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When thinking about connecting the gospel to music, you want to distinguish between what the gospel is and its effects. Let me illustrate my point here. Imagine if it was Christmas, and you gave a gift to your child. Let’s further imagine that your child expressed gratitude for your generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness toward him.
Let’s also agree in this illustration that the child opened the gift, enjoyed it, and was happy about it. But here is the twist: let’s say the child chose to set it aside to spend time with the giver of the gift rather than the present. Maybe your child would say something like,
Dad, you are so kind to me. You have blessed me in every way imaginable by how you lavish your love on me. You have gone to great lengths to provide this gift. And while I am incredibly grateful and blessed by your generosity, I had rather spend time with you. You’re the one I love, adore, and desire. I don’t want to minimize what you have given me, but I want you most of all, dad.
I’m not sure about you, but if anyone of my children ever said anything remotely close to this, I think I would fall through the floor. But let me be honest: if the truth were known, this kind of attitude is not native to me either. I know we like to say, “Just give me Jesus,” but this kind of gospel-centered thinking does not saturate our minds as much as perhaps it should.
Back to my illustration. The present is the effect or result of what a parent can do for their child. I’m speaking of the gift and the giver. Though both “gift and giver” are vital to your salvation, there must be an order of priority. For the believer, Christ is preeminent in our hearts, while the effects of His loving sacrifice is the gift of gospel salvation.
The temptation is to get the gift on Christmas day, run outside to play, with a brisk “thank you, dad” as the door slams. I’m not being hard on kids, nor am I expecting them to be different from my illustration. However, Christians everywhere should have the goal always to keep Christ at the forefront of their minds. The focal point of eternity will be Jesus, and it will be His gift that will afford us the privilege to adore Him forever.
What do the gift and the giver have to do with music? When it comes to Christian music, there are two types, generally speaking. There are the songs that exalt Christ, and there are songs that talk about what we get because of Christ. Go back to my Christmas illustration: there is what you get and the one who provides the gift.
What I’m not doing here is downplaying songs that clearly and theologically articulate what we get because of what Christ did through His sacrifice. To sing of the benefits of His gospel work is one way to adore Him. But I would be curious to know which type do you sing the most. It’s easy to tell: what are your favorite Christian songs? Perhaps a scroll through your playlist will provide the answer.
Songs about Christ should put you on your knees or your arms in the air quicker than anything else. Songs about Christ will lift your soul to places that no other music can. The tendency for me is to focus on the “what’s in it for me” mantra. To be genuinely gospel-centered in my music selections, I must be other-centered in my presupposition, which speaks to the essence of the gospel: Jesus did not come for others to serve Him, but to give Himself to others (Mark 10:45).
Perhaps somebody will hear me downplaying salvation, grace, obedience, commitment, God’s Word, justice, freedom, and many other effects of the gospel. All of those things are benefits of Christ’s work in your lives. If you hear me downgrading those things, you’re not listening well. You should never downplay the benefits of the gospel (Psalm 103:1-2). But you do want to make sure that you don’t slip into the worst version of what I’m saying here, which is the prosperity gospel.
That version of Christianity has a “success formula” where people “use Christianity” to grow their profits, platforms, portfolios, and personal profiles. They adore themselves more than Jesus, and they surround themselves with all the companions that will pump that “winning attitude” into their brains (1 Corinthians 15:33).
If the effects of the gospel do not turn you back to the Giver of the gospel, you may want to address how you think about the gospel. In this article, I’m speaking of your music choices. May Christ always be first in your mind and your playlist. If He’s not, perhaps you want to revisit your Christian music diet to examine the kind of spiritual food that is fueling your heart motivations. Maybe reading Revelation 5:1-14 will help to reorient your mind back to the Giver of our great salvation.
I have not addressed other types of music in this article. I suppose you listen to different genres, which is great because music is a gift from the Lord. For example, when I write, I typically listen to Mozart because it’s one of the purest forms of music there is, and it helps me to stay focused on the task of serving you.
There are many musical genres, and none of them have to be wrong. It would depend on the lyrics and how the music fosters and perpetuates the desires of your heart. The music is not necessarily evil, but our motives, per James’ counsel, can lure us away (James 1:14-15). Worldliness is in our hearts, not in the world (1 John 2:15-16).
If your musical choices are part of the negative influences in your life, then you must address why you listen to what you do. The Christian surrounds himself with sacred and secular things that don’t amplify evil in his heart but stimulates him to spread the fame of God. Whether it’s music, technology, food, time, or relationships, you do all for the glory of God. But if any of those tamp down your passion for loving God and others most of all, you must address it.