Following one of the most controversial election cycles in modern history, where the political drama was only amplified by the voices of our friends and family online, the social media bashing of one another’s views has not stopped. It’s easy to get swept away in it all. Convictions, opinions, emotions and confusion are still running rampant online and it can lead to moments of regret or moments of inflated pride. It’s time for us, as Christ-followers, to take a step back and reassess our witness on social media.
How do we do this? Remember this truth: if you claim to follow Jesus, you represent him. Everything you say and do should represent his heart. Here are some practical ways you can be sure that you a representing Jesus well.
Take a break.
If you have spent a lot of time on social media lately, chances are your head is spinning. Maybe because you’re actually confused on where you stand, or maybe because your convictions are being tested so much that it leaves you in a borderline or all out rage. No matter where you stand on this spectrum, it’s healthy for all of us to step back from the keyboard for a time.
There’s a simple test you can give yourself to see if it’s time for a break; let’s call it the Fruit Test (Galatians 5:22-23). After you spend some time online, assess what you are feeling. Is it love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control? If you wrote some things yourself, are these fruits present in your words? If the answer is no, it’s time for a break!
Jesus often retreated from the chaos to align His heart with His Father. (Matthew 14:13 is just one example, what others can you find?) When you find your fruit is not of God step away and realign your heart with His. Spend as long as it takes to move your heart close to His once more.
Remember that behind every post and comment is a person whom Jesus loves and wants to have a relationship with.
Let’s face it. Our newsfeeds are full of people who are not yet in relationship with Jesus! This means that we are definitely going to see something that does not line up with our beliefs. So what do we do when we see those posts? Remember that those who do not yet know Jesus do not yet understand our beliefs because they do not have the Holy Spirit at work in them helping them to understand.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 emphasis added
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
How will our friends begin to understand? Only through a relationship with Jesus! Did you catch that? They aren’t going to understand a Spirit point of view unless the Spirit is in them! This means that arguing your point until you are blue in the face (or fingers) is not going to change them. Only a relationship with Jesus can do that!
There is a reason Jesus said “Go and make disciples!” (Matthew 28:19-20) and not “Go and prove your point!” It is our job to be in relationship with those who need a relationship with Jesus.
Arguing with strangers on a comment thread is not going to reveal Jesus, because a comment thread is not a relationship. If you’re ready to make disciples, go and be in relationship with the people you are most offended by online. Tell them about Jesus and who He is, and allow the Spirit to inform their viewpoints once they enter into a life-changing relationship with Him.
Learn how to have a discussion.
The biggest issue with social media is the strange social construct it creates. The more time we spend online, the less grounded in actual truth we tend to be. We build ourselves a network of people who mostly agree with us, we follow pages we like, and we ignore or hide the ones we don’t. This creates a phenomenon called an “echo chamber” where our own perceptions are solidified by what we are seeing online.
These echo chambers can cause us to stand more firmly behind our personal perceptions than on the Word of God.
Take the time to understand what is informing your opinions. Is it social media or Scripture? If you are spending more time online than you are in Scripture, then go back to step one and dig in to the Bible. Align your heart with Jesus’ and then come back and see if your opinions still stand through the filter of God’s Word.
Once you have a clear picture of where your convictions lie, you might start to feel compelled to share, post, comment or reply again. The healthiest thing to do before posting at all is to take a beat and pray before you even begin typing. Then after you’ve typed up your post, pray again. Reread your words and allow God to speak to you about them. And remember the Fruit Test: is the post full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If it meets this test, you might be able to share it.
Another test you should give yourself is the relationship test. If you are about to comment on another’s post, ask yourself, “Do I have a meaningful relationship with this person?” if the answer is yes, then ask, “Can I look this person in the eye and say this to their face?” If the answer is no, delete it and move on, my friend! You are not called to be a keyboard warrior, you are called to be in relationship with other broken people. Use social media only as an extension of relationship, not a fabrication of relationship.
Finally, get educated!
Be sure you have a full understanding of topics you are discussing. Understand the bias you are bringing to the conversation. Research and learn from multiple outlets (and dare we say, books!) before chiming in.
Times of online strife are no fun for anyone, and it is in those times more than ever that we should be prepared to represent Jesus in real ways. This call requires a lot of work on our part, but it is a work that can please our Father. If you feel you’ve already tarnished your witness online, remember there is grace. Spend some time in confession offline with God in prayer, and then allow Him to do a new work in your life.
And when the next online war is waged, remember that Jesus can and will be glorified through you if you seek his heart!