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Monday, February 2, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #7 -- Eliminate Anything You're Not Sure About

This post will be about the seventh and final biblical principle that can be applied to your entertainment choices, to make sure they are pleasing to God and beneficial to you. In the previous posts I've discussed Exalt God, Exercise Biblical Discernment, Expose Evil Rather than Enjoying It, Economize Your Time, Edify Your Brothers and Sisters, and Excise Anything that Tempts You to Sin.  Here is the last of the seven Es...

Eliminate anything you’re not sure about. Romans 14:23 says, “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” This is a warning that no one should act against his or her conscience. It is not spiritually healthy to do so, and it is also displeasing to God.[1] He who doubts that what he doing is right, the Scripture says, is condemned if he does it (“condemned” here means guilty, or sinning). From the context, we know that this statement applies even to activities that are not wrong in themselves, like eating meat that had been offered to idols. Yet we are told that someone who eats meat, or does anything else the Bible does not address, is sinning if he is not sure it is right. How can this be? Well, Paul explains in the second half of the verse: “Because his eating is not from faith: and whatever is not from faith is sin.”

If we think something is wrong to do, and we do it anyway, it is a sin—even if God never said that the activity itself was wrong. This is because our choice has not been made because of faith, but because of some other motive. So it is not the action itself, but the choice, that is displeasing to God. A helpful illustration in the realm of entertainment would be a woman who was taught while growing up, by her parents and her church, that listening to “rock music” is always wrong. That style of music is “of the devil” and “worldly,” the argument goes, and we should not enjoy it even if it has good words, because that would be compromising with the devil and the world. This is a legalistic view that goes beyond Scripture and does not proceed from a sound interpretation of the Word.[2] However, any idea has a certain power when you hear it over and over again from the people you love and respect, especially when you are a child. So the woman in our illustration has been convinced that it is wrong for her to listen to any music with electric guitars and drums.

Now suppose a group of friends from work give her a hit album for her birthday and say they want to hear what she thinks of it when they take her out for dinner the next night. If she decides to listen to the album, while she still thinks it is wrong to do that, she will be sinning, because at that moment something is more important to her than pleasing God. It will not be her faith in Him that motivates her to do it, but her fear of what her friends will think, or perhaps her own curiosity. Should her conscience be realigned, or retrained, so that she could listen to something like that without feeling guilty? Yes, I think it should (see below).  But until that happens, she should not listen to the music, because it will come between her and God if she does. It will damage the most important relationship she has, because when she prays to him she will not be able to pray “in faith,” believing that He hears her. Instead she will be thinking something like this: “I don’t know if I should be doing this—God might be upset with me.”

Your conscience is like a diagnostic program running at all times on a computer. Depending on the information it has been given, it will judge whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  If it judges that you are doing the wrong thing, it will flash a “warning light” (we call this “feeling guilty.”) That warning light of guilt is very helpful in keeping us from moral crashes, but sometimes a conscience can be overactive on a particular issue, because it has been given wrong information. So like a computer, it can be reprogrammed with different and better information, so that it will not set off an alarm when it is not really necessary. Your ultimate goal should be to have a conscience that is fully informed by Scripture, which will only keep you from doing that which is displeasing to God, and not from good things you have the freedom to enjoy (see Rom. 14:22). 

So your conscience may need to be re-trained on a particular issue or issues, but as long as you think something is wrong, don’t do it. Because if you act against your conscience repeatedly, then you will develop what the Bible calls a “seared conscience” (1 Tim. 4:2, Titus 1:15, Ephesians 4:19). In such a conscience, the warning light has been ignored so often that it no longer flashes anymore, and we find ourselves blind and enslaved to sins that will eventually destroy us. As Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 say, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

The old saying, “Let your conscience be your guide,” is not entirely true. Your conscience can be wrong, and may need to be re-trained, as in the case of the women who cannot listen to any “rock” music. But though your conscience should not be your guide in determining the truth, it should be your guard in the sense that it can keep you from wrong paths that lead to destruction. We should never push past this guard, but sometimes we might persuade it through biblical reasoning to move out of the way. On the other hand, we need to be constantly “arming” our conscience with more principles from Scripture, so it can protect us from choices that would hurt us in the end.
This principle of conscience applies to your entertainment choices, as well as all other areas of your life.  If you are wondering whether or not God wants you to watch that movie, listen to that music, read that book, or whatever choice you face, it is better to be safe than sorry. Don’t let an insignificant form of entertainment get in the way of the most significant relationship you will ever have! As Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

[1] For more verses about the importance of having a clean conscience, see Acts 23:1 and 24:16, 1 Timothy 1:9, and Hebrews 13:18.

[2] The arguments used against contemporary musical styles can sometimes exhibit award-worthy creativity. Some say that if the rhythm in music is emphasized more than the melody and harmony, it is ungodly. Another argument is that some types of music are acceptable to God because of where the primary beat falls, but others are not acceptable because the primary beat falls somewhere else. These ideas do not arise from the exegesis of Scripture, to say the least, and upon closer inspection are actually inconsistent with Scripture. When we take into account the types of instruments that were used in Old Testament worship, which included tambourines, cymbals, and the guitar-like “lyres” and “lutes” (Psa. 68:24-25, 98:4-6, 149:3, 150:1-6), it is likely that the music of the Jews was quite heavy in the rhythm department. And given the lack of professional composition in most cases, the beat was probably falling all over the place!