we live in a world in which material that is offensive to our Christian values is rampant. Start watching a movie that streams on Amazon Prime and there it is – a sex scene or a decapitation that you didn’t want to see and you suddenly have to decide if you should shut it off or stay with it. Or, take your kids to a PG-rated animated film, expecting not to be ruffled, and there it is – a scene or a line of dialogue that bothers your conscience and makes you wonder what you should do about it. Even sit in on children’s television programs and you may be startled at what you see or hear.
When secular culture and its values, language, and what it perceives as “normal” rubs up against your biblical convictions and leaves you shocked, disappointed, or angry, that’s a good thing. It likely means the Holy Spirit and His voice is alive and well within you. It also means you’re feeling the struggle of living in a world that is not your home.
Yet, is it possible to avoid everything in art and entertainment that doesn’t align with our convictions? And if there’s just one element in a movie that you – or God – find offensive, does that mean you should throw it out altogether? Obviously only you can answer that, but here are a few points to consider as you wrestle with how to live in the world but not adopt its values as your own.
1. Will watching this (or not watching this) cause me to sin?
If the Bible doesn’t clearly define an action or activity (like watching a certain movie) as sin, that is when we need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s conviction in our lives. If you feel convicted about seeing a movie, heed that warning in your spirit, and refrain. But if you aren’t convicted, you also have liberty in Christ and therefore the responsibility to be discerning and wise when it comes to what you’ll view.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:23: “All things are permitted, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted, but not all things build people up” (NASB). Will you watch a film in which there is excessive profanity and then find yourself starting to use that language, too? Are you okay watching gritty or illicit sex scenes without feeling tempted to act out on those urges through porn, masturbation or sex outside the sanctity of marriage? “All things are permitted, but not all things are of benefit…not all things build people up.”
In James 4:17 we are told: “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (NKJV). The reverse is true as well. When we are convicted of something in our hearts, but we do it anyway, that too is sin. But what is sin for you might not necessarily be sin for someone else. Therefore, will your personal opposition of something cause you to sin toward another person by judging their heart or spirituality if they don’t hold to the same convictions you do?
James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” If you are offended by something and don’t wish to support it, don’t proudly boast of your opposition or opinion. That is legalistic and something Jesus warned the Pharisees not to do for the sake of earning others’ praises. Be humble in your heart. As you’d pray and give in secret, make your personal sacrifices in order to be holy in secret, as well. Do it for God, not for the praise or approval of others. Otherwise, your attempt to be righteous may backfire by causing you to commit the sin of pride.
2. Will watching this cause someone else to sin?
The Apostle Paul instructed the Christians in the First Century to be careful with their liberties, lest they cause another believer to stumble. When some believers were eating food sacrificed to idols, because they knew the idols weren’t God and therefore the sacrificial ceremony was meaningless, their “food is food, so I’m good” attitude was causing other believers to suffer in their conscience. In 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, Paul said, “Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
That attitude can be applied to certain movies as well. If you want to see a film that is R-rated for violence and that doesn’t bother you, but your friend feels physically sick after watching a reckless disregard for human life – even if its only actors and they are portraying the bad guys who deserve it and nobody really gets sliced up or ripped to shreds (literally) – perhaps agreeing to see something that doesn’t bother either of you is the better choice, rather than your friend feeling he or she needs to compromise on their values to appease you. Praying for wisdom is the key, as well as communicating with another believer who may be feeling hesitant about it.
3. Will this open the door for me to be a light or start a conversation about truth?
Jesus said we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:13-14). Yet how do we flavor as salt and shine our light if we refuse to hang with the unsavory or come near the darkness? How can we present God’s truth as relevant in our culture if we aren’t aware of the lies being told?
If your children, for example, want you to take them to see Disney’s Lightyear movie, and you’ve heard there’s a same-sex couple in that movie that share a kiss (while one of them is visibly pregnant), you may be opposed to letting your children see that movie. I completely understand. Yet, it’s possible they may eventually see that movie with someone who will not object to that scene, nor have a positive God-centered discussion with them about the anti-biblical message and overall deception being depicted.
If you are there in the theater, watching everything your child is, you have the opportunity afterwards to point out the difference between culture’s view of marriage and a person’s “rights” versus God’s design for marriage and procreation and what He considers right. What better opportunity to tell a young child that, even though a same-sex couple appears to be having a baby, it is physically and medically impossible for a child to be conceived without the involvement of the opposite sex. That leads to a conversation about God’s intricate design of the male and female anatomy (Genesis 1:27), their purpose of coming together to glorify Him (Ephesians 5:31-32), and the result of their sexual union being the creation of a child. It furthermore affords you the opportunity to explain that marriage and child-bearing was designed for one man and one woman and even science cannot change God’s original and perfect design. Not many children (nor adults, for that matter) know that regardless of a sex-change operation or one’s preferred gender identity, male and female DNA is permanent and cannot be in any way altered or changed. What an opportunity to emphasize that “God’s way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30 NLT) and He makes no mistakes.
4. Can I draw spiritual parallels or learn something from this?
I often hear believers say, “I won’t watch an R-rated movie.” I used to say that, too, until my brother wisely advised me not to let the Motion Picture Association determine my standards for viewing. After all, The Mission was rated R and so were Schindler’s List and The Passion of the Christ. All of those films moved me tremendously, and caused me to have a deeper understanding of God, His compassion, and His sacrificial love for me.
God can speak to us through any form of art or medium. And we can draw spiritual parallels through much of what the secular world offers. I learned as a child, after watching Star Wars: A New Hope (which many Christians opposed in 1977 because of its “new age portrayal of the force”), that the indwelling Holy Spirit in me was far more powerful than Satan and his attempts to crush my soul. My parents explained to me that surrendering to the “dark side” was akin to living out of my fleshly nature rather than surrendering to Christ’s Holy Spirit. I’m grateful my parents allowed me to be exposed to secular art and entertainment that impacted my generation and generations to come, while showing me God in it, over it, and compared to it. My faith wasn’t damaged by seeing those movies. Rather, my understanding and interest in the power of the Holy Spirit took root. (Granted, I have since learned the differences between the force in Star Wars and the Holy Spirit’s power in the life of a believer. But it was a memorable teaching moment for me, as a middle-school child, because my parents used it as a conversation starter about the Holy Spirit and our surrender to the Spirit in order to live a Christ-empowered life.)
I believe we can see God’s work and hear His voice anywhere because He is ultimately the Creator of art, medicine, science, history, knowledge, wisdom, philosophy, and everything else. When we watch something through the lens of a biblical worldview – with the aim of being able to distinguish between what is of Him and what is a distortion of His ultimate design and plan – we can become wiser through it.
Each of us is designed uniquely. Images, words, and music trigger our emotions, and convict our hearts differently, and can make us feel frightened, entertained, convicted, inspired, or enlightened. We each will stand accountable to God for what we did or didn’t do, based upon the Holy Spirit’s conviction and whether or not we heeded it. My prayer for you is that every decision about what you let in or lock out will be made after prayer and surrender to the One who knows your heart better than anyone else. And may your decision be one you can be confident in, regardless of what it looks like to anyone else.