Do you remember making your first social media profile? For me, it was a Myspace account. Those were simpler times. I remember the joy I felt customizing my page by adding a skateboarding background and Papa Roach’s latest song to my profile. Then Facebook came out, and slowly, everyone joined. It was “free,” and helpful, and fun.
Now, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, etc. dominate many of our lives. I don’t want to sound like a “prude” or a 17th-century puritan, but maybe social media isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When we use social media—like my friend who works in information security says—we are the product. We are fed a dopamine loop filled with ads so that Silicon Valley plutocrats can get richer off our short attention spans. Even worse, social media can easily become a platform for sin.
Sure, it can be used to let our light shine, evangelize, worship remotely, encourage others, keep up with long-lost family members, and all that good stuff. But it can also be a place where we can easily engage in the works of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV)
I argue that once these works of the flesh are explored and defined it is clear to see how easily social media can be turned into a platform for these “evident” actions. Social media is not inherently evil or sinful in and of itself. But it is a tool that can be used for the flesh in damaging ways.
Cyber Sexual Sins
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality…”
These three terms represent the sexual sins in the list of the works of the flesh. Sexual immorality (porneia), impurity (akatharsia), and sensuality (aselgeia) each refer to a different aspect of sexual degeneracy. Sexual immorality (aka “fornication”) is any sexual act outside of the confines of biblical marriage. Impurity describes a state of moral corruption, usually in the context of sexual misconduct (as in 1 Thess. 4:7). Sensuality (aka “licentiousness”) refers to a lack of self-constraint, again usually in the context of sexual misconduct.
It is impossible to literally, physically commit sexual immortality on social media. But, we should be reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Social media can be used to cultivate sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality in one’s heart when online platforms lead to lust, sexual moral corruption, and a lack of self-restraint in sexual temptation.
When social media is used to anonymously and lustfully prowl around from one inappropriate account to another, or the content sought online creates a lack of sexual self-control, social media is being used to produce the works of the flesh. Such scenarios might seem far-fetched, but they shouldn’t. Social media’s ability to inflame adultery and ruin relationships is well-documented, and when one is guided by the flesh instead of the Spirit, even seemingly innocent things can be used to leverage immorality.
If someone reading this is a serial luster on social media they should repent, confess, seek help, and do whatever necessary to stop. Even if that includes sharing your social media passwords with a spouse or friend, or deleting an account or two altogether. The works of the flesh are everywhere on social media, and our culture’s infatuation with sex has spared no platform in its damning wake. Sexual misconduct is produced by the flesh, not the Spirit, and social media can be a platform that expedites that kind of behavior.
“… idolatry, sorcery…”
Idolatry (eidōlotria) is literally image worship (as was/is common in polytheism and paganism), but it extends to placing anything above God. Sorcery (pharmakeia) refers to the attempt to manipulate nature through magical arts and oftentimes through potions or drugs.
While these sins both may seem impossible to be committed on social media, these sins come from the same disposition that is possible to foster on social media. Idolatry and sorcery are both, fundamentally, attempts to have some kind of power from a source other than God. Both idolatry and sorcery come from a heart that would rather serve anything other than God in order to meet the desired end. Sorcery is an attempt to have the power of God without going through the channels of God, and idolatry is the act of attributing the power of God to something that doesn’t have the power of God.
Paul told the Colossians that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3:5). When one is covetous, or greedy, stuff becomes the king of their life instead of God, and the result is ruinous (see Matt. 6:24; Luke 12:15; Rom. 16:18; Phil. 3:19; 1 Tim. 6:10). If you’ve ever spent hours on the Facebook marketplace staring at stuff you don’t need or can’t afford, here’s your wake-up call. Shopping isn’t sinful, nor is trying to make a living, but when we are never content with what God has blessed us with because of the ads and listings on social media, we have a problem (Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:8).
Probably very few people (if any) who read this are going onto Twitter or Facebook to concoct potions or learn spells in an attempt to manipulate nature in ungodly ways. But when we are willing to cling to the wisdom of social media over the wisdom of God, we have the same heart as a sorcerer—a heart of rebellion (see 1 Sam. 15:23). When social media cultivates covetousness and attempts to circumvent the wisdom of God, it facilitates the religious works of the flesh: idolatry and sorcery.
