The Potential of the Internet

The internet is a phenomenal thing in several respects. The potential for data storage, global connectivity, efficient evangelism, and research capabilities that the internet provides is well worth noting. However, there is another side to the story of the internet. The “dark side,” if you will. The dark side of the internet is indeed darker than most things we have a ready access to in the 21st century. There is many a story of seemingly noble men finding their demise on the internet. Thus, the internet has the potential to be negative or positive; and there is perhaps not a thing in existence as bipolar as the internet.

The internet is capable of working as an aid along the road to heaven for ourselves and others. But we must not forget that the internet is also capable of working as an aid for us losing our own souls and being separated from our God. Now I know that for some, me describing the internet as being an aid to eternal condemnation seems to be an alarmist approach, if not completely backward in thinking. But, I assure you that by the conclusion of this chapter, it will be clear that the internet does indeed have horribly negative potential along with its positive potential.

The Negative Potential of the Internet

The Proverbial writer proclaimed, “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Prov. 14:16 ESV). If we are wise, we will approach the internet with caution. The Lord is the source of wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 3:7; 9:10), so if we approach the internet without the Lord on our mind, and without His wisdom guiding our discretion, we are the fool mentioned in Proverbs 14:16. There are several common temptations and snares on the internet. We need to be aware of them and be cautious when we are on the web. We must use discretion when we use Wi-Fi—constantly “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” while we walk in the light, by looking into His word and applying it to our lives (Eph. 5:10).

We must be aware of the internet’s “modus operandi.” The internet mainly functions as a visual stimulant (we look at it). Videos, popups, images, GIFs, etc. are all mainstays of the internet because they supply visual stimulation. With that noted, we must likewise be aware of how Scripture illustrates the importance of what we see with our eyes and ingest with our minds. In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus exclaims, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (NKJV). Jesus plainly states that if our eye is good, our whole body is full of light. However, if our eye is bad (if we view bad things), then our body is full of darkness—great darkness in fact.

Pornography

If we were to so choose, we could very easily view bad things on the internet. Usually when we think of “bad things” to be viewed on the internet, we think of pornography. Pornography is very popular on the internet. Every second over $3,000 is spent on internet pornography, over 28,000 people are actively viewing pornography, and over 350 people are typing “adult” search terms into their search engines. In 2006, the internet pornography industry raked in over 3.5 billion dollars in revenue. God forbid that a single cent of that revenue came from the wallet of a Christian. As of 2006, 12% of all websites were pornographic (4.2 million total), 25% of all search engine inquiries were pornographic in nature (68 million total), 42.7% of all internet users viewed pornography, and 35% of all downloads (1.5 billion total) were pornographic in nature (“Internet Pornography Statistics”).

Not only is internet pornography popular, it is extremely popular among teenagers. In fact, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have been exposed to internet pornography before the age of eighteen. While all pornography is ungodly, unnatural, and disgusting, there are certain behaviors which are perceived as especially disgusting and unnatural in the eyes of God (cf. Lev. 18:22-30; 20:13-16). And even these behaviors are commonly viewed online by teenagers. 69% of teenage boys, and 55% of teenage girls have viewed same-sex pornography on the internet. Even 32% of boys and 18% of girls have viewed acts of bestiality online. The bottom line is that only 3% of boys and 17% of girls have never viewed internet pornography (Gilkerson).

There are spiritual consequences to viewing pornography. Listed In Romans 1:18-31 is the moral decline of the Gentiles. We can trace their moral bankruptcy through them turning their back on God, worshiping idols, committing shameful acts of homosexuality, and being filled with all kinds of ungodly lust and disobedience. Because these individuals turned their back on God, God allowed them to be filled with dishonorable passions and receive in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26). Paul explains that these individuals do these things “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32 ESV).

Notice that the moral equivalent of doing the things which deserve death is giving approval (hearty approval NASB) to those who practice them. The unrighteousness of pornography certainly mirrors the unrighteous and shameful passion-filled moral decline of Gentiles in Romans 1. Likewise, if a Christian is viewing, lusting over, masturbating to, or buying pornography; they certainly are giving “hearty approval” to unrighteousness. Also, Christians are charged to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11 ESV). In the immediate context of this verse, God through Paul is discussing sexual immorality and lust (Eph. 5:3, 5, etc.). Christians are to have no part in such acts. Yet when Christians are pursuing them and viewing them online (perhaps even paying for them), they are certainly having a part in works of darkness. Such should not even be named among the saints (Eph. 5:3), for we know that the sexually immoral have no inheritance in heaven (Eph. 5:5).

