I recently heard a few young women ask an older woman what she thought about a particular female Bible teacher. The older woman wisely admitted that she couldn't give an honest assessment because she had only heard a snippet of that particular woman's teaching. But then she said something else that got my attention. She mentioned how it was more important to assess the person's life. She's right. Online ministry can be meticulously curated, and more often than not, the words we share with the public offer an incomplete picture.
I immediately thought of the popular slogan from the early 2000s: "Don't just talk the talk; walk the walk." This can be said in a variety of ways: "Practice what you preach" or "Practice what you preach, or change your speech." The sentiment is that our lives should project a uniform message. Our actions should align with our words. Our formal theology should align with our practical theology. In other words, does what you profess to believe in writing (shared with the world) align with your thoughts, words, and deeds (shared with those who live under your roof)? In our day and age when social media freely offers a megaphone to anyone interested, it is far too easy to allow this discrepancy to form in our lives. It's so much easier to write a neat caption about bending low in motherhood for the glory of God than it is to live it out, day in and day out– or to write about cultivating intimacy with God than personally experiencing it through deep prayer and Scripture meditation.
Ultimately, the issue isn't social media. It's the need for integrity. So, what is integrity? We often tell young children that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. This is a true statement, but it's incomplete. As believers, we look to God's Word. We look to biblical standards to inform and shape our moral standards. We do this without compromise, and we apply this standard to every facet of our lives, online and offline. This isn't easy. Our sinful flesh and desires for comfort, ease, and affirmation can cause us to make subtle compromises of conscience and conviction. When sanctification feels slow, we can be tempted to exaggerate our fruit. When we're weary of doing good, we can settle with just saying the right things rather than living it out. Though the indwelling Spirit empowers us to fight sin, we're not immune to its luring power. We are all susceptible to compromising and sinning!
We need to humbly acknowledge our desperate need for God's help. We need to go to His Word as our daily sustenance. We need to pursue doctrinal integrity by faithfully studying His Word. We need to nurture our intimacy with God through prayer and the other spiritual disciplines. We need to find our identity in Christ alone. And we need to do each of these things before engaging on social media or serving outside our homes. We need to abide in Christ in order to produce any lasting fruit or do any good thing (John 15:1-5).
In a world where resources abound and are easily accessible, it's easy to feel like an expert prematurely. It's easy to elevate ourselves to the status of teacher and forget the need to be a forever student of Scripture. It's easy to slip into self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and self-aggrandizement. While this is particularly true of our social media age, it's also a deeply rooted issue in the sinful nature of man. In Scripture, we see how the Pharisees were the epitome of hypocrisy. They valued outward religiosity because it fed their desires for self-promotion. It wasn't about heart transformation and submission to the lordship of Christ. They were glory seekers. And if we're honest, apart from the grace of God at work in our lives, are we not at times glory seekers as well?
May God's people be known for our integrity that is informed and shaped by the Word of God. As David said in Psalm 15:1-2, it is the one "who walks with integrity, practices righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart" (NASB) who dwells with the Lord. May we care less about our online presence and more about our inner self, pursuing holiness in our thoughts, words, and deeds. May we strive to close the gap between our formal and practical theology so that we can bring glory to God in all our spheres of influence!