The Comments Section and Relational sins
“… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…”
Enmity (ecthra) is having hostile feelings or actions toward someone. Strife (eris) is an engagement in a rivalry regarding differing positions in a matter. Jealousy (zelōs) refers to intense negative feelings over another’s achievements or success. Fits of anger (thymos) literally is a state of intense displeasure. Rivalries (epitheia) is a reference to an outbreak of selfishness that creates conflict. Dissension (dichostasia) is “the state of being in factious opposition” (BDAG 252). Divisions (haireseis) is the division of people based on differing opinion or dogma.
These sins are undoubtedly the most prominent works of the flesh on social media. In fact, it is almost an unavoidable fact that these works of the flesh will be on full display every time you log on (especially in an election year). I have often failed to avoid these works of the flesh online and still to this day find myself typing comments before (sometimes) thankfully deleting them before pressing send.
We must ask ourselves if we are manifesting these works of the flesh on social media. While not all disagreement is sinful, and we’re allowed to have controversial opinions, social media often moves past the realm of respectful dialogue into the realm of disrespectful diatribe. When Christians have to unfollow or befriend each other to have some peace of mind, haven’t we’ve gone too far? If every four years the church devolves into enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissension, and divisions on social media for the whole world to see, can we say we’re bearing the fruit of the Spirit on social media?
This is a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes it is better to simply not say anything when we see an opinion we disagree with—especially if the result is going to be an engagement in a rivalry regarding differing positions in a matter (aka strife) or having hostile feelings or actions toward someone (aka enmity). People (and politicians) in the world are going to flaunt the works of the flesh on social media.
Christians should be different. The wisdom from above is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (Jas. 3:17). When social media is a platform for Christians to splinter and divide over political lines, matters of opinion, or heated debates about things that barely matter, it is sowing the works of the flesh among the people of God.
How many Christians have you unfollowed or unfriended in the last year? How much conflict, name-calling, and faction-joining have you seen on social media? How often do Facebook posts and comments devolve into us vs. them rhetoric and angry volleys of hostile dialogue? Christians should stay away from these works of the flesh and not fall in line with the world’s use of social media as a platform to divide. Can you imagine how bright the light of the church would shine if social media was primarily used as a place of encouragement, unity, and love among Christians instead of as a platform to complain and argue (see Phil. 2:14-15)?
Please understand that I am not suggesting that social media can’t be a place for discussion, or even disagreement and debate. It depends on the spirit in which such disagreements and discussions are had. If I am seeking opportunities to divide, put down, or engage in rivalries on social media, I am using social media as a platform for the works of the flesh.
Excess and Consumption Sins
“… drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
Drunkenness (methe) and orgies (komos) appear together multiple times in the New Testament (Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3) and both speak to a general lack of self-control in consuming alcohol and sex respectively. The terms describe acts of excess and non-restraint. Again, while these things may not literally, physically be occurring on social media, these types of sins of excess can find a parallel on social media.
The heart of drunkenness and orgies (or excess feasting) is excess consumption that stems from a lack of self-control and leads to a lack of sober-mindedness. Do you ever feel like you are addicted to social media? Every person I have ever had a candid conversation with about social media admits that they wish they could use it less often. Personally, I have oftentimes had to use apps that block social media or just turn my phone off to get work done. A recent Netflix documentary presents a very convincing case that the engineers of social media platforms purposefully made the sites addictive. The New York Times review of “The Social Dilemma” goes as far as to argue that social media users should “unplug and run.”
In recent years the tide has turned on social media. Most people have a love/hate relationship with social media and would choose to live without it if they could. Research is beginning to suggest that regular social media use can be connected with depression, loneliness, and other negative moods. Social media can turn into an infinite feedback loop that drives up dopamine and leaves us coming back for more.
We may easily control ourselves when it comes to the bottle or feasts of excess, but we may be carrying our lack of self-control around with us in our pockets. Addiction to social media isn’t in the exact same category as drunkenness and orgies, but the non-stop ogling of our screens no matter how hard we try to stop is not a fruit of the Spirit either.
What’s the Solution?
I can’t claim to have all the answers. I struggle with these things myself. But, it is comforting to know that concerned Christians aren’t alone in warning about the apparent ills of social media. If we struggle to keep our social media use from becoming a platform for the works of the flesh being manifest in our life, we may need to consider repentance—even radical repentance.
This might look like unfollowing everyone except a handful of friends/family, deleting social media apps off of our phone, using apps to limit our time on social media, or deleting our accounts altogether. The good stops outweighing the bad when the bad leads to us not inheriting the kingdom of God. Social media can be a tool for good or a platform for the works of the flesh. The ball is in our court.