Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8, N.K.J.V.)
This verse has always haunted me in regards to some of the television programs I watch, some of the movies I watch, and some of the music I enjoy. I mean, just how “pure” are those old westerns? Just how “lovely” are those scary movies? Just how “noble” is all that 1980s music?
Several years ago I heard a fundamentalist Baptist preacher preach against listening to any and all secular music. Since his congregation consisted of a bunch of older people, he specifically referenced what we might call “good-time oldies” music. I’m talking about rock-and-roll music from the 1950s and 1960s. The preacher said, “You say, ‘I just listen to the golden oldies.’ Well, you know what those songs are, don’t you? They are what we were preaching against back then!” I had to laugh because the man did make a good point.
Christian liberty might be loosely defined as “Christians being permitted to do certain things that are not specifically forbidden in scripture.” By that definition, a lengthy list of debatable actions can be placed under that heading. That list could include: watching movies, listening to secular music, playing video games, celebrating Christmas, drinking alcohol without getting drunk, undergoing plastic surgery, attending Nascar races, riding Harley Davidsons, and women wearing makeup.
The pushback to majoring in Christian liberty is the fact that Christians are scripturally forbidden from loving the world or even having friendship with it (1 John 2:15-16; James 4:4). The Bible uses the word “world” to refer to the planetwide system that operates in opposition to God. This is the “world” over which Satan rules (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31). The question becomes, though, can’t the case be made that just about everything is a part of this system?
Think about it, if theme parks are part of the world system, are we in sin for visiting them? If the NFL is part of the world system, are we in sin for watching the Super Bowl? If Hollywood is part of the world system, are we in sin for watching movies? If the music industry is part of the world system, are we in sin for listening to secular music? If the video game industry is part of the world system, are we in sin for playing video games? Speaking for myself, I’m still looking for that line that runs between enjoying Christian liberty and committing the sin of being friends with the world.
And then there is the fact that even sinless activities can become hinderances to the Christian. No one understood Christian liberty better than the apostle Paul, and he said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23, N.K.J.V.). The word “edify” is defined as “to build up.” That means, Christian, that even if certain activities don’t tear you down, you might be better off forgoing them because they don’t build you up.
This brings us to the title of this post. At what point does the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” start applying to the Christian’s walk with Christ? If we watch either too many movies or even just one that we’d be better off not watching, does that harm our ability to serve Christ? If we get on Netflix and binge watch the latest popular t.v. series, does that make us worldly Christians? If we listen to secular music, does that make us friends with the world? If we spend time playing video games, whether those games be the latest Madden football game, the latest Call of Duty war game, or whatever, does that make us bad Christians?
As is the case with so many areas, I suppose what we are looking for here is a God-approved balance. On the one hand, we don’t want to become good little legalists who can’t enjoy life because we are walking around in constant terror of committing some sin. Remember, Jesus did say “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, N.K.J.V.). On the other hand, we don’t want to become good little worldlings who operate more like friends of the world than friends of the Lord, either.
Again, I freely confess that striking this proper balance continues to be a work in progress in my life. One thing I have learned is that I can find certain things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praiseworthy in venues that have nothing to do with church gatherings or gospel singings. That Baptist preacher I heard preach that night would disagree with my take on that, but he’s not the one that I’m trying to please anyway. Therefore, I’ll just keep serving the Lord and let Him keep teaching me where those boundaries of Christian liberty fall regarding the things I do.