There are often two perspectives among Christians regarding the use of the internet: some shun it, while others embrace it. This article shows that the internet has bad and good qualities, and picking one of these extreme stances is not the right approach. Users must simply be discerning when using the internet. In this way it can be used for God's glory and the building of His church.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2012. 4 pages.

Can Anything Good Come From WWW-Land?

Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?

James 3:11

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sergio Leon

These quotations describe what con­fronts us whenever we browse the in­ternet. There is a lot of ugly, a lot of bad and a lot of good content avail­able in WWW-land. It is a spring – no, perhaps we had better call it a flood – which pours out fresh and salt water from the same opening, inundating us with multiple billions of pages of infor­mation: textual, audio, and visual. This flood of information has returned us in one sense to the time Dickens describes. We may say it is the best of times and the worst of times, the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief and the epoch of incredulity.

Once you are hooked up to a broad­band connection and have the requisite computer hardware and software, it’s all there just waiting to overwhelm you. Just click on your browser and whoosh... It’s enough to make some of us wish we were Amish or even hermits. But burying one’s head in the sand (only humans do such a stupid thing, ostriches certainly don’t) won’t make it go away.

As Christians we are to glorify God in all things: “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do (e.g. surf the internet), do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). So how can we glorify God surfing the internet? I want to consider two unscrip­tural approaches taken by Christians and then consider a scriptural one.


There is a long history of Christians re­sponding to the culture around them, and especially to cultural change, by standing apart from it or even isolating themselves. For Christians who truly want to please the Lord, it is understandable that many will completely reject any use of the internet because so much of it is bad and ugly. After all doesn’t Scripture say, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (KJV, 1 Thess 5:22)? It is almost impos­sible to avoid being confronted by sin and ungodliness on the internet. Foul, immoral and blasphemous language is everywhere. Typing a wrong search key can bring up all kinds of pornography and sexual perversions. Even the news pages have thumbnail shots of prurient and salacious gossip with links to click for the “full scoop.” It’s not possible to avoid “all appearance of evil” and use the internet. So some sincere Christians urge abstinence. Don’t go near that cess­pool and you won’t be polluted.

But there is a serious error in such thinking. Although it is true that dumping sewage and industrial waste into our lakes and streams will pollute them, the external pollution of our society is not what pollutes us. Jesus makes that very clear in Matt 15:11:

It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man ... the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.

Jesus is teach­ing that the source of our defilement is not external things but our heart. Man is polluted right in the very core of his being. Therefore pollution pours out of him in all he thinks and says and does – unless by God’s grace that polluted heart is replaced by a renewed one.

But someone may argue, Jesus was talking about eating food with unwashed hands. He was not talking about the sinful acts, blasphemous words and false teachings which are so freely available on the internet. We should have nothing to do with such sinful things and therefore we should completely avoid any use of the internet.

Yes, Jesus was responding to the criti­cism of the Pharisees and scribes who accused Jesus’ disciples of eating with unwashed hands and so defiling their food and becoming defiled themselves – according to their tradition. But surely Jesus is giving us a more general princi­ple: it is what comes from our hearts that pollutes us, not what comes from outside us. That is what God intended to teach His people through the various ceremo­nial cleanliness rituals – they needed a cleansing of their hearts. God said already through Moses that He desired circum­cised hearts: “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (Deut 10:16). Because they did not, Jeremiah made clear that they were no different from the uncircumcised of other nations:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised ... for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.Jeremiah 9:25-26

The Lord commanded His people to be separate from the other nations so that they would be a witness of God’s holiness to the surrounding nations. But that separation would not of itself produce holiness. They must draw near to God who promised that He would circumcise their hearts: “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut 30:6).

Disconnecting your modem from the phone line (or cable) through which it sucks all the rubbish from the World Wide Web (WWW) will not produce a circumcised heart. God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:7). At that point in the history of the world it was very clear that God was not saying that Cain must keep away from all the sinful and wicked things in the outside world so that he wouldn’t sin. There was no internet then, or TV or movies or pornography. There hadn’t been any murders or sexual perver­sions or robberies or violence or terror­ism or war. But there was sin in Cain’s heart just itching for an occasion to take control of him.

It is the same today when we have these evils all around us; sin is in our hearts just itching for an occasion to take control of us. The problem is not what’s “out there” but what’s “in here”. And isolation won’t fix that. Only God can fix that. And He will as we draw near to Him.

Uncritical Acceptance🔗

Other Christians accept and participate in our culture almost without thinking. I remember how shocked I was in 1976 when I stopped by one of the seminary student flats while I was studying for the ministry. Three young seminarians were watching a stand-up comedy show in which the comedian was cracking one foul, immoral joke after another. What shocked me was not the foul, immoral crudity of the comedian – though we never had a TV, I was fully aware that this kind of manure was the order of the day – what shocked me was that these young men, who were studying Reformed theology in preparation for the ministry of the Word and Sacra­ments, were laughing at and enjoying the immoral and foul vomit coming from the comedian’s mouth. God’s call to holiness and purity, integrity and moral excellence had been totally set aside as irrelevant. I was quite sure that none of these men could preach a sermon on Phil 4:8 the following Sunday:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, 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.

