I’m hesitant to write anything about social media these days because, for the most part, I don’t participate in any of it. But for the sake of transparency, here is my short history of social media.
I’ve been on most major social media platforms since 2006, which is when I got my first Facebook account. I’ve had a few Twitter accounts, a couple Instagram accounts, and I had a mad SnapChat streak going with a friend for over half a calendar year. But as of now, I only have a minimal Facebook page and a LinkedIn. So that’s that.
Now before I move on, I want to say I believe most anything* can be redeemed for the Kingdom of God. I believe our work, our rest, our play, our entertainment, our habits, our hobbies can be used for that sake of loving God and loving others. (*I say “most anything” because I’m not sure how explicitly sinful activities can be redeemed, although I know God can bring about, in a way, redemption out of those activities.)
I want to also lay this foundational assumption of the way everything works. I believe everything, yes, everything, forms us. Everything forms us, molds us, makes us. From morning to night, from night to morning, we are forming and being formed by everything that’s around us. For example, when I make a salad, the salad is forming my body (in a healthy way). But when I make a bowl of ice cream, the ice cream is forming my body (in a, let’s say, different way).
James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is where I stole (acquired) this idea. So if you want to read more about this idea about everything as formative, then buy it and read it for yourself. In fact, it’s so good I would be willing to buy it for you.
OK, so far we determined:
- I have used and currently do use social media.
- I believe in the ability for Jesus to redeem most anything in creation.
- Everything in the world forms us to some end in some way.
Now, let’s talk about two distinct yet related ways that social media forms you. And I am going to use Instagram as a clear example. This is not to raise it higher or drag it lower than any other forms of social media. It’s just a way to make this all more concrete.
Two of the many ways a social media platform like Instagram forms you are: (1) It increases your desire for novelty, and (2) it increases your desire for sensuality.
First, Instagram is intentionally designed to cause you to become addicted to it. This is not-so-subtly because of advertisements. Instagram makes money when it sells ad spaces. Economics lesson over. Everything about the platform is meticulously crafted to usher you into an mindless habit of swiping and tapping and swiping and tapping and swiping and tapping. We become Olympian-like in our ability to swipe and tap so much that we do with ease it while operating an oversized bullet moving at 75 miles per hour.
How? In short, Instagram plays into our biological and neurological essence to trigger positive emotions based on novelty. We desire new pictures. It’s that simple. We want to see something new every time we open the application. If you saw the same picture on the top of your Instagram feed whenever you opened the app, you would be less inclined to open the app.
Second, Instagram as a visual media is particularly designed to play into our natural, sensual desires. OK, Economics lesson again: Sex sells. Economic lesson over. You know it’s true. Just watch literally anything. I mean there are too many examples. You were probably lured into tapping on an advertisement just five minutes ago because of some really good looking guy or gal wearing sunglasses that you can’t tell if they’re taking them off or putting them on. But woh those are some good looking shades.
To be sure, I am not immune to these “ideas” because I’m aware of them. I think studies have shown the opposite can be true in many cases. I might be more inclined to succumb to social media tricks simply because I am aware of what’s going on. To be honest, that’s one of the many reasons I don’t have many social media accounts anymore. It’s simply too enjoyable.
So what does all of this have to do with following Jesus?
Well, I’ll tell you by referencing Matthew 5:27-28:
“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:27-28
Yes, I’m talking about adultery. Why?
In Russell Moore’s Storm-Tossed Family, he mentions briefly that affairs are often had because of a desire for novelty. Yes, novelty, especially in all things, obviously, sexual.
So, let’s just say novelty does play a large role in affairs. And let’s say based on Jesus’s words that affairs are not just having sex with someone who is not your spouse. Affairs can be in your heart, and they’re not just restricted to married people either. This is some difficult stuff to consider.
But what does this have to do with social media, including Instagram?
Everything forms us. Instagram forms us by engaging, rewarding, and enhancing our innate desires for novelty and sensuality. Desires for novel sensual experiences drive affairs. Therefore, Instagram is forming us to have affairs.
And recall, affairs can be had in your heart whether or not you’re married.
If you are serious about following Jesus, you need to deeply consider what he has to say about how to resist the temptation to sexual sin.
Jesus also says this:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:29-30
Please hear me out on this. I am not saying every Jesus follower needs to “cut off their hand,” i.e., delete their social media accounts or toss your smartphone to be recycled properly. I am saying if you claim to follow Jesus, and I pray I’m doing the same thing–if there is a log in my eye in this, please point it out for me–please consider his intense hatred of sexual sin and his command to cut yourself off from anything that might cause you to sin.
Can you use social media, namely Instagram, to bring about redemption? Yes. Certainly, please do that. Please do that for the millions of people on Instagram. Please exemplify Jesus there. Post pictures of Bible verses. Post pictures of you enjoying creation. Post pictures of your small group sharing a meal. Post pictures of you spending time with your spiritual family and biological family. Please. Be light and salt on Instagram.
But I equally beg you to consider if Instagram is worth having if it sends your whole body to hell.
For me, my proclivity to lust and greed and jealousy was too much to have an Instagram. It’s too much for me to watch certain movies and TV shows and YouTube videos. I’m a weaker brother. I really am.
And if you are strong enough to bring about God’s Kingdom online and be a faithful witness, stay on social media. But if you are weak like me in these regards, please delete your account.
Social media is a discipleship issue. It’s a spiritual issue. It’s a life or death issue.
Whatever you choose, I pray your faith would increase ten-fold as you follow Jesus.
– Matt Welborn