John Piper on Instagram, Superficiality, and Online Fame

Is it wrong to seek online fame?

Influence is not wrong. Seeking to influence others is very Christian. But many Christians now set out to become social-media “influencers.” When does this become fame-seeking?

The desire to be famous is a sin. But the desire to be influential isn’t, not inherently. “And the problem arises when the pleasure sought in being made much of is greater than the pleasure sought in being of service. So, there is the rub. It is not a sin to desire that those who know us think well of us, provided that our hope and our prayer and our effort is that they will see the grace of God in us and give glory to God and, in that sense, make much of us or think rightly or well of us.” This goes back to our calling. We exist to make much of Christ, to find God to be all-satisfying, to find his promises completely trustworthy, and overall to be a person “whose joy is overflowing, even in suffering, in the pursuit of other people’s joy in God.” That’s why we exist.

Ask Pastor John

Tony Reinke

Distilled from the popular podcast Ask Pastor John, this comprehensive book compiles pastor-theologian and bestselling author John Piper’s answers to life’s perplexing questions about situational ethics, spiritual disciplines, theology, and more.

But religious acts done in the pursuit of self-glorification are insidiously wicked, and Jesus gives us all sorts of warnings to check our vainglory (Matt. 5:16; 6:1–6, 16–18; 23:5). “So all those warnings, it seems to me, are meant to give us tests to see if God is our true reward. All of them say, ‘If you seek satisfaction in man’s praise, you will not have your Father’s reward.’ The whole focus is on: Where is your heart? Where is your treasure? Is it in fame, or is it in God?”

Our motive for influence reveals what we treasure. It’s not a sin to seek to become an influencer. In fact, “it may be a sin not to want to be influential. We should want to win more and more people to Christ. It is a sin not to want our lives to count for winning more and more people to Christ. We should want to do more and more good, to relieve suffering, especially eternal suffering.” This is influence in service of others.

In the end, “let’s all admit how deadly difficult this distinction is”—the desire to bless others and not self-glorify. It’s the ongoing battle inside us, between the Spirit and the flesh (Rom. 8:5–7).1

Self-absorption and selfie sticks

Paul tells us that in the end times we can expect to see a spike in “lovers of self ” (2 Tim. 3:1–2). So are vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media proof of this end-time self-love?

Yes (and no).

Yes, vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media are often (not always) an expression of the self-exaltation, self-preoccupation, and self-fascination of these last days. But no, these new technologies are not the emerging of such final experiences of sin. They’ve always been there. The new technologies are giving new ways to express old sins.”

Yes, these are the last days, and we should be looking keenly and expectantly and hopefully and joyfully for the coming of our precious, longed-for, all-satisfying Lord Jesus. But no, these are not yet the very last days. But they are very much like the last days that began two thousand years ago in the first century.” Paul says that “in the last days” there will come people who are selflovers, and we ought to “avoid such people” right now (2 Tim. 3:1–5). Because they were already here.

But the larger question is about why we have “selves” to begin with. “God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with. He gave us a self, not to be the object of our joy, but the subject of joy. That is, not to be the focus of happiness in front of the mirror or the selfie, but the furnace of happiness in front of Jesus. He gave us a self not as an instrument of self-worth but as an instrument of worship.” Indeed, God intended for the self to be “a desire factory,” producing “endless desires” that push us to seek after “a joy outside ourselves.” Endless desires are never satisfied by the self. Those desires are given “to lead us outside our self—indeed, outside the world, because nothing in this world finally satisfies.” Our desires are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). “That’s what I’d say to the self-absorbed user of social media. The self was never meant to satisfy us. The self was never meant to find satisfaction in the perception or promotion of self. The self was made for God.”2

Social-media superficiality

Our social-media posts will be superficial if our feed is full of frivolous voices. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Superficiality is a very, very, very contagious disease. If you only hang out with superficial people, you will almost certainly be a superficial person. If you only hang out with superficial social media and TV programs, you will almost certainly be a superficial person.” On the flip side, walking with the wise—following the wise—will make you wise (Ps. 119:63; Prov. 13:20; Heb. 10:24).3

Yet on social media, “everybody talks incessantly. Most of the talking is clever. It’s repartee. It’s banter. All of these together produce a life that results in a superficial, trivial, clever Christian banter, shaped for the Twittersphere and crafted for spreading on Facebook. I don’t think we can do real evangelism on the basis of this kind of ubiquitous levity.”4

Our desires are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Should I Instagram my good works to magnify Christ?

