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If there’s one thing social media companies have learned, it is that moral outrage is good for business. In fact, some sociologists have even begun to speak of the “Outrage Industry”.[1] We live in the age of the perpetually offended and these companies ensure that our feeds are always littered with posts about the very things that offend us most. They understand that we are far more likely to engage with or share a post if we are offended by it.

I say “we”, because for the most part Christians are just as predictable in their social media engagement as everyone else.[2] Whether it is a post about abortion, transgenderism, the war in Ukraine, or the situation in Israel – our hair-trigger tempers are ever ready to go off. We respond in anger – words dripping with sarcasm and contempt for our opponents – and we go on with our day feeling justified in having “taken a stand for the Lord”. After all, didn’t the Apostle James tell us to be “slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to anger?” And was it the Apostle Paul who commanded us to “speak the truth in wrath?” They never said that of course, but many of us seem to live as though they did.

Although social media has undoubtedly shaped the way we express moral outrage – the tendency itself is nothing new. In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees often seemed to burn with a kind of “righteous” indignation. And let’s not forget that two of Jesus’ closest disciples once got so angry when they were refused accommodation in a Samaritan city, that they were ready to call fire down from heaven upon its inhabitants. (Lk. 9:51-56). Talk about getting triggered!

Thankfully, the Bible goes beyond simply giving us examples of how not to express our sense of moral outrage. In Titus 3:2, Paul commands the young Pastor Titus to teach the believers on the Island of Crete to: “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” But he also tells Titus to remind them of the theological motivation behind this command.

He starts by saying: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (v.3). You may be tempted to think that this is all there is to Paul’s argument: We need to take care how we speak to people, because we too were once sinners. But Paul continues his argument:

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (vv.4-7). I trust you see the point. Paul tells Titus to remind his flock that God did not save them because of any works of righteousness on their part, but according to his own mercy. They are justified, he says later, by God’s grace and not by any merit of their own. God’s goodness and loving-kindness towards them was not motivated by anything in them – it was simply a demonstration of His mercy.

Paul says that this is the reality that must shape the way they speak of and to all people. They are not to speak to them as they believe they deserve to be spoken to – because God in his kindness and mercy has not treated them the way they deserve to be treated. Because of the grace they’ve received, their words should always carry with them an aroma of grace. As Paul says to the Colossians: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” (4:6)

Our words are to be consistent with our understanding of the gospel. What do we have, that we have not received (as a gift) and if we’ve received it, how can we boast? We were not saved because we were more righteous, more intelligent, or more politically conservative or any other reason we can think of. If sovereign grace had not opened our hearts to believe, we ourselves would still be among the lost. As we so often sing:

“Twas the same love that spread the feast

that sweetly drew us in;

else we had still refused to taste,

and perished in our sin.”

In this way, the gospel serves as ballast that keeps us low. It undermines our sense of moral superiority which so often accompanies our righteous indignation. It reminds us that if we know the truth, and if there’s been a moral transformation in our lives, it is only because God mercifully intervened.

I’m not saying it’s always wrong to get angry or speak out about things we find morally reprehensible. On the contrary, Christians who never get angry at the state of things in the world and the Church should probably question if they are even saved. Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers (Mt. 21:12-13) and Paul’s spirit was provoked when he saw the city of Athens given over to idolatry (Act. 17:16). But the gospel reminds us that we are dealing with people “taken captive by the devil to do his will” just as we once were. The fact that they are deceived doesn’t excuse their sin, but it should give us greater compassion towards them in their sin. Surely it means that we should engage with them prayerfully, even tearfully, knowing that the darkness they are under is great and that Christ is their only hope – as He has been our only hope.

As we engage with the lost, let us never forget that we too were once foolish, disobedient, and led astray by various passions. Let us not forget that we are debtors to mercy alone. And as we engage in the so-called culture war, let us not forget that our struggle is not against flesh and blood and that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual. Let us not forget to pray for our enemies, praying above all that they might know the mercy we ourselves have known in Christ.

[1] The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility by Jeffrey M. Berry  & Sarah Sobieraj

[2] See Christians in the Age of Outrage by Ed Stetzer