John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. He was right.
Throughout history, we have bowed down to golden cattle, celestial beings, stone animals and even human body parts. With the passage of time, the number of ways we exchange worship of the one true God for lesser, false gods has only increased.
Today, we can sadly add yet another idol to the list—social media.
The developing technology of social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and so on) can and should be used for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel in every possible way. But natural-born idolaters like you and me are no more than a few clicks away from making this good thing a god.
Social media carry a unique set of temptations. Much like the adulterous temptress described in Proverbs, social media invite us come into her house and enjoy the choicest foods, only to find the meal poisoned.
The most dangerous of these tainted meals is pride.
Social media offer us a glimpse into our worldly significance with such tantalizing immediacy as our blog and tweet stats. Many of us check our stats because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus. We forsake justification in the gospel for seeking to be right in our followers’ eyes. In these moments, we are guilty of doing the exact opposite of what we set out to do in the first place—glorify God and serve others.
Pride can also creep in through tweets and status updates. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with mentioning where we are having lunch or who joined us, we would be well-served by checking our hearts before we do. Are we sharing this information to give people a helpful window into our lives as we seek to live out the gospel, or are we unwittingly (or even quite wittingly) enticing our friends toward coveting the life we live? Out of the overflow of the heart, the thumbs tweet.
So what’s the answer to this new challenge? Here are several suggestions.
1. Think before you post.
Seriously. I know it sounds simple, but stopping for a moment to think (and even pray) about why we do something is an amazing sin-killing weapon. I’ve been helped by simply asking myself, “Why am I about to publish this post?” Pausing to pose this question can, has, and will continue to provide just enough of a stop sign for the Spirit to do His work in my heart.
2. Consider fasting from social media for a season.
While this may seem extreme, fasting seems like the least we could do to expose the true condition of our hearts, especially in light of Jesus’s counsel about tearing out our eye if it makes us sin (Matthew 5:29). In my experience, if we are flatly unwilling to consider fasting, that fact alone speaks volumes. Of course, this solution itself does not bring true and lasting change, but a social media fast can be a helpful weapon in your arsenal in your war for holiness.
3. Believe and apply the gospel.
It has been well said that “heart work is hard work.” I believe the gospel addresses the sins of social media as we seek approval or acceptance. We are more excited about what strangers say about us than what the God of the universe has already spoken over us through the cross. We are stitching together a flawed coat of fig leaves out of followers, friends and re-tweets to try to hide insecurities that can only truly be addressed in the gospel. But if when we are tempted to seek the fleeting approval of man, we instead go to the eternal approval of God that is ours in Christ—an approval unaffected by the number of re-tweets—we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.
Calvin was right. The heart is an idol factory.
At this intersection of technology and idolatry, we need to pull the plug on the idolatry and walk in the light.Dustin Neeley is a church planter, pastor, writer/speaker, and ministry coach. He lives with his wife and children in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the author of many forthcoming resources. He blogs regularly for Church Planting for the Rest of Us, and you can connect with him on Twitter.