Singing As a Means of Grace: Introduction

Music, Worship

Growing up, I was very into music. I studied classical piano and voice and composition. I taught myself guitar. Like so many people, music in many ways became an obsession and an idol – too much part of my identity and pride. But then God got ahold of my life in college – and humbled me and revealed himself to me in various ways. And one of the things God used was music. There was one Christian group on campus whose music was different. I’d never been a fan of Christian music. But this group sang songs with deep theological, thought-provoking lyrics…and they sang – really sang. They were sincere. Their hearts were engaged. They weren’t singing to perform; they weren’t singing to impress one another; they were singing to someone who was unseen with conviction. There was a reality to their singing that I had, as a musician, never seen before. I’d never seen people my own age having this reality of worship. It made a powerful impression on me. And pretty soon, what was being sung made an even more powerful impression on me. And I began to sing and sense and worship someone unseen.

In short, for me personally and experientially, God used spiritual singing as a means of grace in my life.

When Reformed Christians talk about the ‘means of grace’, they usually are referring to the corporate practices of the church – like prayer, Bible reading, preaching, Lord’s Supper and Baptism – that God has revealed as means and practices that lead to spiritual growth. They are the channels that God promises to use through the Spirit to build up and nourish God’s people. I want to argue that Christians need to recognize the place of spiritual singing as an important and Biblical means of grace.

Colossians 3:16 says,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (KJV)

Some translations end vs.16 with “singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God”. But Paul mentions “giving thanks” (eucharisteo) in the next verse, 3:17. In 3:16, the word is simply “grace” (charis).

Gordon Fee writes,“The focus is not so much on our attitude toward God as we sing, but on our awareness of his attitude towards us…our standing in grace that makes such singing come from the heart.” Paul is saying, true spiritual singing requires an awareness of God’s grace. In the context of the verse, singing is one way of letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly, letting it sink into the experience of your heart. Therefore, clearly singing is a means of grace, of expressing grace in the heart and getting grace into your heart.

In the next few posts, we are going to explore why and how to use singing as a means of grace…

[Update: One Facebook commenter reminded me that the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith contains an extra article on Singing.  PCF Ch.23 says, “We believe that (Acts 16:25, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16) singing the praises of God, is a holy ordinance of Christ, and not a part of natural religion, or a moral duty only; but that it is brought under divine institution, it being enjoined on the churches of Christ to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; and that the whole church in their public assemblies, as well as private Christians, ought to (Heb. 2:12, Jam. 5:13) sing God’s praises according to the best light they have received. Moreover, it was practiced in the great representative church, by (Matt.26:30, Matt. 14:26) our Lord Jesus Christ with His disciples, after He had instituted and celebrated the sacred ordinance of His Holy Supper, as commemorative token of redeeming love.”]

(By: Matt Foreman)

Three Thieves That Will Steal Your Worship


When I was a young teen our house was broken into and robbed. Among other valuables such as jewelry and various electronics, the thieves made off with my Super Nintendo. I’m still not over it.

It’s a very unsettling thing to realize that thrives have been walking around your private living space, a space that you unconsciously always considered to be safe. It’s the sort of event that motivates you to check the locks twice each night and make sure all the windows are firmly latched.

While most of us take every precaution to secure our valuables against theft, far too many of us are very casual about securing our hearts in regards to the worship of God. There are three thieves that roam our souls, and if we leave our hearts unlocked they will delight to snatch away our worship.

The First Thief: Boredom

I am not talking about that understandable boredom that comes from worship being conducted in a truly unacceptably boring manner, when the preacher is looking down, mumbling his notes, struggling even to keep his own wife from nodding off during the sermon. Those sorts of scenarios are actually a violation of several of the principles we observed last week.

That’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about this first thief. I’m talking about boredom with the things that God has provided for you in the worship of the church. We get bored with the songs, sermons, and servants of the local church. We long for something novel and potentially exciting. Sometimes we even chase it until we find it. And it typically fixes the problem (or so we think) for a short period of time, but soon what was once new and novel becomes mundane and just as boring as the older things we left behind.

The problem wasn’t actually with the church, it was within us; and so we bring the problem with us wherever we go. We must not be like Israel in the wilderness when she got bored with God’s manna. Rather, we must rejoice and maintain thankful hearts as we are regularly supplied with spiritual nourishment from our Heavenly Father.

