin. I don’t want to sin. Oh, I sinned. It feels like you’re enslaved. But you have to take in this identity of, “I am no longer a slave to sin, I have been set free to serve Jesus.” And so I had to go through this transformation of my mind and realize that if I wanted to stop sinning, I needed to stop viewing myself as a sinner. God’s will for me is that I would see myself as a saint, not by anything that I’ve done, but by what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus’ finished work made me a saint, the moment I believed in Him and the moment that I came to faith.
But the thing about that, that’s really hard. It’s really hard to believe that right after you’ve watched porn. It’s a really hard thing when your sin is just so fresh and recent, right in your face, screaming at you that you’re a sinner. It takes a lot of faith to believe that Jesus has made me a holy one. Those are the hardest times to believe that. But those are the times that we need to believe that the most and those are the times that I needed to believe that the most, the times I needed to hear the most that I was a saint.
Finding out my real identity in Jesus and believing it, in the face of my sin, was one of the hardest but most essential truths in getting out of pornography. I like to think of it as, that’s the work of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross and He saved me from my sins, and He redeemed me and He made me righteous all in that act. Jesus, Jesus did that. The other work that was almost equally important for getting free from this addiction was discovering the work of the Holy Spirit, and walking in the Spirit.
You know, one of the things that I had learned in Sunday school growing up, I remember vividly a lesson where they pulled up Galatians chapter five, and they said, “Alright, these are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and they wrote them all on one side of the board. And they said, these are the acts of the flesh, and they wrote them on this side of the board. We all had to take a marker and we had to go up and circle the ones, the fruit of the Spirit that we were good at, and the acts of the flesh that we were failing at like selfishness or sexual sexual morality or drunkenness or things like that. And they said, “Alright, now go home and work on these fruit of the spirit that you are not doing well at and go and try to stop doing these acts of the flesh that you’re failing at.”
The Lord had to show me that that is totally not what that Scripture is talking about. He says the acts of the flesh are obvious and it’s all these things sexual immorality and drunkenness and immorality, and idolatry. But the fruit of the Spirit, singular, is love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness, and all the fruit of the Spirit. What you find out is that all of those good things, love and joy and peace, those aren’t things that we work on. We don’t try to say, I’m going to be more patient today, or I’m going to try to have more self control today, which is really what I needed. The only command in that Scripture is, “walk in the Spirit.” And the fruit of walking in the Spirit is going to be that these other things are going to naturally come out of you. Love and joy and self control.
The Lord had just made it very clear to me that I don’t really need to try so hard to stop looking at porn. I need to do one thing, and that’s walk in step with the Spirit. I think the way Jesus describes it is abiding in Christ, abide in Me. He said, “If you abide in Me, you will bear much fruit. And if you don’t, you can do nothing. You’re powerless.” I had really experienced that. I had tried my hardest. I had really clenched my fists and white knuckled it, and I did the accountability partner thing. I had done the internet blockers and it was all just not working. I had asked God over and over and over again, “God, will You give me self control to overcome temptation?” And the thing was, I was asking it as if it was something, some kind of gift, like in a box or something that He could mail me from heaven. Something He could just send to me. Then I could have it and then I could overcome my problem, I could overcome my addiction, and go on with my life.
But in reality, walking in the Spirit and abiding in Jesus, they are relational terms and relational concepts, where Jesus is not saying, “Hey, you know, if you just fill this list, do this or this and this, then you’re going to bear much fruit.” He just says, “Me. Abide in Me. Remain with Me. Stick close to Me and you will bear much fruit.” That’s the huge thing about it, is God doesn’t want to mail me self control. You know, for me, it was self control and overcoming porn, but some of us are just unhappy and we want joy. We’re asking Jesus, “Will You give me joy?” And we wonder why He’s not giving it to us. It’s because He doesn’t want to just mail us something that we can just have, and go on our way and keep living our lives.
