I remember walking into an adult bookstore for the first time. (This was before high speed-internet connections were common and you could get the crack delivered to your home in five seconds or less.) I wanted to be there; and yet I didn’t. I was trembling inside and a little bit outside. When you walk into one of those places, you are clearly crossing a line, and it’s as if that line demarcates a wall of glass. The porn shop is under a dome, keeping all the germs inside, and when you cross that boundary, it slices you in half. If you’re someone who claims to follow Jesus, you walk into a porn shop a totally bifurcated person—discombobulated, deluded, divided.
I was driven there by a compulsion—to see, to get things I shouldn’t have, to know things I shouldn’t know. There are sections inside an adult video store, organized according to category; I hope you didn’t know that. Some of these categories repulsed me. Can you imagine that? Walking around a porno store and avoiding the “gross” stuff? As if it wasn’t all disgusting?
I knew I should not have been there but I wanted to be. Everything inside of me said it was wrong, and everything inside of me said it would be okay. Just push through, get what you want, and get out. Before you become numb to this battle and stop fighting it you must ignore the clapper of conscience clanging against the walls of your soul and push through it.
Was I in that store by my orientation? Absolutely. Was I in that store by my choice? Yes. The answer to this multiple choice question is yes.
And when I put Genesis 3:1 (“Did God actually say . . . ?”) together with Romans 7, I see why I believed it was ultimately better at the time to feel good doing what I wanted instead of suffering the internal agony of not being who I was. It felt so much better to give in than to fight. Which is why so many porn users don’t fight it at all. The porn promises release. The abstinence promises pain. And then there’s this voice saying, The pain means you shouldn’t be trying to change who you are.
But there’s nothing else in me God wants to change except who I am.
This change comes through the cross—Christ’s cross becoming my cross. What is better? To be warring all the life in Romans 7, denying urges and not feeling good inside, or doing what we feel is right simply because it feels good, better? One voice answers the latter, and it strokes the ear. The other strikes terror sometimes—okay, many times—but it takes us from Romans 7 to Romans 8.
Don’t believe the lie that struggling always to obey God is a worse lot in life than disobeying him with peace. God did not make us to “feel good inside” (or outside) all the time this side of heaven; he made us to share in the sufferings of Christ, that we might share in his resurrection. And the reality is, for many, the resurrection kind of life in these areas of death isn’t always postponed to the life to come. But you won’t know that until you’re willing to go to the cross for as long as it takes to die.
I was preoccupied with and perversely interested in pale imitations of glory. I was committing clear sins in engaging in this behavior. And staying away from the porno shop would be a good decision to make. But it was the allure inside of me—the desire for the glory that was being falsely promised—that just avoiding pornography wouldn’t kill. I didn’t simply have a behavior problem but a belief problem, a worship problem. And what eventually served to cure my taste for this shiny death was not “getting my act together,” but finally, truly seeing the glory of my crucified Savior.
In the warp and woof of this struggle every day, we cannot rely on the law to empower its own implications. We need the more glorious vision.
So long as we are living in the bittersweet limbo of Romans 7 through 8—simul justus et peccator, as the Reformers so nerdily put it in the Latin (righteous and at the same time a sinner)—we will be struggling to see the glory. We will always be fighting this battle. When I say it is better to behold than to behave, I do not mean that we are to be lazy Christians, ambivalent about personal holiness or actively following Jesus. I just mean that our ability to actively and persistently follow Jesus will be centrally driven by our comprehension of his glory.
Beholding Christ’s glory is the number one directive for following Jesus. And in fact, it’s sometimes the only effort us lousy disciples can muster up.
I think of that fateful Sunday a young Charles Spurgeon got waylaid by a snowstorm into a little Methodist chapel where a guest preacher filling in at the last minute was making a plainspoken appeal from Isaiah 45:22—”Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth!” He was not a great preacher; Spurgeon presumes him to be “a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort” and actually refers to him as “feeble” and “stupid,”6 but he recalled the man’s invitation thusly:
Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, “Look.” Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.1
That Sunday morning, with snow clouding the view outside, this simple message captivated the young Charles Spurgeon who for the first time looked at the glory of Christ and saw it.
Sometimes people are so busy trying to do great things for God they forget to look at his glory and therefore they never quite behold it. And sometimes looking is all the rest of us have the energy for. We are, whether spiritually or physically, out of “get up and go.” But as this stupid preacher reminds us, any ol’ fool can pick his head up and look.
 The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Vol. 1, 1834–1854 (Cincinnati, OH: Curts and Jennings, 1898), 106.
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @jaredcwilson