By Laura Bailey, Crosswalk.com
Earlier this year, a new movie release sparked much controversy among Christians. The film was based on a book written and published by a Christian author who wove the biblical message of redemption throughout its pages; thus, the film’s target audience was Christian.
This was not the first time the novel sparked debate among evangelicals. The concern over the on-screen adaption, secular production, and Hollywood portrayal of sexually sensitive topics has fueled the ongoing “should you or shouldn’t you watch” debate.
Growing up, my mom, who had a knack for bringing God into every situation, frequently called from the kitchen as I flipped through TV channels, “Laura, would God approve of your watching that show?” Or, when I blissfully sang lyrics to popular songs, she would ask, “Would you ask the Lord to sing along to that song?” As a teenager, I found those incessant questions annoying, unappreciative of her efforts to hold me spiritually accountable. However, today, as a more mature adult and Christian, I appreciate having a parent who intervened. Still, now I must hold myself accountable by asking those same questions when deciding what shows to watch, books to read, or tunes to play.
So, what if my belief of what is acceptable and appropriate for a believer differs from that of other believers? If I honestly feel no shame or guilt before the Lord upon making certain selections, what should my response be to a sister in Christ who feels the exact opposite (or vice versa)? Where, exactly, should the line be drawn for Christians in today’s entertainment world since, obviously, the Holy Spirit doesn’t convict all of us to the same degree?
It’s Not So Black-and-White
Spoiler alert: no line in the sand delineates what is always appropriate or inappropriate for all Christians. As a person who lives in absolutes, I wish that God's Word spelled out which shows to avoid, which books to burn, and which brands to boycott, but to my chagrin, the Bible doesn’t do this; instead, the Lord has given us some pretty precise instructions therein, along with numerous biblical principles and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our decision-making.
Many find the space between legalism (rules and law) and Christian liberty (freedom and grace) challenging to navigate, so we tend to swing between the two. Brett McCracken’s book Gray Matters encourages readers to resist an all-or-nothing concept of cultural engagement by arguing, “healthy consumption of culture honors God, enriches the Christian’s life, strengthens community, and advances the Christian mission.” He urges believers to become wise and discriminating consumers of culture, so we can “better integrate our Christian identity with our habits of cultural consumption.” In short, God called us to live and engage in the world without becoming like the world.
So, how do we differentiate between personal convictions and what the Lord deems non-negotiable without becoming self-righteous, judgemental, hardened, and offensive? In other words, how do God-fearing believers become Christ-honoring “consumers'' of their culture?
Answers from the Scriptures
As mentioned earlier, although Scripture does not always state a definite “yes or no” regarding every form or piece of entertainment available, it does direct us upward and onward as we journey through life. Some directions are straightforward imperatives like STOP or DO NOT ENTER, but many simply warn us to proceed with caution because of potential danger. And like real-life traffic signs, those in Scripture also serve to protect and preserve, keeping us on the right path.
When wondering if something is appropriate, remember Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by renewing your mind. Then you can test and approve God’s will—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This foundational verse raises poignant questions that will steer us toward or away from the many avenues of accessible entertainment and leisure.
Does this concur with or contradict God’s clear and explicit will for my life? (Micah 6:8)
Does this result in my thinking and acting more like the world around me or like Christ?
Knowing full-well that actions proceed from thoughts, the Apostle Paul succinctly named what believers in the Church at Phillipi were to dwell upon to conduct themselves in the world around them rightfully: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8). When conflicted about what Christ would say about a certain pastime, mentally work through the spiritual checklist Paul penned in the verse above and ask yourself:
Does this reflect or deflect God’s Truth and His excellent and perfect design for His creation?
Does this express righteousness and purity?
Does the Lord find this pastime praiseworthy?
In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul again urges us to examine our hearts and minds, for they ultimately dictate how we live. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Self-examination often involves asking ourselves hard questions extracted from God’s Word, but in doing so, the Holy Spirit reveals what we should or should not do.
Does this activity counter or support the new life Christ desires for me?
Do I more and more frequently prioritize pleasure over righteousness?
Does this pastime stir up sinful desires, making me want to revert back to my former life without Christ?
What’s Okay for Me May Not Be Okay for You
In my quest to understand why sincere Christians hold different convictions, Romans 14 proved to be extremely helpful. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, explained that some believers freely partook in certain things while others felt convicted and thereby abstained. How is this possible? Personal conscience.
God gave us a conscience (I’m not talking about the little demon and angel who whisper in our ears) to determine what's right and wrong in His sight. Depending on their stage of life, some may have a “weaker” or a more sensitive conscience; therefore, they may be viewed as legalistic or overly pious and self-righteous. Conversely, they may perceive those who engage in activities from which they would refrain as lawlessly taking advantage of God’s grace. Paul addressed both views in Romans 14.
One’s convictions, or lack thereof, may well affect one’s reputation and even turn people away from the Gospel. We must humbly ask the Lord to convict us of our own sin and give us the strength to resist evil in any form, for He holds us individually accountable for our actions regardless of our power of conscience. Furthermore, we must ask for grace and sensitivity when encountering others in Christ who do not always share the same convictions as us. Certain activities may be permissible for one person but not for another; therefore, we must be sensitive to that reality lest we fall back into any activity that displeases the Lord or causes others to do the same. For example:
Best not to join a weekend shopping trip if out-of-control spending is a struggle.
Avoid participating in anything that would arouse sexual desire if you or someone in your company struggles with sexual temptation.
If there’s a history of drinking alcohol to the point of drunkenness, avoid it altogether.
These are just a few examples, and there are countless situations that we must ask the Lord to help us navigate. But, I will note that Paul is very clear about how we should respond to those struggling with their faith in this area. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13). So, out of respect and love for others, even if we feel that it is okay to watch, read, or listen to something, we should abstain if it will cause another to stumble or hurt our witness.
I’ve had seasons where I leaned heavily into my Christian freedom, knowing that I was using grace as an excuse for my sinful behavior. There have been other times where I’ve swung to the other side, judging and criticizing those who differed in their convictions. It is inappropriate if you find that you need to justify, convince yourself, or hide your actions from others. Conversely, if you have prioritized God's purpose for you and can freely and openly engage without guilt or conviction, even if it differs from other believers, don't accept shame. I encourage you to commit yourself to prayer, a humble spirit, and a heart’s desire that seeks to honor the Lord in all areas of life.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz