Can a rubber band help you overcome lust?

I read a negative review of Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity (my review here) titled “Practical to a Fault.” The reviewer objected to Weiss’ strong psychological approach to overcoming lust. Weiss, a Christian psychologist who specializes in counseling men who struggle with sexual addictions, understands how the mind works.

Weiss notes that sex, or even just sexual images or fantasy, produces a powerful chemical effect on the brain. On the positive side this has the ability to form a powerful bond between husband and wife. On the negative side, when this occurs outside of marriage, it “programs” the male mind to have strong lustful desires for other women, or particular “types” of women. Weiss calls these misdirected imprints land mines.

Weiss suggests that, since we understand how the mind works, we can counteract the normal cycle of chemical re-enforcement when we need to using some form of negative re-enforcement. For instance, he gives this advice:

“Get a rubber band and place it around your wrist for at least thirty days. Every time you lust, objectify, double take, rubber neck, or have a past image hit your brain, snap the rubber band.”

In his counseling, this technique has proven very effective. He explains, “Men have told me over the years that this negative re-enforcement has shut down as much as 80 percent of their lust life and reduced the power of land mines within a month.”

I am not a psychologist so I will defer to Weiss and trust that this indeed does work, from the perspective of behavior modification. But, and the reviewer raised this question, does this kind of technique undermine the work of the Holy Spirit in character transformation?

I think the short answer is “No.” I have no problem with this kind of counsel and, in fact, I am grateful for it. Why? Because, while we are not only physical creatures with physical minds we are physical creatures with physical minds and we have been called to make every effort to obey God with every aspect of our beings, spiritual and physical.

That said, this kind of practical advice only works, from a Christian perspective, within a broader context. If this constituted the whole of Weiss’ work I would have objected. And so, if you are seeking and using this kind of psychological, counsel, I offer the following words of caution.

#1: Psychological advice that replaces the idea of sinfulness with sickness falls short. For Weiss, the reality of the sinfulness of lust causes him to find every solution available. Weiss has no problem using the term “sex addict” but, for him, that doesn’t remove the sinfulness of the addict’s behavior.

#2: Psychological advice that ignores the power of the Holy Spirit falls short. When God raises us to a new life, that is a supernatural event. Sanctification is a supernatural event. But, God can, and does, use natural means (smacking a rubber band) to produce supernatural results (sanctification).

#3: Psychological advice that only deals with behavior modification falls short. Behavioral modification without consideration of spiritual transformation is nothing more than legalism. We need to be transformed from the inside out, starting with our most fundamental beliefs. Modifications to behavior are the result, not the cause, of complete spiritual transformation and victory over sin.