Also, in Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus exclaims, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (ESV emp. added). When we view pornography, we are shattering Jesus’ expectations for us as Christians. Jesus is (literally) getting to the heart of the matter: adultery, fornication, sexual immorality, etc. are not things that are randomly stumbled upon by an unassuming passerby. Fornication is not like a wasp that you can accidently disturb while doing some yard work and get stung by. Fornication starts in the heart. Fornication and adultery both stem from all of the little decisions we make every day to look on members of the opposite sex with lustful intent. In fact, many men and women have testified that a porn habit turned into an addiction, and eventually led to them seeking an extramarital affair. Recently, a well-known chatroom which facilitates extramarital affairs was hacked, and its user’s data was published. Among those whose use of the cheating chatroom became public knowledge was Josh Duggar. Duggar is best known for being one of the kids (now grown and married) from the popular TLC television series 19 Kids and Counting. Duggar admitted in a public comment that his habit of viewing pornography on the internet later led him to seek an affair (“Josh Duggar Admits”). Viewing pornography is not a fun thing to do while you are bored, it has serious consequences.

Beyond the noted spiritual consequences, viewing porn also has social, physical, and neurological consequences. The negative psychological consequences of porn are well documented. Anti-pornography activist Gail Dines notes that young men who regularly view pornography “neglect school work” and “suffer from depression.” Likewise, Dr. William Struthers found that “men who use porn become controlling, highly introverted, have high anxiety, narcissistic, curious, have low self-esteem, depressed, dissociative, [and] distractible.” Struthers goes on to elaborate that a habit of viewing pornographic images creates neural pathways which are hard to rewire, thus creating a concrete habit of lusting after pornographic images and degrading women (Gross).

Pornography also distorts how the mind views sex. Sexual intercourse is a treasured right only for the married (cf. Gen. 2:18-25; Mt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 7:3-5; Heb. 13:4). Yet when individuals view sexual acts as unnaturally portrayed in pornography (mostly by the unmarried), they see a bastardization of God’s design in intercourse. It is well documented that the viewing of pornography has largely changed how men view women. Instead of fellow helpers created in the image of God, porn distorts the image of women into that of an objectified sex-bot dependent upon the every whim of their aggressive, male masters. Indeed, viewing pornography “teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings” and “gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered–something a man does by himself, for himself–by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume” (Gross). The seconds of pleasure that porn provides is not worth the psychological and social consequences. And certainly, a life of porn-filled lust is not worth an eternity separated from our Creator.

Gambling

Online gambling is an epidemic. There are thousands of online gaming sites, and it is estimated that 4% of teenagers have a gambling addiction (“Online Gambling Statistics”). Gambling in and of its self violates several Biblical principles. Gambling promotes an unhealthy work ethic (cf. 2 Thes. 3:6-15), a covetousness attitude (cf. 1 Tim. 6:6-19), situational ethics (cf. Rom. 3:8), poor stewardship (cf. Lk. 12:15-21), and flies in the face of the golden rule (Stearsman 3-9). Gambling addictions ruin lives and families. The best way to prevent a gambling addiction is to never start gambling. This is getting increasingly difficult as gambling websites become more popular. Beyond the spiritual consequences associated with gambling, the social and psychological consequences of gambling are negative and numerous. When we live out our lives, we need to continually “count the cost” of our actions (cf. Lk. 14:28-32), and according to the New York Times, the social costs of gambling outweigh the social benefits at a ratio of 3 to 1 (Grinols). Some studies suggest that $500 Billion is spent annually on gambling wagers (“Negative Effects”).  Christians will be held accountable for how they spend their money, God forbid we blow it on games of chance (cf. Lk. 12:15-21). When we approach the internet, we need to make sure that we have pure motives. We should not be seeking an opportunity to risk money on games of chance at the cost of our souls, livelihood, sanity, and health.