Joy, and self control, and peace, all of these things are in Him and He wants a relationship with us. He has all these things within Himself and He said, “If you just walk with Me and you abide in Me, you’re gonna get joy, and you’re gonna get peace, and you’re gonna get self control and all these things that you want, but you’re going to then get the real gift, which is just Me.” It’s Jesus. Then you have everything.
That was huge, huge. So I just really shifted my attention to walking in step with the Spirit and trying to figure out what this relationship with Jesus is like, where I just really just focus on just remaining in Him, abiding in Him, seeking Him continually throughout my day, in my life, and focusing on that relationship, identity, the work of Jesus and what He had done on the cross and making me righteous and making me a saint and the work of the Holy Spirit and discovering what it’s like to depend on His power instead of trying to do it on my own. Just living in relationship with Him, those things, those two things just went hand in hand in making huge progress in overcoming pornography.
I think finally, the last thing that really broke the straw that broke the pornography camel’s back was when I was dating my wife at the time, and I told her I originally when we started dating, I was still still watching pornography and I think she thanked me for my transparency and stuff like that. But after that, we continued dating for about a year and once we started getting serious, and I knew that, okay, I think I know that I’m going to propose to this girl and I’m gonna try to marry her. I knew that I needed to tell her again that hey, this pornography thing wasn’t just something in my past, this is something that I’m still dealing with. This is about all this at the same time that the Lord had been just showing me things about walking in the Spirit and identity and all that. I told her, “Hey, I’m still struggling with this. I’m still falling into temptation and looking at pornography.” It was, something was different that time when I told her. She was just visibly defeated whenever I had told her that I was still walking in this stuff.
That was a long and difficult conversation, one of which came out the resolution that I was going to tell her now. I was going to confess to her every time that I looked at pornography. And so every time that from there on out, I would, anytime I would fall into temptation again, and I would look at porn, I would tell her what I did. It destroyed her every time. I dreaded telling her whenever I would fall into temptation, because it would just visibly destroy her. She would cry, oftentimes, when I would tell her and, I will say that it didn’t happen very many more times after that. Confessing to her made it real and made it painful for me to go back and look at porn.
With her help, and just with a new identity of knowing, like, Hey, this just isn’t even who I am either. Like, Jesus created me. He predestined me before time began for good works. I am a saint and not a sinner and learning how to walk in relationship with the Holy Spirit and finding power and help from Him to overcome all these things, combined. I looked at porn for the last time in December of 2017, just a few months before me and my wife got married.
Now I have been walking free from pornography for seven years, with the exception of one relapse in 2019. But besides that, walking free for seven years now from pornography and not just walking free from pornography, but in a closer relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, like, because of it and because He showed me not just how to get this thing out of my life, and just have a better life for me, but how to walk in relationship with Him and let Him liberate these things for me and enjoy a relationship with Him.
It turns out, my youth pastor, he was right. I did end up becoming a youth pastor. Now, like putting myself in my Youth Pastor shoes, if some kid came up to me and they were struggling with pornography, and really wondering if they were going to make it out – I know now that what he was saying to me, wasn’t necessarily, “Hey, you’re going to be a youth pastor.” And it seemed so irrelevant to what I was going through at the time. But now, I can see that what he was saying wasn’t so much about the job that I was going to have in the future. He was telling me that I was going to make it. He was telling me that me and Jesus are going to be okay and that we’re gonna get through this. I’m gonna overcome this. – So I don’t know if I would tell that kid or whatever kid came up to me now and says, you know, “I’m struggling with this, with pornography and all this, what do I do?” I think I would try to say in the best, most memorable way I can that, “If you stick with Jesus, you and Jesus are gonna get through this. If you walk with Him and you believe who He says you are, and you let Him come alongside you and help you, you’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna get out of this. You’re going to overcome this and you’re going to be free. Because Jesus does have the answer to pornography. He does set people free from pornography and He loves to set people free.