I am an avid Netflixer. I don’t waste my life away in front of the television every day or anything like that; I have boundaries in place and disciplines in action to guard against such idolatrous slothfulness. However, I do regularly and thoroughly enjoy letting my hyperactive mind wander into the fictional world of a well-written show. Books are fantastic, too. I read like crazy. But I personally find visual modes of storytelling uniquely therapeutic. Films and shows tend to draw me out of myself more effectively than a book, giving me a short and needed break from all of my over-analytical ponderings.
However, navigating the land of modern entertainment while trying to maintain an undefiled conscience can be a frustrating venture.
I have recently heard a lot of chatter about a certain series on Netflix. So, after finishing Madam Secretary (which I highly recommend), I decided to give it a go. Just a few episodes in, I completely understood the reason for all the praise; this series was brilliantly written and impeccably cast. Everything I value in a show—solid character development, intelligent humor, unpredictability, and more—was abundantly present. My mind was utterly captivated.
Unfortunately, though, my conscience was unsettled. Needless sex scenes, crude language, and other immoralities plagued the episodes in increasing measure as the series developed. Some of you may assume that I stopped watching the show as soon as I realized its overwhelmingly scandalous nature. You overestimate my character. I didn’t stop. Instead, I went into justifying-mode. In an ungodly effort to soothe my rattled conscience so that I could continue watching, I asked myself a few questions:
- Will watching this disqualify me from the faith? Absolutely not.
- Will God punish me for watching this? Probably not.
- Will God still use me if I watch this? Most likely.
This self-Q&A gave me just enough strength to silence my inner objections for another episode or two. But the heart-pricking conviction of the Spirit soon returned in full and unavoidable force. The Lord revealed to me that the nature of the questions I posed to myself indicated I was not all that interested in pleasing him; I just wanted to know how close I could scoot to the outermost edge of my “Christian liberty.” I wasn’t really concerned about preserving a pure state of soul so I could enjoy unhindered fellowship with Jesus; I just wanted to know how much worldliness I could ingest before God would bring his rod of discipline down upon me.
I should have been asking questions like:
- Is the content of this show re-directing my affections away from God and toward the world?
- Are the things I’m drawn to in this show wholesome and good or are they dark and evil?
- Am I, even within the privacy of my own heart, demonstrating that I love God above all else as I watch this show?
Responding honestly to these questions gave me the strength to do what I should have done after finishing episode two: quit watching the show. The fact that I was even trying to hush my defiled conscience clearly reveals that the content of this series was already adversely affecting me, dulling my spiritual desires and energizing my sinful flesh. Tuning into this show did not, in any capacity, demonstrate that God was the greatest love and treasure of my life.
I think my error in this situation is one common to many Christians—especially those of us in the millennial category who have grown up immersed in a culture that feasts on entertainment and a million other forms of pleasure. We ultimately just want to know if persisting in some activity will result in punishment, and, if that isn’t likely to happen, then we gladly persist in that activity. But this is not how the Christian life is to be lived.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And in his letter to the Romans, when addressing the topic of violated consciences, he wrote, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When faced with a questionable activity, a desire to get away with as much as we can before God gets stern with us should have no place in our evaluation of that activity. This is not an attitude of faith but of the sinful flesh—one that must be struck down and killed. Our evaluation of any and every thing we do in this life should be driven primarily by a passion to glorify God by maintaining a clear conscience before him. When we are gripped by the love of Christ and compelled by a desire to enjoy him as fully as we can, we will ask the right questions and, by God’s grace, make a faithful decision that exalts God and cultivates our joy in him.