When I was growing up I thought that TV ratings (G, PG, M, MA15+, R18+) indicated age suitability. I thought that the MA rating meant ‘this is good and healthy for people who are 15 or older’. It was only natural that I should look forward to being of the age when ‘MA’ and ‘R’ rated movies would be good and healthy things for me to watch.
But that’s not what those ratings mean. At least, that’s not how Christians can possibly view them. Growing up means recognising that a lot of things are not good or healthy for anyone to watch. So much of what is on offer trades on the power of lust and the glorification of sexual immorality. The Bible says that ‘it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret’ (Ephesians 5:12). Surely willingly watching it is worse than talking about it.
Jesus spoke about the eyes being the ‘lamp of the body’. They either fill the body with light or with darkness (Matthew 6:22). What that means is that what we spend our time looking at will fill our hearts. If you don’t want to live an immoral life, then don’t stare at immorality. If you do, then don’t be surprised if you develop a taste for it, enjoying it, wanting it. It will make sin attractive and make things that you know to be wrong seem like plausible life-choices. It will turn your heart away from godliness and toward a love of sin.
What you watch feeds the ‘flesh’
The Bible teaches that we are ‘flesh’, meaning that our bodily desires have enormous power to control our lives and that we are weak to resist them. But the Holy Spirit is also at work. He is renewing the hearts and minds of Christians so that we can obey Jesus even whilst we struggle with our fleshly weakness. Sin is no longer our master, so we must not obey it (Romans 6:12).
If we are serious about turning away from sin then we need to think soberly about our weaknesses. Ignoring reality is foolish. Naïve optimism is fitting for Disney characters, but it has no place in the real-life battle against sin. There is a reason that Jesus taught us to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ rather than ‘let us be strong enough to fight temptation.’
The flesh is strongest when we are weakest. When we are exhausted or depressed our defences are down. Unfortunately, that’s also when we are most likely to binge-watch hours and hours of TV, our exhausted selves just passively taking it all in.
Dealing with our ‘flesh’ means facing up to the fact that we are made of sponge, not granite. A lot of Christians like to pretend that they are made of granite. It doesn’t matter what you spill on a polished granite surface: it wipes off easily. So a lot of Christians feel like they can watch anything and are robust enough for it to not affect them. But we are more like sponges that soak up everything that we touch. We’re profoundly impacted by what we come into contact with. We have enormous capacity to absorb sinful attitudes, behaviours, and habits. What we fill our senses with fills our hearts, reshapes our desires, and warps our perception of life. When bad things get into us start to stink.
Making Adult Choices about Media
Facing this reality means making some adult choices. For example, I am a long-term fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I tend to enjoy fantasy works like them. I am therefore confident that I would enjoy Game of Thrones. But I am also aware that it is full of nudity and sex, and that I am made of sponge not granite. So I haven’t watched it. My heart and mind have been redeemed by Jesus for purity, not for pornography.
(Let’s not bicker about whether or not it’s “porn”. Our society is constantly pushing the boundaries of what are ‘acceptable’ levels of sex and nudity, or whether it is a problem at all. Let’s pursue holiness and not do the devil’s job for him).
There are some great resources to help us think carefully about what we watch. Common Sense Media is an excellent website that clearly explains the content of movies, games, YouTube channels and more in very specific terms. It is not just for concerned parents who are worried about what their kids watch. It is for anyone who cares about the content that they feed their own hearts and minds.
For some readers, FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) is a big concern at this point. People don’t want to miss out on anything they might enjoy. But we shouldn’t expect this to be easy. These are issues for grown-ups. It takes Mature Adults to refuse to watch something that they know will feed the lusts of their flesh. That’s what MA is supposed to mean.