We are saturated by a perpetual media lifeline. We live in the ‘mediasphere’. We cannot take the pervasiveness of media too lightly. It is having a devastating impact on culture today. Everyone is influenced chiefly by television. In television we live and move and have our being.
The world in which we live has the same desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and the pride of life as the world of John’s day. We are no different. Our calling as Christians is to resist the seductive calling of this fallen world. To do this, we need to sharpen our biblical discernment and wisely evaluate our media intake.
The hazard is thoughtless watching of media. We don’t gradually drift into holiness. We take countless steps and each step matters. A lifestyle of careless viewing reveals an ignorance of the media’s power in temptation. Critical thinking leads to costly action ….to work. Our minds must be engaged to travel against the cultural current. It is a battle.
Is pop culture as deadly as persecution and plagues? Yes, because it lulls us into apathy and passivity. Christians must watch on purpose. We are not immune from the danger of thoughtless watching. We have a conscience that must be re-sensitized not desensitized. Ignoring your conscience may lead to shipwreck when it comes to your faith. We are “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having [our] own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4.2).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our battle is with the flesh. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Galatians 5:17) Our hearts are deceitful and our flesh is tempted. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Legalism and liberty often come to the fore in this discussion. Those stricter than us are legalistic; those more lenient are libertines. The risk lies in our motivation not in having standards. Are you lowering your standards while not reaching anyone in the culture? You don’t need to immerse yourself in the latest entertainment to reach people for Christ.
We live before the face of God. He watches everything. This is the fear of God …our beginning place. A fool excludes the reality of God (Ps 14.1). We watch media in God’s presence. We are accountable to Him in all things – including our entertainment. God is holy; we are not. We are in trouble. Our eyes have lusted, our imaginations have trespassed, and before the face of God we find grace. Grace that leads us to desire obedience. Obedience must be motivated by grace.
The first three chapters of Ephesians doctrinally lay out the grace of God for us. Commands do not come until Paul writes three chapters of grace. Then this command: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,” (Ephesians 4:1) Then, we come to Ephesians 5:
“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:1–14)
All that is good, right, and true pleases God. God’s grace leads us to live out these verses.
The more subtle the message, the more demand for perceptive viewing and critical thinking. God plainly identifies what is displeasing. Paul’s world and our world has much in common. But we were once darkness and now we are light. We are to no longer take part in the unfruitful works of darkness. We are different people and must live different lives.
Avoid impurity in light of Christ’s love and sacrifice (5.1-2). There shouldn’t be even a hint of sexual purity in our lives. Does a program tempt me to be sexually impure? I shouldn’t have a hint of it in my life. Fallen people sin sexually. But the visual and verbal details of immorality should remain in secret. We learn nothing by learning the lurid details.
Let no one deceive you with empty words. The wrath of God is indeed coming upon the sons of disobedience (5.6). God prescribed stoning for adultery in the OT (Lev 20.10). This seems extreme to us because we don’t have a healthy view of the blazing holiness of God (Hab 1.13). We also see immoral people prosper in our media and, thus we are deceived. Where is God’s wrath in immoral, romantic movies? Maturity is not steering clear of immoral acts only; it extends beyond our thoughts and deeds and even to our words (Eph 5.4). Foolish talk mocks and ignores the Word of God. Crudeness and filthiness should not proceed out of our mouths, but it also shouldn’t come into our ears through films we watch. What we say and what we listen to reflects upon our holy God. Grace changes us from the inside out.
We have a high and holy view of sex as God’s good gift. We don’t want to see it cheapened into a joke that degrades sex. Sitcoms, stand-up routines, and comedy movies lead us to laugh at what we should weep over. Thank God for sex; don’t joke about it and demean God’s good gift. Watch what you watch. Steer clear of impurity. Christ died for the impure sins of impure people.
How do we decide what we will watch? Hopefully not by the world’s rating systems. The rating system doesn’t use a biblical criteria to evaluate films. And what about the stewardship of our time and the motivations of our hearts? Ask these questions:
- Am I skipping or delaying something important to watch this right now?
- What are my other social and entertainment options besides going out to watch a movie?
- How much time have I already spent on media today?
- How much time have I spent on spiritual disciplines, building relationships, or serving in my local church?
- After investing the time to view this, will I look back on it as time well-spent?
- Why do I want to watch this program or film? What do I find entertaining about it?
- Am I seeking to escape from something I should be facing by watching this?
- Am I seeking comfort and relief that can only be found in God?
- What sinful temptations will this program or film present?
- Do I secretly want to view something in it that is sinful?
- Am I deceiving myself by saying, “I’ll fast-forward over the bad parts”? Am I telling myself, “I’ll just visit this website once, and I won’t click on any other links I find there”?
- Am I watching because I’m bored or lazy? What does that say about my heart?
- Am I watching because others are …to be relevant or fit in?
- How have my online relationships impacted my face-to-face relationships? How has it impacted my soul – for better or for worse?
- What motivates me to create and maintain a blog or a Facebook/Myspace presence? To impress others? Am I being sinful and proud?
- Is sin identified as sin in this film? What is being glamorized? Who are the heroes? Is sin glorified and rewarded? What is humorous in this work? Is violence used gratuitously to entertain? Is sinful self-sufficiency honored? Does it portray materialism as the good life? Does it help me to understand my culture without tempting me to sin? Does it reflect truth, beauty, and holiness?
- What’s my speech like online? Does it reflect grace?
Discernment is hard work but worth it. Watching something might be acceptable, but is it beneficial? “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) What if your standard is that which is beneficial rather than that which is permissible?
To forewarned is to be forearmed. How do we view entertainment for the glory of God? Act as if you standing before the face of God because you are. “Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
Promoting an evil message is presenting sin in a favorable light. An evil method is employing sin itself to entertain (e.g., reality programs with slander and gossip). Turn to the Lord and away from sin even when no one is watching. View proactively. “I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.” (Psalm 101:2–4) Grab the remote or click the mouse when something worthless appears.
View with accountability. God has given us families and local churches to support us. Defeating temptation requires exposing temptation. Television viewing usually occurs in private and is not talked about in public. Many do not know about the quantity or quality of our viewing habits. We remain ignorant to the devastating impact to our media viewing habits because we rarely invite others to help us. Turn to Christ for repentance and to a brother or sister for accountability. God’s help often comes in the form of a fellow believer.
Parents must keep children accountable. Internet filters and monitored computer use is a must. We must be aware of when, where, and what our children watch. We cannot be passive. If we have been, we must repent and ask our kids to forgive us. Kids who sin in this area must confess their sin and ask parents for accountability. Accountable viewing is a blessing and not a burden. It is protection and not legalism.
We are free to pursue entertainment within biblical parameters. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) This verse affirms; it does not restrict. It leads us to view with gratefulness that which is God-honoring and God-glorifying. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
If I cannot thank God for whatever I am watching, I shouldn’t watch it. But if it is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, we should thank God for it. We can watch television and movies and glorify God in the process. But remember the ‘mediasphere’ will dictate watching less than we actually do. Each step in the right direction counts.