Online, Jill is a joyful and encouraging believer. She advocates for the oppressed and raises money for the poor. Every Saturday she tweets about her service at the local homeless shelter. She posts Bible verses several times a day. Based on her social media interactions, her friends seem to love and enjoy her.

Offline, she’s a different Jill.

Offline Jill seems standoffish and unengaged with her church community. Her online activism feels more like judgmentalism and, while happy to volunteer at a shelter, she can’t be bothered to serve her local church. Hurt by her apparent disinterest, Jill’s peers feel ignored and pushed away. She seems more content to live online than face-to-face.

How can Jill’s online life look so different from her real life? I can’t judge her; I’ve been her and seen the fallout.

I Trick You

What I allow you to see online shapes your perception of me.

I put forth the cleanest version of myself not to intentionally fool you, but because I want to glorify God in all I say and do (and for more selfish reasons). I avoid broadcasting my negativity to keep you from stumbling (again, and for more selfish reasons). I carefully steward my statuses, affirm others, and avoid grumbling and complaining. I mind my moral and social p’s and q’s.

It’s an admittedly misleading version of myself. I’m not posting, “Wow. I’m totally out of control. #ShamingMySon,” or “I haven’t done laundry in a month. #RatherBeTweeting.” It’s not that I’m unaware of my sin; I’ve just methodically eliminated the evidence. You assume I sin sometimes, but not because I’ve confessed.

In short, basing your impression of me on my social media profile would result in an embarrassingly inaccurate rendering of reality.

I Trick Me

What I present online unintentionally shapes my self-awareness, too.

Looking at the neatest, tidiest version of myself is sneakily alluring. I like the feeling of appearing perfect. The onlooking masses (or handful of friends) needn’t know I sin, well, regularly.

To be honest, my own sin surprises me. I’m shocked when pride surfaces, self-control slips, or I fall prey to the same idolatrous patterns I’ve been battling for years. My gut reaction isn’t Woe is me, I am a woman of unclean lips, but embarrassment about the evidence of indwelling sin I thought I could hide.

If Real Me is radically different than Online Me, which me is real, and which is the impostor? If I’m failing to demonstrate the same fruit of the Spirit in “real life” as I do online, it’s probably plastic fruit—and I need to be aware of the discrepancy.

Getting Comfortable

It’s fun to fill your life with Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and blog readers who seem to care every time you nail a Pinterest project or your kid does something cool. Who wouldn’t love an audience to “like” all their pictures and “ooh and aah” over their craftiness?

But brothers and sisters, we must recognize this self-obsession and pride for what it is.

When I’m being encouraged primarily by online relationships, and large portions of my time are spent reading my own good press, it can get pretty comfortable on the sofa of social media. I like living in an online world where there’s no need for my community to truly bear with me. I’d rather bask in the love of my digital perfection than stumble and fall before real people who will call me out and hold me accountable.

If I’m not careful, hanging out where no one knows my dirt can easily lull me away from reality into a life of insincerity and isolation.

Being Present 

Avoiding real-life connections—the ones you see every Sunday morning—to unpack your heart in the digital community doesn’t only set you up for a delusional view of self, disappointment with your physical community, and social isolation; it also breeds spiritual stagnancy.

No matter how great your internet friends are, they aren’t standing beside you, sensing your suffocating self-absorption. They don’t see you at your worst or notice when you’re avoiding fellowship or suffering from spiritual depression. They won’t pick up on your dissatisfaction with your spouse, your constant bitterness or negativity, or your refusal to forgive the friend who hurt you. But real-life friends, the ones who can drive to your doorstep when you call, will.

I need friends who will get in my grill, iron sharpening iron, and help me to conquer sin head-on. I may turn a blind eye to my own social media slickness, but true friends won’t. I need to be confronted by my sinfulness in real life, where there’s no filter and no delete button.

Our Real and Present Need

My greatest need isn’t a public relations manager; it’s a Redeemer. And real-life, everyday friends—the ones aware of both my sin and the gospel’s power—will regularly remind me of this need.

Long-distance and digital friendships, no matter how wonderful they are, cannot gain full access into our souls. Seeing a friend’s compassionate eyes, holding her hand, and kneeling together in prayer are evidences of God’s tangible nearness in the war against sin.

Don’t settle for keeping your life primarily or exclusively online. Social media is a poor substitute for physical presence. Strive, fight for, and pour into those friends with whose voices, body language, and quirky personalities you’re well familiar. These are the hearts that know your heart—and are praying and engaging for your sanctification.