But I was also quite sure they needed to hear one.

What was the problem? Was it that these men were watching a programme that presented sinful acts, that was per­vaded with foul language, and which had, as far as I could tell in a few minutes, no redeeming features? No, that was not the real problem – though the very fact that these men were watch­ing such a programme was certainly a symptom of the real problem.

The real problem is not the sinful things coming from the outside. We live in a sinful world and to a greater or lesser degree will always be confronted by sin just as Jesus was. The real problem for these men was their uncritical accept­ance of what was being presented in the programme, their enjoyment and participation in what was contrary to the holiness of God. That uncritical ac­ceptance came from the inside, from unholy hearts.

We live in a very sinful world. There is wickedness and filth, ambition and pride on every hand. The only difference between the internet you surf in your home and the world outside is that you don’t have to walk outside to take it in, it’s all there at the click of the mouse. Just as we learn not to accept uncriti­cally everything in the world around us so we must do regarding WWW-land.

When you go for a walk outside, you don’t try to find all the muddy places and walk through them (unless you are a five-year-old boy). No, you walk where you won’t get your shoes all muddy. And when you go out for an evening’s enter­tainment, you don’t go to the red light district or to the XXX rated cinema or the homosexual bars. Why not? Because you belong to the Lord and you seek to please Him in all aspects of your life, including the entertainment you enjoy. And for the same reason you don’t join an exclusive club of ambitious entre­preneurs who are seeking to get ahead financially with no regard for the glory of God, or a women’s fashion society where one-upmanship is the way to promote yourself.

It is no different walking on the streets of WWW-land. You belong to the Lord 24/7 both in your home and outside it. Because you live for Him you set your mind against all that might displease Him. That means that you do not merely take in and enjoy whatever the next link may display. No! You see a mud hole and you recognise it for what it is and step around it. You see a news article and you consider its anti-Christian bias. You see the flashing advertisement for the newest BMW and ignore it since your 1994 Corolla is quite capable of getting you to work and to church. You see a blog by Carl Trueman, whose book Ref­ormation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow you recently read, so you subscribe to and read the blog because you realise he is a sound, Reformed author whose words will be spiritually profitable and challenging.

In other words you deal with the in­ternet as you deal with everything else in daily life. You do not uncritically accept whatever comes along, but you remember that first of all you belong to the Lord and then you seek to use the electronic tool He has placed in your hands for your edification and His glory.

Careful Discernment🔗

To do that takes careful discernment – not only in separating the filth and rubbish from what is good and honour­able and pure – but also in distinguish­ing truth from error.

I am amazed at how often I receive emails from friends and acquaintances about some shocking event in China or an amazing stand for righteousness taken by a Christian in the USA. However, a little investigation often reveals that the shocking event was a myth and the amazing stand for righteousness was a fabrication – like the urban myth that still circulates among some Christian groups that Charles Darwin had a death-bed conversion to Christianity.

Because anybody can write anything and distribute it widely on the internet, Anybody does! You must remember that there is no one between you and Anybody to check the information he sent you. Is it true? Is it a joke? Does it make sense? Is it a fabrication? Is it a way of promoting some hidden agenda? You need careful discernment!

Such discernment is also needed when assessing the mass of Christian in­formation on the internet. Just because a site is designated “Christian” does not mean it is a good place to learn the faith or grow in the grace and knowl­edge of God. There is a huge amount of “Christian” information on the internet, including every heresy and subtle error known to church history. In fact, if you are not a theologically well-read Chris­tian, it will be difficult for you to assess the mass of “Christian” information you can access at the click of your mouse.

But assessing Christian truth on the internet is no different from assessing it when it comes from other sources. When you attend a church of another denomination while on holiday, you may hear many “Christian” words and through them be fed a meal of heresy. You may attend a “Christian” Bible college and be taught that God is “developing” together with mankind or that He is a God who loves and saves those who first love Him.

On the other hand there is a huge amount of Reformed, solidly biblical ma­terial to be found on the internet. With a small financial outlay you can gain a solid and thoroughly biblical education, equivalent to a degree in theology, by a wise and discerning use of this valuable tool which God has placed in our hands.

All this leads me to a final observa­tion. Using this God-given tool requires much self-discipline because of the in­dividualistic nature of the endeavour. When you use the internet, you are not interacting in any personal way with other Christians. Your learning takes place without the benefit of critique or discussion with others. So you listen in isolation. Some people listen to sermons by great Reformed preachers but never become active participants in the life of any local church.

For we must use careful discernment not only in sifting truth from error but also in assessing whether our gaining much knowledge is at the cost of “for­saking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Heb 10:25). What we gain from the internet comes without any accountability, which we all need and which God provides through our brothers and sisters in Christ’s church. The individualistic nature of the inter­net may also come at the cost of serving God in His church and kingdom. In that case we would become puffed up with knowledge but lack the love of Christ for His own.

To answer the question of the title, “Can Anything Good Come from WWW-Land?” I would say, “yes”. But as in all aspects of life we who love the Lord must exercise careful discernment and self-discipline so that our walks in WWW-land may promote the honour and glory of God and build up His church.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.