The Impact of Social Media
Whether you love it or hate it, social media has changed the world. And if you do hate it and have dug your heels in about not getting involved, you at least have to come to grips with the fact that it’s not going anywhere.
Believe it or not, we’re nearing the 10-year anniversary of Facebook (founded in 2004) and approaching Twitter’s as well (2006). These, as well as other top networking sites have become an integral part of daily life in the 21st century. Make no mistake, social media has become every bit as life-altering as the inventions of the car, the radio, the television set, and the personal computer/internet. You’ll notice, too, that each of those innovations had their own way of shrinking the world – making us more interconnected. They increased our capacity for face-to-face interaction despite distance, learning despite distance, or being entertained despite distance. And now, social media has increased our capacity to maintain relationships despite time and space separating us.
The online transparency, vulnerability, and invasiveness will only increase. In a TED Talk from a few years ago, Tim Berners-Lee, the visionary often credited with being the mastermind behind the invention of the internet, predicted that social networking sites will themselves all soon be interconnected and that eventually, people will not just post bits of info or upload documents and files online, but that nearly ALL data will be stored online, accessible to everyone.
For some, this will sound like a scary incarnation of George Orwell’s 1984. For almost everyone though, this seems like a fairly terrifying amount of transparency.
But for Christians, should such access into our private lives be that frightening? After all, what do we have to hide? That’s a BIG question?
I think we all know the answer too – we all have A LOT that we’d like to hide. However, though that may be our first inclination, should that be our final action? Let me explain….
Covering Our Sin for the Illusion/Delusion of Righteousness
In recent years I’ve come to a very different understanding of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount than what I’d previously held. I was reminded of this last week when talking to my wife, Adrian. She’d mentioned that she’d been going through this portion of Scripture (Matt. 5-7) in her devotional reading. I asked her what she thought of it and she said, “I just felt pretty lousy after reading it.” I responded that I actually think that’s probably a better way to read the sermon rather than how many people read it – viewing it as a challenge for increased morality.
It’s fairly easy to see how many who do a cursory reading of the Sermon on the Mount see it primarily as an exhortation to faithful living. That’s how I viewed it for much of my life. After all, Jesus does say, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
But look at the context. Jesus is preaching to a group of Jews who, from what we can surmise, believe they are significantly more moral and righteous than they actually are. This is why, for instance, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matt. 5:21-22) And again, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28) Without a doubt, those originally listening to this sermon would have walked away feeling worse about their deeds.
Now think carefully. Does it honestly make sense that Jesus would tell a group of self-righteous people that they’re not as righteous as they think, all in hopes that they’ll work harder at becoming more righteous? Put another way, a lot of people read the Sermon on the Mount and think – “Man, I’ve really got to get my act together and get more righteous.” Unfortunately, I think many feel that way, in part, because that’s what they’ve been taught. So tell me…..how much more righteous do you need to become before you can earn God’s favor? Or….is it possible that under the direction of the Spirit, Paul, the psalmists, and the author of Ecclesiastes actually knew what they were talking about when they said, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12; see also Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecc. 7:20)
What if Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is NOT primarily encouraging us to produce greater righteousness but is actually having us despair of our own righteousness?
Jesus didn’t murder, but he also didn’t hate. Jesus didn’t commit adultery, but he also never had one lustful thought. Is it possible that the demands of righteousness we hear in the Sermon on the Mount are not simply intended to get us to act more righteously, but to repent, and find shelter in the ONE righteous person – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You see, “your light” and “your good deeds” are really NOT your own doing. Jesus alone is the “light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)
Now, what does this have to do with social media? A lot. Ironically, while Americans have desperately pursued greater privacy for years, we’re actually living in an era where there is an unprecedented level of access into someone’s life. The window has become a glass house. Every day, new pictures. Every day, status updates and intimate thoughts. Every day, transparency.
So, as a Christian, what are you going to show to the world?
A Christian has to realize that “my light” and “my good deeds” are wrapped up entirely in Jesus. He’s the one I boast about. In many ways, as Christians, our lives are just as messy, our impulses just as wicked, our thoughts just as worldly as everyone else. Let’s be honest about that. Social media (and this era in general) has provided heightened transparency. What that means is that Christians have been given an opportunity, NOT to brag about myself or my deeds. The pagan world does such things. Rather, Christians openly repent and boast about the grace of God shown to us.
Here’s a quick example: This past week in several Bible studies I shared a story I was so embarrassed about that I hadn’t told anyone for 15 years. I went to a Christian high school. We had chapel services every day. Each week, we gathered offerings on Tuesday. At that time, while I knew Jesus as my Lord and Savior, my functional gods – the things on which I was trying to establish my worth and identity – were things like academics and athletics. Our basketball games were generally played on Tuesdays and Fridays. So, my sophomore year of high school, at one chapel service, I decided to multiply my weekly offering by a factor of ten. This was a big deal. I remember putting my offering in the plate and asking God to bless my basketball game that night. And guess what? I played my best game of the season. So guess what my offering in chapel was the following week? Yep, I was dropping Hamiltons once again J But here’s the catch – I didn’t play nearly as well that night. And guess how I felt? I was furious at God. You see, I was never giving that offering out of love or thankfulness for my God’s grace. I was giving the offering to leverage God to help me with my real god, i.e. athletic performance.
This stupidity and godlessness was fairly difficult for me to admit. But I’ve never had so many people come up to me and thank me for a story as after this one. The illustration obviously doesn’t make me look good. It actually exposes my weaknesses. But it ultimately highlights God’s grace. That type of transparency for 21st century Christians is a powerful and important way of sharing the goodness and mercy of God. Be honest about your lowliness. Be honest about God’s graciousness. This really isn’t all that different from what Paul himself said: “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.” (2 Cor. 12:5)
Let me add one final point to make sure this is tied together by the gospel.
The Nakedness of Jesus
When Adam and Eve sinned, they attempted to hide their nakedness. Now, remember, prior to this point they had walked and talked with God, all while not having any clothes on, and they were perfectly fine with that. But when they sinned, they realized how vulnerable they were. They were naked! Why did they come to the realization of “nakedness” at that moment? While they hadn’t lost any fibers from their body, they’d lost the righteousness of God that had covered them.
Fast forward to Jesus. Do you know why Jesus was stripped naked prior to his crucifixion (Matt. 27:28)? This is very important. The Holy Spirit is telling us that Jesus was having his righteousness removed so that it could be placed upon us. “He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10) Furthermore, he was becoming naked and vulnerable as he was having our nakedness, our transgressions, placed upon him (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus was stripped naked so that you and I could be covered.
And therefore, the Bible’s general teaching about being honest about our sinfulness – to God, to ourselves, and to the world – is this: If you try to cover yourself, you will be exposed. If you expose yourself, Jesus will cover you.
Don’t be afraid to let people know just how flawed you are. Don’t be afraid to let people know just how incredible your Savior is.