What does the Bible say that would apply to selfies?
The term selfie, which was the Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 word of the year, refers to a photo taken of oneself, usually with a camera phone, and posted on a social media site. Selfies can range from silly “duck-faced” snapshots to pornographic videos. A “selfie culture” is one in which people take a lot of selfies, of course. But, for the purposes of this article, we will further define a selfie culture as a widespread obsession with self-expression, self-esteem, and self-promotion, evidenced by the proliferation of self-portraits on social media. The Bible was written before the advent of camera phones, but God’s Word still has plenty to say about one’s view of self.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with taking a selfie and sharing it with others, selfie culture, as defined above, is steeped in narcissism. Need yourself to appear thinner before posting? There’s an app for that. The selfie mentality seems to find a boldness and arrogance behind the camera that would never be expressed in person: there are selfie sub-categories such as “selfies with homeless people” and “selfies at funerals.” By posting selfies, any person can taste a droplet of fame, which can quickly become addicting. However, this obsession can impact self-worth and true relationships when personal value is based upon the number of “likes,” followers, replies, or comments received in response.
When we apply biblical standards to the mindset commonly advanced in the selfie culture, we find an immediate clash of values. Jesus called John the Baptist “the greatest in the kingdom of God” (Luke 7:28). Yet John’s approach to personal fame is summed up in his famous statement “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Jesus was clear that to be great in the kingdom of God one must become a servant (Matthew 23:11). His life was the antithesis of the selfie culture’s obsession with self. Whenever the people tried to make Jesus king, He slipped away from them and went to lonely places to pray (John 6:15).
Jesus also rebuked what we could call a selfie culture among some of those who desired to follow Him. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26–27). In direct opposition to our self-centered desires, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
For the modern church living in the selfie culture, the New Testament expounds upon Jesus’ words, exhorting us to stand firm in the teachings we first received. Galatians 5:24 reminds us that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Those “passions and desires” are described in 1 John 2:15–16 as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The “pride of life” certainly defines self-absorption.
A selfie culture obsessed with self-expression cannot get enough of itself. Like lust or greed, an insatiable thirst for attention only grows when indulged. We are told not to chase after self-gratification and so distinguish ourselves from those who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:3–7). We are also instructed not to desire to be rich but to seek wisdom, godliness, and contentment instead (1 Timothy 6:6, 9–10; Proverbs 3:13–16).
Christians living in the selfie culture must beware of creating a “selfie Christianity.” Rather than challenge our culture’s self-absorption, many Christian leaders cater to it. The shift has been subtle but unmistakable. Rather than glorify the character of God, many sermon points now begin with the word you and focus on how God can help you in your life with your dreams. Instead of teaching the cost of discipleship as Jesus did (Luke 14:26–32), too many teachers promote seeking “your best life now” or tantalize with the promise of blessing for those who “pray this prayer after me.” Rarely is the depravity of man mentioned in the cathedrals that attract the carnally minded. Instead, the messages are light on Scripture and heavy on flattery and self-worship. Couched as “encouragement,” these selfie messages substitute biblical words like sin, repentance, and sacrifice with more pleasing terms such as mistakes, change, and believe in yourself. This selfie culture is seeing a fulfillment of 2 Timothy 4:3, which warns, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
The battle cries of New Testament Christianity have always been “Take up your cross and follow Jesus! Be crucified with Christ. Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, not here on earth” (Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20; Matthew 6:19). But the battle cries of selfie Christianity sound like this: “God thinks you are awesome! Follow your dreams! Speak positively, and God will bless it.” This pseudo-gospel has integrated with the selfie culture, and the heresy is going virtually undetected by millions.
Psalm 119:36 says, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.” The focus of the Bible is God, not us. The Bible is the historical account of God’s limitless love pursuing undeserving Man. It is the story of redemption, accessed only through repentance (Matthew 4:17; Acts 3:19). God does bless His people (Genesis 24:1; Psalm 128:1). He does delight in pouring out His grace, mercy, and blessing on those who fear Him (Ephesians 1:6; Psalm 112:1). But when we view God as a merely a means to obtain earthly blessing, we have bought into a false gospel. When Jesus is presented as the ticket to get what we want from God, “another Jesus” is being preached (see 2 Corinthians 11:4).
As we take our selfies and post them for others to see, we must take care to maintain godliness, modesty, and propriety. Selfie culture tends to foster a love of self. But Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30). When we love God, obedience follows naturally. We cannot love God biblically and continue to be infatuated with ourselves. The closer we draw to God, the more we see the depravity of our own hearts. Self-infatuation has no room for the love of God. We can only serve one master (Matthew 6:24). Jesus came not to refine our flesh but to kill it (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20), and until we are willing to crucify our selfie mindset, we cannot be His true disciples.