There is a powerful and interesting scene in the Gospels in which a rich young man asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. While the man focuses on his good deeds and righteousness, Jesus targets the young man’s idol:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth
~Matthew 19:20-22 (NIV)
This man allowed his riches to distract him from obedience.
But like other parables and stories in the Gospels, the story of the rich young man is our story as well. The desire for money is dangerous. Wealth makes many promises.
- It provides convenience & comfort.
- It represents “power” and influence
- It opens wide the door to sexual immorality (think King David).
- It has tremendous potential to distract us from the Kingdom of God
Our Handheld Riches
Now, each of us holds a golden scepter: the smartphone.
- It provides great convenience.
- It eagerly entertains us.
- It promises great power.
- It lures us with influence and infinite knowledge (the first sin sold the promise of “knowledge”).
- It offers “incognito” access to sinful pleasures.
Like the ring of power Frodo had to bear, it impresses itself upon us as we use it. It shapes our thinking. It alters our moods. It interjects the will of its creator into our lives.
And like the ring of power, the more we wield it the more it wears on us.
We are a bunch of little kings, holding digital scepters. Like money, a smartphone is not sinful on its own (1 Timothy 6:10).
Don’t get me wrong; riches and tech can be used for good, for liberation, and for aid.
But in Matthew 19:24, Jesus says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Technology has the same great potential to distract us from our purpose in life as money. Satan can use it to derail us from being active and involved in the kingdom of God.
The Depth of our Tech Addiction
As humans we are inclined toward addiction. It’s easy to slide into unhealthy habits, training our brains and souls to desire something unhealthy. Addictions range from the benign (like chocolate and good pizza) to the damaging and sinful (like porn, violence, and more).
Imagine if you were to approach Jesus and ask Him about inheriting eternal life. You list all of your religious accomplishments, church attendance, and social justice initiatives. You feel solid as a Christian.
Then, He looks straight at you and asks, “If you want to be perfect, go, give up your smartphone. Then, you will have treasure in heaven.”
Could you do it?
Could I do it?
Could we let go of that power and connection?
It’s that hesitation to loosen our grip on our digital habits which reveals the depth of how life in our culture relies on smartphones to function.
It’s More than a Scepter
Again, smartphones on their own are not evil.
Instead, smartphones are a catalyst. They magnify and accelerate our misplaced desires. They are Miracle-Gro for our sinful nature.
For instance, if I’m prone to coveting, then my social media addiction and endless feed scrolling will amplify it.
- Man, I wish I had his boat.
- I want that many kids!
- If only I could have those vacations.
- I wish I had his/her spouse.
If I’m prone to lust, then our social media channels are a quagmire. Even the most well-intentioned can stumble across an array of photos, video clips, and ads which feed that desire.
Here again, our practical use of smartphones crashes against the expectations of Christ.
Some of these traps are much more subtle: Like a frog in a boiling pot, sneaky, incremental shifts in algorithms over years have subliminally undermined Biblical truth. These pulled levers and cranked knobs influence our very beliefs, all while “flying under the radar” of perception. It’s almost impossible to filter and evaluate the constant whispers served to us day, after day, after day.
Trading the Scepter
So what do we do? Smartphones are here to stay. But as people of faith, how do we balance staying connected and glorifying God with our digital habits?
Awareness comes first.
Jesus told Nicodemus that everyone who “comes into the light” shows they’ve revealed their heart’s idols. They’ve turned from darkness.
Like a fast from food, we can pause our smartphone habits for a week or maybe a month. Assess where we are: What’s triggering us? What are our slippery slopes?
On a personal level, observe your smartphone habits with a critical eye for one day. Check out your usage stats. Ask a close friend or spouse, “Hey, do you feel my phone use is affecting my life in any way?” And listen.
Next comes a reconstruction phase.
As believers, we understand this theologically: The Holy Spirit enables us to grow into Christlikeness. We can’t do it alone.
With our smartphones, this could look like….
- Setting daily goals, like replacing an hour of social media with family time or being outside.
- Choosing a more intentional device that limits exposure to content we know tugs us in the wrong direction.
Whichever steps you take to lay that scepter down, it will have to be daily, purposeful, and doable. Your walk with God is not accidental. Worship and obedience are daily choices. By shifting this mindset about your phone, it will make rebuilding your habits more intentional.
Finally, if you’ve lost countless battles struggling with severe addictions on your devices, seek an expert who can help you restore what was lost. If pornography is one of those areas, we recommend a few great resources to check out.
Replacing excess social media time with something you love is a huge help. Maybe you play an instrument, interior decorate, or enjoy board games. Whatever it is, choose a life-giving activity.
Most importantly, accept God’s grace and seek the support of others along the way.