It has been interesting to see the effects of social media on our culture over the past several years. One aspect that I find particularly interesting is the way that many people perceive what they believe to be a new or different identity online. So many seem to struggle with the ethical guidelines of this new identity in this new context, which is quite troubling. It seems that many have come to the conclusion that their presence online comes with a whole new set of guidelines than those to which they should adhere in their physical, or real life.
When many Christians ask how they should act on social media I get the impression that they are looking for a set of rules–a list of do’s and don’ts–for how a Christian should navigate this online space. But if we are looking for such a list our eye is already off the ball.
We don’t need a fresh set of rules, we need a fresh understanding of our new identity in Christ–in all areas of life.
So, how should Christ followers conduct themselves on social media? My mind immediately recalls Paul’s summary of our new identity in Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, all implications of a believer’s new standing in Christ as stated in v. 21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I think these implications of this new, redeemed status can help us understand who we are to be on social media. For some reason I love how these implications are presented when working from v. 21 back to v. 14. So walk with me beginning in v. 20 and consider some questions we can keep in mind as we consider who we are on social media.
1. We should Act as Ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (v. 20).
Every second we have any type of presence on social media we do so as ambassadors for Christ. We represent him. We represent his Kingdom. We represent his agenda. Always. Our lives should no longer be consumed with what we just naturally think, feel, or are passionate to express. As his ambassadors, we are reflections of our King! That is HIS agenda in our lives, as he restores the imago dei (image of God) in us through his Spirit.
From what I post and how I interact with others, am I reflecting my King’s heart and character?
From what I post and how I interact with others, am I reflecting an eternal Kingdom perspective, or a temporary kingdom one?
2. We should proclaim the King’s agenda.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (v. 18-19).
In order to be an ambassador, one must put his own agenda to death. His new agenda is founded by another authority, or by his ‘king’ and his ‘kingdom.’ Everything he does is to reflect and proclaim that agenda. For us, Christ has purchased us and appointed us to reflect and proclaim his agenda, which Paul identifies here as reconciliation. We have experienced it, and now he has given us the task of proclaiming it and implementing it. That is what our lives are to be about. We are to bring that good news of reconciliation to a broken world in hopes that they will find the same redemption we have in Christ. This is not just one aspect of our agenda–it is THE very agenda of our lives as we now live for our King and his Kingdom.
Through what I post and how I interact with others, am I promoting my King’s agenda of reconciliation?
3. We should exude new life.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (v. 17).
The old has passed away. This means that as new creations, our lives should offer a radical departure from the status quo, or the old way. Our lives should be different as the Spirit works in and through us. So what does the new look like? We don’t have to look any further than the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, thankfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Just meditate on those terms for a moment. How rare are all of these on social media? They are rare because social media is filled with flesh-driven people who are about flesh-driven agendas. So when new creations who are filled with the Spirit interact in that space, it should stand out! It should offer a contrast! It should be REFRESHING! It should proclaim the excellencies of the One who has called us out of darkness and into light (1 Peter 2:9)! It should bear the marks of the presence of the Spirit and the sanctification he produces from the inside out.
Through what I post and how I interact with others, does my life reflect a new creation and the joy of having my hope firmly planted in Jesus as my Lord?
Which of the following does what I am about to post reflect: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, thankfulness, gentleness, and/or self-control?
4. We should regard no one according to the flesh.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (v. 16).
One huge aspect of being a new creation is that it results in a new way of viewing others. We no longer regard people according to the flesh, as Paul states it here. In sin that is exactly how we regard others, resulting in rivalry, conceit, prejudice, superficiality, superiority, self-righteousness, division, malice, slander, etc. But Jesus changes that as we grow in grace. Through the Spirit, we can put those attitudes to death to the point where we regard others as more important than ourselves. When we regard others according to the flesh it is impossible to be driven by the agenda of reconciliation. When we begin to look at others through redeemed eyes, we do so from the posture that every single person (no matter their agenda, attitude, or opposition) is created in the image of God and worthy of dignity, respect, and love. We are reminded even when we feel that certain people, or their words/actions, deserve our wrath that what they need most is reconciliation and rescue in Christ. We are also reminded that what we deserve is God’s wrath, but for his mercy and grace.
Through what I post and how I interact, am I guilty of regarding others according to the flesh?
Does the way that I treat others and speak of others on social media clearly affirm the imago dei in every person?
5. We should be controlled by the love of Christ.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (v. 14-15).
The word controls here carries the idea of being hemmed in. Paul says that in Christ, through the work of the Spirit, we are increasingly hemmed in by the love of Christ. As we experience and grow in his love, no matter how much we try to deviate from that in our flesh, his love is like walls pressing in around us, compelling us forward in expressing what we have come to know in him. This happens as we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. What a wonderful phrase to summarize how we ought to behave, not just on social media but in every aspect of life! I want to be hemmed in by the love of Christ, controlled by his love!
Through what I post and how I interact with others, is there evidence of my being increasingly controlled (hemmed in) by the merciful, gracious, and lavish love of Christ?
Focus on Your Identity
When thinking about how we should act as Christians on social media, we need to focus on identity, not rules. Who are we as redeemed people indwelled by the Spirit? We need to allow this new identity as gospel people, ambassadors of God’s Kingdom, to shape our lives in every context, whether on facebook or face-to-face.
In Christ, we are ambassadors of God’s Kingdom who are called to promote his agenda of reconciliation in every area of life, living as new creations who view every person through his eyes, compelled by his love.