Gossip

Social media often is, and easily can be, used to spread gossip. According to vocabulary.com, gossip is defined as “a report (often malicious) about the behavior of other people” (“Gossip”).  Nothing about that sounds like it is something God wants us to do. With the potential for constant communication on the internet, gossip can be a real temptation for teens and adults alike. When sharing stories of others, we should think about two things: 1) Our intent, and 2) the type of information shared. If our intent is to tear others down or build ourselves up by comparison, we should keep it to ourselves. If our goal is to tear another down with sensational slander, we are violating the golden rule which states, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 7:12 NASB). If the information we’re planning to share is embarrassing or points out a fault or failure in another, we should ask ourselves why we want to share such a thing. We need to try to make sure that our words are uplifting (Col. 4:5-6). “But it’s Hard!” Certainly, “Talk is cheap when the story is good.” It can be hard not to share those often malicious stories and rumors. Especially if sharing these stories will make us feel better about our own insecurities. It boils down to self-control (cf. Prov. 25:28; Gal. 5:22-23). If a rumor is being spread online, and a friend messages us the juicy details, do we have to pass the message on? Gossip should stop in its tracks when it reaches a Christian. We need to have enough self-control to not gossip online. When we use the internet and social media to gossip, we are hiding our lamp under a basket and letting our salt lose its taste (Mt. 5:13-16). The world gossips, but Christians are to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2 NASB).

Influence

Our influence is vital as Christians. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians—you are not like him” (“Gandhi Quotes”). Obviously, he had met some Christians who had spoiled their influence. Sure, he may have had a crooked view of Jesus, but he most likely met some Christians who weren’t acting like Christians. The Bible has much to say about a Christian’s influence. In First Peter 2:12, Peter pens “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (ESV). We must keep our conduct honorable, especially among those outside of the faith (cf. Mt. 5:13-16; Phil. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:16). One of the unofficial rules for students at the Florida School of Preaching is “don’t say anything stupid.” Christians, when you are on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever, please heed this advice. If we use our Facebook to discuss how much we hate Mexican immigrants, or how badly we wish Obama would be assassinated, or how lazy the dregs of society who are addicted to food stamps are; we probably are not being as wise as we should be with our influence. Likewise, if we are sharing “sexy selfies” or sharing inappropriate material, or sexting our girlfriend/boyfriend, we definitely spoil our influence. Ponder this: If a nonbeliever were to view our Facebook page, would they be able to tell that we are a Christian? If a nonbeliever were to view our browser history or Google search history, would they be able to tell that we are Christians? If a nonbeliever followers us on Instagram or Twitter, will they able to tell that our allegiance is with God? If a nonbeliever were to view our snapchat story, or tumbler page, or kik account, would they be able to tell that we are Christians? Are we truly seeking God’s kingdom first (Mt. 6:33)? The internet and social media has wrecked the influence of Christians, and even for some, Christianity as a whole. Christian’s need to keep their priorities in check.

The Positive Potential of the Internet

Evangelism/Influence

Prior to Jesus’ ascension, and proceeding His resurrection, Jesus gives what is known as “the Great Commission” in which our Lord charges those eleven present Apostles to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15 ESV). We ought to try our very best to do likewise. When we realize that the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is the power of salvation (Rm. 1:16), we ought to be itching to spread it. If the word of God saves souls (Rm. 10:17; Jas. 1:21), then Christians should be constantly looking for ways to effectively spread that word to those who have yet to hear or understand it. There is no God-ordained method of spreading the gospel. This means that we can go into the world to reach the lost in a number of ways while staying under the authority of God. We could take an airplane, drive, walk, sail, ride, leave cards at restaurants, pin literature on bulletin boards, even just strike up conversations along the way.

This is where the internet can shine. As a means of spreading the gospel, there very well may not be a more efficient way to reach more people than the internet. As an example, one blog article posted on the Christian blog site Radically Christian about the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins was shared by 1,000 people on Facebook. If each individual who shared the article had 700 Facebook friends (as an average), this means that 700,000 people potentially saw this article containing the truth of God’s plan of salvation. This is the positive power of the internet. Even if one soul is led to Christ because of efforts on the internet, its existence is well worth it.

Blogs and social media (especially the combination of the two) can be a great way to reach the lost with the word of God. There are many websites devoted to blog building out there (WordPress, Blogger are among the best). These are platforms on which the user can write and add media to posts and articles and share them on the internet to be seen by the masses. As an example, Hiram Kemp and I run a modest blog using the platform WordPress. The blog itself has 30+ followers. Plus, the articles are shared on several social media accounts. When it’s all said and done, the literature posted on the blog can potentially be seen by upwards to 10,000 people.