The Second Thief: Criticism

It is frighteningly easy to sit through the worship of God and focus on the proficiency (or lack thereof) of the service, the musicians, and the preacher, rather than the glory of the God we allegedly came to proclaim. Do we come to church with a checklist, a mental report card that we fill out and render judgment? Have we come to evaluate men or to engage with the living God?

Remember that the men leading worship are always imperfect, but love forgives much. Cultivate a spirit of loving grace for your church and an eager expectation from your God. Resist the temptation to become a sour critic of all that doesn’t measure up to your personal standard and refocus your heart on the one you are called to truly evaluate- O taste and see that the Lord is good[1] He is able to make the most hardened critic weep again for joy as they surrender their heart to actually exulting in Christ for his majestic excellency.

The Third Thief: Cynicism

Sometimes we look at the church and we get cynical. We look at worship, and we scoff. We say in our hearts, what can this really do? What’s the point?

We must remember that God has set up the church and the accomplishment of his mission on earth in such a way that His power is made perfect in our weakness. We do in fact perform many functions in worship that do look quite weak. Preaching? Glorified speeches about the gospel, a message about a Man most people think has been dead for two thousand years? The systematic study of an ancient book? These are the things of simple, biblical, weekly worship. It the weekly does look weak to many.

But God says to us, “I will send home the armies of Gideon and win the battle with the weaker force, I don’t need your gimmicks, novelties, or strategies. I will accomplish my own purposes through the worship I have commanded. My strength will be manifest in your weakness. I will bless my children, I will draw them together, I will draw in more, and I will send them all out on My mission, My way, through My worship.”

And we get cynical? Jesus has been building His church as he promised for two thousand years. He says:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)

The all-authoritative Jesus is with us always. He is present and active in His church. And yet we somehow allow ourselves to forget this and slip into cynicism. Maybe what we need more than anything is a simple recommitment to trusting God at his Word. Maybe then our worship would be closer to His heart and His purposes, and many of our concerns and controversies would fade away.

A Defense Against Thieves

In the final analysis, the defense against to these three thieves is not novelty, it is repentance and recommitment. Dorothy Sayers wrote about Christian theology that The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man- and the dogma is the drama.[1] Although she wrote specifically about the temptation to throw off the older forms of orthodoxy, Sayers’ quote is relevant to worship in all its dimensions. Christian worship is a staggering drama; it is the whole story of redemption played out each week. If such things bore us, or if we are critical or cynical about them we must repent. We must reengage, not with the church per se, but more likely with the God of the Church Himself.

I called these things thieves that will steal our worship on purpose; this boredom, this criticism, and this cynicism. When we allow them to grow in our hearts, we don’t just diminish worship; we can actually depart from worship. We take ourselves out of the vital dynamic of divine interaction and become an outside observer. Jesus said of the Pharisees: These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. We can be bodily present in worship, even mouthing words and technically listening to a sermon, but in truth we are as far away from worshiping God as you could possibly imagine.

Maybe what we need is to have something reignited within us. Maybe we need to hear the Lord saying to us like he said through the prophets long ago, return to me with all your heart. Maybe then, our hearts will be locked up tight against the various thieves that have come only to steal and destroy. May the Lord guard our hearts against such burglary in our worship!

(By: Nicolas Alford)

[1] Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church, p. 1.

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A Principled Approach to the Worship of God: Series Conclusion


Before we conclude this series, we must briefly weave together these three principles of worship by going back to the illustration of an instrument. Imagine that in preparation for coming together as the church in worship, we are members of a symphony, getting ready for a concert.

The Vertical Principal of Worship has explained to us who we will be playing for. It is a concert for a King, and so while there are many others who can and should benefit from it, it is for the King. His desires and requirements must always rule.

The Regulative Principle of Worship has shown us how to build our instruments. It has shown us how to identify the parts; to indentify what is in and what is out. Using it we can build an instrument that meets the King’s design.

The Internal Principle of Worship has shown us that from within us must flow the breath that will take that beautiful instrument and make it perform the function it was designed for. The King doesn’t want us to just show him the instruments; he wants them played.

Worship is a vertical act with horizontal impact.

We must worship God in all the ways and only the ways he has commanded in His Word.

The external act of worship must be an expression of true internal realities.

When all the principles come together, then you have a symphony of beautiful music worthy to be offered to the King.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

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