Of Sins and Cinemas

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by Spencer Harmon

Iron Man 3.  The Great Gatsby.  Star Trek.  Man of Steel.  The Wolverine.  300.

Within the next three months, you are most likely going to be invited to see one of these movies.  And not only these, a vast array of other highly anticipated summer films.  Your favorite stars, your favorite stories, during your favorite season.  From the ultra-conservative who only watches movies recommended by their pastor, to the movie connoisseur who finds “gospel” even in the most explicit films, the cinema often creates blurry lines for Christians who live in between two worlds. Here are a few categories and cautions to be thinking about as you consider going to the theater for the hottest summer flicks.

Research.  You should never feel victimized by sin at the movie theater.  In our day, there are several resources available to you to aid in making a decision about going to see a movie at the theater.  First, a simple glance at the rating of a movie can save you a lot of heartache.  If the movie is rated R for sexual content and nudity, don’t go.  Is this legalism?  No.  It’s fleeing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and it will help you see God (Matthew 5:8).  Yet, some movies demand more careful thought.  At this point, I always find it helpful to check a movie review site.  You can find sites that offer a Christian perspective, or just the facts.  Either way, you should never walk out of the theater feeling taken advantage of – the resources are available.  Take and use!

Bail.  Sometimes, whether because of neglect or some other outlying circumstance, you will find yourself in the theater when the movie goes downhill.  If the movie is causing you to sin, you should leave.  Walking out of the theater does several things.  First, it tells the truth.  When you leave the theater during a sex scene, you are telling the truth about marriage, sex, covenant love, and purity.  When you leave the theater during uncalled for, excessive, cruel, and unnecessary gore and violence, you are telling the truth about courage, honor, dignity, and human worth.  Second, it provokes conversation.  Why did you leave the theater?  Why do you care so much about what you watch that it would cause you to walk out?  Third, and most importantly, it protects your soul.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit by the things that we do and say (Ephesians 4:30), and we should be striving to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).  Sometimes, obedience means saying excuse me, sidestepping out of the aisle, and waiting in the lobby of the theater.

Engage.  No matter what you are watching, you should watch movies like a Christian.  There are glorious amounts of truth to be gleaned at the cinema, but horrendous amounts of deceit to be rejected as well.  Ask yourself good questions while watching the film:  What are the makers of this film trying to say to me?  How do the relationships, circumstances, and actions of the characters relate to how the Bible presents life?  Hebrews 5:14 says that mature Christians are those who, “…have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” Movies present wonderful opportunities to exercise moral discernment.  Don’t watch passively.

Engage Together.  Let movies that you see with friends lead to good discussion.  It is good at times to take a few moments to gawk at incredible special effects in the movies, but if that is all you ever talk about you are missing out on a world of fellowship.  Ask questions in the car on the way not just about things you liked and disliked, but things you agreed with and disagreed with.  Let the movie spur you on to depth.  Movies can lead to conversations about war, marriage, love, hate, relationships, divorce, death, eternity, God, politics, and a million other important life issues.  Engage in these discussions during the summer – let these talks take you late into the night.

Beware of Infiltration.  There is nothing like a steady diet of Hollywood to corrupt your view on beauty, truth, and goodness.  Don’t forget that the Bible says that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain (Proverbs 31:30) when you see nothing but coke-bottle figures, and rough whisked buff tough guys presented as beauty.  Don’t forget that you are called to forgive and show grace (Ephesians 4:32), even though revenge is portrayed as the only way to respond to hurt.  All too easily, Hollywood begins informing your values instead of Scripture.  It rouses your feelings before faith, your passions before principles.

Beware of Saturation.  It seems that during the summer, every Friday holds a new film.  Every film claims to be the film of the year.  And you don’t want to miss out, do you?  Remember that you are called to seek the Lord’s presence (Psalm 105:4), and enjoy his free grace, not gorge on movies.  Sure, enjoy a movie with friends; however, don’t become so saturated with the newest and  latest this summer that the only means of “fellowship” you know is happening in front of movies instead of in real conversation about real life things.

Remember, the aim at the theater is not to please your friends, please yourself, or your pastor.  The aim is to please God and honor him with life.  Holiness happens in the small circumstances. It happens with steps. The thoughtful response, the restrained tongue, and even the intentional watcher of film glorify God.  It’s here that the battles are fought.

Thou Shall Not

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by Spencer Harmon

Christians are gloriously and delightfully free.  The law can’t condemn us, Satan can’t accuse us, sin can’t enslave us, and death can’t defeat us.  New desires, new hearts, clean consciences, transformed minds.  This is who we are.  These are the incredible, unchanging realities for every person who has rested on the unchanging grace of God and put all their confidence in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The message of the gospel is a message of amazing freedom.

Yet, oftentimes, we use this freedom to go back to the sins that we have left.  We pick up the chains that were broken from our bruised wrists; we sit in the jail cell with the door wide open.

One of the great lies that Satan uses to keep Christians in the cell is legalism.  You’re sitting in the movie theater with your Christian friends, and all of a sudden the film takes a horrific turn hellward.  You should leave.  But then it starts, “I don’t want to be a legalist”  You don’t want to be that person that makes the whole group uncomfortable and feel like bad Christians at the movie theater, do you?

The problem with this thinking is that Bible never presents a deep desire for holiness as legalism.  It presents it as the normal life of a Christian. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10); Paul beat his body (1 Corinthians 9:27); Jesus prayed all night (Luke 6:12).  None of these men were legalists, and all of these exerted significant restraint in their daily lives, saying “no” to a hundred sinful things in order to have the One Great Thing.

“But I don’t want to be a Pharisee!”  But what was Jesus’ problem with the Pharisee’s?  “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).  The Pharisee’s kept the rules because they thought it made them right with God; Christians keep the rules because they have been made right with God and they want to please their Father.  Pharisee’s walk out of movie theaters because they think it will force God to be on their team; Christians walk out of movies because because they’re already on God’s team, and they want to honor the coach.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).  The freedom the Christians have in Jesus is not a horse to ride into the saloon of satan, but is rather a basin where you wash the feet of others.  Do you feel bad when you have to correct a conversation?  Do you feel like a legalist when you change the channel during a sexually charged commercial?  The glorious reality is that you are free not to feel that way.  “No” isn’t a cuss word; fleeing sin isn’t legalism.  It is when saying “no” becomes your basis for a right standing before God that you become a legalist.  It is when you’re identity is found in the movies you don’t watch and the music you don’t listen to instead of Christ when you become a Pharisee.

So, next time you want to walk out of a movie, turn the channel, look the other way when everyone else gawks, don’t feel foolish – feel free.  Your identity is not wrapped up in the fact that you are running away, your identity is wrapped up in the one to whom you are running.  Let your vision of Him be clear, and let your desire for Him dictate your life. Come out from the dark and into the light; rise from the dead and into life; the chains are broken, the cellar door has swung open, and your once shackled legs are now empowered to walk in the smile of God the Father.  “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:3-4)