How the grace of Jesus enables us to say no to pornography

Ray Ortlund

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a practical tool to begin a journey toward freedom, visit SBTC’s Crave Web site at cravefreedom.com.

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place.

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men.

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands.

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

Jordan Wootten pic
News and Culture Channel Editor
Jordan Wootten
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)
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