Like to Watch

Apr 27, 2006 |Joshua Harris

Following Christ carries radical implications for the believer's lifestyle. Including our media habits.

When the Apostle John wrote "Do not love the world," he clearly wasn't anticipating satellite TV, the internet, magazines, computer games — all the things we lump together today as "media." But he knew this: the human heart does not change. Sin is a timeless, universal constant. Whatever new vehicle of communication man dreams up, sin just hops on board.

The results are obvious. Wherever we look, technology blasts us with the world's values, attitudes, and false definitions of reality. The popular media lie to us about the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty. They offer counterfeit versions of what a family is supposed to look like, what romance is, what success is all about, and where we should spend our money.

The media never try to reason with us. Instead, they seek a hard-wire connection straight into the emotions. Why offer some lame, tortured argument in favor of immorality when you can simply show slow-motion close-ups of beautiful people bathed in soft lighting and romantic music? Painful consequences of sin? Where?!

The power of today's all-pervasive media lie in their ability to make evil seem appealing. If anything, John's warning is even more vital for us than it was for his original readers.

Half a Poison Pill Won't Kill You

Most of us recognize the danger of exposing ourselves to sinful content, so we tend to set arbitrary limits based on how much we think we can "handle." When a movie or TV show presents us with mild or infrequent profanity, an occasional adulterous affair, or a limited amount of gratuitous violence, we sort of weigh the danger level. We act as if we each have a "sin threshold" beyond which we dare not go. We might as well ask how much of a poison pill we can swallow before it kills us.

But the greatest danger of the popular media is not a one-time exposure to a particular instance of sin (as serious as that can be). It's how long-term exposure to worldliness — little chunks of poison pill, day after day, week after week — can deaden our hearts to the ugliness of sin. What God calls the lust of the eyes and the sinful cravings of the heart are typically portrayed by the popular media as natural and harmless. The eventual effect of all those bits of poison pill is to deaden the conscience by trivializing the very things that God's Word calls the enemies of our souls.

If You Don't Enjoy the Calorie ...

Does anyone really believe that if I disapprove of the sin I'm watching, or roll my eyes and mutter about Hollywood's wickedness, or fast-forward through the really bad parts, my soul is not affected? Yeah, sure — and if you don't actually like chocolate cake, eating it won't add to your waistline.

Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. But the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8).

I've looked, and there just don't seem to be any loopholes in this verse.

Too many of us sow to the flesh every day — watching hours of TV but spending 15 minutes in devotions — and wonder why we don't reap a harvest of holiness. Let's look at three ways to make practical changes to our consumption of popular media.

Increasing Our Discernment

To discern is to perceive the true nature of something. Because the popular media so often speak to us through our emotions, we must grow in discernment. Otherwise, when violence comes disguised as justice, when lust masquerades as romance, or when greed and selfishness pose as success, we're likely to be deceived. Here are some biblical ways to help you discern whether a certain activity glorifies God.

  1. Does it present a temptation to sin? (Romans 13:14, 2 Timothy 2:22)
  2. Is it beneficial? (1 Corinthians 6:12a, 1 Corinthians 10:23)
  3. Is it enslaving? (1 Corinthians 6:12b (Regarding the preceding two items, please note that when Paul writes in First Corinthians, "All things are lawful for me," he is not establishing a divine mandate for a free-for-all of entertainment indulgence. He is, instead, quoting a false proverb then common among the Corinthians so that he might refute it.)
  4. Does it honor and glorify God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  5. Does it promote the good of others? (1 Corinthians 10:33)
  6. Does it cause anyone to stumble? (1 Corinthians 10:32)
  7. Does it arise from a pure motive? (Jeremiah 17:9)

I'd also recommend you regularly apply the "Susanna Wesley Test." While away at college, John Wesley wrote to his mother, Susanna, asking for a list of sins he should avoid. Her response is a model of biblical wisdom applied:

Whatever weakens your reason, whatever impairs the tenderness of your conscience, whatever obscures your sense of God, whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, whatever takes away from your relish for spiritual things, that to you is sin, no matter how innocent it is in itself.

After it perceives, discernment acts. Winnowing good from evil, it rejects that which is worthless. "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

So, even after you have made your best biblical judgment about a book, movie, TV show, or something else, don't revert to the passive mode. If something offends, be willing to turn off the set, stop reading, or leave the theater. Always be ready to refute the false ideas or unbiblical thinking that will nearly always be present to one degree or another. Let's be people who write in book margins, talk to our televisions, and discuss movies and concerts with one another afterwards to help sharpen our discernment and to increase our ability to critique unbiblical values.

Raising Our Standards

Wherever our standards fall short of Scripture, let's raise them — but humbly, without flaunting them or holding others to the standard we've adopted. At the same time, let's invite others into this area of our lives, welcoming observations about our media habits, and being willing to discuss and hold each other accountable to standards we have prayerfully set. Let's focus on our own convictions before God, but let us also love each other enough to challenge and question our choices in this area.

We should always be asking if our standards are high enough. Let's never assume we have "arrived."

Changing Our Habits

Many Christians, perhaps most, can imagine making heroic sacrifices for God, yet we resist the small adjustments. "Jesus, I will forsake my home, family, and future, but don't ask me to give up my favorite TV show!"

Let's not forget that following Christ carries radical implications for the believer's lifestyle. If we would honor God in this area, we need to regularly re-evaluate our media habits. Should we watch less television? Go to fewer movies? Spend less time online? It's easy to relate to TV and movie viewing as if a certain amount of it is some kind of right or necessity. But as believers, our only non-negotiable ought to be obeying and glorifying God — even if that means not seeing the blockbuster movie everyone is talking about, or keeping the TV off on weeknights. As Wayne Wilson has noted,

Theatergoing should not be something we do instead of playing miniature golf. Unlike putting, movies must be approached with extreme caution, as though one were treading into the domain of a deceitful and powerful enemy, for that is the truth of it. Critical faculties must be in full alert. Christians must never randomly patronize the theater. A film's popularity should make no difference. You should be willing to remain ignorant of the "movie event of the year" if it violates God's standard. Believe me, he is not impressed by the Academy Awards.Wayne Wilson, Worldly Amusements: Restoring the Lordship of Christ to Our Entertainment Choices (Enumclaw, WA: Winepress Publishing, 1999)

If necessary, let me urge you to consider changing the setup of your home so that entertainment technology, particularly television, is neither omni-present nor central. Let's not allow movie and television watching to become our default free-time activities. You may also wish to abstain periodically from different forms of media in order to test their influence on your life and increase your focus on God.

Be very clear on this: the world wants your attention, allegiance, and love. Whether subtly or blatantly, it will never stop seeking to persuade you. It is therefore essential that we, as Christians, engage in the battle for our own hearts and souls. The Apostle John lived in a world without the temptations of modern media, but this issue of the heart remains the same: who or what will you love?

Copyright 2002 Sovereign Grace Ministries. All rights reserved.

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