I think the online world is a fascinating place that came about with very little oversight in the beginning stages. The internet’s rapid development far outpaced our conscious thought about the social, moral, or spiritual impacts the internet would have on our life. To me, the internet reflects the raw, unpolished state of the human condition. There are some incredibly beautiful things on the internet, along with some incredibly terrifying things. Welcome to the human soul!
So how do Christians navigate this ever-changing digital world?
I believe the Holy Spirit is our guide on this and speaks wisdom to us on this question through Scripture:
Ephesians 5:8-10 (NIV) – 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.
Christians shouldn’t use social media like other people because our lives have now become the living testimony of the Lord on earth. For this reason our use of social media should consist of all goodness, righteousness, and truth. And in everything we do we should seek to find out what pleases the Lord.
So this series will deal with this question: how can Christians please the Lord in how we use social media?
Discern Your Purpose
As stated above, the internet developed naturally without any real sense of purpose. No one person cultivated the internet to shape it to meet one purpose, and as a result, the internet grew into all spheres of life. But the unintended consequence of this natural growth is that most users approach the internet without any sense of real “purpose”. For Christians this can be very dangerous because we are supposed to live our life with a very specific purpose in mind (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17, 23; 1 Pe. 4:11).
Christians need to discern our purpose on social media. But before I continue I think I need to prove this statement because I don’t think everyone is convinced that we do need to be intentional about how we use social media. So ask yourself how much time social media has taken time away from your family and other relationships? How many arguments have you gotten into on social media? How often do you come away feeling depressed after scrolling through social media? I could go on and on, but for a lot of people on social media, these realities are normative. People are neglecting other important things in their life because of the vast amount of time they spend on social media. Relationships are being hurt, broken, and fractured because of the careless words that get posted online. And people are increasingly struggling against social-media induced depression. So I am not just decorating my answer with flowery words when I say Christians need to be intentional in how we use social media.
So let’s start with some basics.
Social media is not:
- Your private journal
- A safe place to feel out your thoughts
Social media is:
- Your public testimony
- A platform for ideas that can either hurt or help others
Writing in journals can be a truly rewarding experience precisely because they are private and safe. No one is going to judge you for your thoughts. You get to be alone with yourself to find out what you really think. And we all sometimes need that kind of safe space just to discover ourselves and know what we really think about life. Social media is not this place. “Yes”, it is satisfying when someone likes and affirms our thoughts, but careless ideas can also do real harm. Once our words are out there on social media, they can’t be called back. They are somewhere permanent until God wipes away the stain of our sin (2 Peter 3:10-12). So we need to be very intentional about the ideas we express on social media because we understand as Christians that our freedom of speech does not mean that all ideas are acceptable in God’s sight. We want to live as children of light so that we can be the Lord’s testimony on earth.
Social media is so dynamic that it would be impossible for me to list all the purposes Christians can have online. We network, do business, connect to old friends, and share what matters to us all within social media. What matters is how we do all this. We need to be intentional about how we “network” online. We need to be intentional about how we “do business” online. We need to be intentional with our “relationships” online in the same manner that we are in person. How we share, defend, and promote our ideas online matters just as much as the ideas themselves. Like it or not, the complexity of the modern world demands much more from us, and we have to be prepared to meet these new demands.
Be Seasoned with Salt
So now let’s think about our words for a moment:
Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) – 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Regardless of whatever utility on social media you are using, you are meant to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to you to show the will of Christ in your conduct. You are meant to show people what true “life” looks like in whatever sphere of life you are touching on social media. For this reason, the conversations you have online should be full of grace so that you can possess the wisdom needed to answer each person.
Let’s take another text into consideration:
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV) – 29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
There’s no easy way to state this, but Christians haven’t done a good job in the West in resisting the powerful temptation to tear others down on social media – myself included. But we must get better at resisting this temptation. Unfortunately, much of the content online today is destructive. People seek to tear others down, especially those they hate, and this grieves the Holy Spirit of God. Christians are called to be different. We don’t always live up to that calling, but, when we fail, we know the answer is to change our behavior.
As Christians, we have different priorities online: we are supposed to try and build others up. Social media has provided Christians with an unprecedented opportunity to amplify our voices beyond what was ever possible in past generations. Far from calling on Christians to disengage from social media, I believe it is more beneficial for Christians to use social media as a means to build all people up. And the Holy Spirit has already told us what is necessary for this task: we must “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” and learn to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave” us. We must get rid of things like “bitterness”, “rage”, “anger”, “brawling”, “malice”, and “slander” because these are the weights that will hinder us from fulfilling our holy calling in Christ. Indeed, we cannot learn to be “kind and compassionate” to others when our hearts are filled with “rage”, “anger”, and things like these.
This is how Christians understand spiritual warfare: the works of the flesh actively oppose the works of the Spirit. We see these things working in our bodies, but we deny them because we believe that Jesus possesses the words of life. So we put off these things so that we can live spiritually authentic lives in Christ.
We should not be ignorant to the spiritual warfare we face online:
2 Peter 2:18 (NIV) – 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.
Each and every time you go online you are likely to be exposed to an array of spiritual decisions: share that hurtful message, listen to that gossip about a politician you don’t like, give-in to the outrage of the moment. Use someone’s words against them. These are all spiritual decisions. And one of the trademarks of Satan’s emissaries is that they mouth “empty, boastful words” that, “by appealing” to the flesh, “entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error”. We are daily flooded with empty words that appeal to the flesh in order to entice us away from the will of Christ. So I hope that last clause in the above Scripture is sufficient to catch your attention and warn you about the dangers we face in the online world. We are faced with decisions on social media that will either conform our soul to the likeness of Christ through the cross (i.e. denying our flesh and following him), or that will fill our hearts with darkness and conform our spiritual natures to the evil that Christ has come to destroy.
Therefore, Christians must be aware that we are choosing sides when we get online. Social media is not a “safe space” where we can say and do what we want without consequences. We either choose Christ and live as emissaries of the Kingdom of Heaven or we choose sin and live as citizens of darkness. This requires that Christians be intentional in how we use social media.
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