We live in an era of great evil where the atmosphere of our planet is literally saturated with every kind of sexually immoral act. In 2019, one major pornographic website reported that on average, every single day 15,958,080 hours of internet pornography was consumed on their site alone. If you do the math, that comes out to be 664,920 days, which is more than 1,800 years if played straight through! As we all have experienced, the world of social media and online entertainment is in an intense spiritual current, and we are in need of God’s answers in order to be kept out of its deadly enchantment.
As Anabaptists, we have struggled to keep a good balance with the technology we have opened ourselves up to. The emergence of smartphones has greatly complicated this battle, and not a few have become casualties of this war.
The question I hear people asking is: How do I find the proper balance between practical and spiritual means to keep myself pure? If you have asked yourself this question, take courage! You are not alone, and the Word of God has real answers for you.
First, we need to establish the difference between practical and spiritual means, and their order of importance.
Jesus strongly denounced the Pharisees for their practical attempts to keep themselves pure while neglecting what he called “weightier matters.” Then he says, “Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt 23:26). There is a similar passage in Isaiah 1 where God confronts Israel, saying that their prayers and sacred meetings are an abomination to him, calling for the cleansing of their hearts as the remedy.
Good, biblical practical means are outward structures that are put into place in order to protect inner purity. Spiritual means are provided and arbitrated by God, imparting inward life and substance to every aspect of our outward lives. Without this inner life, any activity we engage in is a useless endeavor and quickly degenerates into dead religion.
Most of us grew up with an intimate understanding of what practical means we were expected to perform in order to remain pure in heart. I have seen young people in my generation respond in two ways to this. One approach is to throw all boundaries and safeguards to the side in an attempt to find true freedom. This is sure to end in disaster and worse bondage than ever. The other approach is to play the hypocrite and buckle down, determining to keep every letter of the law. This way inevitably kills faith and breeds a heart of cynicism.
In matters of technology, I have had to wrestle through these two philosophies in a very real way. At 14, I was first able to find pornography on my smartphone. Over the next five years I made attempt after attempt to deal with my issues solely by practical means. I tried more accountability on my phone. I tried having no phone at all. Out of desperation, I even tried sleeping on plywood as a consequence for sin. Everything that I and my accountability partners could think of, I tried, all with the same result—more failure. Several times, I foolishly tried to ignore the fact that I had a real issue and had my phone opened up, thinking that I was strong enough to resist temptation, that I just needed to believe that I was more than a conqueror. These episodes only ended in even deeper darkness and sin.
These experiences have implanted a deep conviction in my heart that no help lies in either direction for us. But the Word of God clearly shows us what our problem is and gives us the perfect solution.
Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). When I sin, I cannot let myself off the hook by giving excuses that put blame anywhere but on myself. “…Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). The Bible clearly teaches that while outward circumstances can influence us to act sinfully, we are held responsible for our choice, no matter what the case. Our problem, then, is an evil, impure heart. When I stopped trying to dodge the punches and began facing what the Word of God had to say about who I was at the core, I found the fetters of addiction falling at my feet. For so long I wrestled against the truth about my true spiritual condition, but when I finally humbled myself, I found Jesus’ words to be true. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
So often we try to slide past the truth about hearts because it is disturbing and demands an answer from us. Instead, we resort to our own methods of breaking free. I remember how I looked to accountability software and other outward means to manage the beast within me. I assumed that there was nothing wrong with me inwardly, while the Bible clearly teaches the opposite. But God knows us and means business; he deals with our root issues.
God’s answer to the problem is the cross.
Here is how the Word of God describes the cross: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). “And he died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor.5:15,17).
Jesus was hung on the cross to put to death the old man and to raise us up into a new life. There is no progress forward in our spiritual walk unless that corrupted heart within us is crucified with Christ and we are raised with him in his life. When we embrace the cross, we are declaring that we have died to our old way of dealing with sin; we have become unresponsive to the impulse to justify ourselves. We also are reckoning ourselves dead to ourselves and alive to God. By putting faith in the cross, we deny our selfish rights and follow Jesus.
It is by faith alone that the cross becomes of any effect to us. It is a work of perfect mercy, a work to which nothing can be added or taken away. The work of the cross comes to us complete, lacking nothing. If you are able to take hold of this truth, you will never lack power in any area in your life. Don’t shrink back in unbelief like the Israelites did when they were commanded to take possession of the Promised Land. Lay hold of the cross by faith!
Instead of trying to find a line that I can push and a rule that I can bend, I have been asking God for a pure heart. I come to the cross daily to reckon myself dead to sin and alive to God, turning away from my corrupt heart to him. As I do, I realize that I am no longer my own; I have been bought at a high price. Through this repentance, God is purifying my heart. I am tasting and seeing that God is good and is enough to satisfy me. The more I taste of the goodness of God, the less I want the delicacies of the world and the more I long for him. The cross has redefined my whole life, including the way I see technology. My devices are no longer exclusively entertainment devices, but tools for the glory of God.
Only after we have come into this reality—God purifying our hearts—will practical means be of any use to us. Our hearts must first be made pure before we set out to protect that purity. It is a very simple thing after all. All we have needed is to be cut open by truth and allow ourselves to be put to death by the Spirit of God. Now we are free from the opinions of our friends, because we died. Now we are free of the world, because we died. Now we are free from the power of sin, because we died. So now Jesus determines the practical means by which he will keep his own life in us.
To this day, I have very little access to anything on my phone, because God has changed my desires and affections to make room for him in my life. I don’t have personal access to the App Store on my phone. This has helped me to slow down and prayerfully consider the importance of every app that I ask to have added. I have also intentionally denied myself the luxury of an internet browser on my phone as well. Again, this too helps me slow down and be prayerful about how I spend my time. Denying myself easy access to anything to do with worldly entertainment has been a huge part of being able to make wise, kingdom-minded decisions in this area. I hold myself accountable to my accountability partners even when it hurts me to do so. I have learned that when I am facing a “high tide,” that I must be preemptive and ask for prayer, and I am committed to being brutally honest with them when I cross boundaries that I should not have.
The cross has done a transforming work in my heart. Now, practical means are subservient to the inward life that God has given me; they have a necessary role, but not the ultimate role.
Let’s take the time to ask the Lord to search your hearts daily. Let’s bring our heart to the cross and give him ourselves; let’s give him the person we’ve become. We don’t need to settle any longer for easy apologies merely for things we have done. Let’s give him the source of our evil thoughts and let him purge it out of us.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7).