Your Brain on Lust

The image above is borrowed from the ad campaign “This is Your Brain on Drugs” that is indelibly etched in most of our minds.

Piggy-backing on this, the phrase “Your Brain on Porn,” has gained popularity.  Google that phrase and you will bring up a multitude of websites and videos from Christian and non-Christian sources.

This is because pornography use—especially via the internet—has been demonstrated to be extremely destructive and habit forming.  In fact, Cambridge researchers reported last month that the brain scans of heavy porn users were similar to the brain scans of drug addicts.

This brings us to the above version of the “Brain on….” meme: “This is Your Brain on Lust”

It makes sense to warn against lust in this way once you realize that lust is not just a mental activity.  Instead, it is a psychobiological process of using desires and thoughts to gain illicit pleasure, releasing dopamine and other pleasing agents into the body.  Those who lust are “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:3).

Choosing to use your mind and body—including your brain—to act in this way whether or not you are using pornography is a harmful sin.  Your brain is affected.  According to brain scientists, “neural pathways” get carved out when you persist in gaining pleasure in certain ways.  It becomes (almost) automatic.  It causes you to become “hooked”—what Jesus called a “slave to sin” (John 8:34).

The good news: Neural Science demonstrates that our brains can heal from sinful habits.

More good news:  This is fully in line with the Gospel message, which is all about change.

Here is the solution if you are hooked on lust:

  1. You need to overcome lust.  You need to quit taking that wrong path.  That path will grow cold and you will become less vulnerable to temptation as you abandon it.  I do not say this glibly.  This is not an easy task or quickly accomplished, but certainly within your grasp.  It is an urgent requirement if you consistently lust in your heart.
  1. You need to obtain pleasure in ways that are not sinful. You need to draw close to God and learn to please Him. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Because there is hope, the image above is misleading (yet too powerful to abandon). Unlike ingested drugs which can result in physical, permanent damage to our brains, the damage done by lust is not like that.

As we obediently stop conforming to this world, we can expect to be “transformed” and have our minds renewed (Romans 12:1-2).  This allows us to live in the way God has designed for us to live—a life not content to merely abstain from pornography use or other visible sins.  It is a life where we are overcoming the dark root sin of lust and walking in the light, as He is in the light.

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