As phones get smarter, people are getting dumber—so it seems.
There may be some hyperbole in such a statement, but Cal Newport shared some valuable thoughts on a 2017 study discussing the impact of smartphones on our memory and overall mental capacity. In his short article, one section really captured my attention:
"The mere presence of the device... sapped cognitive resources. The effect was particularly pronounced in those who self-reported to be heavy phone users."
Who Wants Brain Fog?
This is alarming on many levels. I am concerned with mental clarity and reducing the brain fog I have often felt over the years. Most of us don't want to lose our ability to learn and retain our fondest memories and new information. We hate the hazy afternoon brain fog that overcomes us. We desire to watch and pray without falling asleep (Matthew 26:41). The process of sanctification involves learning and applying wisdom from God's Word, and I desire to think as clearly and deeply as possible. Don't you want to memorize more Scripture, retain more of God's Word, and be more present with God and His people?
Let us not forget that distractions—like our smartphones—hinder us from the focus needed to meditate on God's Word and pray. J.C. Ryle famously stated in A Call To Prayer:
"Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to life. How a man can live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a man can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too."
In other words, we are not bodiless souls going about our spiritual disciplines for the next 20 or 30 years. Rather, our bodies impact our spiritual lives and vice versa. This is important because we need to be good stewards of the bodies God has given us.
On countless mornings I have peeled open my eyes with a desire to spend time with the Lord before getting wrapped in the chaos of everyday life. Before I slid our of the sheets and placed my feet on the cold hardwood floor, I reached for the nightstand to grab my iPhone. Five minutes became fifteen. Fifteen minutes became thirty. Then, I'd hop out of bed in an adrenaline-packed flurry to get ready for work, leaving my Bible on the shelf.
No time was left for my Lord. The Savior of my soul is on the backburner as I go about real life and leave my spiritual life behind for the day. I'm not saying I wasn't saved or didn't care about God the rest of the day. That's not the case. It's just much harder to get my mind and soul focused on Christ if I don't meet with Him early in the day. If I don't speak to my Father in the morning, it's much more challenging to walk by His Spirit in the afternoon.
"The mere presence" of my device has kept my mind from taking in God's Word. You've been there before. You try to focus, but you find yourself going back over a verse 5 or 10 times because you can't seem to stop your wandering mind from drifting to the tasks awaiting you later that day. As a "heavy user", I've seen that forbidden fruit light up and grab my attention away from prayer only to never return. I told myself, "This might be important. I better take a quick glance". Soon after that quick glance, my already "sapped cognitive resources" didn't improve. I got up from prayer feeling like a dried leaf on a brisk afternoon in late autumn.
What should we do about our phones?
We're spiritual people, but God has also given us bodies with our souls. Cognitive impairment matters. We are called to be "sober-minded and alert". We have a real enemy who "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Our minds and thoughts are inseparable from our souls. Our thoughts reflect the heart beneath the surface (Matthew 15:19).
1. Recognize the importance of your mind. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). This points to more than just the brain and its cognitive abilities, but it doesn't call for less. Remember this and live in light of it every day of your life. Many people lament the loss of their brains, and we should make the most of ours while we are still able.
2. Evaluate your phone usage. Is your phone a tool or a toy? Do you use it for education or entertainment? Does it aid your devotion or add to your distraction? When do you pick it up for the first time? When do you put it down for the night? Are you enslaved to your phone (1 Cor. 6:12)? How you use your phone says more about your relationship with God and others than you could ever realize.
3. Confess or celebrate. For most of us, excessive phone use will be a catalyst to confession. Whether it's escaping to your phone to cope with a rough day or furiously tapping out your angry thoughts and emotions in the comments of Facebook and Twitter, confess the sin in your heart. God is faithful and just to forgive His children because He poured out His just wrath on His innocent and righteous Son instead of you and I—the ones who deserved it (1 John 1:9).
