What do you Watch?

What Should Christians Watch?

This shouldn’t have to be said, but there is a crazy amount of shows on Netflix and other networks such as USA, HBO, and Hulu that contain plenty of violence and nudity. These should force the Christian to think long and hard about what we are watching, right? The eyes are the lamp of the body (Matt. 6:33). Christians are meant to have their minds transformed in order to be more like God (Rom. 12:1-2). But, has what we watch gotten a little… out of hand? CNBC has an article from the Summer of 2018 that says Americans watch 10 hours of Netflix each week and 5 hours of Amazon/Hulu. On the college campus, my opinion is that those figures come close to doubling. I know students that, if they aren’t in class, are glued to a Netflix series. Last year, Netflix poured $8 Billion into making sure that America watched more of its shows.1 So whether Christians take it seriously or not, there are people who are actively seeking to influence what our eyes see; and in my experience, Christians watch the same shows that the non-Christians watch. I know it sounds grouchy, like the old guy in the back pew eyeing the “kids these days,” but are we really meant to be watching these shows? What is our litmus test as Christians are to what we are/are not meant to watch?

A Key Verse

If I know anything about American Christians, I’m already on thin ice here. So, let’s take a deep breath. Don’t consign me to “hyper-spiritual-guy-who-is-a-little-strange” quite yet. If the Bible is the Christians complete guide to godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then it’s what he says that’s important. Not me. His. Moving forward, A verse connected to the believer’s holiness is Lev. 20:26: “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” As Christians, we are to be holy as God is holy. The Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk serves as an example. God says he’s going to judge Israel and Habakkuk isn’t happy about it.  He argues with God not to judge Israel (by the way, God was going to judge Israel by allowing a foreign nation to conquer it, an unholy nation! The height of insult!) The irony of Habakkuk is that God is actually more concerned with the holiness of his people than the other nations.. In fact, one major function of the prophets as a whole was to call the people of God back to God’s promise to Moses and the verse referenced above.2  They wanted the people to remember what God had done in the Exodus and repent to love and know God once more.3 Front and center of God’s relationship to his people is that the people are to be like God and display his image to the world by being separate and holy.4 What God loves and does we are to love and do, and vice versa; or at least, it’s supposed to be that way.

This should be obvious, but if God cannot look at evil, Christians shouldn’t either. “Well Josh,” one might say, “we’re in a world of evil - what am I supposed to do? Close my eyes all the time?” Glad you asked. Here’s what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that we move out of town, into the deep woods, smash our cellphones on rocks, and tear down the wifi towers like idols. We know this from Christ. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to leave the world, but to obey him while in it (John 17:15). Paul echoes Christ and tells us that Christians are meant to obey God and mirror him in this world. Here, they are meant to be consumed with pure and godly things (Phil. 4:8).

Here we are already seeing a “Netflix Ethic” come to bear. Just as God tolerates evil in the world until the final judgement day, so do Christians. However, here we get into application: like God, Christians are not meant to actively participate in viewing evil for entertainment. Lk. 11:33-36, echoing Matt. 6:22, writes that those who follow Jesus need to keep the lamp of the body, their eyes, pure. Why? The context heavily suggests that it is because Christians who do not keep their eyes pure will not be distinct from the culture. The more that the Christian fills the eyes with darkness the more the mind, body and actions follow. The less they are transformed to the image of Christ and the more they are transformed according to the world, the exact opposite of the scriptural pattern is followed (Rom. 12:1-2).

Where Do We Go from Here?

Where does that leave the Christian with Netflix? First a general rule: if something does not increase our love for Jesus but instead causes us to love the world, then it is sin (1 John 2:15). Second, realizing that watching a show is not inherently evil, here are some questions to ask ourselves about our favorite Netflix show:

  • Does it make me more like Jesus? (1 Peter 1:16)
  • Does it increase my love for and knowledge of the Gospel? (Phil. 1:9-11)
  • Does it make me love God’s design of the world? (Rom. 11:33-36)
  • Am I enjoying the creation in a way that would glorify God? (Romans 1:18-23)
  • Would I sit down and watch this show with Christ on the couch beside me, or would I have to fast forward through certain parts? (1 Cor. 3:16, 1 John 1:5-10)

A common objection I hear from Christians is, “I just watch the show for the plot line.” I get it. I know that some series on Netflix are riveting. But consider what is implied in that statement. The person is saying that they are willing to fill their minds with often times pornographic images (Game of Thrones), the near-worship of manipulation and power (House of Cards), and violence/gore that demeans the image of God (Outlaw King) in order to be entertained. Jesus doesn’t seem to think that it’s worth it (Matt. 5:29). We are actively valuing something that scripture doesn’t say we need (Netflix) over something it says we do need (purity). And that doesn’t make much biblical sense.

This issue draws us deeper into the American Christian mindset having to do with bible illiteracy and love of comfort. If we spend all this extra time watching Netflix, we must be getting so much time in God’s word that we have spare time to watch hours and hours of The Office!

Unfortunately, this is not the case. I can’t remember the last time I met a Christian that said, “I’m just getting some much time in God’s word this past month I can’t believe it!” In reality,  it’s the opposite. Yet when asked what we are watching and how much time we spend watching it, it’s met with a defensive attitude. Listen, I’m not advocating for 24hr a day bible reading because I don’t think scripture commands it (we are to work, serve others and our families, and meet together). I don’t want to be super spiritual and pretend like I don’t need to clean up what I watch either. But what I am saying is that as Christians in a comfort-loving, hyper-entertained America, Satan is distracting Christians with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other mediums, usurping our holiness with impurity, and dimming our love for God’s word and short circuiting our ability to display his image. As Christians, we need to carefully and humbly examine how we spend our time. We are to be holy and separate, presenting ourselves as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13). May the Lord lead us to obey the command of Lev. 20:26 and show the starving world that relating to God intimately is far better than anything else.

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