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Pornography/Purity - Week 3 - Commitment to Change

In our previous article in this series, we discussed the importance of hope in trying to change patterns of pornography use or other sexual behaviors. Hope dictates effort. Without hope, it is unlikely that you will make any significant progress in this area. But to hope you must add resolute commitment as well. Hope by itself is not enough, there must be ongoing effort. This is where commitment comes in.

The truth is, if you're really struggling with repeatedly viewing pornography, this problem has probably been around for a while. It's a well-ingrained habit by now. Modern psychology and neuroscience research has begun to show us how repeated habits are literally embedded in us biologically. Any repeated behavior that is reinforced leads to lasting neurological changes in the central nervous system. As a behavior is repeated over and over again, automaticity begins to takes over, we don't have to consciously think about doing it, the habit takes over, and we engage in the behavior automatically.

Couple this with the fact that pornography viewing is intensely pleasurable in the short term, leads to a massive rush of natural pleasure and feel good chemicals in the body, and the body's tendency to develop tolerance and cravings for repeated mood altering activities - you can see how powerful this habit can become speaking from just a biological standpoint. And we haven't even discussed the problem from a theological standpoint, considering topics such as sin, rebellion, man's fallen condition, etc!

One error many Christian's make is equating repentance with having a strong emotional response to their sin (in this case, viewing pornography). They think that if they work themselves up into enough of an emotional reaction with sorrow, anger, remorse, disgust, etc, that this will be enough to facilitate change and they will never view pornography again. Such emotions can be helpful if they catalyze meaningful change early on, but they inevitably fade. If they are not paired with true repentance (metanoia), development of biblical conviction, daily discipleship, and a concrete, specific plan to counteract the habits embedded in the automatic part of the mind and the body, these emotions will prove insufficient for true change.

Christians operating under this emotionally based approach to change will often display a cycle of acting out (viewing pornography), followed by intense sorrow, shame/guilt, and religious fervor, which eventually cools to unworried passivity about the underlying habit, thus setting them up for another period of acting out and repeating the cycle. The length of the cycle may vary from days, to weeks or months, but the issue is the same, they haven't developed a committed plan for change.

What is needed is a particular type of commitment. A commitment that involves our emotions, but also transcends them. Not just a commitment to never do the behavior again, but a commitment to do whatever is needed to never do the behavior again. Elements of this commitment are: 1) Commitment to God's standard of purity and choosing obedience over sin management, 2) Commitment to walking with Jesus daily in discipleship, 3) Commitment to the goal of never viewing pornography again, 4) Commitment to sticking it out, knowing that you are going to fall short repeatedly, being willing to recommit every time you fail until change finally happens.

This type of commitment penetrates deep down into the core of who we are (or perhaps arises from the core of who we are). It goes beyond what our transitory emotions may be telling us moment to moment and his its roots in what is most deeply important and essential to ourselves. It is rooted in your values, who you truly want to be and what you most want to be about in this life. Such a commitment can whether the often fickle and transitory nature of our feelings day to day.


Practical Steps:

1. Take some to think deeply, journal, and pray about your values. Values are the qualities, descriptors, and actions you want to embody in your life. They are deeper and more profound than goals and temporary achievements. When we live by our values we experience life as meaningful, purposeful, and rewarding, even when difficulties are present. One way to clarify these is to write down the various roles you play in life (Christian, father/mother, daughter/son, sibling, spouse, employee, neighbor, employer, student, etc). You might want to rank order them based on their priority and centrality to your life. Then take some time to reflect, pray, and journal about how you want to be in each of these areas. What adjectives do you want to describe you? What qualities of action do you want to display? Then take some time to reflect, pray, and journal about how viewing pornography is inconsistent with these values.

2. Write a list of both mundane and God-centered reasons/motivators to abstain from viewing pornography. Begin reviewing the list daily, perhaps picking one motivator from the list each day to really dwell on. When feeling tempted, review the list.

3. Begin memorize scriptures to quote to yourself. I recommend memorizing a verse on discipleship, a verse of God's love/grace, and a verse on sexual purity. Quote these to yourself often, especially when tempted. Create a discipline of adding more scriptures to your memory each week.

4. If you haven't already, make the commitment we have talked about this week. Write it down, pray about it, and share it with trusted relationships.

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