Media Discernment 101
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. (Gal 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.
- Does it present a temptation to sin? (Rom. 13:14, 2 Tim. 2:22)
- Is it beneficial? (1 Cor. 6:12a, 1 Cor. 10:23)
- Is it enslaving? (1 Cor. 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.)
- Does it honor and glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
- Does it promote the good of others? (1 Cor. 10:33)
- Does it cause anyone to stumble? (1 Cor. 10:32)
- Does it arise from a pure motive? (Jer. 17:9)