Should Christians watch rated movies rated “R” or shows rated “TV-MA”? Should we listen to “Christian” music exclusively? What, then, do we do with Switchfoot? Does content need to be explicitly sinful to be condemned? What about those things that are suggestive? Are labels like “suggestive” and “explicit” objective or are they better understood relative to the individual and their cultural context?
Questions like these are not easily answered. The proverbial pendulum swings from arbitrary legalisms to questionable claims of freedom in Christ to live by a worldly standard.
The Holy Spirit works within his people a desire to put off sin and reflect the image of Christ. For good reason, pornography (however one might define it) has come to stand front and center in these discussions. Avoiding sexual content is virtuous because these images stir up sexual desires that Christ has commanded us to avoid. But, what about content that stirs up other forms of vice and fleshly desires? What about content that promotes anger, greed, envy, and godlessness of other sorts?
For the past decade, God has been doing a work in my heart that has revolutionized the way I look at my pursuit of entertainment. Rather than establishing a complex set of standards in the spirit of the Scribes and Pharisees, I have learned to ask some simple yet powerful questions about what it means for me to find pleasure in entertainment. As I strive to navigate this media-saturated world with my eyes fixed on the prize before me, these are the questions that are shaping my convictions.
Am I feeding my own sinful desires?
Matthew 5:27-30 records Christ teaching on adultery. Not only does he teach against the act of adultery, he goes on to teach against participating in those things that would kindle adulterous desires saying, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus teaches against both the act of sin and the stirring up of our desire for sin. He goes further to say that the means by which such desires might be stirred (the eyes or the hand) should be cut off lest we stumble. When my entertainment puts sin on display so that it awakens a desire, I am acting in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ. I am actively working to hinder the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within me. Rather than limiting the means by which my flesh is stirred, I am providing the spoon.
Am I communing comfortably with sin?
In the presence of holiness, Isaiah’s first thoughts are about his sin and the sins of those around him. He recognized that sin has no place in the presence of holiness and for this he was undone (Isaiah 6:5).
It is not uncommon for believers to be aware of their own sin and their need for repentance. This is illustrated by Isaiah when he declares himself a man of unclean lips. It is important, however, to notice that this is not where Isaiah stops. He goes on to recognize that he part of his sinful state comes from living among a people of unclean lips.
Sometimes, those sins on display are not sins that I personally struggle with, and they do nothing to tempt my flesh. There have been times when I have seen this as a license to carry on. To find entertainment in sin, however, is to pursue and rest in the company of sin. This, according to Isaiah, is condemnable.
Do I encourage sin in others?
To the previous point, some will argue that Jesus communed with sinners. This is true, but we must consider the difference between communing with sinners and communing with sin.
When I choose to be entertained by the sins of others, I am not relating to sinners for the purpose of bringing the love and truth of the Gospel to them. Instead, I am doing quite the opposite. I am, to some degree, using my time and money to employ others to sin on my behalf. Rather than leading the sinner out of sin, I am essentially rewarding them for the blasphemies and sins that will eventually lead to their destruction.
Am I expressing regret for my salvation?
In Genesis nineteen, we have the story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gamora and his deliverance of Lot’s family. Lot does not immediately heed the warnings to leave for safety. In his lingering, The Lord “being merciful to him” has Lot taken up and placed outside of the city.
Lot recognizes this as an act of grace and mercy, but his wife looks back. Though the Lord had rescued her from the due punishment of sin, she turned from her deliverance and toward destruction.
The Son has come so that we would be free indeed (John 8:36). Finding attraction and fellowship with sin is to long for that which so easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1).
Of all the questions I ask of my entertainment, this is by far the most sobering. When I am tempted to find entertainment in sin and when that entertainment stirs my flesh, I am assuming that it is sin and not Christ who satisfies. May we never find ourselves looking back with envy on those living in sin. May we never despise our deliverance.
So, what now? Am I recommending that you cancel Netflix and Spotify and every other avenue of entertainment available? Not necessarily, but possibly. Remember, my goal is not to write a moral standard for you to follow. My goal is to provide you with questions that help you measure your own entertainment choices.
For me, this has been a long and difficult process. More importantly, it has been a life-giving and God-honoring process. May it be the same for you.