The yard gave me a clue to what I’d find inside. The residents of this small house had left whatever they weren’t using at the moment out on the front lawn—though there really wasn’t a lawn, just weeds growing among dead appliances, discarded furniture, and rusty car parts. Indoors it was worse, though, because what was distributed outside in the fresh air was concentrated in a smaller space inside. I made my way between stacks of trash: magazines, boxes, and discarded items of all kinds. The kitchen was piled so high that no work space was visible. Ditto for the kitchen table and all the chairs. Nothing, it seems, was thrown away.
The recliners in the living room (parked haphazardly before a massive television set) were surrounded by empty snack bags and beverage cans. There was no space for a visitor to sit. Every surface was covered with soiled clothing and old mail. Dogs and cats raced underfoot. And the smell? Suffice it to say that the items stacked in the kitchen hadn’t been clean when they were left there, and the pets didn’t always manage to make it outside when they needed to. I have rarely in my life seen such clutter and filth. The inhabitants had, it seemed, become accustomed to living in disorder and uncleanliness.
I’d hate to live that way, wouldn’t you? Yet what these folks had done to their house, many of us in much nicer, cleaner homes do to our minds.
“You also, like living stones,” wrote the apostle Peter, “are being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). If you would apply this metaphor to the spiritual space within your life, what kind of house are you? A clean, tidy, well-ordered one or a filthy one?
A moral life comes from moral thoughts. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he,” says the author of Proverbs (Proverbs 23:7, KJV).*
So what ought one to think about? “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Paul offers this rather simple guideline as a rudder to steer by: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). So here’s a question to ponder: is what you’re doing, or thinking about, or entertaining yourself with, something that can happen while you’re also conscious of the presence of Jesus?
The influence problem
We know that what we take in through our five senses shapes who we are. Expose yourself to unwholesome companions, for example, and you’ll become like them, for “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
The influence problem is even more acute in the age of mass communication than it was in Bible times. It started with printing, then movies, radio, and television. Now most of us have high-speed, high-definition communicators in our pockets, with constant access to a thousand different kinds of interaction.
When moving pictures began to be popular, some lawmakers realized that this broadly available medium needed control. The United States (where most films were made in the 1920s) established the national Production Code Administration. Their censorship would be considered draconian today: they not only censored violence, language, and sex but attempted to edit films to match their own political or religious opinions.
Eventually the Production Code Administration was replaced with a rating system administered by the Motion Picture Association of America, a trade group run by the entertainment industry itself. Of course, the entertainment industry is not in the business of protecting public morality; they are only interested in selling their product, meaning that ever since the industry began rating itself, the ratings have become increasingly untrustworthy. Today entertainment that’s rated acceptable for children contains an inordinate amount of distasteful material, and that considered normal adult fare is astonishingly debased, violent, and immoral.
In the early days of movies, one could just stay away from the motion picture theater entirely, and some did. Television broke down that wall. Today there’s little distinction between the entertainment in the theater and what’s available at home. A consumer can watch anything from the wholesome and innocent to the violent and vulgar on his or her home television—or even on the phone in his or her pocket!
Let’s be very clear that our modern tools for communication aren’t bad in themselves. The same television set that shows vacuous sitcoms also shows nature documentaries. The computer network that distributes pornography is for someone else the means of Bible study. Social networking used by a few for bullying or sexting helps others stay in touch with family and friends. The Internet has brought us lies and fake news, but it also delivers factual information about health, weather, and science. It might be possible for you to cut yourself off from all modern media, but a better course is to make good choices about what you use them for.
Occasionally you will hear Christians calling for the return of censorship, for stronger government controls on the kind of entertainment that’s produced and distributed. But as the Production Code Administration showed, censorship can go too far. Would you want someone, for example, to censor religious programming because they disagreed with it? While our society or governments might help us sort the good from the bad, in the end the responsibility for what you and your family watch and listen to is yours. The Federal Communications Commission isn’t going to protect your faith, nor does the Motion Picture Association have your moral purity in mind.
The psalmist urges self-control: “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it” (Psalm 101:3). You can keep vile programming off of your home’s televisions, computers, and smartphones by the simple use of the “off” button.
What God does
Always remember that you are a dwelling place for God. Paul asked, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). How can you make yourself an acceptable home for Him? Fortunately, you aren’t left to do this work alone. God is also working on that house that is your life.
In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis said, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He’s doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.
“What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
No life is immune from bad influences. There will always be the temptations to moral untidiness. It takes self-control to put up barriers against an immoral culture, and it won’t happen without some sacrifice and pain on your part.
But with your cooperation, God can make you into the suitable place He can dwell in.
* Bible verses marked KJV are from the King James Version.