How to be “In” the Social Media World but not “Of” the Social Media World

How to be “In” the Social Media World but not “Of” the Social Media World

Written by J. Warner Wallace |
Saturday, December 17, 2022

As God incarnate, Jesus came to live among us, even though we were “of this world” and He was not (John 8:23-24). If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must engage the world through social media as children of the King; sheep amid wolves, wise as serpents, and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Let’s moderate our social media use, resist the temptation of celebrity, focus on what’s true and avoid what’s detestable as we represent God and share the Gospel.

It’s always been difficult for Christ followers to live “in the world” while simultaneously resisting the temptations “of the world.” The New Testament authors acknowledged the challenge. The apostle John, for example, encouraged his readers to resist their cravings for physical pleasure, the worldly things they saw, and the pride they took in their achievements and possessions. John described these desires and inclinations as the distractions of a “fading world” (1 John 2:15-17). Peter similarly encouraged early Christians to live as “temporary residents and foreigners,” calling them to provide an honorable example for unbelieving neighbors by avoiding worldly desires (1 Peter 2:11-12).

As difficult as it must have been for 1st Century Christians to guard their eyes and hearts, navigate the world around them, and interact with non-believers, the challenge for 21st Century Christians is even greater. Our “unbelieving neighbors” aren’t simply the people living next door or down the street, they’re the global citizens sharing our social media platforms and interacting with us – often anonymously and without invitation. To make matters worse, social media algorithms attempt to anticipate and shape our interests, introducing us to content, ideas, and temptations unavailable to prior generations. These platforms are often profane, provocative, and punitive. Is there a way for faithful Christians to provide an honorable example without being corrupted by social media? Can we live “in” but not “of” the social media world? The scriptures provide a pathway:

Maintain Moderation

There’s a correlation between our knowledge of world events and our degree of well-being. It’s not a coincidence that younger generations (as social media “natives”)  experience more depression and anxiety and are more likely to compare themselves with others in an unfavorable way. The more you know about the trouble in the world, the more you will be troubled by it, and the more you compare yourself with others, the more likely you are to suffer by comparison. That’s why moderation is key. Set time parameters for your social media use, resist the algorithm’s effort to lure you with additional content, and stop comparing your life to the fictional lives others create for themselves online. Remember Paul’s admonition to Timothy:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:7-8)

Circumvent Celebrity

Mainstream media outlets (now sometimes referred to as the “Legacy Media”) used to decide who was a celebrity and who was not. That all changed with the invention of social media. You don’t have to be a movie star or politician to gain the attention of the culture anymore. Many of us now have large social media platforms that rival the notoriety of celebrities in the past. This is reflected in the rise of social media influencers. The lure of popularity tempts all of us; few people wish they had fewer followers. But the next time you find yourself tempted by celebrity, remember the words of Jesus. If we are truly following Him and speaking His words into the world around us, we shouldn’t expect to be popular:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18-21) 

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