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Message 1, Purity in a Digital Age:

The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. Technology makes information more accessible every day. This changing digital scene brings with it new challenges to maintaining purity as a Christian—for singles, for couples, and for families as a whole, including children. Christians are called to guard their hearts, and in this session, Tim Challies recommends some tools that do just that. He also explains some ways of bringing about change within one’s heart in order to fight against and repent of sin.

Message Transcript

Good morning, and thank you for being one of the pre-conferencers, the people who are going to get every little bit of value out of this event. That’s the way to do it, and I wonder, as I start out, I wonder, I wonder if you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming a little bit about those times when there were still wild frontiers here in America.

Have you ever wondered, just found yourself wondering about what it would be like to be one of those first explorers, one of those first pioneers, those people who lived when this country was still unknown and uncharted?

And as you know, they began in the east and they pushed west and they had no real idea of what lay ahead, and I guess it must have been thrilling but also kind of scary, intimidating not knowing what lay ahead. When they went over the next hill, would there be just more endless isolation? Would they stumble across some new civilization? Would they come up against the end of the world? They just didn’t know.

Well, those days have come and gone of course. This whole continent, this whole world has been charted and mapped, and now most of us carry those maps in our pockets with us on our phones at all times. It’s a very different day. But, we still live on a frontier, we live on the frontier of a new world, a digital world, and it’s changing everything, it’s changing everyone.

We’re living at the very cusp of this digital explosion that’s ushering in a whole new kind of world. It’s changing everything, at the same time, there’s a sense in which it’s not very changing very much at all. Even though we’re people who have new technologies in our hands and new technologies in our pockets, we’re still the same people who have indwelling sin in our hearts. We’re still people living in this world created by God and under the sovereignty of God.

The French, those skeptical French, they’ve got a saying I love. They say “Plus les choses, plus me la chose” — the more things change, the more things really just stay the same.” And I think they’re on to something here because so much has changed in this world around us, but we’re still living as God’s people in God’s world, we’re still charged with the same creation mandate, we’re still called to the same great commission, we’re still battling against sin, we’re still fighting to put on holiness, we’re still wishing and praying for Christ’s return. So, even though the circumstances may have changed a little bit, the call remains, and the call goes on.

Well, I’m here this morning to talk just briefly about purity in a digital world, and when we talk about this digital world, we’re talking about this massive, massive explosion that’s taken place in just the last few decades, and it has changed everything. It’s changed how we learn, how we communicate, how we access information, it’s even changed how we understand our world. It’s transformed the world around us.

Now, people who study technology, everyone who studies technology understands something. They understand that every new technology brings with it opportunity and risk. Every new technology ushers in some good benefits, and every new technology often ushers in some grave risks, and that makes sense because technology exists in this world. It exists in this world where it too is caught up in this battle between good and evil.

Well, in the few minutes we’ve got together this morning, I want to take a look at the world around us and to just suggest a few ways that we need to be aware of some of those risks that we come across in this world. Before I go even one step farther, I want to say this, technology is good.

Technology in the big picture, capital ‘T’ technology is good. It’s one of the ways we obey God. It’s one of the ways we carry out our creation mandate, one of the ways we carry out the great commission is through technology. We cannot exercise dominion over this earth. We cannot subdue creation, we cannot take the gospel to the farthest corners of the world without technology.

So, in the big picture, technology is a good gift of God, but again, it exists in this world. Like everything else, it too is subject to the fall and so we need to see how every technology can be used for good and how it can be used for evil, and I believe the Bible calls us to do this. I believe the Bible calls us to closely examine everything around us.

When the Bible calls us to live as Christians, it always talks in terms of putting off and putting on. You know this from when you read the New Testament. There’s always putting off, putting off old habits and patterns and behaviors and then putting on new habits and new patterns and new behaviors, and I just want to follow that kind of pattern this morning.

I want to look at some things in this world we’ll be tempted to do, we need to put those things off, and I want to look at the much better alternative, the way we can honor God by putting on better behaviors. So, we’ll talk about purity, but I don’t want to focus narrowly just on sexual purity, though that’s obviously a serious concern in the digital world, but a whole life of purity, a life of purity before the Lord, and I’ll give you six things to consider, six things to consider.

The first three will speak to each one of us personally, each one of us as individuals, and then the second set of three will speak to families. So, three for individuals and then three that will focus more on families — the family living purely in the digital age.

So, let’s talk first about three personal temptations, temptations that each one of us, everybody in this room will face at one time or another. These are not unique temptations in this digital world, this isn’t the only time people have faced these temptations, but they’re carried on by the digital world, they’re enhanced by the digital world so we need to be especially vigilant when we think about them.

So, here’s the first instruction I would have for you is this, in this digital world, reject distraction and choose or put on focus. Put off all of that distraction that pollutes this digital world and instead, embrace deep focus and deep concentration.

Now, it’s no great secret, you’ll know this, that this digital world brings all kinds of new ways to be distracted. Our technologies, it seems at least they’re always evolving toward distraction, they’re evolving away from focus. Every new generation of cell phone as an example, it finds new ways of calling us away from one thing and calling us toward another thing.

They’ve gone from beeping, to buzzing, to flashing, to chirping, to whatever they can do, whatever they need to do to gain our attention, and in that way they’re kind of symbolic of this digital world. And what’s amazing is that over time, we’ve trained ourselves to obey them, right? The phone buzzes, and we respond to it. It’s worth thinking about.

If you feel the need to respond every time your phone beeps or buzzes or flashes, do you own your phone or does it own you? Who’s really in charge here if you’re the one who’s always responding to it when it beckons?

So, our devices, they evolve toward distraction, and here’s my concern is that over time, we actually become people who enjoy that distraction. We start to long for that kind of distraction, we almost come to depend upon it.

Every time we’re bored, we want to be distracted. Every time our thoughts come to the end of a flow, we want to be distracted, we want something to jump in there, and over time we’re finding it harder and harder to focus. More and more difficult to do one thing at a time and to do that one thing with all of our strength, with all of our focus and energy we just love to be distracted, and there’s a cost to this. You know that as Christians, we are called by God to continually grow in wisdom, but you cannot grow in wisdom without putting in effort. Wisdom requires effort.

Now, information is easy, right? We all have information around us. We have more access to information now than anyone ever before has had. Information is easy, but wisdom, wisdom comes only through concentration, only through meditation. Wisdom comes when people ponder information, when they apply God’s word to the information around them, they let that sink deep down into their hearts and into their souls and into their lives. But, how can we meditate, how can we concentrate if we’re always distracted?

Now, for many, many years since my childhood, I’ve done daily devotions using a printed Bible as I’m sure many of you have as well. And you know what, that Bible never once interrupted me, it never once distracted me. There was not a single time I was doing my morning devotions, and suddenly a notification popped up on my Bible saying, “You got to watch this YouTube video.” There was never a time I found myself thinking, “I should just, one button and I could be watching Netflix instead of doing this.” Right?

The printed Bible is a one function device, and it does that function very, very well. That’s the only thing it does, and it does it almost perfectly. Now today, we’re starting to migrate to digital Bibles. I, myself, I love using Logos on my tablet, I love sitting there in a sermon looking at that. It gives me a — I really enjoy the form and the function, but there may be a cost here. At least, we need to be careful here.

There are lots of benefits to reading your Bible on your phone or reading it on your tablet. Who hasn’t been glad at one time or another that the Bible is right there when they’ve wanted to call up a verse or they wanted to think about something? But, it does open us up to all of these distractions. If we’re not careful, we’ll be reading the Bible but then be distracted by all these other things that device can do. You’re distracted by that text message or that, that notification of your friend posting a picture of his lunch or whatever it is.

All these things, they can be irresistible for us, and we just can’t help but look. And yet, here’s the consistent call of the Bible, ponder this book, think about this book, meditate on this book, focus your mind on it and don’t let it drift away until God has spoken to you.

So, as people of the word, we need to ponder the world around us and we need to ponder God’s word, and that can only happen when we put aside all of those distractions and just focus. So Christian, put off distraction and put on concentration and meditation. Control your devices, and then control your habits so that they serve you as you grow in wisdom and holiness and Godliness.

There’s a second instruction to each one of us, reject isolation and embrace visibility. Put off the isolation of anonymity and put on the accountability that comes with visibility. Go back in history just a little while, and Admiral Lord Nelson once said, “Beyond Gibraltar, every man is a bachelor.”

Here’s what he meant, once British sailors sailed away from the borders of their own land, of their own empire, a change came over them. They became different people. Once they moved beyond the accountability that comes with visibility, they changed.

As they sailed away from civilization, from their wives, from their children, from their families, form all of these things, they also sailed away from civilized behavior where they were alone, where they were unknown, where there was no accountability. They were free to behave however they wanted and they did. You can read a biography of someone like Newton, John Newton, you can read about what he and his fellow sailors did and it’s shocking and it’s horrifying, and they never would have behaved like that in their own country.

Well, on the internet today, it’s very easy for all of us to live beyond Gibraltar. It’s easy for us to inhabit places where we are anonymous, where we lose all of that great accountability that comes when we’re visible, when we’re living our lives before other people.

One of the very first Christian books I ever read was a book on character. Simply that, character, and it shaped me deeply because the author’s point that he came to again and again is this: character is who you are when no one is looking. It’s that simple.

Do you want to know who you really are? Do you want to know what you really love? Do you want to know your spiritual maturity? Then, take an accounting of what you do when no one else is looking, when the night’s dark, everyone else has gone to bed, you’re all alone — that right there, that is who you are. You reveal far more of your character in isolation than in community.

So, let me ask, when it’s just you and your computer and the internet, who are you? What do you do? How do you behave? Who are you when you go beyond Gibraltar?

Several years ago I wrote a book about pornography and since then, I’ve received hundreds and hundreds of emails from men, men who are just utterly weighed down by the weight of their sin, of their addiction.

They want to stop, they can’t stop, they don’t even know how to stop. They’re batting these competing desires, they love it and they hate it, and my wife and I have gotten so many emails from women who are brokenhearted when they found out what their husbands are doing in isolation. I’ve seen a whole class of people arise on the internet who take it upon themselves to be the church’s watch dogs, they peddle in gossip, and they peddle in rumors, and they call it spiritual discernment.

They want to stop, they can’t stop, they don’t even know how to stop. They’re batting these competing desires, they love it and they hate it, and my wife and I have gotten so many emails from women who are brokenhearted when they found out what their husbands are doing in isolation. I’ve seen a whole class of people arise on the internet who take it upon themselves to be the church’s watch dogs, they peddle in gossip, and they peddle in rumors, and they call it spiritual discernment.

But, by in large, they’re people who are hiding away. They’re not known, they’re not out in the light, they’re hiding away in invisibility and anonymity. They don’t want to be seen, and so they hide out in this dark corner of the internet. They go beyond Gibraltar, and when they go, they leave behind Christian love, Christian charity. So much of this happens because people refuse to embrace visibility. They do not open up their lives to Christian brothers and sisters, they don’t seek input or counsel from others, they use these amazing digital technologies that can do so much good, they use them to feed the flesh instead of serving the Lord.

So Christian, you need to reject the isolation that comes so easily in this world. It is so, so easy in this world to be invisible, to be anonymous, to have two personalities, who you are when people are looking, who you are when nobody’s looking. You need to live the same life online and offline, be the same person behind your screen as away from your screen. Put off, put off that anonymity, that invisibility and put on accountability, put on community.

And here’s my third instruction for each one of us, is reject indulgence and choose self-control. You know, every year the Oxford English Dictionary they evaluate the English language. They just look out at the English language and they choose some words, these words aren’t being used anymore we’ll take them away, these words have come in and we’ll start using those words. Based on my time in Florida so far, I think the word ‘selfie stick’ will be coming in very soon.

Amazing how many people are carrying those things around. But, last year, the Oxford English Dictionary added this word to the dictionary, they added ‘binge watch.’ Binge watch, here’s the definition: to watch multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.

Now, you think about the word ‘binge,’ binge does not sound like the kind of word that should be associated with Christians. But, who of us hasn’t fallen prey at one time or another to something like this? And really, the newest trend in television shows is not to release it over a long period of time, but to dump the whole thing out there on day one and see how many people will watch the entire series in a single day or in a single week. This is binge watching, and it’s just one of the ways that we can indulge and over-indulge in this digital world.

Today’s average teenager, as per the last study I saw, is sending 3,364 text message a month. It sounds compulsive to me. The average adult is averaging more than eight hours of screen time a day, and once you get over 65 it rockets upward in front of TV’s and computers and other things. That sounds compulsive. More than one third of women between the ages of 18 and 34, before they even get out of bed in the morning, they get their phone and they check Facebook to see what’s happening. That sounds compulsive too.

And then there’s our habit of responding every time our phone beckons for our attention. What ever happened to self-control? Whatever happened to it? And time would fail us to speak of the indulgence of pornography or all the gossip blogs out there, or when you’re supposed to be working and you click a link, and then click another link and another link, and before you know it two hours have gone by and you’ve accomplished absolutely nothing.

I believe in this world, self-control is a lost virtue or a misplaced virtue at any case, and that may be especially true for people who hold to reformed theology because it seems someone’s always close to playing the legalism card, that putting self-control in place might just be legalism putting rules in place, but you know what? The Bible calls for self-control many times in many different ways. It says it’s an undeniable fruit of the holy spirit, because the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But this fast-paced digital world, it caters to our desire for indulgence and we allow it to, and you know, once you relax self-control in one area of life you just take your foot off the pedal a little bit there, you open up your life for a whole cascade of sin and indulgence to creep in.

You’re never far from letting go in other areas when you let go of one. So much, so much in this digital world brings us so much good, but, like so much else it’s good in moderation. It is best in moderation. When we let go of self-control, we find diminishing returns. We become enslaved to those things, and the more we do them, the less we enjoy them. That’s the insanity of sin.

So, reject indulgence and instead display self-control. Put to death those compulsive behaviors and bring to life the fruit of the spirit. Take ownership of your devices, of your technology before they take ownership of you. Again, there’s so many ways in this world that we can use these things for good. There are so many ways we can use these new devices to carry out that creation mandate and that great commission, so many ways you can use your phone or your Facebook account to do good to others and bring glory to God, but we’re always surrounded by these temptations and we must, we must battle against them.

So Christian, reject distraction, reject isolation, reject indulgence and in their place put on concentration and mediation. Put on visibility and accountability, put on discipline and self-control. These are personal temptations I believe each one of us comes up against here in this digital world. There are three things to consider personally.

Let me move now, shift focus a little bit to families. This is an area in my own life that’s growing as I try and instruct people on the digital family, an area that’s been very underserved so far. So, I want to speak to parents here and give you three ways you need to put off and put on in this digital world, three temptations you will have and three ways to battle against them. Here are three instructions for you.

The first instruction is this, reject ignorance and choose education. Put off ignorance and put on knowledge. You know, whenever a new technology comes into society, whenever it invades society, we always see this consistent pattern. The older people tend to reject that technology, the younger people tend to embrace that technology, right?

The older people, they’re perfectly content with their technologies as they exist now. I’ve got my printed Bible, I see no reason I’d ever want to move to an iPad Bible, and that’s fine, but the younger people, they see this thing that is much more natural to them, and they jump all over that new thing.

Now, here’s what happens, when a new technology comes along, the older people like parents, they tend to remain ignorant about that technology. They just aren’t interested, they don’t see the value, they’re even intimidated by it, and so they never bother to investigate it, they never really bother to figure it out.

Instead, they just hand these things over to their children and let their children figure it out, and that means their children are the ones who bear all the risk.

Just think about the dawn of the internet, you go back a few years, this thing called the internet came along and everyone was talking about this thing, like ‘This thing is the future. Everybody, parents, you’ve got to get your kids on the internet, this thing, they’ve got to know how to use this thing.’ And they were right.

So, parents got the internet, they signed up with AOL or whatever it was, they got an account, they handed it over to their children, they said, ‘Kids, figure this thing out.’ And you’ve got an entire generation of young men addicted to pornography.

Why? Because the parents did not do what the parents should have done. It’s so easy to blame young men for what happened, but I think we’ve got to shift at least some of the blame to the parents, the parents who chose to remain ignorant, they did not investigate, they just handed it off to their children.

So, I want to call upon you parents, to reject ignorance and to choose education. As new technologies come along, as existing technologies evolve, you need to remain educated about them. Before you hand your child that shiny new gadget or before you allow them to join whatever the next big social network is, you need to investigate. You need to educate yourself.

You’re here today, so you’re off to a good start. You’re starting, but it’s only a start. You need to make it a point to understand what your children are doing, how they’re using these things. You need to try the apps they’re using, you need to use the devices they use, you need to just go online and look for information. How are people using these things? What are these apps all about?

Look for benefits and look for risks. Understand your temptation here, you will face the temptation to just put it all aside, just let your kids go with it. It may be the least interesting thing in the world to you, but you need to do it.

I’ve been amazed at how many parents let their children use that app called ‘SnapChat.’ As I traveled around, people ask me about it often, “My child’s using this, should I be concerned?” Well, SnapChat is just an app, a very, very popular app that allows people to share photos. No big deal, right? There’s lots of apps that allow people to share photos, but here’s the catch, SnapChat’s photos disappear after just a few seconds. So, it’s there on your phone and then it’s gone.

Now, why does that app exist? That app was created specifically so people could share nude photos of them with one another, and not bear as much of the risk of other people finding it or other people sharing it. But parents haven’t done their groundwork, they don’t know why this app exists. It will be used that way sooner or later; if that’s why it was created, at some point the kids will use it that way, and then the parents act shocked, “How could my child have done this?” Well, that’s what the app is for, eventually it will be used that way.

That’s just one of many examples. Parents, reject that temptation to be passive and to remain ignorant, and instead force yourself to be educated about what your children are doing and what they’re using.

Second instruction to parents, to families, reject folly and choose responsibility. Put off foolishness and choose responsibility. Here’s what I mean, today in this digital world we’re handing our children power tools and then we’re acting all shocked and surprised when they cut their hands off. That’s absurd.

Parents, we should expect that our children will make serious mistakes as we use these things, especially if we’re not guiding them. So parents, you don’t just need to educate yourself, you need to take the leading role in educating your children.

You need to have a plan, you need to have a plan for introducing new technologies to your home and to your children, and you need to have a plan that monitors them as they use these things, because again, you will face that temptation to just, to just hand them over. Instead, you need to embrace the responsibility of having a plan, and that plan needs to account for training them, it needs to account for monitoring them.

Not too long ago, I spoke to someone whose young child, and eight year old girl was waking up early in the mornings before mom and dad were up, and she’d grab the family iPad and she would go and look at pornography on that thing, an eight-year-old girl. But her parents had never taught her, they had never imagined, they had never educated themselves, they never thought about how this thing might be used. She had been exposed to something and before her mind was even old enough to grasp what she was seeing, she was out looking for it.

Think about training a child to drive a car, the last thing you would do when your child turns 16 is just hand them the keys and say, “Go out, have a good time, make sure you’ve got the car home by midnight.” Right? That would be absurd.

Instead, you get in the car with them and you take them off to a mall parking lot or something and they drive around slowly, and you introduce them to the different functions, and maybe if they do really well, you let them drive home, and over time they earn the right to go farther and farther afield. Eventually, they earn the right to drive on their own, eventually they earn the right to take other people in the car with them. As they prove themselves, they get more and more privilege. As they fail, you revoke or rescind their privileges.

Parents, you have no business handing your children a mobile phone or signing them up on Facebook or anything else without first teaching them and guiding them. If the Bible says anything about children, it says that folly is bound up in the heart of a child, right? It’s the consistent message of Proverbs. Young people are lacking in wisdom, and they desperately need you, you their parents need to guide them.

So, when you give your child that computer, that mobile phone, that social media account, you are giving them something that has immense power. They can use it to do so much good, they can use it to do so much evil, but if folly is bound up in the heart of a child you must assume that unless you guide them, unless you instruct them, they will use it for bad purposes, and so you need a plan, a plan that will help you help them use these things responsibly.

I know it can seem like the hardest thing in the world, but parents, you’ve just simply got to have a plan, you’ve got to train your children. So, reject the folly of just handing all these things to your children without instructing them, and instead embrace the responsibility of training them.

One last instruction, reject fear and choose familiarity. After all I’ve said here, it would probably be easy to just look out at the landscape and say, “You know what, it’s not worth it. I’m taking the Amish approach here and just, I will not have anything to do with these technologies. It’s just not worth it. I see the risks, and I don’t think the benefit is worth it.”

I, as a parent, trust me, I’ve felt that same thing, but we can’t do that. We simply can’t, because this is the world our children need to live in. We can’t go back to the last world that was a world of books, right? We’re in this digital world, and we have to train our children to live in it. How much better is it for you to train them to live in this world now than to just set them out later and have them figure out on their own?

So, this is your solemn responsibility before the Lord — train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord even as they use a mobile phone, even as they get their first Facebook account, do not give in to fear.

I’m often asked if people can — if I can predict the next great wave of technology. You know, on the other side of this digital world, what’s coming next? What will be the next big thing? I never really know what to say except this, as I look to the future, I can predict that God will use every one of these new technologies in amazing ways. God will glorify Himself through them. No matter who created them, no matter what they were created for, sooner or later God will do amazing things through that technology. How do I know?

Because we can just look to history and see it. When writing was first — when writing was first invented or writing first came along, people started taking their thoughts out of their minds and putting it down on paper.

There were a lot of people who were very, very concerned. They would say, “You don’t know anything if it’s on paper instead of your brain.” Christians were concerned, God followers were concerned, but what did the Lord do? He recorded His own words, the Bible on that paper, on that Papyrus. So, even today thousands of years later, we can look at them and see this is what God’s Word said. It was recorded there for us.

One of the greatest technologies when Jesus was on this earth was the Roman road system. What was it created for? To subjugate peoples, to move soldiers quickly from one place to another. How did God use those Roman roads? Well, the same roads that carried the soldiers, they carried the missionaries as they went out from Jerusalem into all the world taking the gospel with them, they went over those roads and the gospel went quickly. The printing press came along in the 1500’s, people were terrified of this explosion of written material. What would happen?

Historians even believe the very first thing printed on Gutenberg’s press was a Roman-Catholic indulgence, it was right away being used for bad purposes, but what happened? Soon, the printing presses were just churning out Bibles, and that sparked reformation, and the Bible became the most printed and best-selling book of all time. Radio came along, and suddenly the gospel was being broadcast all over the world.

Television came along, the gospel was being broadcast on the television. Apps came along, and I’m grateful for those Christians who saw the opportunity, because today, so many people are reading the Bible on their phone, reading the Bible through an app, and that’s great, that is good. More and more people are experiencing God’s word through their device, and that is OK, that’s beautiful.

So, let me end with this, we tend to think, as we look out at this digital world, we tend to think no one has ever had to endure what we are enduring today. No one has ever had to deal with anything this intimidating, but, time after time, after time, all throughout history, the world has witnessed these explosions in technology that have changed everything, and today we’re at the frontier of one of those.

Literally, we’re just figuring this out. It’s up to you and I to figure out how to use these devices to the glory of God. But, we can have every faith, we can have every faith that someday we’ll look at digital technologies like we look at the book today. We look at the book, we forget that it’s technology, but it is, and it’s a beautiful technology. We look at it as if it’s harmless, near perfect. We see all the benefits it brings us.

So instead of fear, instead of fearing these new things, get familiar with them. Instead of fearing with them, investigate them and look, how can we use these things for God’s glory? How can we use these things to advance God’s cause? As Christians, lets carefully evaluate and investigate the benefits and the risks. Let’s learn how we can use all of these things to carry out God’s calling. Let’s use them all for the good of others, and the glory of God. Thank you.