by Matthew W. Bassford
A few days ago, I posted a bulletin article about Galatians 3:23-25 and Paul’s proclamation that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. In particular, I applied this to the use of instrumental music in worship and explained that the use of the instrument in Psalms and elsewhere is not relevant to our practice today.
Not surprisingly, this generated a fair amount of spirited, though civil, discussion. I replied to most commenters in the thread, but there was one that I thought deserved a longer response. This commenter said, “Seems like strange logic to say ‘you are no longer under a guardian’, therefore you have these new restrictions (no instrumental music), even though those restrictions were never actually given. Being no longer under a guardian implies more freedom, not more restrictions.” I asked for and got permission from him to address his comment separately.
I think this comment gets to the heart of what it means to follow Christ instead of following Moses. Because we are justified by faith instead of justified by works, our motives for obedience are different.
Let’s start with the justification-by-works side first. Justification by works is necessarily minimum-seeking. If you agree to work for someone for eight hours to receive a given amount of money, you go home when your shift is over, and they pay you no more than they had promised. Everybody involved meets the standard (if they are just people), but no one exceeds it. To work longer or pay more would be an act of mercy, not justice.
Justification by faith is different. In the spiritual realm, none of us want what is due us! We don’t want justice. We want mercy, and we receive it through faith in Christ. He justified us when it was impossible for us to justify ourselves.
At this point, we encounter the rhetorical question of Romans 6:13. Should we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace? In other words, if my works are not contributing to my justification, why continue to work? In the remainder of the chapter, Paul replies that simply because we have been freed from the Law does not mean that we can do whatever we want. Rather, we have become slaves to righteousness.
However, the mode of slavery is different. We are not like the “wage slave” of the system of works. We don’t work because we want to earn our wages. Instead, we work because of the gift that has been given us. As per II Corinthians 5:14-15, the love of Christ compels us. He died for me, so I must live for Him.
This kind of slavery is far more profound than the other. When it comes to Jesus, I don’t ask, “How long must I work?” I ask, “How much can I give?” Nothing is too much for the One who rescued me from hell by a single transcendent act of mercy! Indeed, nothing is enough.
This transforms the way I read the Bible too. I don’t turn to the Scriptures to figure out what I can get away with. I turn to them to figure out everything that I can possibly do to please my Lord.
This makes the instrumental-music question easy. I know for certain that singing praises to Jesus pleases and honors Him. I don’t know that adding the instrument to my worship pleases and honors Him. There’s no evidence that it does.
At this point, I could lawyer and weasel and say, “Well, Jesus never told me not to!” That’s true, but it’s irrelevant. In real life, I’m not bringing in the instrument for Him (no evidence, remember?). I’m bringing it in for me. I’m taking the life that He bought and paid for, and I’m trying to reclaim some of that life for myself.
That’s not who I am. That person died in the waters of baptism, and I’m determined to make sure he stays dead!
So it is that in Christ, we are freed from the Law and the need to justify ourselves, yet we also are enslaved in the most complete bondage that a human being can experience. Every action, every word, and even every thought must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ. As part of that obedience, until somebody can show me that instrumental worship is about serving Jesus instead of serving the self, I’m not interested.