Originality Note: This topic is heavily inspired from pastor CRAIG GROESCHEL's Soul Detox Theory Devotional through RightNow Media. This topic was written to fit within a series for Launch Ministry at Hope Chapel in Sterling. Credit to Pastor Groeschel where appropriate.
Have you ever seen a trend or fad grow and grow and just been utterly disturbed or disgusted by it? Maybe it’s a TikTok trend or a challenge, or perhaps it’s a style change you’re seeing or even a trend in media. What about a trend that you agreed with or found fun or exciting?
Our culture is constantly shifting and changing, and for many of us, a portion of our worldview is directly derived from our culture. Are there things that you do that you dismiss or excuse because everyone else seems to do it? Are there movies or shows you watch, games you play, or activities you are comfortable partaking in because everyone else does?
In Romans 12, Paul tells warns us about culture.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.Romans 12:2 ESV
There are certainly extreme areas in which the culture we live in clashes with our faith. We know how our faith often clashes with the values of culture on topics like money, sex, work, lies, and abortion, but there are also areas where culture affects us without us realizing it.
The people that know me are aware that I can have a sense of humor that doesn’t necessarily reflect my calling to be a pastor. Sometimes I’ll make a joke that’s a bit inappropriate or dark, and while I can trust that God can use and redeem my lesser qualities to serve his plan and make connections, that doesn’t change that they can still be harmful to myself and others. In Romans 14 Paul says we should “decide to never to put a stumbling block or hinderance in the way of a brother.”
While a “that’s what she said” joke might just be funny to me because of the shock factor and cleverness of the joke, it might prompt the wrong thoughts for a fellow believer who is struggling with temptation. It might be a stumbling block for them.
Now, where did that sense of humor come from? Well, my family is definitely a source of some of that sense of humor, but it’s also been amplified by media, games, and people I’ve chosen to spend my time with. Just because they’re normal, they’re what everyone does, does not mean they’re right for me spiritually.
There’s a TV show I’ve watched that I consider to be a pretty family-friendly show, it’s called ‘Modern Family.’ There’s no harsh language or violence, in fact it has a tendency to be very heartwarming and touching. But this show is very secular. There’s no faith or respect for God in the show and despite it being a family-focused show this lack of God shows. Sex is approached very casually, and it shows parents coming to terms, celebrating even, their children having casual sex as they become adults.
At a certain point I have to ask myself, is what I’m watching pulling me away from God? Is it beginning to normalize something that I know God doesn’t want? It wasn’t until I really took inventory of what I was consuming and how it compared to God’s plan that I was able to identify the impact some of these things in my life have had.
The culture around us affects us. “It doesn’t matter what type of music it is as long as I enjoy it” “It’s just some of the scenes that are like that, the show itself isn’t bad.” It’s so easy to just dismiss these things we injest because they’re normal.
The Message’s translation of Romans chapter 12:2 I think greatly breaks down the verse:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.Romans 12:2 MSG
Pastor Groeschel later shares an analogy that really speaks on this. “One mom told a story about her son that wanted to go and see a movie and he said, “Mom there’s only a little bit of bad stuff in it, can I go?” and the mom said “Sure, you can go. But first I want to make for you my famous brownies.” and so the boy went off to play, the mom went in the yard, got a little scoop of dog poop, just a little one, and she put it in the brownie mix. She baked the brownies, presented it to her son and said “Hey, do you want these brownies?” and he said “Of course!” and the mom said “Well, I have to tell you first, there’s a little bit of dog poop in it, but not much. Just a little bit, but not much.” and of course the boy freaked out.”
Why did the boy freak out? Because of course even just a little bit of dog poop in a good batch of brownies makes it inedible. How does that analogy apply to our culture? How does that apply to what we watch, what we listen to, what we read, and what we do? If even a little bit of it is spiritually toxic to us then we need to treat it as such. What cultural influences affect what we see as permissible? What cultural influences affect our view on the church itself or on Biblical morals?
You might be expecting me to go into a list of examples of things that are sinful… Things that are spiritually toxic that you should cut out of your life and never see again. But when approaching the issues of cultural toxicity we don’t want to accidentally make things legalistic. We don’t want to mistake what is harmful to us with what is impermissable. In 1st Corinthians chapter 6 Paul says that:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV
Let’s focus on the word “toxic.” You’ll remember in our discussion a few weeks ago I said that in real life what’s toxic to the point of fatality to one person might not be to the other. There is a certain level of exposure to cultural toxicity that cannot be avoided. That is the result of sin in the world. Sometimes exposure to cultural toxins is a necessary part of serving God’s plan.
Consider the great Chernobyl disaster. In 1986 one of the worlds worst nuclear incidents took place and contaminated areas near Pripyat with deadly levels of radioactive material. While there is still more danger and hard work that must take place to make the area safe even today, if it were not for some very brave men and women called “liquidators,” the damage the incident would have caused could have been exponentially larger.
These liquidators would prepare with special outfits and lead shields to offer some extra protection to vital organs. The men exposed themselves to large amounts of radiation to help clean small parts of Chernobyl, exposing themsleves to a specific limit of radiation before leaving and letting another liquidator take their place. After their service they would go through special showers and their clothes would be disposed of. Some people still suffered radiation poisoning shortly after. Some of them still suffered from cancer and other ailments later in life.
As Christians we are called to enter the world to shine as a light, but not to conform to it. We sometimes expose ourselves to cultural toxins, and that is not inherently sinful, but we must be aware of it. When we serve, just like the liquidators, we must prepare ourselves before hand and work to analyze and “clean” ourselves afterward.
I’m not saying that anything that contains any mention of immorality should be cut out of our lives, as that’d be impossible. What I am saying is that we need to be aware of what is damaging in our lives. We can’t dismiss the effects of culture. We can’t grow comfortable and live in this world. What would have happened if the liquidators at Chernobyl had decided to ignore the invisible radiation and set up a couch on the roof of reactor three? They would have been overtaken by it. They would have died.
Just like radiation is invisible to the eye and hard to detect, the effects of culture around us can be hard to identify. Luckily we have been gifted the proper tools. We have God’s word.
But test everything; hold fast what is good.1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV
Do not underestimate the strength of culture’s influence. Do not dismiss cultural toxins. Take inventory of the media you ingest, the people you spend time with, the games you play, and the songs you listen to. Are there cultural toxins in these things? If so, is exposing yourself to these toxins serving God in some way? If you can’t think of how then get rid of it. Even if you can see something good and just, something that you feel makes it worthwhile, consider if you are spiritually healthy enough to be exposed to it.
Consider the friends and family that you might also be exposing to cultural toxins. Think of what message you might be sending by accepting something you feel is wrong. Put everything to the test, and hold fast to what is true.