Instead of beating ourselves up with guilt and shame every time we succumb to temptation, adopt the “4X” strategy, says Dr Robi Sonderegger.
By Brian Liu, Yeo Zhi Qi & Yong Yung Shin
Over the Relationship Seminar weekend of Feb. 3 to 5, Australian clinical psychologist Dr Robi Sonderegger, speaking for the first time at City Harvest Church, unpacked truths about addictions, relationships and self-identity within a framework that had never been heard before by this congregation: neuroscience.
With a flair for theatrics, role-playing and one-liners, his first session on the evening of Feb. 3 was an engaging and humorous session, despite the gravity of the topic—understanding and overcoming the habitual patterns of behavior including addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling. More than entertaining, it was immensely revelatory as Sonderegger melded science with spirituality, affirming Biblical truths and exhortations through the latest in neurological findings.
One example is the identification of mirror neurons: when a person observes another engaging in an activity, the observer’s neurons fire as though he is participating in the activity himself. This is why a person tends to yawn after seeing someone else yawn. This gives new weight to Jesus’ declaration that when a man lusts after a woman in his mind, he has already committed adultery with her.
Sonderegger explained that the part of the brain which controls human emotion, the limbic system, is responsible for processing both pain and pleasure. So tightly linked are the two emotions that when we experience pain—he lists them as an acronym B.L.A.S.T for “boredom”, “loneliness”, “agitation”, “stress” or “tiredness”—the brain has to find ways to shut down pain, and it instinctively looks for pleasure.
The moment a person indulges in a pleasure-seeking activity, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs or surfing internet pornography, a neural connection—the starting point for addictive behavior—is established. Hence, the breaking of any habitual patterns of behavior or addictions, neurologically speaking, is the disconnection of neural wirings, which takes time and discipline.
Quoting studies done in the United States, he shared that the divorce profile has changed over the past seven years; one in every three marriages fail nowadays because of an internet-related factor—out of these, a whopping 50 percent is associated with internet pornography.
Another survey found that about 10 percent of the general population struggles with pornography, but within the Church, the figure jumps to 47 percent. Sonderegger said this reflected on guilt and shame as the greatest precursors to relapse, and are now recognized as toxic emotions not just in the Bible but in scientific circles.
Instead of beating ourselves every time we sin, the most constructive thing to do is to come up with an action plan to fight temptations. He proposed a “4X” strategy:
- Four good friends to be accountable to; the enemy’s power is in the secrecy of our sins.
- Four good reasons to pursue a life of holiness and purity.
- Four good plans or strategies to battle temptation when it comes, such as searching through the Scriptures and speaking the truth about who God says we are, asking how we can be a blessing to others, rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4), meditating on things pure and noble (Phil. 4:8) and giving the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15).
- Follow the plan for at least four weeks.
One of the standout statistics from the barrage of scientific data he shared was that any temptation lasts for two to seven minutes; if we can emotionally engage ourselves in something else—such as counting our blessings or giving thanks—the temptation will soon pass.
“Whatever you focus your attention on is what you get more of in your life, so focus on the positive—focus on God and His righteousness and glory, and focus on what you want, not what you don’t want to do,” he advised.
Emphasizing the important of the renewal of the mind (2 Cor. 10:5), he exhorted the congregation to be put on the full armor of God and take a stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6:10-18).
He then ended by sharing a personal, practical experience of battling temptation based on 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality.” On a trip to Ukraine in Eastern Europe, he was aware that pornography was readily available on free-to-air television. Knowing well that he was at risk of falling into temptation, he promptly requested for the television to be removed, to the incredulity of the hotel staff.
In closing, he set forth a challenge, “No one is above this. The moment we think we are is the moment the enemy rubs his hands. But together, with God’s instructions, we have an action plan. Are you willing to do what it takes to maintain your purity?”
For other reports of Dr Robi Sonderegger’s sessions at City Harvest Church, go to: