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Technology & the Christian: A Matter of Discipleship

A sermon on Romans 12:1-2 given to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican), June 26, 2022. Part a four-part series on “Technology & the Christian: Navigating the Technological Maze as a Disciple of Jesus.” By Fr. Justin Clemente.

Written in the Home, Written on the Heart

We read from Deuteronomy 6 today, which includes the exhortation for the people of God to speak of the words and commandments of our God in every sphere of life – “walking by the way,” as it says. Today observant Jews take literally the commandments of verse 9, writing out these words and hanging them on the entry way of their home. And, you may have seen have pictures of Orthodox Jewish men with a phylactery, that small leather box, pressed against their forehead, as close to the mind, heart, and body as possible. What then of we, those who know the blessing of the New Covenant? What then of we, of whom the prophet Jeremiah says, “33I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

In Romans 12, Paul takes us way beyond Deuteronomy 6 with his words in verse 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable] worship.”

He says, in summary, because of the blessings Gospel, your whole person, and every aspect of your life, should be given over to worship of God as a living (ongoing!) sacrifice.

I submit to you that our relationship to technology is a major arena today where we can live this out – corporately and individually. In the olden days, Christians used to worry about too much of the “world” coming into their homes, through TV and Cable, but now those barriers have largely crumbled. The ubiquity and immediacy of Wi-Fi and smartphones have leveled any sense of refuge within the home. We speak constantly of “streaming” – we have digital streams of content constantly running through our homes. So if barriers and boundaries are going to be erected, they have to be chosen intentionally. In other words, we must choose to make our use of technology part of our discipleship in Christ and part of our lives as Christian families. I think the positive here is that if we allow our daily friction with technology to become a place of discipleship, our faith can flourish, becoming deeper and more committed.

I want to spend our time unpacking that a bit as we walk through just Romans 12:2.

Do Not Be Conformed to This World… (v.2)

Paul urges believers as an ongoing active part of their sanctification and discipleship to not be conformed to this world. What does that mean?

  • First of all, when Paul says “this world” the word in the Greek is “age.” Paul is not talking about creation, but instead about the system of humanity in rebellion against God. Author Douglas Moo says it refers to “the sin-dominated, death-producing realm in which all people, included in Adam’s fall, naturally belong.” (Romans, pg. 755, as quoted in Romans 9-16 by Michael Middendorf, pg. 1220)

As a blood-bought, baptized, washed, redeemed, purified child of God, your life belongs to the kingdom of God. At present, the very real but fading “world” is like a vice grip that wants to squeeze you back into its mold. This battle is ongoing so long as we live. The church militant is not a peacetime people. There cannot be neutrality or passivity for the Christian, but only active resistance.

Related to technology, the call to not be conformed is a call to first just be engaged. To not give in to what we called last week “unbridled naïve adoption.” For parents, this includes the call to recognize that the vice grip of this age is operative in every digital service and device we give our kids.

None of us would ever allow our children to walk alone late at night in a sketchy part of town. All of us know and teach our kids about “stranger danger,” but the truth is that far greater and closer dangers exist online. These dangers are just as real for adults, too. Just a few of them:

  • Facebook, Tik Tok, Twitter and Instagram all consider a person to be effectively an adult at the age of 13, granting minors full access to their sites and users.
  • Streaming providers intentionally and carelessly place explicit material next to children’s material.
  • According to ExtremeTech.com, 30% of all internet traffic is pornographic.
  • Research again and again points to the proliferation of social diseases, like the explosion of gender dysphoria, through isolated and extended time online in social media platforms.
  • This last one’s hard to nail down, but so much of the pop content, personalities, movies, and entertainment available is suffused with the god of our modern age: the unquestioned deification of the self. Even the name of our devices reflects this deification: the iPhone.

So much of social media, for instance, is set up not for conversation, but for platform (even at the level of algorithms!). As Pastor Tim Chester notes, “on social media, we have don’t have a conversation, we have an audience.” So it’s no surprise that Research from MIT points to a loss of empathy as a result of extended and constant use of social media.

Author and poet Malcom Guite points out that even the maps on our phones have undergone a new revolution. Where is the center of the map on your phone? Wherever you are.

We must walk with each other and help each other be faithful Christians, brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents. My desire – and I believe the Lord’s desire – is that our community would be marked by believers young and old who are helping each other walk out “not being conformed” in this area.

But Be Transformed…

Next, Be transformed. The word for transformation is where we get our word metamorphosis. Interestingly, it is the same word used to depict the transfiguration of our Lord, when his glory was revealed. It speaks to the true reality of who we are as new creations in Christ Jesus. And we are to become what we already are in him.

By the power of God at work in us, we are being transformed into the very image of Christ. We belong to a different kingdom and we have a different goal and destination than those who do not know Christ. This transformation begins not in the future, but now. Our lives are not a waiting room for heaven, but the place in which we learn to be part of God’s eternal and lasting kingdom. And St. Paul’s imperative, be transformed, emphasizes that Christians have a real responsibility in this matter – we are called to yield to and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in his work.

…By the Renewal of Your Mind That By Testing You May Discern What is the Will of God.

Paul points to the renewal of the mind as a key area of transformation here. Christians have been given the mind of Christ, and Paul here identifies that that entails growing in discernment in what is good and acceptable and perfect. The word perfect can also mean to “bring to full development or maturity.”

With this emphasis on the mind of a person, Paul seems to be reaching back in Romans. In chapter one, he said an undiscerning or “debased mind” is characteristic of our fallen condition (1:28). But the characteristic of a Christian is to be a renewed mind. So the last thing that should characterize the Christian is an unthinking mind.

Paul is even more pointed about the importance of the mind in 2 Corinthians 4:5-6:“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

When we think about technology, this is a call for genuine growth in discernment. Friends, every time you engage with the pop technology of our age, you are probably in some sense being lied to. It takes good, healthy theology to combat those lies. This doesn’t mean we run and hide in a corner. It means we take the opportunity, both in our Christian community and in our homes, to evaluate, to not let an undiscerning mind be the norm. So for instance:

  • In the movies and streaming content we watch, we have an even higher and more urgent task to ask what is good, acceptable, and perfect…and what is not. Some content we will engage with, learning to ask the right questions and find the right answers. Some content we must reject outright, as unfit to even be named, let alone watched, among Christians.

In his book Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch notes what we all probably feel intuitively. Twenty years ago, The Sopranos was seen as edgy, adult entertainment. But, as he says, compared to the age of Game of Thrones, “The Sopranos look like something from an age of innocence. A world in which The Sopranos can seem innocent is a world ratcheting its way toward being unable to be shocked by anything.” (pg. 143)

  • In the social media platforms we engage with, we remember that they are just that – fake platforms for audiences to consume. We don’t grade our lives on the basis of what we see there. This is not real life, and we are not called to live there.
  • We will be discerning in the access we give to our children, knowing that both the medium and the messages matter. Screens, in Andy Crouch’s phrase, have brought “easy everywhere” into our lives. How much of that do we want our children to have? How much of that do we want ourselves to have?
  • For some of us, it may mean that we need to give serious thought to loving accountability in these areas. We should note that the “you” in these verses is actually “y’all” in Greek – meaning Christians do this growth in discernment together. Never underestimate the powerful theological meaning of the present yet hidden second personal pronoun!

It’s my prayer that our time in God’s word today will help you to raise anew the shield of faith and take up the sword of the Spirit, God’s very word, in this key area of discipleship.

May our lives, our families, our New Creation family, be a place where it is so. Amen.

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