The term addiction gets thrown around a lot, but the truth is its meaning is relative. People with a dependency on a certain drug or habit, like pornography, are not absolutely, positively compelled to watch. An addict is someone who has a serious problem that needs serious attention. A problem that has altered the chemical structure of their brain and should be treated with empathy and care. As a result, I’m not against using the term addiction. However, it doesn’t mean that anyone is powerless, in a strict sense, to say no in the face of temptation.
John Piper vividly illustrates this point using the example of an armed gunman and a million dollar satchel. Belief lies at the heart of the decisions we make and abstain from making. Anyone who believes the stakes are sufficiently high will never watch porn again. I’ve transcribed the thought-provoking clip.
Do you find the concept of addiction useful?
Lust is a sexual desire that dishonors its object and disregards God. Disregards the promises and the warnings of having or losing the beauties of Christ. The lusted after woman or man in your head or on the screen or on the street is dishonored. Not treated as a sacred, previous eternal person in the image of God. Whose eternal destiny is always paramount, and whose holiness we either long for or ignore. And the only way that kind of dishonor can daringly be carried out and hold sway is by disregarding God while we are in the sway of lust.
Ponder with me for a few minutes the natural and the spiritual role of self-control in relation to lust. Addiction, I think, is a relative term. I would stake my life that no one is absolutely addicted to pornography or any sexual sin. None of you is. What I mean by this if the stakes are high enough, and sure enough, you will have all the self-control you need to conquer any sexual temptation.
For example, tonight, if you are feeling totally in the sway of a sexual desire more blazing, more powerful than you have ever felt it in your life, and you believe you cannot resist the temptation to look at some nudity online–then suddenly, a black-hooded ISIS member drags your best friend, or your spouse, into the room with a knife at his throat or her throat and says, “If you look at that website, I will slit this throat.” You will have self-control. You are not addicted. You won’t click.
Or if a man walks into the room and says, “If you look at that nudity, I will not give you the million dollars that I have in this bag–cash, tax-free. But if you do not look at that nudity, I will give you satchel with one million dollars in cash.” You will have total self-control. Yes, you will. You are not addicted to that moment.
Addiction is a relative term. The fact is 99%–I’m just leaving 1% for wild pathological cases that I cannot imagine. The fact is 99% of those who give way to lust in pornography or fornication or adultery are not decisively controlled by their sexual desire. They are decisively controlled by what they believe. What they believe will happen if they act on the lust or don’t. That’s what controls them. What they believe. Not the sexual desire–that’s the excuse.
The decisive issue is whether they believe the stakes are high enough and sure enough. If they are sure, the friend will die a gruesome death, they will have self-control. If they are sure enough that that’s real money in there, and it’s really tax-free, and it isn’t stolen goods, they will have self-control.