4. Pray and plan. Pray for God's grace and make a plan on how to use your phone more cautiously. Caution may seem to be an excessive word, but our spiritual health can be endangered by our uncontrolled phone use. Smartphone addiction and overuse are symptoms of a grander problem of distractedness from our souls and the God who can transform them (Romans 12:1-2). The present world is passing away, so what sort of people ought we to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)? We need to be diligent to pursue godliness in every area of life—especially our smartphones.
Who's In Control?
We don't have to be enslaved to our smartphones. Nor do we have to fear that we can never get past our smartphone addictions. The key is not simply to use your phone less. Anyone with a little bit of self-discipline can do that. As a Christian, our desires come from a much deeper motive than just wanting better brain health. You are a child of God, and God calls you to consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). You are more than a shiny piece of metal glued to your palm. Remind yourself of this every day.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
- 2 John 1:9-11
Would you give your Social Security information and your credit card number to a person pretending to be the IRS? Would you let a person convince you that your identity has been mistaken and your whole life is a lie? I sure wouldn’t! It may happen to us once, but we would be foolish to let it happen again.
As much as you value your money and identity, you should value your soul much more than that. If you wouldn’t be negligent with your vital, personal information, neither should you ever let a lying, Christ-denying deceiver into your home or your church with a hearty greeting.
Imagine letting a thief enter your home and steal everything you own while smiling in your face and promising they’re doing everything in your best interest. That would be insane.
The apostle John’s stark warning is “watch yourselves!” (2 John 8). Today, there are many lies and heresies that abound as liars attack the church. One such heresy is that Jesus was not and is not God in human form. Some Christian cults have denied the deity of Jesus in favor of a Unitarian—God in one person—view of Father, Son, and Spirit. Others have denied that Jesus really took on a human body—they imply that He is God but not man. Many of them may be earnest, knowing that God is one (Deut. 6:4). However, they fail to take the Bible and it’s full teaching about Jesus into consideration.
Paul clearly refutes such nonsense, saying that Jesus “was in the form of God“ and had “equality with God“. He is wholly God. In becoming human, Jesus “emptied himself“. He did this not by giving up his divine nature, but by taking on a human nature (Phil 2:5-8). If a King puts on street clothes to rescue someone from a ditch, he is no less a king with his street clothes than he was with his kingly apparel. Neither is Jesus, in the flesh, any less God than he was before he took on flesh. To say otherwise is to clearly deny passages of the Bible in the old and new testaments.
Falling into such a mess of denying Jesus’ human and divine natures will cost the full reward of the apostles works (2 John 8). It will render the apostles’ work in vain (Phil. 2:16). To have a human-only Jesus, God-only Jesus, black Jesus, white Jesus, republican Jesus, democrat Jesus, or any fill-in-the-blank Jesus will lead you to eternal separation from the real Jesus. It is eternal to know Him—the real Jesus (John 17:3).
Our Necessary Response
First, let us go on ahead and abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9). Stick with the basics. Remember the truth that has been preached from the beginning. Church history is replete with documents and statements about the plain and clear doctrines of Scripture. Many modern heresies are just old heresies dressed in new clothes. Let the word of God and the witness of church history be your guide as you seek to discern truth from lies. You don’t need any other Jesus. If you abide in another, you will not have God. If you stay with the teaching, you will have father and son (2 John 9).
Second, keep false teaching far from you, your family, and your church! “Many deceivers” have gone out into the world (2 John 7). They need to be met with fierce rejection. They shouldn’t enter our homes or our house churches. They shouldn’t be allowed into our congregations with open arms. If they show up, they should be met with solemn warnings and exhortations to repent and renounce their repulsive rhetoric. They need to be sharply rebuked (Titus 1:9-14).
This response is necessary because “whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” John isn’t mincing words, here. We can’t keep letting political, ethnic, or any unbiblical versions of Jesus into their homes without a fuss. Too often, we don’t take Jesus serious because we won’t take the time to read the Word and see who He says He is! He has a lot to say!
Know the Real Jesus!
We must all commit to seeing Jesus as he really is! If we aren’t careful and rigorously biblical, we may be swept away into deception and lies. I don’t mean that a true believer can lose salvation. That is not possible! However, many people in churches today are not in the faith and are not safe from these lies. However, the true believer shouldn’t be overly fearful. The God who started a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. He can’t be stopped! The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will not only reveal the truths of Christ to us, He will make us more like Christ as we behold Him!
Do you know the real Jesus? Or have you been settling for a cheap deception? Don’t receive a false Christ. If you do, you won’t have God. It’s a matter of life and death.
In 2007 I was fresh out of high school and new to the faith. An upperclassman football player at Centre College invited me to hang out and study the Bible and watch football. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe I found some Christian friends with the first few weeks of college. I immediately said yes and got my copy of The Cross-Centered Life. I never could have imagined how that Bible study would shape my views on discipleship and the Christian life.
In early 2012, I stumbled upon a community group that was having meals together, walking through books of the Bible, and living their lives together. As a single, 23-year-old bachelor, I was always at John’s house sipping coffee, talking Scripture and theology, and watching him love and lead his family. One night, he handed the teaching portion of the group to me. It was a game-changer. From that night on, I had a hunger to teach God’s word that would eventually come to fruition in a call to preach.
Later that year, when moved away to Knoxville in 2012, I didn’t know anyone except my wife—we were engaged at the time, and she was in college. As I got intensely lonely and depression was starting to set in, a couple of guys from Legacy Church invited me to their community group. We’d grab a meal, spend some time discussing Scripture, and hang out for a few hours afterward. Those were some amazing times.
In 2016, shortly after I moved back to KY, two friends from high school invited me to Dairy Queen once a week to sip coffee and eat the 3 Buck Breakfast. We’d whip out our ESVs and talk about Scripture and life before heading off to work. Those conversations eventually led me to being called and affirmed as an elder.
The common denominator in each of these scenarios is time and proximity. If we want to be discipled and make disciples, we need to find Christians close to us and we need to spend time with them. As we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, we will need other believers to walk with us along the way.
Your local church—and your extended network of believers—are here to help you persevere and to build you up as you walk with God and do the work of the ministry. But what does this actually look like in real life?
I could share hundreds of examples of how God has used the lives of other believers to shape me. We are called to bear one another’s burdens while also carrying our own load. It’s not a contradiction because we work out our salvation by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
God is working in us to will and work for His good pleasure, so we can rest assured that discipling others is pleasing to Him and helpful for them. As is commanded in the Great Commission, we don’t just evangelize, we make disciples. This is a picture of the Christian life that I can see and rejoice in.
The University of Kentucky basketball program has become the emblem of one-and-done college basketball. We grab high school athletes from the highest tier of basketball greatness, bring them in for a season, teach them the Coach Cal way, and get them to the NCAA tournament. The season-opening blue and white game looks like an all-star weekend dunk contest. The high-scoring, double-digit preseason victories stir up buzz about March Madness before college football has even played their bowl games. If you want to watch freshman phenoms year after year, tune into UK basketball.
By the time they play against the big shots, they are usually a top ten team, and with the exception of some major freshman slip-ups, we always feel one step closer to another national championship banner. As March comes and goes, we watch these young men earn their first round draft picks as they rally to the Elite Eight, Final Four, or the national championship.
They reach the pinnacle and then they’re gone. As quick as they came, they vanish. As soon as they announce their draft status and their agent, we say our goodbyes. Another year of one-and-done basketball. We see them off to their first round NBA glory and they make a life somewhere out there on an NBA team.
We watch them from afar, but we're not nearly invested. We've got eight-graders and blue chip seniors to keep our eyes on! Have you heard about next year's draft class?! We have to watch them early because we know they'll be gone soon.
Following Jesus Is Costly
We need to beware of a "one-and-done" Christianity. Too often, it's right in front of our eyes. It may even be in our living rooms. We invest in some top-tier church prospects—the ones we think can really make an impact for the Kingdom. We tell them we are Christians, invite them to a Bible study, and get them to visit our churches. After some good book studies or a convicting Bible conference, they get all the way to the point of confessing Jesus as their Lord and Savior. After their baptism, we celebrate like we just won the NCAA national championship.
Then we see them off to the rest of Christian lives, rooting for them from afar, hoping they look more like Lebron James than Greg Oden (just do a Google search if you don't know what I mean!). Of course, we still want to see them on Sunday morning. We make sure they're in a Sunday School class or weekly small group. We want them to be plugged in to a local church!
However, seeing people saved and attending a local church is not the end. It's only the beginning. For most Christians, following Jesus is long journey of perseverance and suffering. This is why Paul told the Philippians, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Getting into the faith is a glorious miracle! There is no doubt that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). But we can't stop there. If our ultimate aim is to merely see people baptized and showing up on Sunday mornings, we have settled for a weak, unbiblical Christianity. We have chosen to side-step the path of discipleship for an easier route.
Work It Out
Just as UK's one-and-done freshmen move on to a much more mature game of basketball, so new converts are called to move from "milk to meat" (1 Cor. 3:2). Those young men work with strength trainers, dietitians, sleep coaches, chiropractors, and many more professional specialists in order to grow and thrive in the NBA. Failing to disciple new believers is like an NBA team leaving it up to the players to train themselves for game day. However, God gave the Church gifts to build up His people after they get saved:
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood..."
The aim is much further than conversion. God desires saints who move on to maturity. Together, the church does the work of ministry. Sunday morning is a piece of the preparation. The church leaders are here to equip the saints to do the work of ministry in everyday life.
It is for this very reason that Paul says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). If we want people to mature in their faith, we must continually point them to the Savior who is at work in them "both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). We exhort them to live obedient lives because God is at work in them! We walk with them and urge them to pursue spiritual maturity!
Preach the gospel. Urge people to confess and believe in Christ. Baptize people of all nations. But please don't fail to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20). There is no one-and-done Christianity. New converts aren't just banners to put in our sanctuaries or hall-of-fame rosters. They are eternal souls awaiting the day of Christ.
I recently came across a Ligonier article titled "Congregational Discourse". I highly recommend that you read it and ponder the conversations in your local church.
How are you contributing to the discussions that happen there? Are your conversations just shooting the breeze, talking about sports, discussing politics and the pandemic, and complaining? Are you intentionally speaking to encourage and edify the believers around you?
As you're reading these questions you may be tempted to bristle and think, "This guy's being legalistic! The Bible doesn't say we can't fellowship and talk about real life at church!". I’m not saying we shouldn't be able to have open and honest conversations about life. It's not a sin to talk about high school football or the Kentucky Derby. However, do you ever spend time "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16)?
It's easy to think this is the pastor's job, but "one another" puts the ball in your court, too. It’s the responsibility of every believer to contribute to the good of the church through godly conversation and encouragement.
If you're spending time with other believers outside of the corporate gathering on Sunday morning, then you're probably talking about the Word of God and how it intersects everyday life. That would allow for some casual talk on Sunday morning. It may also stir you to more godly conversation about the events of the previous week.
But imagine the impact we could have on an unbeliever if they heard us rejoicing about Jesus’ work in our lives and sharing the Word with one another on Sunday morning. They'd be able to truly look in and say, "Wow! They really love Jesus! He's all they can talk about!". Instead of simply being wowed by the pastor’s handling of the Word, they’d be encouraged by “normal” Christians, too.
Imagine our children or a new Christian hearing us talk about Jesus week after week. They would see us living out what we are teaching them! It has been said that more is caught than taught. While there may be some flaws in that statement, we should strive to be Christians worth imitating—especially in our conversations.
This godly discourse could also be preparing our hearts for the songs we are about to sing, the sermon we are about to hear, the Lord's Supper we are about to take, or the week we are about to live.
As a younger man, I would love to have an older believer drop a practical nugget of wisdom on me moments before corporate worship or just after hearing the sermon. It would be a blessing to hear an older woman drop a gem of parenting knowledge on my wife and I. I'd love to hear a zealous young believer share how God is using the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan to shape his days throughout the week.
In the words of Dr. Mark E. Ross: "This is the 'buzz' that should be heard in our congregational discourse. Will it be heard in your church this coming Lord's Day? Will the word of Christ be dwelling among you richly, or just barely?"