It was my one guilty pleasure. At least that’s what I told myself when the kids were in bed, the dishes were done, and I was cozying up in front of the TV.

I had discovered the show one evening when Clint was busy, and I was too exhausted to do anything productive. It was trending on Netflix, so I gave it a try. Two episodes in, I was hooked. The plot was addictive, the characters were gorgeous, and their world was so exciting.

So unlike my world.

Plus, it was a fairly clean show. I was halfway through the first season and the main characters had yet to even kiss. So every night I grabbed the popcorn, flopped on the sofa, and told myself, “It’s way cleaner than the shows my friends watch.” There was just one problem.

It bothered me.

It bothered me in the morning when I woke up to my mundane life with last night’s heart-racing episode fresh on my mind. It bothered me in the afternoon when I settled fights and folded laundry and counted the hours until everyone was in bed. It bothered me in the evening when I compared my comfortable relationship with my husband to the blossoming romance I’d been viewing onscreen.

“I think I need to stop watching this show,” I finally told a friend. “It’s putting me in a funk.” Then I quickly added (lest she judge me), “But it’s clean! It’s not like there’s any sex or nudity in it.”

The Relativity of Purity

In 2012, Ted Turnau wrote a book called Popologetics, which examines pop culture from a Christian perspective. The book taught me one life-changing truth: When it comes to consuming media, believers must consider more than just content; we must also consider context.

Content is readily observable. In fact many helpful websites, like Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, report questionable content in movies so Christians can make wise choices.

But context is a lot trickier. Let me give you an example.

Several months ago, my husband and I stole away for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary. One night, a classic movie came on TV. I had seen it a dozen times, but Clint took one look and said, “I can’t watch that movie.”

“Really?” I asked. I knew there were a few bad scenes, but I told him I would skip those. Still, he shook his head.

“It’s the way she dresses,” he said. “I don’t want to watch that.”

“No problem,” I said, grabbing the remote. I was so thankful for his honesty! We settled on an action movie instead. From a content standpoint, it scored an A+. There was mild violence, virtually no profanity, and zero sex or immodesty.

But the movie stirred so much inside of me. The hero was strong and invincible. He always rescued the girl just in time. When he was sick, she nursed him back to health. They were a team, on the run, fighting for their lives, and fiercely protective of one another.

That night as I laid in bed, I thought about the two different movies. The first one had some questionable content, but none of it bothered me. The leading man was old enough to be my father, and I always skipped questionable scenes. I just enjoyed the storyline. But the second movie lingered in my mind, and worse yet, in my heart. It was squeaky clean, and yet it made me long for a fantasy — for an adventure and a romance and a hero who couldn’t possibly exist.

That is what Turnau means when he says context also matters. “Context” differs for each person. In other words, what’s pure for you may not be pure for me. James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” In other words, there are times when the right thing for you to do (or not do) is subjective.

Let me be clear: I absolutely believe there’s a point at which “content” becomes so contrary to God’s Word that believers ought to take a stand against it. No one can righteously claim, “Pornography may not be pure for you, but it’s pure for me.”

But often it’s tempting to judge another believer for watching “that show,” when “my show” may be just as poisonous to my soul, even though it lacks explicit content.

Perhaps then we would be wise to invest less energy into casting judgment and more energy into learning what is impure for us contextually. A while back, I challenged a friend to quit watching a popular home renovation show because it stirred up such discontentment and materialism in her heart. The show is so “clean” a five-year-old could watch it, but it was causing fights between my friend and her husband. “It’s such a good show!” she told me.

“I know,” I said. “But maybe it’s not a good show for you.”

The Reward of Obedience

I thought about my friend as I wrestled to give up my own special show. It was easy to spot compromise in another person’s life but so difficult to defeat it in my own. Finally, one day I sank onto the sofa and prayed, “God, what am I doing?” Like the foolish people of Romans 1:18, I had suppressed the truth because I loved my sin. But that day I made the decision to actively love Jesus more. By His grace, I cut the show out of my life.

Within days, the fog of discontentment began to clear. I found myself delighting in my family—studying my husband with fresh affection, thanking God over and over for my children. Best of all, I sensed God’s pleasure.

The truth is, God’s way is rarely easier, but it’s always better. If you’re wrestling today with some form of media that’s sapping your soul, won’t you be bold and give it up? Do it by faith! It may not feel better immediately, but the fog will clear. When it does, you’ll realize you traded a cheap idol for true joy.