The gospel is…the word about Jesus Christ and what he did for us in order to restore us to a right relationship with God. – Graeme Goldsworthy

Friday, June 7, 2013

When We Mean What We Sing...

I enjoy musical worship with all my heart. It edifies my heart. It fortifies my soul. It fans into flame my passion. I can’t help but listen in high decibels in my car or while doing the dishes in our kitchen. I can’t resist singing loudly with my people at church – albeit (very much) unlike Chris Tomlin.

But we often forget something when we sing to the Lord a new and enjoyable song. Amidst all the “worship albums” produced, epic worship concerts enjoyed, and worship bands rolled out each Lord’s Day, we need to keep something in mind – something that will both enrich our personal melodies as well as bring sobriety to our corporate harmonies. We need to mean what we sing. It’s so easy to sing along to a hymn or chorus and not think about the magnitude of what we’re singing.

To encourage us all to mean what we sing – in whatever context, privately or congregationally – I offer the following. While obviously not exhaustive, I pray it makes your musical worship more meaningful next time you sing to our triune God.

When we mean what we sing…we are saying something about our salvation.  Without believing that Jesus died in our place, receiving the eternal punishment our sins deserved and giving to us His perfect moral perfection, we cannot even stand before a holy God, let alone sing one note to Him (Rev. 7.9-17). It’s one thing to stand in the midst of a large group of people and hear the beautiful blend of voices. (Any religious gathering can do that.) It’s quite another to consciously remember as we sing with God’s people that the only reason He enjoys such singing – and our hearts feel the reciprocal warmth of our Father’s delight – is we have believed in His Son (John 3.16-18; Rev. 5.6-10). This is truly life (John 10.10b). This is true worship (John 4.21-26).

When we mean what we sing…we are saying something about our commitment to sanctification. Confessing with our mouths Jesus’ Lordship is not a heavenly hoop to jump through but an oath of unwavering, permanent allegiance (Rom. 10.9). And this vow of discipleship demands a holy life (Eph. 4.17-24). So, next time you sing a hymn or chorus, realize you’re saying to God, “I’m committed to holy living.” As Hebrews 12.14 says, “Strive…for the holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” We might say it another way: without holiness, no one should sing to the Lord (Ps. 24.3-4). Those who were stripped of their rags of depravity and given the positional holiness of Jesus at conversion are not done pursuing perfection (Matt. 5.48). They’re just not doing it to earn God’s eternal favor, because Jesus already did that. Musical worship is a wonderful way to be empowered for this pursuit – a pursuit that doesn’t lessen a true worshiper’s delight in God; it only increases it – for holiness only means a greater pursuit of our Savior. This is sanctification (I John 2.6). And such gospel-driven sanctification is true worship (Rom. 12.1-2).

When we mean what we sing…we are saying we are committed to serving the saints. Technology has made available the opportunity for privatized, individualized musical worship. We all benefit from this in our homes, cars, and ear buds. But there’s also a danger in it, too. We can forget altogether the Bible’s emphasis regarding gathered, congregational worship in the local church. If we gauge our love for God by the feelings we experience while singing in our quiet time, yet fail to commit to loving the people of a local church (with our time, talents, and treasure), those feelings may very well be self-deceiving – no matter their (apparent) authenticity (I John 4.20-21). Furthermore, the Bible commands us to sing musical worship – not just in an isolated vacuum of spirituality but – to each other (Eph. 5.19; Col. 3.16). Yes, we’re to lift our voices to the Lord, but we’re also to sing with energy and strength to encourage one another weekly to keep following in Jesus’ footsteps daily, no matter how bloody and heavy our personal crosses.

When we mean what we sing…we are saying we are willing to suffer for the Savior. Many congregational songs promise God wholehearted obedience. But, as we all know, it’s easy to zone out (for whatever reason) and fail to realize the gravity of what we’re singing. Songs of all-out surrender to the Lord will mean taking up future crosses, which often doesn’t cross our minds (Luke 9.23). But if we remembered this more, our singing would have a flavor of sobriety, not flippancy. When we vow to give God our “all” in choruses and hymns, our thoughts should be simultaneously responding to God’s favor in the gospel and requesting grace to fulfill our melodious promises to Him. For if our musical worship only results in an altered state of distraction or escape on Sundays (or any day), we may not be worshiping God after hard providences enter our lives; instead, we might find ourselves reacting in bitter disappointment, leading to a path of idolatrous apostasy. However, the believer who knows the Scriptures knows there’s a cost to true worship. After the glory of Pentecost (Acts 2) comes persecution and prison (Acts 3-5).

(With these things fresh on your mind, watch, listen, and worship to the song below. While enjoying it last weekend, the idea and motivation for this blog was born.)

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