(Warning if you are a Game of Thrones watcher and a Christian, offensive material may be ahead.)
This is in response to an article I read a few weeks ago, in which an author pled the case that under Christian liberty, anyone should feel free to watch Game of Thrones or whatever else they desire provided no sin occurs.
The article I am referencing can be read in full here.
The author, D.C. McAllister, makes an effort to say that watching sinful activity on a television show, be it murder, theft, lying, sexual immorality etc. is not automatically wrong. To say so is to ban essentially any television show from being acceptable and that any Christian speaking against watching ‘Game of Thrones’ is falling victim to their own double-standard.
In her own words, “Christian liberty is freedom from the laws and rules of man so one can enjoy living freely in Christ.” The author likens a ban on any TV show to that of the superficial laws and rules of the Pharisees in the time of Christ.
As a follower of Christ that has wrestled with all of these exact issues, I unequivocally disagree with her conclusion. I offer my biblical support below. (One might take note of the lack of biblical citation in D.C. McAllister’s article. In that light, it is no surprise her spiritual insight is so lacking.)
1. Do Not Be Conformed to this World but be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind
Romans 12:1-2 “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 worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
By the application of Scripture and work of the Holy Spirit, believers are on a constant journey of removing things from their lives that inhibit their one main goal – to be transformed to the image of Christ.
Not every believer is in the same place in their walk with the Lord and not all issues of freedom impact believers in the same way. We need to be careful not to lay down a false conscience on anyone particular topic (i.e. watching one specific TV show is automatically sinful). When we as believers begin preaching issues of conscience, we can succumb to Phariseeism, which is to add rules and laws that are not actually part of following Christ at all. In that, D.C. McAllister and I can agree.
However, my primary understanding of this text of Scripture is that as we walk closer with Christ, we desire the things of Christ. The more we become like Christ, the more transformed our minds, hearts and desires become. As we come to issues of freedom we are constantly ‘testing’ them with our transformed mind to ‘discern’ what is ‘good and acceptable and perfect.’
A logical question for the topic at hand would be, does the watching of GOT cause me to be more transformed with a renewed mind or does it cause me to be more conformed to this world?
I think we could answer the above question very clearly. Not only does this TV show not have any sanctifying element in it, it stirs affections for sin by displaying violence, language and graphic nudity according to the ratings agency (I have not personally watched it, being generally informed by the internet of its graphically immoral displays of sex.)
Lest, you think I lay a double-standard, any show that stirs your affections for sin or makes sin appear desirable should be on your ‘do-not-watch’ list. There are plenty of shows and movies that are less graphic than Game of Thrones that I do not watch. I’m picking on this show only because of its popularity and the fleshly article referenced above. Conversely, TV shows that display sin as detestable would be more acceptable. Think of the raw violence and language displayed in the “Passion of the Christ” directed by Mel Gibson. Things that cause us to hate sin and desire Christ are redeeming activities in our lives. Let’s be honest. Watching television is very often not one of those activities.
To that point, Scripture itself contains some of the most graphic descriptions of wickedness one can be exposed to. However, those descriptions are written clearly to reveal wickedness for what it is – not to make some appeal to our flesh. Consider II Sam. 13, which describes the rape of Tamar.
When choosing any form of entertainment, the question above is at play. But I’m not finished at the above question. D.C. McAllister makes the point in her article that because she is able to watch nudity and graphic sex without sinning (doubt it), she can automatically watch the show without any further questions. I couldn’t disagree more.
2. I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eye
Psalm 101:3 “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” KJV
Perhaps the ESV rendering is even more pertinent. “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”
Many people who profess to be believers walk daily in their flesh. Things of the world are desirable. Sin sounds good. TV shows exhibiting wickedness are more entertaining than shows that would point to Christ (if such a show existed).
But as Christians begin to mature, we should be finding sin less and less acceptable in every area of our lives. We begin to understand the nature of our sinfulness and what it did to Christ on the cross. Sin becomes more detestable the closer we grow with Christ and the more transformed we become. Watching shows that portray sin as desirable, even when they don’t cause us to sin personally, become despicable and the opposite of entertainment.
Saying that you can watch a wicked TV show guilt free as long as you’re not sinning is akin to the old “I’m not touching you” game we used to play as kids.
After incessant teasing in the back seat of the car, Mom yells back, “Stop touching each other!” Of course, we have no desire to obey the spirit of Mom’s command, so we immediately get as close as possible to touching each other without committing the actual act. Continuing to tease each other just as much or more than we originally were to satisfy our conscience that we’re technically obeying – but importantly, still satisfying our base desire of annoying each other.
Believer’s who continue to watch shows like this and argue for their acceptance is essentially getting as close as possible to sin without actually doing it. It is the polar opposite of what Christlikeness is.
