This post has been a long time in the making. When Breaking Free went live back in the beginning of January one of my first posts responded to one Christian’s negative opinion of accountability software. I didn’t realize then what I know now: there are more detractors in the Christian community than I first thought.
In the last few months my dialog with others online has been quite valuable, especially as I read blog posts and comments about why some Christians refuse to use filtering software. Their reasons are, for the most part, entirely theological. I will do my best here to outline these reasons.
– – – –
Filtering Software: Just Another Law?
The apostle Paul was clear about the effects of the law of God on the human heart. This moral law tells us about God’s righteous standards. It informs us, for example, that coveting something is sinful. When the sinful heart confronts this law he is informed that covetousness is wrong, and yet this only makes coveting all the more enticing. When we are told what we cannot do or have, we want it all the more. This is the condition of the depraved heart (Romans 7:7-8).
Isn’t an Internet filter just another form of this? Here was one comment I read on a blog called The Confessional Outhouse: “And since the power of sin is the law, having this software on your computer only reminds you of what’s out there, and pushes you to seek out ways of getting around the software.”
This same person would later comment, “Sure, if a guy is having problems, a filter isn’t a bad idea, but in general, in the long run, it is only going to make matters worse. This is because it is a continual confrontation with the law. . . . I would say that there must come a point when the guy goes without it.”
The heart of his objection is the belief that the power of Christ can change our hearts to such a degree that we are saying no to temptations consistently. No crutches needed anymore. No filter blocking our way. The same person comments, “Is using a filter a sin? No, it violates no law. Is it unwise? Not necessarily, some may be just that weak. But at some point, it becomes a denial of what God has promised us in Christ, at some point it becomes a denial of the work of the Spirit in our hearts, at some point it becomes a denial that Christ really does save us from our sins. At some point it becomes a confession of unbelief. At some point. Maybe some never reach that point, and maybe some will never understand that point.”
– – – –
What Doesn’t Help Us?
I would wholeheartedly agree that for some Internet filtering can become exactly that: a law that holds them back from sin but doesn’t affect the heart. For some the motivation for having a filter is not only to have a fence that prevents them from doing wrong, it is to avoid needing a real change in the heart. No need to face the root of my sin if I can medicate the symptoms.
There is no easy answer to this question because it relates to personal motives, even motives that are hidden in the heart. Still there are some clear Biblical principles we can set forth.
I find Paul’s letter to the Colossians very helpful in this discussion. Paul was very leery of so-called sin-curbing methodology. He knew the depraving effects of sin on the human heart and saw no real way to cure those effects outside of a vital union with Christ. In Colossians 2:20-23 he says,
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—’Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Before our union with Christ we were under the world’s rules, religions, and regulations. These were the only tools at our disposal to curb our sinful habits and attitudes. But thanks be to God—Christ met us in our sinfulness and saved us! Because Christ died and rose again, He is the forerunner to God’s new creation, the new resurrected, sinless world. We are united with the resurrected Christ, so as a result, we are also new creations and we no longer need to lean on those old supposed sin-curbing rules, religions and regulations.
Paul says living by these old principles is worthless. Paul mentions here “self-made religion,” or as the King James version so eloquently translates it, “will worship.” This is the worship of human will-power, the “I can decide for myself” attitude, or the “I can do it on my own” attitude. Paul mentions asceticism, the decisive abstinence from certain pleasures such as food, sex, or sleep for the pursuit of spiritual goals. Paul mentions severity of the body, the neglect of the body altogether, such as in stringent fasts.
– – – –
What Does Help Us?
Read what Paul says next,
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:1-5)
Our new course of life is based on something that happened to us: we have died with Christ (v.3) and we have been raised with Christ (v.1). Christ is resurrected and has ascended to the right hand of God, the seat of ultimate authority in the universe. He has been crowned the king and it is now only a matter of time before He returns and His rule is felt by every soul. Change takes place in our habits and character as we set our minds and hearts on Him and the eternal pleasures and fulfilled promises He will bring with Him at His return.
Think of it this way: Let’s say that I know in one year another world power would come and utterly take over the United States. This world power would bring its ways of governing, its economics, its values, and its culture. Let’s say that this was inevitable. Nothing I can do or say, nothing the U.S. can do will stop this from happening. I could protest this new uprising, but I would inevitably end up in jail or dead as a result. The wisest thing I can do in these circumstances is to begin living my life now as if the takeover had already happened. I should begin getting my affairs in order, readjusting my finances to reflect the economics of the new world, readjusting my lifestyle to live according to the new order.
No analogy is perfect, but I believe this reflects some of what the gospel is saying. A new King has been crowned. He is the true Sovereign and Lord. He will come some day and utterly change the world. No more will sin have a place in it. My desires for sin will no longer make sense in it. Some will rebelliously hold out to the end and as a result will be expelled and not have an inheritance in the new world. Some, however, will repent and surrender now and begin living with the knowledge that this world is passing away. They will live with Jesus as their King.
This world is passing away, along with all its enticing sins. As our minds and hearts begin to desire the “things above” those desires will compete with and win over the desires to sin. We will be different people from the inside out.
– – – –
Put Sin to Death
To repeat Paul’s statement, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5). In Paul’s thinking he knows that sin still roots itself in the members of our bodies, those parts of us that are still tied to the old creation. In response to our pursuit of “things above” we are told to utterly slay anything in us that would lead us to the idolatries of this world. Paul zeros in on sexual sin as a primary thing in us that we need to put to death.
So how does this relate to Internet filters?
Some would say that filters are just another form of asceticism, another way to try to (unsuccessfully) curb sin the way the rest of the world does, by imposing another law, another rule, another man-made restriction. To quote same commenter from The Confessional Outhouse, “What men need is a change of heart. They need to repent. There is something to the software that allows the men not to truly repent. . . . The man doesn’t have to renounce his sin in his heart, but can still treasure it. Only now, he’s frustrated because he can’t do anything about it. How is this helping?” In other words, the software just affects outward actions (“I didn’t see any pornography today”) but doesn’t affect our desire for sin.
I would agree. Software doesn’t change hearts. Software doesn’t make us want to sin any less. Only vital union with Christ can make us want to sin less.
But some use software with this very thing in mind. Some are seeking the things that are above, setting their hearts on Christ, and their desires are being transformed. Over time they find sin less and less appealing, even though the members of their body are still inclined towards sin. Why have a filter then? Is there something to having a filter that means I don’t trust Christ completely to give me new desires?
It depends. For some, a filter is a quick fix that means I don’t have to think about this sin anymore. For some it lowers the standard of God’s law (“At least I can’t look at porn anymore”) and they don’t have to think about whether they are lusting after people in other ways.
But for others a filter is a means of obeying God, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” They realize that the Internet can be a mine field of sensual images. They know their flesh desires to see those images and they want to limit, where they can, the opportunity to see something that can lead to sin. They choose to have a filter not because they don’t want to repent, but because they have repented and they realize that they are swimming upstream in a culture that is running from Christ and His kingdom. For them, when they see a sight has been blocked, they are given a visible reminder to consciously set their minds on things above.
In support of those who choose not to have a filter, they may have recognized a tendency in themselves to rely on props, external fences that only keep them from a recognition of their need for Christ. To those who have chosen to not get a filter for this reason, I say Amen.
In support of those who choose to have a filter, they may have recognized that their online activities continually bring them face to face with sensual images and they are simply cutting off the right hand and gouging out the right eye that causes them to sin in obedience to Christ (Matthew 5:29-30). To those who have chosen to get a filter for this reason, I say Amen.