Likewise, social media can be (and ought to be) used for the purposes of God. Nearly everyone uses some form of social media. Christianity ought to permeate every single aspect of our lives, even our social media use. Jesus Christ wants disciples; individuals willing to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow righteousness day after day (Mt. 16:24). Unfortunately, it can be tempting to want to be an undercover Christian on social media. We need to remember that when we were baptized, we put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). Paul put it like this:  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 ESV). The fact of the matter is that Forest Antemesaris died on July 7, 2013 when he was plunged into the watery grave of baptism. But does my Facebook reflect that? Do I still “Like” the same things? Have my statuses changed at all since my conversion? They should have. And I, as a new creature, ought to use social media to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Most Christians have many “friends” on Facebook who aren’t Christian. This gives us a humongous opportunity to reach out to the lost, and to be the light and salt that we ought to be (Mt. 5:13-16). We shouldn’t hide our lamp under a basket, nor should we let our salt lose its taste. In other words, we should be a Christian all the time, wear righteousness on our sleeve, and try our best to be a godly influence on all those in our social circle. Social media is a great place to do so. When we quote a Bible verse, post a Biblical truth, or show our love for God and our fellow man on Facebook (Twitter, Instagram, etc.), we are effectively being a good influence and letting our light shine.

Every single one of our friends/followers on social media ought to know that we are Christian. It should be obvious. When we let our light shine on social media, or invite a friend to services, or start a conversation about God with an instant message, we are harnessing the positive potential of the internet. There is so much religious confusion and postmodern bile on social media. But we have the potential to cut through all of that with the word of God. We have the power to use social media for good. We have the power to use the internet for God’s purpose. But whether we will or not is completely up to us.

Congregations likewise can benefit from having websites, blogs, and social media profiles, by which they can reach out to the masses. The internet is too popular not to use to the advantage of the furtherance of the gospel and of God’s church. A congregation with a well-maintained website, blog, or social media presence benefits greatly. Today, we expect nearly everything to have an online presence. If our congregation does not, we are missing out.

Service

The internet also has a large potential in the realm of service. There are crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe.com, GiveForward.com, and others which supply Christians an opportunity to give of their means via the internet. Giving to the needs of others is a foundation of the Christian faith (cf. Mt. 5:42; 6:2-4; 25:31-46; Acts 2:43-45; 4:32-35; 20:35; Gal. 6:2, 10). The internet can easily be used as an expedient for such an action. Recently, a friend of mine had a family member whose house burnt down. They were able to go online and give of their means to help their family over the internet (as were others). Likewise, I have known several Christian men who were able to use online expedients as a way to raise support in order that they may attend a preacher training school. There are many online campaigns to raise funds for Christians struggling with loss, medical expenses, property damages, etc. In a circumstance where we may not otherwise even be aware of the needs of our brothers and sisters across the country, we can know their need, and give them financial aid through the expediency of the internet. Even the Florida School of Preaching has several online means by which individuals can donate to the school.

Edification/Encouragement

While the internet may be used as a platform for evangelism, it can likewise be used as a platform for edification and encouragement. Edification is the process of instructing or improving morally and intellectually, and to encourage is to give support, confidence, or hope to someone (Soanes). Christians are in constant need of edification and encouragement, and the practice of edifying and encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ has a strong Biblical precedent (cf. Acts 11:23; 14:22; 15:32; 16:40; Rom. 14:19; 15:4; 2 Cor. 12:19; Eph. 4:29; 1 Thes. 5:11). There are blogs and other internet resources which can serve as a treasure trove of encouragement for Christians. Sites like Apologetics Press, Christian Courier, and others can serve as a priceless resource in times of doubt, questioning, or when in need of edification. Likewise, the lectureship for which this book is written will be streamed live online for purposes of edification, encouragement, and evangelism.

Fellowship

Social media can be a great way for Christians to stay in touch and encourage one another. Social media can be used to advertise gospel meetings, area-wide sings, breakfasts, brunches, and lunches. It can be used to catch up and to vent frustrations with a brother or sister who cares. Social media and the internet can really shine when it comes to asking for prayer. One status, and instantly 1,000s of individuals can be aware of our needs and failings and pray for us. With social media, the Christian has a 24/7 access to brothers and sisters in Christ, and this feature ought to be taken advantage of.

Research

The internet also has inexhaustible research potential. As a testament to this, most of the works cited in this chapter were accessed online. Whatever we may be researching, there are many reportable resources on the internet. Of course, we must use discretion, because there are also many false things on the internet. It doesn’t take much to create a website these days, so we must be careful. Often times I have witnessed discussions online between two opposing individuals who are sending each other links back and forth to sites which have contradictory information on them. But, when discretion is properly applied, the internet can be a priceless resource for research. Many books these days have an online format, and many websites are created to be used in research. The days of having to order an entire volume of encyclopedias is over (these are days I have never witnessed for myself). Today, we can easily access the same information online.