3. Approve what is Excellent
Philippians 1:9-10 “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent,”
When I am faced with the question of TV shows or books to read or any other form of entertainment, I should be broaching the topic with the attitude of -What choice is the most excellent? What will make me more like Christ than any other option? What will drive my passion to live for Christ?
This attitude will certainly eliminate most TV shows, including but not limited to Game of Thrones.
I realize that this principle sets a very high bar, and one that many of us, including myself, would struggle to meet out perfectly. That being said, it seems that one selecting a show like Game of Thrones is not even considering this principle. It seems more likely the principle followed by D.C. McAllister and others is: What brings me the most pleasure without causing sin?
For someone claiming to follow Christ, it is a question why you would insist on placing temptations to sin so close? Didn’t Jesus say to deal radically with temptations to sin? (Something about tearing out your eye?) I would think the problems with the philosophy of getting as close as possible to the edge would be self-evident.
I’ll wrap up this point by quoting Paul in I Corinthians 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
We often give ourselves too much credit when facing temptations to sin. We think we can handle it. That we’ll come out ok. We don’t have to take it too seriously. Paul encourages us otherwise. Are you a grown and mature enough Christian to know that you can’t trust yourself?
4. Consider the Weaker Brother
I Corinthians 8:11 “And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”
Look, if you lived on a desert island completely isolated from other people and had access to a TV and Game of Thrones and could watch it without sinning that would be one conversation. But for most of us on planet earth, our choices impact the spiritual growth of other believers around us.
Not only are we asking the question about how our entertainment choices effect us, we are also asking how do these entertainment choices lift up those around us? Thereby, the true question becomes, “What TV show is best for my spiritual growth and for the spiritual growth of everyone I’m connected to?”
The answer to that couldn’t hardly be a show like Game of Thrones, primarily, because most of us know or are connected to someone who would be tempted to lust by some of the scenes portrayed in the show. Even if the show doesn’t cause us to sin, it quite probably would cause someone else to.
That possibility should cause the Christ follower to conclude that TV shows like Game of Thrones aren’t worth the entertainment. There are plenty of other things to do. Why insist on doing something so closely associated with the world and something that could possibly lead another weaker brother or sister into sin? You are destroying someone for whom Christ died.
Following this principle the watching of GOT is almost assuredly sinful for D.C. McAllister not because of her own lust for evil but for the sake of the weaker believers around her. I’d also point out the very writing of her article to encourage others to watch GOT freely is also sinful.
5. The Real Meaning of Freedom in Christ
Its a common abuse of Scripture that those who are free in Christ are free to live however they want without anyone telling them otherwise – just don’t sin in the process. The reality of freedom in Christ from a Scriptural perspective is a different animal and completely invalidates this common abuse of Christian freedom.
In Galatians 5 we learn that Christ has freed us from the slavery of the OT law that required perfect holiness. We learn that before Christ we were slaves of the law and in constant failure of the law and in constant need of animal sacrifices to cover sin. But Christ’s once for all sacrifice completely removed this burden of trying to perfectly fulfill the law – after all, we are completely unable to do it.
Christ has freed us from trying to attain perfect holiness by obeying the standard of the law because through Christ we were justified – made completely righteous.
Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Paul continues to explain that our freedom helps us to live away from the condemnation of the law. We are free from that condemnation. However, we are now in a new life, pursuing Christ and living for Him in every way we possibly can.
Freedom in Christ according to the D.C. McAllister view is choosing whatever you feel like doing, as long as its not sinful on its face, without considering Scriptural principles, your testimony or your impact on the spiritual well-being of others. Just do it – as the Nike ad says.
Sorry, D.C. McAllister. Your view is completely without merit.
In conclusion, maybe after reading this you’d be tempted to think that you can’t hardly watch any TV. Forget Game of Thrones; that one is easy. What about all the other options? What should we do with the TV we do watch? Can we really do anything other than read the Bible with this standard?
For me personally in my walk with Christ, I have concluded that less and less TV is best for my spiritual growth. I’ve begun reading books that help me understand Scripture better and point me to Christ instead of watching whatever looks good on TV or Netflix. After all, Hollywood is hardly interested in helping believers with Christlikeness.
This choice to limit TV has undoubtedly served my spiritual growth. Less TV and more Scripture is a pretty solid formula for anyone wanting to follow Christ. That being said, my Christlikeness has a long way to go, and there are certainly things in my life that need work. You could probably make the case based on these principles that the little TV I do watch should probably also be eliminated. In that reality, I approach this issue with humility and prayerfulness that I not live hypocritically.
I understand other individuals may come to a different conclusion on what kind of television is acceptable and that is where the ‘wisdom’ and ‘discernment’ of Christ is beautiful. One believer could choose to watch TV that is beneficial for their spiritual walk while another might choose to read books. As long as we are pursuing Christ, let not the one who watches condemn the one who abstains (Romans 14).