Focus on the Family

Media Discernment

Teens can learn about the influence of entertainment and how to make wise choices about music, movies and games.

by Bob Smithouser

A while back, when the Olympics were in full swing, I had the chance to chat with Team USA's nutrition coordinator about what men and women in training chow down on. Here's what she said: "You'd think that, being Olympic athletes, they'd eat what's good for them. But that's not always the case. They can get into bad habits." Whoa! If sprinters, swimmers and weight lifters — as driven as they are to win — can stumble in the area of discipline and diet, what does that say to us as we strive to win the race of faith? We've gotta watch what we eat ... spiritually! And that requires something called "discernment."

What Is Discernment?

Discernment is wisdom that helps us choose between right and wrong. We're faced with decisions constantly. Wouldn't it be cool to know you're making the right ones? King Solomon thought so. In fact, he valued discernment so much that when God said he could have anything he wanted, Solomon asked fordiscernment instead of money or a long life (1 Kings 3). Of course, spiritual insight starts with an understanding of the Bible. It's God's Word that helps us know what to do day-to-day.

When it comes to entertainment, discernment helps us sort through the media messages that bombard us every day and decide how they measure up to God's standards. Are your favorite artist's lyrics consistent with biblical truth? Would Jesus find the latest box-office blockbuster healthy or harmful? Sometimes a video box or CD cover says it all. Other times the message is more subtle. Developing wisdom in this area is vital to spiritual maturity. But why is it so hard to avoid the media junk food everybody else seems to be into? Read on!

The Internal Struggle for Supremacy: A Tale of Two Lizards

A few years ago, I adopted two baby iguanas named Liberty and Justice. They were the same age and size. They ran around the same 55-gallon aquarium and bellied up to the same water dish. They soaked in warmth from the same hot rock and heat lamp. In short, Liberty and Justice shared an identical environment. There was just one difference in their lifestyles: diet.

Liberty scarfed down fruit, veggies and crickets. Justice, on the other hand, was a picky eater without much of an appetite. Consequently, Liberty grew bigger and stronger, and got really buffed. But lacking proper nutrition, Justice became thinner and turned a pale shade of green. When they went head-to-head, who do you think won? You guessed it. Eventually, Justice's poor diet led to her death, leaving one healthy reptile to rule the aquarium. So, what does a dead lizard have to do with discernment? Glad you asked!

The Battle Within

My iguana experience illustrates the inner conflict that Christians face every day. Inside, we've got two natures: the flesh and the spirit. They share the same environment. Same body. Identical eyes, ears and other senses. And like reptilian roommates, these two natures become territorial. They fight for control. Each wants to rule the "aquarium" of our hearts and minds. The one that eats best will be the one that survives.

Of course, flesh and spirit hunger for different things. The flesh has an appetite for "junk food." That could include anything from crude sitcoms and music preoccupied with sex, to gory video games and racy Web sites. But the spirit feeds on Bible study, prayer, Christian music, hanging out with godly people and serving others. (Romans 13:14 encourages "spirit-fed" living, and Galatians 5:22 details the benefits.)

There's a war raging inside us. As one nature prospers and dominates, the other one, deprived of the food that fuels its growth, is weakened. It's the way we're designed. Don't assume you'll beat the odds. Feed the spiritual nature. Starve the fleshly nature. God warns us to be discerning because He knows how we're wired and wants the best for us. By the way, not only is discernment in our own best interest, it also pleases God when we put Him first.

Now Ask Yourself ...

"Which hungry nature am I feeding, the flesh or the spirit? Which do I want to see dominate the 'aquarium' of my life? What changes do I need to make in my media diet to make that happen — regardless of what my friends are into?"

The apostle John said, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring [God's] teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work" (2 John 1:10-11). John had some harsh words for deceivers who would attempt to undermine the truth of God's Word. He warns his readers not even to invite them home. There are many deceivers in the entertainment industry today. And even Christians carelessly invite them into their homes. They welcome reality TV that says sex outside of marriage is perfectly healthy. They rent movies loaded with obscene language. They bring home music that celebrates gangsta violence. They surf online, clicking whatever links pique their curiosity.

It's Time to Draw the Line

In our world these days, it's very stylish to be open-minded and tolerant of different points of view, no matter how immoral or ungodly. But the apostle Paul made a sharp distinction between good and evil and demanded that we do the same. "Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Why? Because just like the flesh and the spirit, good and evil can't live in harmony.

When we put something to the test and draw a line between right and wrong, someone who disagrees with our evaluation will quote Matthew 7:1, which says, "Don't judge, or you too will be judged." Ever been there? It's important to remember that, in this verse, Jesus is warning against judging others' thoughts, motives and the hidden things of the heart that only God can see. It doesn't mean we should ignore sin and refuse to practice discernment.

I've read lots of letters from Christian teens who say things like, "I know this band sings about getting high and having sex, but I'm going to keep listening because I don't think God wants me to be judgmental." Wrong! That's exactly what God wants. In cases like this — when evidence is clear — we're commanded to judge between right and wrong, truth and error, good and evil.

"Okay, Now What Do I Do?"

As you seek to grow spiritually, pray with the attitude of Solomon. Ask Godto give you more wisdom and discernment about entertainment. Explore the passages of Scripture listed below. Spiritual insight doesn't ooze into us while we sleep; it's a decision. God is ready to work in you, but you have to take the first step. That may include getting rid of CDs you know Jesus would disapprove of. It may mean watching less TV. It could also mean taking a stand when your friends ask you to join them for a movie that you know will do more to feed your flesh than your spirit. Ask a parent or close Christian friend to pray for you and encourage you to stick with your new commitment. It's always easier to start a healthy new habit when you have the support of a friend. And when you're tempted to give in, remember that Jesus is the greatest friend of all!

Related Scripture Readings

The War Within Us

Avoiding Indecent Exposure

Preparing a Defense

The Value of Wisdom


All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.