It’s not because we’re prude or boring or holier-than-thou or because Jesus said so. (Jesus actually never discusses movie ratings anywhere in the gospels.) It’s not because we hate fun or because we don’t like movies or because we shun electricity or the conveniences of a modern society.

It’s because we’ve chosen a different way.

We’ve chosen to follow Jesus, and if He were still walking the earth today I don’t think literally following His trail would ever lead us through an R-rated movie showing. Maybe that sounds odd to say, but what do we think we mean when we say and sing and pray and write that we’re, “following Christ?”

Movie Ratings are Not a Litmus Test

It’s not about adding one more rule to the pile, or one more item to the list of Fun Things Christians Can’t Do. Truthfully, a movie rating isn’t a litmus test for evening entertainment. We do watch some R-rated movies, depending on why they’re rated R. Did you know you can see that information? You can Google any movie, of course, but if there is a full MPAA rating box on a poster or DVD box, the fine print at the bottom is the reason for the rating.

R Violence

Sometimes movies are rated R for historically accurate violence. The rating description in those cases will often say, “WAR-RELATED VIOLENCE” (and nothing else), or “INTENSE SEQUENCES OF ACTION.”

youth group elgin ilI don’t like watching violence, but sometimes it can be used to make a life-changing emotional impact where the violence is accurate. The Passion of the Christ is rated R, but it was a catalyst in my own salvation. The 2008 movieTaken is rated PG-13, “for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language,” but it opened a lot of people’s eyes to the horrors of human trafficking.

And just like an “R” doesn’t automatically disqualify a movie, “PG-13” doesn’t automatically qualify a movie either. Descriptions you might see on a PG-13 rating include:

  • CRUDE AND SEXUAL HUMOR
  • DISTURBING THEMATIC MATERIAL
  • STRONG SEQUENCES OF VIOLENCE
  • SEXUALITY
  • INTENSE SEQUENCES OF VIOLENCE

We avoid those things too, even if the overall rating is PG-13.

Rules vs Lifestyle

So it’s not really, for us, so cut-and-dry as to say, “R-rated movies are off-limits, and PG-13 movies are all good.” Because this thing that we’re doing as we follow Jesus isn’t about a list of rules, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not about what we do (or do not do), it’s about who we are (and who we want to be). 

It’s about understanding what Jesus and the apostles tried to teach us about how we were designed and how we work, so we can live in the fullness and the goodness that God has for us. For example:

1. Light vs Darkness

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“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” – Jesus (Matthew 6:22-23)

This little piece of advice is from Jesus’ most popular sermon. (It’s sandwiched right between, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” and, “No one can serve two masters.” Hmm.) Jesus is basically saying that the things that you look at/focus on determine the condition of your soul.

We like to think that watching graphic things doesn’t affect us—because most of us don’t leave a violent movie and go kill someone, or a perverted movie and go spoil ourselves—but Jesus clearly said it does. When you and Jesus disagree, take it from me: Jesus is right.

2. Things to Think On

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Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. – Paul (Philippians 4:8)

The apostle Paul understood that the things we fill our minds with affect our souls and our spirits. Remember, he’s writing this TO CHRISTIANS.

3. You Are the Church

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Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. – Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Think about that. There’s no need for a special kind of religious building anymore, because believers are the places where God’s Spirit lives. Think about the last movie you watched. If your local church was going to have a movie night and show that movie, would it be weird? Would it seem inappropriate? If it would be inappropriate to show a particular movie in a “church” building, is it a movie that a Christian—who is the true Church—should let into his or her soul?

We use the phrase, “give my life to Christ,” but do we really give it? All of it?

We could quote Bible references on the topic all day. Jesus said that His followers would be different from the world, but that doesn’t just mean in the ways that we’re okay with. He said to count the cost of following Him because there is a cost, and then in the next breath He basically just gives us the answer and says, “Everything. It’s going to cost you everything.

“I know, BUT …”

But no matter how “right” this all reads, or no matter how true it seems, so many people who call themselves Christians will still go to grossly violent and profane movies … or listen to similar music, or flip through graphic books or magazines, or click through websites they would never show their pastor. Why?

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Because it’s “too extreme” to live this way? Because what will people think? Because we don’t want to give up our fun little distractions?

Timothy and I have missed out on movies that we wanted to see (and events we wanted to go to, etc.), but you know what? Except for the recent ones, I don’t remember what they are until someone brings them up. A month or two later, when there’s a new blockbuster or a different fad, we don’t even remember the ones we said No to. Because it’s really not that important.

We also don’t have strife and division in our home. We aren’t prone to emotional rollercoasters. We don’t have unhealthy and unrealistic ideas about our marriage relationship. We aren’t often confused about what is or is not His voice, or why His presence seems harder to find suddenly. We limit the things that influence our souls and we are healthier and stronger for it.

What Do We Really Believe?

This is not about adding a rule to your life. Like I said, ratings are not cut-and-dry anyway. It’s about whether or not we believe God’s word, and whether or not we’re willing to actually think about how it applies to our lives.

Are my spirit and soul really affected by the things I see?
Am I really the temple of the Holy Spirit?
Do I really belong to God?

Then what does that mean for this movie I want to watch? Or the music I usually listen to? Video game? Websites? The list goes on.

Are we willing to question what the rest of the world calls, “normal?” Are we willing to stand out, even in not-cool ways? Are we willing to really follow Jesus, and only Jesus? It’s not easy, but Jesus never said it would be. He only promised it would be worth it.

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youth pastor elgin ilAlexis is an Associate Editor and Researcher by day, and a Redefined Ministry Servant by night. When she’s not in front of a keyboard (which is almost never), she likes playing with her toddler, reading, and eating too much Indian food.