How to Die as a Christian

This blog post comes out of a sermon I preached on 7/25/2021 at First Baptist Church Spring Hope.

-Jeremy Bell

When is the last time you ever heard a sermon about dying well as a Christian? The chances are probably never, and I find this extremely odd. If the gospel is to be at the center of our lives, then, shouldn’t it be at the center for how we die faithfully as God’s children? Yet, this topic is dead silent in the church. I want to remedy this silence, and teach you through the martyrdom of Stephen how to die as a Christian.

Here is the main point I want you to take away: Dying gives us an opportunity to witness about the hope we have in Christ.

A Theology of Death

Before we can tackle this topic appropriately, we must first have a biblical view of death, which I find many people lack. First, death is not natural to God’s created order. God created a world that did not include sin and sin’s consequence, death (Genesis 1 & 2). Second, God did, however, create a world where death could come into existence if humanity sinned against God (Genesis 2:16-17). When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, their bodies began to die, and death spread to all people (Romans 5:12). No matter how advanced modern medicine becomes, everyone is going to die.

Third, the unnaturalness of death causes us to have various reactions to it. Some people just ignore it. Others might fear it. Maybe we mock it. Culture has made it into a human rights issue.

The question remains: How should Christians approach death? Now, we need to be clear that this is a martyr context, but I think the model we see in Stephen applies on a broader level as Christians experience their deaths. I want to show you how the gospel shapes our view of death by looking at the martyrdom of Stephen.


54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:54-60

First, we set our sights on Jesus Christ in the face of death.

Since we have discovered that death is a consequence of sin, we also believe that through Christ’s sacrificial death we have been forgiven of sin and thus, death has lost its sting. Through Christ’s resurrection, death has been defeated. When we think about death as Christians, we think about it through the mental framework of Jesus Christ the conquering King. In other words, we look to Christ because he has redefined the meaning of death for his children.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:54-57

When Stephen is about to be stoned, and he sees the rage in the eyes of his opposition, we see these words, “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55) The Holy Spirit’s power came to Stephen in the midst of his impending death, just like those who are his children today. Thus, the Holy Spirit gives you the power to look to Christ in the face of your death. 

Stephen finds Holy Spirit provided comfort in this tragic moment, and I believe Christ still comforts his people when they are experiencing the dying process by his Spirit. Stephen says, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This Son of Man language comes directly out of Daniel. Daniel prophesied, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14-15, emphasis added). 

We look to Christ in our dying because our hope rests securely in his work. In other words, we look to Christ in the midst of dying knowing where our hope comes from and the security of our eternity with him. “Where does my hope come from?” the Psalmist asks. It comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:1-2). This may be thought of as an internal perspective to how we die as Christians.

As we set our sights on Jesus in the dying process we have an opportunity to show the world our witness and faith and hope in Christ. That’s the second way we die as Christians. 

Second, death gives us an opportunity to share our hope in Christ with others.

As we are fixing our eyes on Christ in death, our focus on Christ will show the world the goodness of the gospel. Out of our hope for Jesus, the world will see our faith on display. This is exactly what we see in Stephen’s stoning.

The leaders cast him out of the city and stone him after laying their robes at the feet of Saul (Acts 7:58). Now, they set their garments down so that they could have more range of motion to cast these stones at him because their intentions were to kill him. Think of the suffering Stephen is experiencing. This would have been a prolonged event in which he would have felt extreme pain. Verses 59-60 read:

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

During his death, he shared the hope he had in Christ. He asked God to forgive them and not to judge them. To overlook this sin, which Christ has already done through the cross and resurrection. His death displays an opportunity to share Christ at the end of this life.

Like Stephen, we must reveal our faith and hope in Christ by faithfully dying while clinging to Jesus. Stephen pointed out to his attackers the goodness, mercy, and grace of God through Christ. The way we handle death through a gospel lens points our family, the church, and the culture to the greatness of God’s sacrifice through his Son, Jesus Christ. For the Christian, death is not something to be feared, but rather allows our faith in Jesus to be featured.   

Brothers and sisters, death has lost its sting because of Christ. Death is a doorway for the believer to an eternal life founded in Jesus Christ. We look at death like sleep because one day we will be raised from the dead like Christ. We will live again and we will reside on the new earth. Until that day, dying gives us an opportunity to witness about the hope we have in Christ.

Do you have hope in Christ?

I want to conclude by showing you one more figure in this narrative: Saul. Saul watched this take place and approved of its practice. This Saul would one day become the Apostle Paul. One day this Saul would meet Jesus, and his life would also drastically change (Acts 9). He would follow Christ and become one of the greatest missionaries this world has ever known. I think the image of Stephen’s stoning would stay with Paul forever, and I believe that through Stephen’s witness, Paul saw what it looks like to die well as a Christian. Paul would also be killed for his faith. Yet, like Stephen his death was an opportunity to preach the life giving truth of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

For those who may not believe in Christ reading this post, I want you to know that God’s grace is bigger than any sin–even the approval of murder. God’s love is stronger than any rebellious person could fathom. God is bigger. God’s love is greater. God’s grace is stronger than you, a lost person, can withstand. So, repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, and one day die with confidence and hope knowing that death’s sting has been obliterated, and embrace the eternal life that is to come through the work of Jesus Christ.

Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2 The Psalmist shows us that singing exists as one important aspect of worshipping God. Psalm 100:2b asserts, “Come into his presence with singing!” Thus, singing should have a part to play in … Continue reading Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 Before coming on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I served as a Lead Pastor at a normative size church in South Carolina. Words cannot express all the lessons that I learned in this pastorate, … Continue reading Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective

As I write this, I am nearly in disbelief. I feel like I need to pinch myself to see if the reality of our eldest child going to church youth camp is really happening. *Pinched myself* Guess what? It is confirmed; she is headed off to youth camp. By God’s grace, our little baby girl is growing up into a young lady, and we are both thankful and a little nervous. Yet, my wife and I are constantly placing her in the sovereign hands of the Lord who we know rules and reigns over everything.

My concern, however, is rapidly growing for parenting in the American context. The question I am asking myself is: Have we replaced an eternal perspective for parenting with the temporal success of our children as our main goal for raising our children? To be clear, the pull of the world is extremely powerful when it comes to raising our children to be successful as the world defines success.

For example, my wife and I had to make a decision about sending our oldest to church camp. You may be wondering why this was such a difficult decision. Our child attends year round school. This means that while most students have their summers off, ours just started her school year. In other words, attending camp results in her missing school.

Here comes the parenting perspective. On the one hand, our child would be at youth camp where she will hear the gospel, where we pray Christ will open her heart and mind to the fullness of who he is and what he has done, and where she will have an opportunity to build godly relationships that will help her thrive in the future as God’s grace becomes more evident in her life. On the other hand, she would miss three days of schooling, be behind on her work, have to spend some extra hours making up that work, and will be exhausted from camp when she returns to school the following Monday.

The pull of the world’s perspective was quite enticing to keep her in school and out of youth camp. As parents, we began to think about potential consequences for her future. What if she fails a few assignments because she missed school and went to camp? What if she didn’t make up her work because she was too tired? There goes college, and a career, and possibly earthly success. Right? These are all the thoughts that we parents wrestle with when it comes to our children and their futures. As parents, we want what is best for our babies.

But, what is truly best for our children? This is where the goal of this post materializes. My wife and I asked God to help us keep an eternal perspective when it came to making this decision. What’s more important in this life? A grade on a test? A career? A life living out the American Dream? Or one decision that has an eternal consequence? Perhaps we, parents, need to start asking the question: How do the decisions we make for our children have eternal significance for their spiritual condition?

When you begin to think about parenting with an eternal perspective, what’s best for our children is a relationship with Jesus Christ above all else. I would rather my child miss a few days of school instead of miss eternity with Christ. A grade on a piece of paper seems so insignificant when it comes to a decision to follow Jesus and be with him for all eternity.

Please do not hear what I am not saying. This doesn’t mean we don’t challenge our children to do well and succeed. In fact, a relationship with Christ will cultivate within them a desire to be excellent because God is excellent. A desire to get a good job because God created us to work. A desire to honor authority because God commands it. A desire to make money and be good stewards as God decrees. A desire to make the world a better place for Christ because God mandated it. In other words, everything in life falls into its proper place when we have King Jesus at the center.

Therefore, the most important thing we can do as parents is point them to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Pointing them to him places a new perspective for our parenting–an eternal one. I get the enticing pull of the world to help our daughter be a Valedictorian, have exceptional skills and gifts that will allow her to be in successful in life, see her become a veterinarian, and enjoy a life full of great friendships. But the words of the Apostle Paul ring ever more true in my ears:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-10

This Bible passage exemplifies parenting with an eternal perspective. I would rather see my children lose the whole world and gain Christ. I pray that God would use Katie and I to guide our children to place their faith in King Jesus before it is eternally too late. And, that is my prayer for you too.

How to Die as a Christian

This blog post comes out of a sermon I preached on 7/25/2021 at First Baptist Church Spring Hope. -Jeremy Bell When is the last time you ever heard a sermon about dying well as a Christian? The chances are probably never, and I find this extremely odd. If the gospel is to be at the … Continue reading How to Die as a Christian

How to Pray for #SBC21

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday registered messengers from all over will join together in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual Southern (Great Commission) Baptist Convention. For those unfamiliar with Baptist polity, this will be a well-attended business meeting. Reports indicate that approximately “20,000 messengers and guests” will be in attendance. I will be in attendance as … Continue reading How to Pray for #SBC21

Fathers: Lead Your Children by Example

Marine officers have a motto that they see each day when they attend The Basic School, ductus exemplo. This phrase translated in English means “Lead by Example.” This motto, I believe, should be adopted by every Christian father.

Have you ever heard the saying: More is caught than taught? The idea behind this phrase seems to imply leading others by example. As fathers, it is imperative that we not only instruct our children in the ways of the Lord, but also bring them up by modeling this instruction to them (cf. Eph 6:4). ‬‬Here are 4 ways Christian fathers can lead their children by example:

1) Model spiritual disciplines. You may or may not be surprised to learn that spiritual disciplines are probably not widely practiced by believers living in America. The statistics of believers reading through the entire Bible remains dismal. Fathers, we can be the agent of change. We have the ability to reverse the trajectory of spiritual disciplines if we would simply practice them ourselves. Our children need to see us praying, reading Scripture, and memorizing/meditating on Scripture. If you are regularly practicing spiritual disciplines, invite your children to sit in on this time with you to observe and ask questions. Children, especially boys, want to be like their dads, and as fathers who desire to be godly examples, we want our children to see our good habits, but more importantly our personal time with the Lord.

2) Prioritize worship. As a pastor, Mother’s Day has higher worship attendance over Father’s Day. Perhaps because many fathers would rather be on the golf course, on the lake, or just enjoying a relaxing day. God has given fathers an important role in the home. Paul explicitly calls out fathers in Ephesians 6:4 because of the spiritual leadership dads provide to their children (this is not to say that moms don’t have an important role or that this principle doesn’t apply to parenting on a broad level). The point Paul makes is that fathers will be held accountable for how they lead their children, and dads have an important role in their spiritual development. Therefore, we must make worship a priority in our lives because children are watching our every move. What we prioritize our children will also place a higher emphasis on in their lives. Fathers that make worship a priority will lead their children to do the same.

3) Show them evangelism. Fathers, we must model sharing the gospel to others in front of our children. They should see how we share Christ, and ways that we introduce Jesus into our conversations. All disciples have been given a mission, which has been called the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). As dads, we need to lead the charge in pointing people to Jesus. Our children need to see our Spirit-empowered boldness to proclaim Jesus with our friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else we meet. Prayerfully, this will lead our children to do the same with their friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else they meet. Fathers, we must lead by example in evangelism and model it for the young ones living in our homes.

4) Love their mom well. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). We lead by example in how we love our wives, and in our love for their mom, we display the gospel to our children. We have an opportunity to show an imperfect love that represents the perfect love of Christ to his bride–the church. The church that he bought with his blood to make us clean from our sins. Fathers, the way we love their mom will teach our boys what a godly husband looks like, and show our girls what they should be looking for in a future spouse. In our example, we are pointing them to a prefect savior, Jesus Christ.

Biblical disclaimer: To be clear, you and I cannot lead by example if we don’t know Christ as Lord and Savior. You cannot lead if you are not first and foremost a follower of Jesus. While these may be great principles even for a non-believing father, you will be unable to lead by example if you have not first surrendered your life to Christ. The gospel gives fathers the ability to pursue God’s design as a Christian role-model to your children.

Ductus Exemplo-Lead by Example. Our children are not only listening to our words, but as Christian fathers, they are looking at our lives and actions. What are they seeing in us? Are we showing them a glimpse of the gospel’s changing power as they watch us? My prayer is that for all of the dads who read this post, they will be filled with the Holy Spirit to show our babies Christ in us. Through our godly example, may God open them to the truth of the gospel, and grow them into believers who will bring glory to Christ and advance his Kingdom when they leave our homes.


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Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

This book could be considered by some to be outdated since it was written in 2013, but the Charismatic Movement remains a prevalent false theology that permeates society today. Renowned theologian, John MacArthur, has such concern for the unbiblical views of this movement that he decided to both confront the theology and leaders within this … Continue reading Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

Mask Mandate? Christian, the Great Commandment Informs Our View About Masks

Fox News got me again. My entire family was still asleep. I was in that awkward moment where I was about to get up and start my day, but the warmth under the covers was just too enticing to leave. So, I opened FoxNews.com on my phone. The title of the article I first opened reads, “Biden hits Trump for refusing to concede, says ‘national mask mandate’ discussed with govs.

The words “national mask mandate” leapt off the screen way before the words “refusing to concede.” The temptation to read was overwhelming, so, admittedly, I read it. After reading the article, I felt compelled to share two perspectives about mask wearing because much discussion seems to be invading our social circles about the use of masks during this pandemic.

The American Perspectives

For some Americans, “mask mandate” sounds like a “Big Brother” move right out of George Orwell’s 1984. The idea of our elected government “mandating” its citizens to wear a mask seems like an infringement on our constitutional rights as Americans. The phrase could imply that America may no longer be the “Land of the Free.” Perhaps many of you feel this tension when our elected officials are trying to push a “mask mandate” on its body of citizens.

The alternative American approach is that masks should be mandated by the government to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. This view implies that the government’s policy on mask wearing is not an infringement upon constitutional rights, but rather a way to protect those who live in America. Perhaps many of you who hold to this perspective feel that it is the responsibility of our elected officials to serve their constituents by protecting them.

From what I can see, both of these American perspectives I have broadly summarized have some validity to them. Both sides are trying to argue their positions from two categories that are a benefit to all people: rights and service. Therefore, we can conclude one area of common ground: both sides are trying to do what they think is best for the country. Maybe this should cause us to be better at dialoging between the two positions instead of belittling one another via social media grudge matches . . . but that is a blog post for another day.

A Christian Perspective

As I have thought about wearing masks, I have decided to take a different approach or what I’m calling a Great Commandment approach to the dawning of the mask due to COVID-19’s global impact on people’s health. I would like to share my thoughts on why I choose to wear a mask based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 22:34-40. Thus, maybe–just maybe–we can add a new voice, a Christian perspective, about wearing masks in this pandemic.

Jesus’s Teaching

Matthew 22:34 begins with this scene. Jesus has just told the Sadducees they had a wrong view about the resurrections in Matthew 22:29–the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection (Matt 22:23). After Jesus “astonished” the crowds with his teaching, he concluded, “He [God] is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:32). Then, a lawyer of the Pharisees asked Jesus this question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (Matt 22:36)? Jesus responds with this answer, which I will provide in full:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with masks?” I want to submit to you that Jesus teaches that our freedoms are restricted as followers of Christ, and we do not need a government mask mandate because the moral law prescribes how we are to love our neighbor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, I would like to provide three thoughts for Christians about mask wearing that have informed my Christian perspective.

Love of God

Jesus begins his answer by explaining to the crowd that “the great and first commandment” is to love the Lord your God. Before we can move to obedience and love of neighbor, we must first love God by responding to the gospel. We must first believe in Christ’s work on our behalf–his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection–and respond to that work by faith, which leads to a relationship and love for God. Jesus is the only way that we can turn to love the Lord our God entirely (i.e., all our heart, soul, and mind).

First John 4:9-10 explains God’s love for fallen and broken humanity when he wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). The word propitiation can mean to satisfy. God loves you and me, and his love is demonstrated by him sending his Son to take the punishment for our sin and satisfy his wrath.

When we trust (i.e., respond by faith) in what Christ has done because of God’s love for us, we turn from sin to a love for God. However, this love has implications for Jesus’s disciples. Our love for God means that we submit our lives to God. Think of it like a marriage. When a husband and a wife give themselves over to one another in marriage, they are expressing to one another that they intend to love each other completely or with every fiber of their being. The same is true of our love for God. Our love for God ought to impact every aspect of our lives from our souls to our minds and our actions. In fact, Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15), and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Loving God is the affection of the Christian that informs the rest of their words, thoughts, and deeds.

Love of Neighbor

Christian, you cannot truly love your neighbor until you first have a true and faithful love for God. It is only once you and I understand God’s love for us manifested in Christ that we can truly turn around and love those around us. This is why Jesus responds to the Pharisee lawyer with “And a second is like it” (Matt 22:39). I think of Jesus seeing the lawyer and his Pharisee pals shaking their heads in agreement because they were taught this truth since they were young from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and he goes “Oh, by the way, don’t forget,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).

In a similar passage, Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life by another lawyer. Jesus responded to this person with two questions, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responds with the same words Jesus said in Matthew 22. Jesus gives him the thumbs up, but the lawyer is still struggling to comprehend so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point of this parable is that a love for God through faith in Christ leads a believer towards love and mercy for those around them. The Great Commandment text discusses how loving God tends to lead a person towards loving their neighbor.

But, what does this love look like? Jesus answers: “as yourself” (Matt 22:39). We have to admit that we are pretty good at loving ourselves. If you are hungry, you love yourself by eating. If you are thirsty, you love yourself by getting a drink. If you are selfish, you love yourself by taking the last donut. If you are self-centered, you love yourself by making sure everyone knows how “awesome” you are. Seriously, the list could go on and on, but the point remains valid that we are good at loving ourselves. We all have an inherent ability to be like Donna and Tom from the episode in “Parks and Rec” where we live by the mantra “treat yo self.” Jesus teaches that when we truly love the lord our God with every fiber of our being it manifests (I use this word purposely to make your remember Christ) into a love for our neighbor.

A Lawful Love

Jesus concludes the Great Commandment with these words, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Now that we have a firm grasp on love of God and Love of Neighbor, we can move to the issue of “mask wearing.” These two truths are what make a Christian perspective different from the two American perspectives. As Christians, the government doesn’t have to tell us to wear a mask because we live by what Christians for generations have called a “love ethic.” This ethic is established from the moral law of God. In other words, I love my neighbor the way God’s law commands me to love them. This love is not arbitrary but rather objective. The only way to love my neighbor is by loving them the way the moral law tells me, which is directed by God himself in Scripture.

For application, let’s walk through these concepts systematically to find out a Christian attitude towards dawning a mask during COVID-19. First, we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. A total love that requires submission and obedience to God because we are in a relationship to him through Christ. Next, our love for God moves us to a love for our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Everyone we connect with socially. Finally, we may ask the question, “How can I love my neighbor well according to the Law?” Answer: a lawful love is wearing a mask to protect my neighbor from COVID-19.

John Calvin taught that the moral law can be summarized in the Ten Commandments. I think that a Christian perspective of mask wearing is found in the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). I’m not saying that not wearing a mask is equivalent to murder. But, as I have argued elsewhere, this commandment exhorts the principle of carefulness. Therefore, the logical progression for a love ethic as it pertains to mask wearing is: I love God, the God of life commands me to respect and value all human beings, thus, I wear a mask to love all those around me (my neighbor) so that they know I love them and value them enough to protect them from possibly contracting COVID-19.

Conclusion

Hopefully, looking at Jesus’s words in the Great Commandment will help you think less about a political view about mask wearing and more about how a Christian might take Jesus’s words and put them into practice when it comes to wearing a mask during these unprecedented times. I would like to end this post with the words from the Apostle Paul to the church of the Thessalonians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thess 3:18).

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3 Reasons I Deactivated My Facebook Account

It’s no secret that I am a critic of social media. About a year ago, I posted a blog titled, “Why I Deleted my Twitter Account.” The final sentence of that blog post reads, “At this time, I have deleted both my Twitter and Instagram, and pretty soon, Facebook, you might be next.” Well, the time has come for you, Facebook. You have been “deactivated.” Goodbye. Au revoir. Farewell.

The reason I “deactivated” instead of “deleted” (there is a difference) my Facebook account is that I remain optimistic. I believe that Facebook was created with good intentions, but because we are human and prone by our sinful nature to take good things and make them evil, I think we, society, can correct the problems social media platforms like Facebook are causing. Therefore, I have deactivated instead of deleting my account with the hope that the wrongs can be righted, and once they are, I might rejoin the Facebook community.

So, why did I deactivate my Facebook account? Let me provide you with 3 reasons that may encourage you to do the same:

  • Facebook Wastes Precious Time. Facebook’s design is to keep you attached to your phone or computer as long as possible so they can make money. The design is so well done that many social media users are like Gollum in the “Lord of Rings” just scrolling along in our digital caves not knowing a real world exists beyond the Facebook app while simultaneously chanting in our hearts, “My precious.”

By the way, we waste time because we are infatuated with the what could be next on our newsfeed. You know you may be wasting your day on social media apps when someone interrupts your time on the “precious” and you turn into Smeagol by yelling at the person, “I’m ON MY PRECIOUS!” What I am trying to convey is that Facebook will destroy the time in your day. It’s designed to waste your time, which means you will miss precious moments with the love of your life (if you have one), family, friends, and enjoying the world we actually live in not the imaginary one that Facebook makes you believe exists.

  • Facebook Destroys Diplomacy. I know you have seen it on your Facebook news feed, and I was tired of seeing this problem during this election year so I deactivated my account. Someone “shares what’s on their mind,” and the lines for debate are drawn in the social media sand. Often times, the comment wars are verbally bloody with many casualties and collateral damage. Words that would never be said in person are carelessly lobbed like hand grenades in the digital sphere. Why is this the case? Because we are social beings that engage in real space and time. When we are having in person discussions, many of us are more reserved and respectful when engaging in debate because we can feel the tension of the other person if such tension is present. Facebook does not allow these types of discussions to convey all the types of communication forms humans are endowed with, such as, but not limited to: body language, tone, facial expressions, etc. Facebook destroys diplomacy, and I would rather have humane discussions and debates in person rather than through a social media platform like Facebook. I think the lack of diplomacy is contributing to the rising division in our country and this is a result of the way we debate through social media channels.
  • Facebook Is Invasive: This point is a self-inflicted wound to our private lives. Yet, we allow it to happen. Facebook allows us to practically post anything we desire for the digital world to see. We willingly and ignorantly allow people into our lives that we have little if any contact with in the real world. We do this by sharing our opinions, photos, and even our location. Why do I care if some person I met fifteen years ago in a class at Texas A&M sees that I’m at chapel with our oldest daughter? In fact, it’s a bit creepy that a person who I hardly knew in the past has open access to my social media life. I would argue that you can and should scrub your Facebook friends list, but that only solves a small part of the invasive problem. When we activate a Facebook account, we are agreeing to let Facebook into our lives as well. The company is able to use our information to keep us active on their social media platform and influence us through our newsfeed. Honestly, I deactivated my account because I don’t want my privacy to be violated by anyone I don’t choose to allow to come into my reality.

These are my 3 reasons for deactivating my Facebook account, and my post is not designed to tell you what to do about your social media account or accounts or use. However, I hope it will make you, at least, think about the impact social media platforms like Facebook are doing to your life. Perhaps with some honest thought you may choose to do the same or modify your use on social media apps.

May I take a moment to be honest with you? Deactivating Facebook will give you a new sense of freedom. It might be scary to do it at first, but after the first day you will feel a relief you haven’t felt since you signed up with that username and password. I believe you won’t miss it, and you will never look back once its gone. I want to encourage you to get out of the digital cave and enjoy and experience the people and world around you today by either eliminating or limiting your time on social media. Your family, friends, and the world will thank you for being truly social.

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A Clarification of Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness

In chapter 35, I argued from the manslaughter legislation of the Mosaic law the principle that we should not only avoid murder, but should also be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life….But where it is evident that carelessness can lead and has led to tragedy, we must take precautions (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 724, emphasis original).

John M. Frame

Anyone who knows me in an academic setting, will confirm that I like to call myself a “Frame fan.” His book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), has greatly influenced my thinking as I continue to grow as a scholar, budding scholar perhaps is a better phrase, in the discipline of Christian Ethics. In fact, I requested him to be my major figure for comprehensive exams because of how much his writings have influenced me. I was disheartened when he retired from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida the semester before I was going to ask him to take me on as a student for an independent study. By the way, I still asked, and he graciously and respectfully declined because after all, he had retired.

Even though I am a self-proclaimed “Frame fan,” I still have moments where I might disagree with his ethical framework or thought. What can I say? Scholarship is about refining ideas through rigorous study, thought, and critique. While I think his triperspectival methodology is helpful for handling moral dilemmas, scholars could argue that his method could have some faults. Again, this is part of scholarship, and scholarship is not for the faint of heart. With that, I would like to critique Frame’s “Doctrine of Carefulness” wording with the intention to propose a better phrase for my future posts.

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Explained

John Frame once wrote that we should “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). In DCL he called this moral idea “The Doctrine of Carefulness.” Frame’s emphasis for this doctrine is that Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life should not only refrain from disobeying the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” but also, that followers of Christ ought to avoid any situation that puts life in danger of being taken. In fact, Frame rightly points out that the sixth commandment does forbid the idea of unlawfully taking a life–what we might refer to as murder, but the Hebrew word also conveys that humanity is to “take precautions against the loss of life” (DCL, 688). In other words, to practice the art of carefulness so as to not accidently cause a life to be prematurely terminated.

For example, Deuteronomy 22:8-10 reads, “If you build a house, make sure to put a low wall around the edge of the flat roof. Then if someone falls off the roof and is killed, it won’t be your fault.” In this time period, the roof was used as a place where friends and family would congregate to enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps you could think of it as the premier patio that oversees the city. Without a wall around the roof, someone could unintentionally fall to their death. Notice, however, that if a person died from falling when no fence was present, the homeowners were held responsible. “It won’t be your fault” if one obeyed this civil law implies that if no wall is present then it is “your” fault.

Why is the homeowner at fault for their guest falling off the roof and dying? Don’t we have insurance companies for situations such as this? Even the accidental loss of life, exists as something worth grieving over when the idea of carefulness is neglected. The person who owned the home failed to protect life by inadequately creating a safe environment for his guests. To put it in terms of Frame’s doctrine of carefulness, the homeowner was careless with human life because they did not respect the lives of their guests enough to build a wall and protect those at the “dinner party.” Therefore, to use Frame’s wording for the doctrine of carefulness, “We must guard against the possibility that someone might be killed, being alert to correct life-threatening elements in situations” (DCL, 688).

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Critiqued

From the outset, I think Frame’s understanding of biblical carefulness exists as a valid position that can be defended by Scripture. Those who hold that Scripture teaches an inviolability of life ethic–i.e. all human life is sacred–would do well to practice the notion of carefulness. In fact, my point in critiquing and developing this concept is to argue some best practices Christians should think through in applying this principle in various areas of life.

The issue I have with Frame’s thought is the phrase he utilizes to convey this ethic. I hesitate to call this a “doctrine” of carefulness. Doctrine seems to imply a definitive position or objective truth. When evangelicals speak of doctrine, we are typically using that term to argue for some type of non-negotiables of the Christian faith (i.e. the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the incarnation, the Imago Dei, the gospel, etc.). The Holloman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines Doctrine as “Christian truth and teaching passed on from generation to generation as ‘the faith that was delivered to the saints'” (Jude 3 HCSB). In other words, Christian teaching derived from the Bible to explain and affirm essential truths of the faith to believers.

I am not saying that carefulness is not taught in Scripture nor is it something that isn’t being passed down from generation to generation, but rather I think that this moral responsibility is an application of a doctrine rather than a doctrine in and of itself. Therefore, Frame is expounding the notion of carefulness from the moral law summarized by the sixth commandment, which expresses the inherent worth and value of human beings made in God’s image. For this reason, I am arguing to modify Frame’s thought from the “doctrine of carefulness” to the “principle of carefulness.”

Carefulness could be considered a subjective term for each individual’s conscience, which is why, in my opinion, it is difficult to defend this concept as a “doctrine” (Frame acknowledges this difficulty on pp. 724-25 in footnote 7). For example, the speed limit in the United States is designed to keep drivers and passengers in all vehicles safe–thus, protecting life. If you and I were debating about how fast to drive on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles, California based on the concept of a doctrine of carefulness, you would think that both of us should say that we should drive at 70 miles per hour–the speed limit. If you have ever driven on certain parts of “The 5” you would know that this could be a dangerous course of action.

Drivers have to make continuous moral judgments on how fast they should drive depending on where they are and what is happening on Interstate 5. You might say that I need to drive 70 miles per hour to keep up with the traffic flow of other drivers so that I am not hit by other cars when driving too slow–“The 5” can be a fast-paced road during non-rush hour times. I might, in return, argue that going 5 miles under the speed limit is safer because coming over a hill or around a curve and seeing traffic backed up will allow you to react in a timely manner, thus preventing any accidents. Do you see how carefulness could be considered a subjective term? Therefore, I think that carefulness must be attached to an objective truth–i.e. the Imago Dei.

With this in mind, I prefer to designate the term “principle of carefulness” as the more appropriate phrase for believers. The applications of carefulness will vary (principle), but the respect for human life does not (doctrine). Go back to my example of our argument about driving on “The 5.” You and I are arguing different applications of the principle of carefulness, but we are making our cases with the same doctrine in view, all life is sacred because all people are made in God’s image. To put it another way, the principles that we arguing for are dependent upon the same doctrine we both believe in– i.e. the Imago Dei.

The Principle of Carefulness Concluded

To conclude, I agree with Frame that the Bible teaches Christians should uphold to such a high view of human beings made in God’s image so that we are constantly encouraged to “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). I think the phrase “principle of carefulness” exists as a better alternative to Frame’s use of “doctrine of carefulness” by recognizing the various applications that could be practiced by believers holding to an inviolability of life ethic. While the biblical warrant for Christians to favor life in all situations remains biblically justified, the principle can be applied differently depending upon the conditions. I am not arguing a situational ethic, I am holding to the biblical truth of the Imago Dei as the foundational doctrine for the principle of carefulness.

Should the Church Practice Online Communion?

Preface

I can be an ungracious critic. I am aware of this sin in my life. Some of my closest family members tell me that if God doesn’t get my criticism under control by his redeeming power I will become a mean and crusty man. I know my faults, and I pray God would remove this harshness from my disposition. Therefore, my goal is not to criticize churches or leaders who are practicing the Lord’s Supper in an online format. I am not trying to be overly critical of others or single anyone out in this post. My goal is to provide (or attempt to provide) a theological answer to the question, “Should the church practice online communion?”

From the outset, I am concerned that we are asking the wrong question when it comes to communion in the COVID-19 pandemic. I am afraid that many advocates are asking the question, “How can we make communion happen,” instead of, “should we theologically move our churches to perform this action.” To put it another way, I think pragmatism seems to be the ideology of the day instead of correct theology. As Christian ethicist John Frame once rightly defended, “Ethics is theology, viewed as a means of determining which persons, acts, and attitudes receive God’s blessing and which do not” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 10). Therefore, does the online only act of communion receive a blessing or not according to the Bible? The sufficiency and authority of Scripture must determine our answer.

First Corinthians 11:17-34: “Come Together as a Church”

In Christian ethics, we must begin with the biblical norm (cf. Frame calls this the normative perspective in DCL, 33). Holy Scripture dictates to us the ethical norm we must apply to our situation. What is the ethical norm when it comes to the Lord’s Supper? Paul provides one of the most instructive teachings on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. We must begin by noting that this letter was addressed to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). When he gets to his instruction for the Lord’s Supper, he continues to exhort this local body by using the phrase “come together” four times (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20, and 34). To help us understand what he means by come together, Paul directly identified the gathering as “when you come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:22). From this brief exegetical analysis, we might conclude that Scripture affirms–as the biblical norm–that communion ought to be practiced within the local church when it “comes together.” In other words, when the body of Christ is physically gathered.

From Scripture, we should all agree that the bilbical norm mandates that communion ought to be practiced in a physically gathered, local church context.

Exceptions to the Norm?

Now, we must move from the biblical norm to the exceptions (if such exceptions should exist). We may all be thinking that COVID-19 has brought a possible exception to the theological norm due to social distancing. The question remains: Is online communion an appropriate exception to this God ordained instruction? A more general way to phrase the question reads, “Is it ever appropriate to practice communion outside of the local body of believers?

John Piper once preached, “We do not forbid taking the Lord’s Supper to someone in a nursing home or a hospital, but that kind of individual celebration is exceptional, not the Biblical norm.” Piper is absolutely right. However, taking communion to the nursing home or hospital may still meet the parameters of the biblical text in order to make the exception valid. Theologian Allen Verhey’s The Christian Art of Dying presents why this type of practice stands on biblical grounds in accordance with the instruction of 1 Corinthians 11. The context for Verhey’s argument is a person on his deathbed or a sick individual who is unable to gather with a local body due to his physical ailments. In this situation, Verhey defends, “The community comes with it, gesturing that the sick and dying are still members of the community” (Verhey, 331). Notice why Piper’s exception meets the biblical norm according to Verhey. The local church comes to the sick or dying person in order to bring them the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, we see a physical representation of the church coming together in order to partake in communion, which “proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

Before moving to online communion, we must acknowledge that the nursing home or the hospital does not exist as the normative ethic. The church does not only gather at these two places in order to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The primary place where the ordinance ought to be regularly observed is in the local church. The nursing home and hospital are exceptions to the biblical norm, but still meet the requirements of God’s people coming together as a faith community.

Is Online Communion an Exception?

To begin our answer, we should determine if an online only worship experience meets the biblical requirements for coming “together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18). We must be careful in how we answer this question because we could be indicating that the online church experience can be a substitute for meeting together, and I don’t think many of us would biblical follow that line of reasoning. The author of Hebrews states:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis added

We are encouraged from the author of Hebrews to regularly meet together in physical gatherings. We then must ask, “What are some characteristics that may exemplify we are meeting together as the church? Martin Luther in Luther’s Works Volume 39 helps us when he provided seven characteristics of the church gathering (I am indebted to my mentor for pointing me to Luther’s work on this subject). W. Robert Godfrey wrote a summary of these seven characteristics for Ligonier Ministries in 2016, and I will use his summary to provide you with Luther’s view. Luther’s seven characteristics were:

  1. The Word
  2. Baptism
  3. The Lord’s Supper
  4. Discipline
  5. Biblical Offices
  6. Worship
  7. Suffering

NOTE: You may see Luther’s explanation for each of these characteristics on the Ligonier Ministries blog here.

From these characteristics, we could make the case that an online only worship gathering does not exist as an official model of a gathered church. Do I have the ability to call all the online followers of an online church service to vote in or vote out the pastor on the screen, which is a biblical office? Of course not. Many would call me foolish for such an attempt. Does the pastor on the screen have the ability to ensure that I am a member in good standing with a like-minded gospel believing church–i.e. not under church discipline? Absolutely not. In fact, how is the pastor able to ensure that I am not partaking of the cup or the bread “in an unworthy manner,” which is his biblical duty according to his biblical office (1 Cor. 11:27)? In all reality, it would be impossible because he is unable to observe my physical presence as I come to the table. These questions are only a few out of a myriad that illustrate an online only community does not exist as a gathered church body. As I wrote in another blog post, the online church exists due to COVID-19 as a necessary abnormality, but should not be considered a substitute for the the physical gathering of the saints.

Additionally, the Lord’s Supper is a time where the local church gathers and preaches the gospel to each other through this symbolic act. Listen to Paul once more, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lords’ death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). If I’m sitting in my house by myself taking communion with a pastor on a screen, who (besides me and the Holy Spirit) am I proclaiming this gospel truth to? No one. The Lord’s Supper exists as a time where believers come together to reflect on the work of Christ and celebrate, as a collective body, his substitutionary atonement. To put it another way, we are preaching the gospel to each other during this act (and any lost people joining our worship service). Therefore, we may conclude that online communion misses the mark of being a gathered body of believers.

From this conclusion, we may determine that online communion does not seem to be an exception that meets the biblical norm.

Now What Do We Do?

Where do we go from here? How might we think differently about the practice of the Lord’s Supper during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is how I think we should respond in light of the biblical norm. We should respond by praying that God would cease this pandemic. We should ask God to relieve the coronavirus in our society in order that the shelter in place orders will be lifted and the church can once again physically gather together. Coming together as the body of Christ should be what all of us (pastors and church members) long for in these unprecedented days of social distancing. And when we are finally able to physically gather together on our first Sunday after the pandemic, we should joyfully celebrate by coming together as the church united to the table.

Teaching Your Children to Pursue Holiness by Reading Scripture

Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, recently published his reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. One of his reflections was encouraging believers to take time during social distancing in order to grow in personal holiness. From the outset, I am in complete agreement with this reflection. However, I think this reflection could be more broadly applied than simply on a personal level. My purpose in writing this post is to provide a resource to assist parents in helping their children grow in holiness during this time of school closure.

What Is Holiness?

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

The Apostle Peter provides us with three answers to this question. The first answer is God is holy. When we think about holiness, our minds should begin by contemplating God through his Word. John Frame commented, “His personality shows his kinship with us, but his holiness shows his transcendence, his separation from us” (DCL, 20). Everything God is, does, and says, is holy. Therefore, he is our standard of holiness.

Our second answer is that we are not naturally holy, but are able to be redeemed in Christ. The fact of the matter is we are the polar opposite of holiness. We are sinners and separated from God due to our wickedness. So how can we pursue holiness if we are sinful people? The answer is found in Jesus Christ. When we believe in the work of Christ, this text says we become children or as the Apostle John states, children of God (1 John 3:1). In other words, we are covered with Christ’s righteousness in order to be brought into a relationship with God.

Once we understand that God is holy, and that faith in Christ saves us and covers us with Jesus’s holiness, we are able to provide the third answer to this question. Our faith in Christ propels us towards holiness. Peter tells his audience to pursue holiness by turning from their former sinful passions. If we are turning from our passions, what do we turn towards? We are to turn to God who is holy and conduct ourselves according to his revealed standard. His revealed standard is his Holy Word.

Pursing Holiness by Reading Scripture

After we have explained these answers about holiness to our children (in a way they are able to understand), we now have an opportunity to help them learn who God is, the standard of holiness he expects from his disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help his children become like him. Parents, we have an opportunity in this season of social distancing to teach our children about holiness by helping them read the Bible. We have an opportunity to take intentional time to train our children while we are confined to our homes. Therefore, I would like to provide you with a way to help your children pursue holiness by reading the Bible.

STep One: Pick out a passage of Scripture

Pick out a passage that your child or children would enjoy reading. This week one of our children read Ezekiel 37 (The Valley of Dry Bones), and another read John 1:1-18 (John’s prologue). The Bible is filled with interesting historical narratives that will make your child’s imagination light up with biblical truth. Before they read the text, teach them to pray and ask God to help them understand what they are about to read.

Step Two: Ask these three simple questions

After they read the text (or before depending on your child’s personality), ask them:

  1. What does this passage teach you about God?
  2. What did you find to be the most interesting truth in this text?
  3. What is one question you would like to ask me about this reading?

Notice what these questions are designed to do. The first question helps the child comprehend that the Bible is first and foremost about God. We need to help our children understand that this is how we come to know, love, and understand who God is. The second question guides the reader to think about how a biblical truth either connects him or her to God or outlines what God expects from his people who follow him. The third inquiry allows the child to ask questions without fear in order to allow the parent and child to have some time interacting with the text together. We want our children to talk about what they are learning about God, but we also want to train them to be comfortable to ask questions when they read something in God’s Word they don’t understand.

Step Three: Pray with your child

Take a moment to ask the child what you can pray about with them. Thank God for this opportunity to grow closer to him with your son or daughter. Ask God to continue to reveal himself to you and your child through his Word. Request that you and your child will continue to pursue a life of holiness as you both read God’s Word together.

My encouragement to all parents is that we not squander this social distance time together with our children. We should look at this time of isolation as a great opportunity to connect with and disciple these little image-bearers God has given us for a temporary amount of time. Remember, mom and dad, the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Yes, I know it says “Fathers,” but we can infer that it is our responsibility to train and instruct our children into pursuing personal holiness by reading Scripture.

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3 Reasons Facebook Is Destroying Our ‘Real’ Lives

Almost a decade ago, I was deployed to a combat theater while serving in the military. My wife and I had just been blessed with our oldest daughter two weeks before I left the country. It was a challenging time in our marriage because here was my wife with a newborn baby living five states away from our family, and her husband was off to serve our country. It was a challenging time for me because I was leaving my wife and newborn baby. By the way, I only had two weeks with this little girl before getting on a plane to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. By God’s grace, I am writing this blog post, and our daughter is approaching ten years of age.

Why do I tell you this story? One of the ways my wife and I stayed connected was through Facebook. Social media technologies like these can help in some situations of geographical separation. However, a danger looms in the background of such technologies that are impacting many people–especially women–on an emotional level.

During my deployment, I was convinced that our baby girl never cried, threw temper-tantrums, nor made any messes. I believed this little girl was the perfect baby. Why did I have such beliefs? The only pictures my wife would send me through Facebook were ones of her smiling, eating her first bites of baby cereal, and laughing. I was being fed images of what seemed like this perfect child although the reality at home was completely different. By the way, I want to be fair to my wife in this post. She posted these types of pictures because I was already in an intense combat environment. The last thing my wife wanted to do was to make me think that all was not good at home. I think what my wife was doing intentionally to me is what many people on Facebook are doing to themselves and others unintentionally.

Through this experience, I believe that Facebook has created a harmful false reality for people who engage in its use. I would argue that the false truths presented on Facebook are truly harming marriages, families, and individuals more than helping keep people connected. Why do I think this is the case? I would like to provide you with three reasons:

  1. Many Facebook Posts Create a False Reality. The Facebook “wall” seems to exist as an social media forum where people can create their own “online” life. Many users predominately only post the “good” things that are happening in their lives. Rarely, if ever, does anyone post the realities of their actual social lives. Not many users post the various marriage problems they are experiencing or the rebellious child in their lives or the insecurities they feel as a mom, dad, wife, husband, student, etc. However, on Facebook, they don’t have to because they can develop their “happily ever afters” in online social space. Facebook allows us a place of escape to post the lives we wish we were really living, but when we turn off the screen, we come back to reality that our lives do not reflect what we are putting online. This displaying of false reality contributes to the hurts of both the user and their “friends,” which will be addressed in the next two sections.
  2. The False Reality Fuels Desires for Perfection. When people create unreal Facebook posts, they may not realize that they are revealing the desires that they have within themselves. People are actually posting their “dream lives,” for the world to believe they are truly living. When many Facebook users post these false realities of their lives, they look at their online profile and realize they are not living this dream in “real time.” Therefore, many users begin to experience two types of realities: insecurity and obsession. People experience insecurities because they realize how imperfect their lives are compared to what they are posting on social media. Some people post these images to overcome their real life insecurities. These insecurities lead to obsessions. In other words, they obsess over making everything in their lives a reality of their online posts in order to control their insecurities. They hold their children, husbands, wives, and friends to the level they portray on their walls. Ultimately, this type of false reality weighs heavily on those who engage in this type of online lifestyle.
  3. The Danger of Comparison. While the last reason highlights what happens in the individual user, this reason looks at the many people who observe the lives of their Facebook “friends.” As people promote “filtered” or unrealistic realities of their lives, many of us review these realities and compare their fake realities with our own actual realities. I believe this is where many of our women are greatly impacted by the duplicity of social media. We look at these Facebook narratives and desire what we see other people “pretending” to have. Many of us make these comments in our hearts and minds, “I wish my husband was that sweet.” “Why can’t my wife look like that?” “Why don’t our children act like theirs?” On and on these comparisons go, and as we engage in such thinking, we begin to impress these unhealthy thoughts on people we actually have relationships with in real life. We can become so deceived by the “false realities” of others–we are deceived because we buy into the lie of social media comparison, that we put our real life relationships in serious jeopardy. The danger is that we try to make those in our lives live up to the expectations that we see being promoted in the lives of our online “friends.” In turn, this could destroy the real relationships we have.