Tips for Teens

Teens struggling with the dark side of the internet have several avenues of help. But first, teenagers need to be aware of their struggles and be willing to change. With how popular pornography use and addiction is amongst teens, we would be naïve to believe that Christian teens are unaffected by this culture’s storm of pornography. If you are teen struggling with pornography, the first thing you need to do is tell somebody and reach out for accountability. This may be difficult, but when what you become directly accountable to a friend or parent for what you view online, it can help. There are several accountability apps and other software which report search history and browser history to a party of your choosing. Such apps and software include X3 Watch, Accountable2You, and others. There are websites and blogs created to help pornography users kick the habit, including XXXChurch.com, FightTheNewDrug.com, and “Overcome Online” (a blog on Start2Finish.org). More than anything, teens need to be willing to follow the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (ESV). Jesus is telling us that we need to be willing to do anything we can in order to avoid sin and temptation. If you cannot handle a smartphone because you are constantly watching porn, downgrade to a throwback flip-phone and earn your way back to a smartphone. If you cannot handle having a laptop because you are constantly gossiping and looking at inappropriate images, ask your parents to hide it from you until you think you are responsible enough to handle it. If you want to change, you can. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Tips for Parents

Parents, please hold your kids accountable. If you are made aware that your teen is using the internet to his or her own demise, discipline them. Especially if you are paying for their Wi-Fi, purchased their laptop, or pay their phone bill. There is software available by which you can monitor your child’s history on the internet, and considering how popular pornography use and addiction is amongst teens, I would highly suggest the use of this software. The same software which was mentioned above can be used for this purpose, as well as CovenantEyes.com. Parents need to have an open dialogue with their children about the risks and responsibility of internet use. Teens need to know that internet use is a privilege, not a right. Also, teens need to understand that there are consequences for their actions online (change the home Wi-Fi password, confiscate technology, etc.). Sometimes teens are too nearsighted and stubborn to see the negative consequences of their actions. A loving, yet firm response can lift a teen out of the fire of inappropriate internet use.

Overall, the internet has both positive and negative potential. When Christians use Wi-Fi, they need to temper their actions with the wisdom which comes from above which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (Jas. 3:17 NASB). Notice, the wisdom from above is first pure. Therefore, when we approach Wi-Fi with the wisdom of God, we will use it to do pure things. Whatever a Christian does is to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). This includes the use of the internet! Ultimately, as free moral agents, we have the choice to do what we want. When we use the internet, let us as Christians use it for the glorification of God and the furtherance of God’s kingdom! Sure, we can have fun and chat with friends on the internet, but we should not forget the potential we have to spread the gospel online. Likewise, we need to be weary of the over-use and inappropriate use of the internet. “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14 NASB).


 Works Cited

Gilkerson, Luke. “Teens and Porn: 10 Stats You Need to Know.” CovenantEyes. Covenant Eyes, n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.

Grinols, Earl. L. “Too Many Negative Side Effects to Online Gambling.” NYTimes. The New York Times Company, 29 July 2010. Web. 22 August 2015.

“Gossip.” Vocabulary.com. Vocabulary.com, n.d. Web. 26 September 2015.

Gross, Craig. “7 Negative Effects of Porn.” XXXChurch. XXXChurch, 10 September 2012. Web. 31 July 2015.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001. Print.  “Internet Pornography Statistics.” Top Ten Reviews. Purch Publishers, n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.

“Josh Duggar Admits Porn Addiction Led To Ashley Madison Affairs.” FightTheNewDrug. Fight The New Drug, 21 August 2015. Web. 22 August 2015.

“Negative Effects.” RehabInternational. Rehab International – Drug & Alcohol Rehab Guides, n.d. Web. 26 September 2015

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.   Print.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.  

“Online Gambling Statistics & Facts.” Techaddiction. TechAddiction, 26 September 2015. Web. 26 September 2015.

Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson, eds. Concise Oxford English dictionary 2004 : n. pag. Print.

Stearsman, Jackie. M. What About Gambling?. Lakeland: Stearsman’s Publications, 1988. Print.

This manuscript appears in the 2016 edition of the Florida School of Preaching Lectureship book: “Do you understand Sin?”

 

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