Like the humble brag, social media gives us new opportunities to broadcast our good works to the world. So how do we let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Jesus’s command in Matthew 5:16) but also not practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them (Jesus’s command in Matthew 6:1)?

Jesus motivates our modesty with future rewards (Matt. 6:1). To desire that our virtue be rewarded now by our peers is evil—because “it signals you are not content with your Father’s reward. You need to add to it. You crave human praise, and so God’s reward is not sufficient for you. You need to supplement it by a little human adulation, and that’s what makes it so evil.”

So don’t blow a trumpet and bring attention to your good works done in private (Matt. 6:2–4). When you give to the needy, “don’t tweet your soup kitchen picture.” Do righteous deeds “so quietly that your right hand is able to make the gift to the needy and your left hand was hanging out on the other side and didn’t even know what happened.” Don’t aim for self-praise. For example, it’s one thing to encourage others to pray for victims of a tragedy. It’s another thing to say that you did pray for a certain situation. Know this difference. Jesus calls us “to make a concerted effort” to keep our prayers, deeds, and generosity to the poor unseen by others (Matt. 6:5–6).

But there remains “a real problem.” How do we also allow our deeds to be so seen that others praise God for them (Matt. 5:14–16)? We should aim to serve in secret, but often we cannot. Three suggestions.

  1. Many practical deeds of love “simply cannot be hidden, especially from those for whom you’re doing the deeds. You can’t stop and help somebody change a tire without them watching you do it. You can’t risk your life during a public act of terrorism to rescue a child without the crowd seeing what you’re doing.” Many good deeds can’t be hidden. But most can. Imagine going online to donate to a cause and right there you see “a little button that says, ‘Give anonymously.’ A real test, right?” Will you donate anonymously? Or put your name on it?

  2. Jesus recalibrates the goal and end of our love. Good works are not for the public theater of self-aggrandizement. We do good deeds so that more and more people will be pulled into worship of the living God. “Christians are never merely public do-gooders. We want people to know God, love God, serve God, glorify God, be saved, and be with God forever. This is the great passion of mercy ministries and justice ministries. If it’s not, we are probably being politically correct in order to win the praise of whatever group we happen to prize at the time.”

  3. We are all acquainted with the insidious desire to be worshiped. “We all know that there is a way to act publicly that gives the impression that you crave the approval and the praise of other people. This certainly comes to the fore in Twitter and Instagram and other social-media outlets.” It’s fleshly, not holy. Works of self-aggrandizement are a turnoff. It deters others; it doesn’t win them.

Jesus’s profound words in Matthew 5–6 tell us that we should be “deeply content with the reward of God—knowing him, loving him, treasuring him as supremely satisfying and glorious.” We should not crave the praise of man as if the praise of God is insufficient for us, “which is what craving signifies.” We should love genuinely, driven by the goal that others “would come to worship God and give glory to him.” And to that end we pray, “Fill us with spiritual desires, not vain, egoistic desires.”5


  1. APJ 983: “Is It Sinful to Seek Fame Online?” (December 30, 2016). For more on the virtue of influence, see “On Writing, Grammar, and Poetry” later in this book.
  2. APJ 1158: “Avoiding Pride in a World of Selfie Sticks and Social-Media Platforms” (February 12, 2018).
  3. APJ 1033: “Three Strategies for Overcoming the Superficial Life” (April 26, 2017).
  4. APJ 1234: “Three Threats to the Joy of This Generation” (August 8, 2018).
  5. APJ 1151: “‘Let Your Light Shine’—Should I Instagram My Good Works?” (January 26, 2018).

This article is adapted from Ask Pastor John: 750 Bible Answers to Life's Most Important Questions by Tony Reinke.

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