As I mentioned at the outset of my post, Facebook was a helpful tool when I was deployed, but we should be cautioned that it can have a harming impact on our hearts, minds, souls, and real life relationships. I was amazed when I came home from my deployment. This little girls who I had seen only smiling and enjoying her life suddenly was a real person. She would cry in the early hours of the morning. She would sometimes not eat her food or try and get into areas of the house that could harm her so I had to be keenly aware of her surroundings.

One time she wasn’t feeling good and she regurgitated all of her breakfast directly onto the front of my body. I was covered from head to toe. I thought to myself that this can’t be the girl I had seen in all those “happy” photos, but her mom tells me she is just like her daddy. It was in that moment, I knew she was mine. Even in all of her imperfections, I would rather have the real flesh and blood girl than a false image I saw for all those months on Facebook. Why? A real relationship built on good times and bad times beats a false reality every time!

Instagram Is Capturing the Souls of Our Girls

Instagram’s creators promote this social media tool with these words, “Bringing you closer to the people and things you love.” This phrase makes a great marketing slogan. It makes users and potential users feel like they are going to really grow in their personal and professional relationships. However, interacting with someone’s picture rarely (if ever) ignites a fiery relationship between two people. Could you imagine saying to a potential future spouse, “Hey, we are not going to spend any personal time together, but here is a picture of me that you can interact with, and I promise it is going to bring us closer together so that we will fall in love.” We have to admit that would be a pretty silly thing to say. Yet, Instagram seems to be promoting this same type of mentality through their social media platform.

As a father of two girls, I think Instagram’s platform is doing something far more dangerous to our young ladies besides promoting a false narrative. This social media outlet is capturing their souls. By capturing their souls, I mean that many young ladies are attempting to find their identity in the pictures they are sharing. Our young girls are coveting the “heart” while at the same time destroying their own spirits. They are valuing their self-worth in the number of followers, and we, as Christian parents, are just standing aimlessly by letting it happen. We are letting it happen because we have not truly sat down and thought about what Instagram in particular and all social media in general could be doing to our young ladies. My article is an attempt to, at a minimum, incite dialogue and discussion with other parents and our girls about this platform’s impact on their souls. Therefore, I want to expound how Instagram might be capturing the souls of our girls before our very eyes.

Three Points for Consideration

  • Finding their identity in Instagram. Instagram is a platform that idolizes the self. Look at these three comments from their website with my added emphasis: “Express yourself in new ways with the latest Instagram features,” and “Connect with more people, build influence, and create compelling content that’s distinctly yours,” or “Share and grow your brand with our diverse, global community.” Do you see it? The implication seems to be about creating “your” identity, but implied in this freedom of expression is the idolatry of “self.” Our girls are picking up on this, and posting pictures to create their own egos. This mentality is anti-gospel. We must teach our girls that their identity is not trying to look like a model or post provocative pictures or show their latest life stage for a group of followers they barely know. We must show them their identity needs to rest in Christ, and Christ alone. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20a). Instagram feeds on the idolatry of “self,” and our girls are buying it. Therefore, we must fight against it.
  • Coveting the “heart” to feed their image. Instagram has many ways to interact with content, but one of the most common ways is liking a post by clicking the heart button. This means our girls are finding their identity by what gets the most likes from their followers. This coveting of affirmation by the click of a “heart” on Instagram implies that their followers are actually influencing their identities. Our girls are monitoring what they are posting to get more likes, and thereby, seeking the approval of others to build up their idol, which is the self. Coveting the “heart” seems to impact the dangers of cyber bullying and certain disorders in our girls (Instagram has a policy for both of these threats that can be found here). When certain types of pictures–i.e. provocative, filtered, or life milestones are posted on Instagram, the “likes” fan the flames of the hearts to seek more “hearts” in the future by posting similar or more exposed pictures. Instagram is all about the image. The images of our girls are being fed by “likes,” and for many of our young ladies, this thirst for follower approval is becoming an obsession. Thus, this feature is capturing their souls by feeding the goddess of self-image with little “heart” buttons.
  • Collecting followers increases their self-worth. Up to this point, we have observed that our girls are seeking to define their identity through Instagram, and their identity is being fed by the coveted “heart” button. However, one of the most dangerous aspects of this type of media, for our girls, is that it opens their lives to more people–many of whom they probably do not know. In order to feed the idol of self, they need more people to follow them to obtain more “likes.” Instagram knows the danger of such a diverse community of people on their platform because their policy states that users must be a minimum of 13 years of age to obtain an account. Parents, do you know the people following your young ladies? Instagram’s Community Guidelines acknowledge, “Instagram is a reflection of our diverse community of cultures, ages, and beliefs.” With such diversity, means people from all over the world can see the images our ladies are posting. Not only can they see their images, but people can also interact with those images to feed the identities of our girls. How many young ladies accept followers or have open accounts that allows all types of diverse people peeping into their lives? The idolatry associated with this form of media seems to expose our girls to a larger crowd of people that we probably wouldn’t want them to physically be around in person. Nevertheless, the idol must be fed, and our girls are open to a vast array of unknown followers.

Parental Guidance Required

When we as parents think about what this form of social media is doing the souls of our girls, we should seek all means necessary to remove the temptation and the social strain Instagram may cause. Christian parents should seek to discuss with their girls how their identity is not found in likes and followers, but rather in Christ. We should graciously remove such propaganda from their lives in order to guard their hearts from seeking to walk down the wrong path. Nevertheless, if you have reservations about such an action, I would highly advise you to review Instagram’s “Know How to Talk with Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide.” While I may disagree with our girls using this type of media platform in the future, Instagram has rightly attempted to open the lines of communication between parents and their teenagers on ways to protect themselves in this social media arena.

After reading this post, I hope you will be more open to discussing this type of social media outlet with others in order to think about recapturing the souls of our girls and pointing them to Christ.