On Singing About The Holy Spirit
The Bible is full of music. From the angelic chorus of heaven, to the victorious Psalms of Ascent, to the quiet song of Mary upon receiving news of the embryonic Messiah, God has chosen music as an instrument not only of doxology, but also theology.
There is no greater service of music than in conveying truth. When paired with biblical truths and phrases that grasp both the heart and the mind, a believer has a symphonic avenue to commune with God and the church in a way only God could orchestrate.
As one who loves this marriage of music and truth, I listen to a lot of worship music – songs intended to be used with and by the church for the glory of God and the edification of His people. Songs in the church are utilized to not only inspire, but to inform, to teach, to not only capture the heart, but also help in the renewing of the mind.
However, I am continually brought to the repeating rhythm of a trend in worship music that gives me caution.
My aim in this article is not to call out certain artists or shame any who may regularly sing these songs on Sunday morning. They can be beautiful and helpful in certain contexts. My aim is to get us to consider the songs we sing and ask whether or not they are undergirded by the power and words of Scripture.
That being said, I think it would be good to talk about the Holy Spirit and his inclusion in recent worship music.
Theologically, we know the Holy Spirit is God. He is part of the triune Godhead – equal with the Father and Son, yet with distinct roles. We often sing about the Father’s attributes of mercy, sovereignty and justice, and ascribe glory to Jesus the Son for the cross and the revelation of the fullness of God.
We are pretty orthodox in the way we sing about the Father and the Son.
But if an unbeliever were to develop a theology of the Holy Spirit based on what we sing in our churches, what would they conclude?
The following phrases tend to be repeated in songs about the Holy Spirit:
Holy Spirit come
Fall afresh on me
Fill the atmosphere
I want to feel your presence
Flood this place
Rush in like a flood
Pour your spirit out
What are these songs teaching the church as well as onlookers about the Spirit of God? If I were to write down a thesis statements about the Holy Spirit based on what is mostly highlighted in songs about him, it would be this:
The Holy Spirit, once invited to come to a particular place or people, is a sudden and overwhelming presence whose coming correlates mostly with a feeling of joy, power, or atmospheric alteration.
One of the issues with continually inviting the Holy Spirit to come or be poured out is that we miss the miracle of Pentecost and the joy of knowing the Spirit has come and is omnipresent with the believer. We need not invite him any more than we need to invite Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. It is finished. Glory to God!
A biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit leads us to see Him and His activity in a different and even more awe-inspiring light.
Jesus spoke of the Spirit as a holy guide, helper, and empowerer in the Gospel. He is sent by the Son to continually bear witness to Jesus as the Christ (John 15:26). He intercedes for us in prayer because of our weakness (Rom. 8:26). He is our seal of adoption in Christ (2 Cor. 1:22). He guides believers to walk in truth on the path of righteousness (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is the instrument of sanctification – the process of daily dying to self and being conformed to Christlikeness. But I get it – sanctification isn’t sexy. It doesn’t easily translate into a sweeping chorus. Sanctification isn’t emotional or spontaneous. It certainly can be, praise God, but usually it looks like the daily battle to read and apply the Scriptures.
The work of the Spirit is usually the blue-collar work of shepherding a wandering people on the way that is right – the way of truth. It is standing on our side as we battle between sin and righteousness. It is urging us towards the way of the cross and reminding us of Jesus. The Spirit is a guide to the stumbling blind on the path of righteousness – not merely a force to fill a place.
As I revisit the themes of many of our didactic songs about the Spirit, I fear few of them paint the picture of this type of God. Many seem to call for a re-visitation of Pentecost rather than asking for strength to do the dirty work of self-denial and God-glorification.
Church, let us sing songs about the Spirit. Let us write songs about the Spirit and His work. We need more. But we also need to remember God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to do God’s work. If we want the power of the Spirit in our songs, we need the content of the Word in our worship. We need songs filled with Biblical truth to truly know and celebrate the Spirit in a way that honors him.
In that way, may the Holy Spirit truly and greatly work in power among His church for His glory and our good.