I’ve always been an “early adapter.” I may not be the first person to try a new technology, but I’m not far behind. Following the arrival of the first iPhones, I wasn’t at the Apple Store at midnight for a new release – but I’d show up sometime the next day. So I joined social media early on. As soon as Facebook opened to the public, I signed up. I started a Twitter profile. I even tried Google+.
By and large, I really enjoy social media. I’ve made social media friends who became real friends; I remain in contact with old friends as they move away. Social media allows me to connect with church members and visitors; it allows folks to participate online with church activities. In fact, you could argue that during this season of COVID, social media is indispensable to ministry.
Yet recently I decided to take a break from Facebook. Why? Sometimes my faith is at work when I feel something in my soul that I can’t explain, but I just know it. And I noticed that when I was on social media, I just felt – heavy. A sense of sadness. I couldn’t place my finger on it. At that point, I decided to take a break and continued sorting exactly what it was that I sensed.
One morning while walking, the Holy Spirit gave me some insight.
The reason why I’m a Methodist is not because I was born into it (though I was). The reason I’m a Methodist is John Wesley’s theology. Being a Methodist makes me a better disciple, it makes me a better follower of Jesus. For me, the point of our entire salvation is to recover what sin has corrupted – to recover that image of God within ourselves through sanctification, and recover it in all the world (through the eventual return of Christ).
So then, what does this new creation look like, what does sanctification look like? It is the perfect keeping of the law of God. Scripture tells us to be holy as God is holy. As we grow closer to God and grow through grace, that image of God will be recovered, and we will more resemble our Savior. Well, what does it look like to keep his law? What does it mean to be holy? Jesus tells us in Matthew 22: 36-40:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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 greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The entire law is summed up in those two commands – love God and love neighbor. This is what holiness looks like: to allow the love of God to so consume us that our sins are driven out as we are filled with God’s love. As I understand Wesley, he was focused more on perfect love than perfect action, because complete, perfected love will lead to unsullied intent. If I perfectly love God, I will not take his name in vain, I will honor the Sabbath. If I perfectly love my neighbor, I will not murder my neighbor, I will not bear false witness against her.
To talk of loving God and neighbor is literally to talk about the very goal and purpose of our salvation. It is the very nature of holiness. It is what we are created for and what our sanctification drives us towards.
And that was what felt heavy about social media. In this season, Facebook was no longer a place of loving God and loving neighbor. If we take God’s commands seriously, if we take the law and teachings of Jesus seriously, we cannot live in a way that tears down not only fellow believers, but fellow humans, day after day.
As a pastor, each verbal attack, each biting meme, each political wresting match showed me the great need all of us have for continued sanctification. As I thought through it, I began to see that this was not contributing to my holiness. Social media was not helping me love my God and my neighbor better.
While social media itself didn’t cause me to sin, it did cause me to grow discouraged, to pray less, and to worry more. It caused me to despair because so many Christians are allowing this cultural moment, rather than our desire for holiness and sanctification, to be the force that dictates our thoughts, our passions, our posts, and our words.
Let me be clear: I’m not calling for a dispassionate, milquetoast existence with no beliefs or morals. Far from it. If you read Wesley, he shared quite strong opinions in his writing, about poverty, slavery, and even the American Revolution. This is not a call to ambivalence on moral matters. But it is a call to the path of Jesus, who calls us to love not just our neighbors but to love even our enemies. If we follow the commands and teachings of Jesus, we have no choice.
I’ve been teaching on the book of James during my online Wednesday night Bible study. There is a passage that stuck with me.
“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” James 2:8
It prompts me to consider legalism. Think of all the things we tend to be legalistic about in lives. Maybe it’s your language, what you eat or drink, what you watch or listen to. To put it one way, as Christians, many of us have legalisms in our lives; to put it another way, many of us have moral codes.
What if we were legalistic – about keeping that royal law? What if we were legalistic – about love? What would happen? I logged off social media for a season because participating led me to be a law breaker. It was not helping me keep God’s royal law of loving my neighbor as myself; and through God’s grace, that is really what I most desire to do. I desire to keep God’s law. I desire to be holy. Will you join me?
Featured image courtesy Unsplash: Photo by Elijah O’Donnell