As a professional musician for almost 40 years, I’m at least mildly interested in the Grammys each year. Who are the young artists that will be tomorrow’s legends? Where is music headed, if anywhere? What old artists are continuing to produce great music or making a comeback?
Since this past Sunday, there’s been a disproportionate amount of online buzz about the show. I watched a part of it and was freshly grateful for a DVR with fast forward capabilities. In case you missed it, this year’s event included an overtly sensual duet between Beyoncé and Jay Z, a satanically influenced segment by Katy Perry, and a mass wedding for 30+ heterosexual and same-sex couples, presided over by Queen Latifah, as Macklemore and friends sang, “Whatever god you believe in we come from the same one; Strip away the fear, underneath, it’s all the same love.”
I don’t watch the Grammys to learn theology, determine morality, or stand in judgment of those who haven’t found forgiveness in Jesus Christ. But there are always things to learn. This year I was reminded of the differences between musicians in general and Christian musicians.
Of course, there are many similarities. Christian musicians use the same instruments non-Christians do. There are no “Christian” notes, chords, or scales. God doesn’t give the best songs or skills to those who believe in him. Obviously. And we’re all fallen sinners in need of a Savior.
The differences aren’t always immediately apparent. Lines can get blurred as Christians try to be a light in the darkness and end up being pressed into the world’s mold (Rom. 12:2). We make relevance our religion and tolerance our trademark. It doesn’t always start out that way and doesn’t have to be that way. But if we don’t understand how knowing Jesus makes us different, we probably won’t be.
So as a refresher, for me and maybe others, here are three ways musicians who know Christ are different, not better, than those who don’t.
Christian musicians are called to follow a different standard.
Who makes the rules to live by? Is it the majority opinion? The ones who wield the most power? The savviest among us? Do we all have an inherent moral compass that tells us what’s wrong and right? Should we just seek to do the best we can as long as we don’t hurt anyone?
Any attempt to establish a universal moral code will fail unless it’s one we’ve received rather than one we’ve created ourselves. The only one who has the right to tell us what to do is the God who made us (Ps. 33:8-9). When people don’t believe in God, they establish their own ideas of what’s wrong and right. The problem is we tend to come up with different ideas of what those are.
Christians believe our ultimate authority is the God who made us, who has revealed himself to us in Scripture and ultimately in Jesus Christ. While we may come up with differing opinions at times about the details, we all agree on the source of authority. It lies outside ourselves. That means Scripture sets the standard for our clothing, our speech, our food and alcohol intake, our relationships, our marriages, and anything else we do. It’s in response to God’s mercy in the gospel that we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).
Christian musicians are called to show a different grace.
The common understanding of “grace” in our culture is allowing people to do whatever they want and accepting them in it, even encouraging them. Who are we to judge? So friends who engage in activities the Bible deems sinful should be accepted, approved, even applauded.
Biblical grace is different. It comes to us through Jesus Christ, who at the cross willingly took our sins on himself and endured the punishment we deserved. Grace is not only loving, but holy. Grace certainly includes showing kindness to everyone (Titus 3:2). But grace is favor given to those who deserved judgment. Grace meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us where we are. Grace teaches us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Grace calls us to acknowledge that we’re broken before it calls us beautiful. And that beauty isn’t rooted in who we are but in who Christ is.
Experiencing the grace of the gospel helps us understand that all people should be treated with respect and kindness. But it also makes us realize it’s loving, not hateful, to encourage and help people flee those things that are opposed to God’s will. Paul told his listeners in Jerusalem that God sent Jesus to “bless you by turning everyone of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26). It’s a blessing to obey God’s commands, not a curse. Grace not only forgives sin but enables change.
Christian musicians are called to seek a different glory.
It’s a rare musician (non-existent?) who doesn’t struggle with seeking their own glory. Everything we do is either in front of people or meant to be heard by others. Size means sales means success means significance.
Christian musicians, like all musicians, should pursue skill, excellence, and creativity in their craft. But we do it to draw attention to the One who is the source of all skill, all excellence, and creation itself (Ex. 35:31; 2 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 4:11).
Christian musicians have been freed to realize there’s someone more worthy to be glorified than themselves. It’s not that we can’t accept or give commendation for a job well done. We’re to give honor to whom honor is owed (Rom. 13:7). But accolades in this life don’t have to be the end of our existence or our primary pursuit.
All our glory is derived, second-hand, a reflection. Glory has to do with who ultimately gets the credit. Christian musicians, whether through a performance or their life, want people to think more highly of Jesus than themselves.
An Eternal Perspective
The Grammys, and events like it, focus on the best of the best, the ones who exceed all others in skill, effect, or popularity. But the last day won’t be like an awards ceremony, with different individuals being singled out as the only winner in various categories. “And the award for the person in all of history who was the most generous to the poor goes to…!”
There will be commendation, for sure, as God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” to every single person who who trusted in Christ and lived by his grace.
But there will only be one winner, one star, one individual to whom every knee will bow: Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:9-11). By God’s grace, may we join in with that unending praise, even now, as we tell the world that full forgiveness, transforming hope, and lasting joy can be found in Christ alone.
Thanks BK for your ever faithful work to provide a clear biblical world perspective to the working class Christian musician in a fallen and falling further world!
Great thoughts. There are so many similarities in what we do but our purpose in glorifying God is the opposite of glorifying oneself.
I really enjoyed reading this, Bob. Rules not just for Christian musicians but for all Christians in all walks. Thank you for the time and study you put into this.
Thanks Bob for your fantastic, thoughtful and encouraging words. I had the opportunity to work on the Grammy’s this year. I was asked to write the arrangement for Lang Lang and Metallica. I found myself in the position of trying to be salt and light in a very dark place and trying my best to let excellence speak loudly of God’s gifts and grace. I so appreciated what you wrote here and I’m with you 100% on this.
David, thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging words. Appreciate your work, and especially your aim to reflect the glories of Christ and the gospel wherever the musical doors open up. And the Lang Lang/Metallica arrangement was excellent! Quite the challenge to blend those two!
Awesome read Bobs! I really love your stuff! Ever considered coming to Poland?
Mateusz, thanks for stopping by! I haven’t thought about coming to Poland, but if the Lord provides the time, resources, and invitation it’s certainly something I’d consider!
Let me put it this way. I’ll start to seriously enquire about this as this would be more than awesome. At this stage I’ll remain your fan and a brother! God bless you Bob!
Bob, your words tied to the words of God blessed me today and reminded me of our purpose and calling. God bless you for your faithfulness in sharing the truth! This will stick with me today in a powerful and profound way.
Camp, thanks for your encouraging words. Comforting to know there is only One worthy of eternal glory!