(I’ve been critiquing what I call the “GIGO theory”.)
First, let’s review.
Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? … That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. (Mark 7:17-18)
In other words, sin doesn’t just come from out there somewhere; it arises within our own hearts.
It is possible to use the GIGO doctrine to commit the same error … It is spiritually dangerous precisely to the extent that it is coupled with the false hope that we will be able to control all our sin by filtering out outside influences carefully enough.
So let’s get practical.
What difference does it really make whether we believe the GIGO model or the alternative that I’ve suggested?
We’ll start with one thing both views have in common.
1. Viewing pornography is wrong under both models.
The question is, why is it wrong?
Reason #1: modesty. The Old Testament treats being seen naked by anyone other than a spouse as a shameful thing, and warns people against shaming others by viewing them naked. Even though the people in pornographic pictures or movies are participating voluntarily, it probably still violates their modesty in some way.
Reason #2: Although external things cannot contaminate us with sin, they can certainly tempt us to sin. We should not expose ourselves to things that will draw us away from God.
Why will pornography tempt us to sin? Under the GIGO model, it’s because it is filled with images that will contaminate our minds. Under my view, it is because pornography stirs up lust that is already lying dormant within our hearts. That’s a small but important distinction.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28
One consequence of this is …
2. We should avoid whatever makes us stumble.
How should we decide when it is OK to, say, watch a certain movie? There are two important questions we might ask. One is whether the movie meets some objective standard of being acceptably holy. A really important consequence of my view is that we should also ask whether it makes us stumble.
That is something that can vary from person to person. Sometimes there will be a movie or TV show that is relatively harmless for everyone else but bad for me. If so, then I should avoid it — not because I am afraid of garbage getting into my mind, but because there is something already wrong in me that the movie will stir up. It’s not a matter of figuring out which things are on some universal list of forbidden things; it’s a matter of knowing myself and my own weaknesses well enough to keep clear of anything that will draw me away from God.
If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30.
Doing this will require honesty and humility.
Some teachers of the GIGO model would agree with this point. The next is where we begin to part company.
3. We should not judge others by the things they expose themselves to.
If you were to use profane language or commit adultery or engage in occult practices, you would be sinning. But what if you simply watch a movie in which one of the characters uses profane language or commits adultery or engages in occult practices? Suppose that you are not any more tempted to do these things after watching than you were before. Can I conclude that it is sin for you to watch the movie? Is it spiritual compromise in some way?
On the GIGO model, the answer is yes. We ask: are these things holy, or unholy? Is it good or bad to swear? To commit adultery? To dabble in the occult? Clearly, unholy. They are spiritual garbage, and you shouldn’t let them into your mind. Engaging in witchcraft is wrong, and therefore so is watching a movie about someone else engaged in witchcraft.
Under the alternative approach, I ask: will this make you stumble or not? Will it hurt your relationship with God for some practical reason? And that’s a question I cannot answer for you. Perhaps watching that movie filled with swearing is spiritual compromise for you. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps reading that book about people who have affairs will tempt you to excuse sin in your own life. Perhaps it will not. It all depends on what it leads to in your own thoughts and actions.
In the meantime, if you claim that watching ___ doesn’t affect you, I should believe you until the evidence proves otherwise, because I don’t know your heart. (If the evidence does prove otherwise, I think I have a right to point that out to you.)
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4.
4. We are not computers.
GIGO means “garbage in, garbage out” and refers originally to computers. If you feed a computer the wrong input, it will produce wrong output. It will do this because that’s what it is programmed to do. It will never stop halfway through the input and say, “Hold one a minute – this doesn’t make sense. I think there’s something wrong with my data here.” Its programming won’t allow it to.
Our natural impulses may be programmed into us, but we have the freedom to follow those impulses or not. For us it is not about right or wrong input, it’s about deception and faith and rebellion and surrender.
We should maintain a focus on the sin in us instead of the sin out there. This will keep us humbler. Equally importantly, it gives us hope and practical advice when we are harassed by images we wish we’d never seen …
5. When we are spiritually troubled by images or ideas we have been exposed to, we can fight back by looking inside.
The GIGO model implies that to overcome troubling images that I have already let into my mind I should try as hard as I can to not think about them.
My alternative suggestion leads to a very different strategy. As I see it, those images are troubling me because something in me is responding to them. Some part of me believes the lies they tell. What I need to do to fight back isn’t to forget them; it’s to search my heart to find out what I need to repent of. Why do I find myself agreeing with what I’ve seen? What truth do I need to surrender to?
Notice how neatly this response meshes with each of the passages with which we began the series.
Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
That is: if you are troubled by images and thoughts you don’t want to have, consider that it is what you are (meaning your present character, not your identity in Christ) that affects what you think. What is it about your present desires, values, and beliefs that is driving your thoughts? Only by changing your heart can you make long-term progress in changing how you think.
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may approve what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
That is: when the world presses you from the outside with all its pernicious influences, resist by changing who you are inside. Note that it does not say to renew your thoughts (what you think about) but your mind (how you think).
2 Corinthians 2:5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ …
That is: overcoming disturbing thoughts is not a matter of filtering out content but of dismantling fortresses. We have to do the hard work of dismantling false worldviews and off-kilter value systems brick by brick.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
That is: rather than trying to build a pristine environment which contains nothing offensive, we need to learn to hunt for something worth dwelling on in every situation. It’s not so important whether I encountered something sinful in that book I read. It’s very important whether I connected with it. It’s not what was in the book but how I responded to it that makes the most difference.
That officially concludes my GIGO series. Thanks for staying tuned in!
There is one thing I never addressed, and that is a collection of Scriptures that, in my opinion, provides the strongest possible support for the GIGO doctrine. The central passage in that collection is Psalm 101. I believe it is best interpreted as being about peer pressure; i.e., about guarding ourselves against destructive relationships rather than against destructive statements or images. I may cover these passages soon, but not as part of this series.