So, as I sit here listening to “Come to Me” by Bethel Music (GREAT song), I began thinking about worship music overall. Some worship leaders have asked whether or not modern worship music today is focusing too much on the “love” aspect of Christ, or that aspect of our relationship with Christ. The concern, of course, is that God is also Holy, and one day there will be wrath wrought upon the earth. He is a jealous God, and we see righteous anger from God in Scripture. There is more than one side to God, so to speak, which is absolutely true. In worship we should strive to worship God in whole. Not just the side of God we like or is more palatable to our sensitivities. That is why songs about His holiness are so important. Songs about His sacrifice are incredibly important as well, as it is from this sacrifice that hope of salvation is birthed. But when I think about all of these attributes, what strikes me the most is this consistent theme of love. This, naturally, got me thinking about the general ideology and theology about the topic of God's love overall.
Obviously, love – great love, coupled with mercy and grace, is what drove Christ to the cross on our behalf. There is no question here. Without the love that Christ has for us, there would be no hope. Period. And when I think of God’s holiness, while I am struck with the magnitude of His holiness, I am most astonished by the fact that the God of the universe, the Creator of all, the holiest of holy . . . this one, true, almighty, holy God . . . chose to love ME. How absurd! I am a relatively good person by society’s standards. I don’t cheat, kill, steal, etc. I pay my taxes, open doors for ladies, and try to be a courteous driver. My family and I give to those in need, both locally and abroad. All these things are good and right, but they account for nothing when stacked against the weight of my sin and unrighteousness. Where God is a pure white light of excellence and holiness, I am nothing but a dirty rag fit for the furnace. All that being the case, this holy God still pursues me. He still chases after me and desires a relationship with me. So much so, in fact, that he sent his Son to die for me. And it wasn’t an easy, clean death. It was gruesome and brutal. All for me. How can the stunning holiness of God not cause us to be amazed by His great love for us? Now, back to worship music . . . .
I could be wrong, but it seems like the main argument about songs that speak to the love of Christ is that it can lead to a watered-down faith, thereby ushering people into a lifestyle of carelessness and selfishness, believing that God’s love will compensate for anything we do. I can imagine that this can be true in some, perhaps even many cases. But if this is the case, then I believe the worshiper didn’t fully love God themselves. It is easy to “accept” love from someone, yet not love in return. But that is another story altogether . . . . So, with this thought in mind, some try to limit or even remove songs about the loving relationship we have with our Creator. To take this even further, this can sometimes lead to a theology based on acts and fear. A theology where God’s love must be earned. If you fear God, then you’ll do this, that and that other thing. If you don’t do this, that, and that other thing, then you’re obviously not living right. The problem I have with this mentality is that apart from God, we cannot do this, that or that other thing. We cannot do it on our own, apart from God. God says “come as you are, I will make you clean (paraphrased),” not “get your act together, and then I’ll take a look at you.”
Living a holy life, living a life that reflects and represents Christ is the goal. That is what we are trying to accomplish as Christ followers. If this is the goal, what is the motivation? For some, fear is the motivation. While that may seem like a bold statement, I think it is accurate for many in the church today. We feel the need to act holy and live holy lives because we are supposed to. If we don’t, then there are consequences (being outside the blessings of God). So, basically, the thought process is that we should live holy lives because we want to live in God’s blessing/don’t want to experience the consequences (whatever they may be) if we aren't. Now, while it is true that there are consequences for our actions, and sin can and does bring destruction into our lives, I have come to the conclusion that this mindset is not appropriate. This type of thinking leads to a theology based on self-earned righteousness. As though we have to do these things to earn the favor of God.
Now, don’t get me wrong – as a follower of Christ, there are expectations as to how we live our lives and conduct ourselves. We are called to live a certain way . . . to live as Christ did. And there are indeed consequences to our actions. But again, what is our motivation? The answer should be love. Gratitude. Adoration. Joy. Appreciation. All of these things, born out of the love we share with the Father. If we recognize God’s love, and love Him in return, won’t we WANT to become more like Him? Won’t we WANT to live our lives in a manner that pleases Him? Won’t we WANT to share that with those around us? With a fear based mindset, we don’t necessarily WANT to do these things. With a love based mindset, we can’t help but do these things! Love motivates us like nothing else. If we have a true relationship with Christ, HE will change us. We don’t have to do anything! We have freedom! Christ has wiped the slate clean! We’re redeemed! From there we need to walk in the footsteps of Christ, doing our best to live as He did. We will stumble along the way, but we remember that we are redeemed children of God, and that when we admit our failures we are forgiven. Then, we continue on. There is no guilt. There is no “religion.” Reading a certain amount of Bible passages a day doesn’t save you. Praying for a certain amount of time doesn’t save you. Going to church, once per week or 10 times per week, doesn’t save you. God’s love, grace and mercy saves you. All you need is faith, believing in Him and His workings. Then, you begin the process. You love Him in return. And your love compels you to dive into Scripture. Your love drives you to spend time in prayer communicating with your God. Love makes you yearn for the fellowship of other Christ followers. Love creates within you a desire for a holy life!
So, back to my original thought regarding worship music (yeah, this post went a lot longer and in some different directions than originally planned) . . . .
Love is where it all starts. Without it, nothing else matters. Now, for me personally, I am not necessarily a fan of the “love songs” we sometimes hear that seem more like a teenage boyfriend/girlfriend love . . . . those songs are weird . . . But acknowledging the love we receive from Christ, and expressing our love to Him in return are both extremely valid forms of worship. Use them in your church. Teach it to your congregants. Grow this into your children. God gave us free will because He didn’t want to force us into a relationship with him. If all we do is discount the love of God as a nice “warm and fuzzy” that is secondary to His holiness and justice, then we are belittling the very nature of God. Everything grows out of His love for us. And it’s because of His incredible, unfathomable holiness, goodness and righteousness that makes His love for us all the more scandalous and absurd. That is why we need to incorporate all of these traits when we are engaged in praise and worship. So, we need to do our best to be balanced as we teach those in our churches and around us about God. Whether you teach via preaching, or you teach via leading worship, or any other ministry, please do not discount the love of God. God loves us more than we can ever comprehend, as unworthy as we are. And I am so, so very thankful for it.