Yes, Singing Really Does Change People
When I was converted to Christianity as an adult over twenty years ago, I vividly recall my first Sunday at my mother’s church. At the time, I had very little frame of reference for what a church service might look like. Growing up, I only stepped into a church building for the occasional funeral. My mother and a few of the Christians I knew had invited me to church for years—a request I would always politely decline as I scoffed inwardly at the very thought that I could possibly need salvation.
But now, everything was different. Weeks earlier I had given my life to Christ after reading the Gospel of John. Suddenly, I saw the world through new eyes. Though I didn’t know anything about church, my thought was that if there was a group of people who were as eager as I was to celebrate my precious Lord Jesus who had so powerfully revealed Himself to me, I was all for it!
As I entered the building, I was immediately struck by the festive, welcoming atmosphere. As I walked to my seat, nameless saints stopped me numerous times to greet me with a warm hug. Some told me they had been praying for me for years. Once the music began, everyone stood and completely gave themselves to “praise and worship” for the next hour. There was singing, clapping, dancing, and shouting. The full-bodied engagement of the congregation clearly indicated that God is a big deal and that it was important to make much of him.
Every song was completely new to me. But as soon as I learned the melodies, I joined right in. One song in particular captured the joy and simplicity of my newfound love for God and the gospel:
Lord, I lift your name on high
Lord, I love to sing your praises
I’m so glad you’re in my life
I’m so glad you came to save us
You came from heaven to earth
To show the way
From the earth to the cross
My debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord, I lift your name on high
In those early years of my walk with the Lord, I viewed singing in the church primarily as a means of worshiping God by reflecting on my salvation, like in the song above. What I hadn’t considered as much is the idea of singing as a means of grace for the sanctification of believers.
When you think about sanctification, what comes to mind? Most of us would mention things like Scripture, faith, the Holy Spirit, trials, temptation, suffering, and prayer. All of those certainly play a role in making us more like Jesus. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the role that singing plays in helping both individual believers and congregations to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul contrasts the glory of the law of Moses with the greater glory of the New Covenant revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In verse 18, he gives a powerful description of how followers of Christ are sanctified: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
A few verses later, we see that this glorious sanctifying work is empowered by God’s Word as the Apostles openly state the truth found in the Scriptures. We usually associate this with sermons or Bible studies or private devotions—and rightly so. But have you considered that this transformation can also occur as we sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)? Yes, singing really changes people!
We certainly see this in the numerous psalms that find the psalmist dealing with distress, difficulty, doubt, or discouragement and ultimately conclude with expressions of renewed trust and hope in God (see Psalms 3, 22, 31:9–24, 38, 73, among others). What the psalmists experienced wasn’t merely a better mood, but something profoundly spiritual: increased faith in and love for God, qualities that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. The Psalms were the original hymnbook of God’s people. As the church has echoed these psalms throughout the ages, countless believers have experienced the same kinds of spiritual changes that the original writers did when they first penned them.
This also applies in our day as we sing songs that are saturated with Scripture and the gospel. God’s Word does not return to him void, whether it’s preached or sung. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, whether it’s read silently or vocalized melodically. There are few things in this world more powerful than a gathering of Christians joyfully and passionately singing God’s praises together, submitting themselves to the truth of God’s Word and reminding themselves that they are united around Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and exalted.
How often has your faith in Christ been strengthened, your appreciation for the gospel deepened, the allure of sin weakened, and your love for God heightened—all as you sang Scripture-infused, gospel-centered songs with the gathered assembly? This isn’t accidental. This is 2 Corinthians 3:18 at work. This is the kindness of our heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts to his people for our joy and his glory.
I’m convinced that there is far more happening in our church services than most of us are actually aware of. Hebrews 6 hints at this when it speaks of our participating in the “powers of the age to come.” I don’t know the fullness of what this means, but the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit is surely included. Of course, we’ll easily miss it if we’re distracted by the argument we had before church, the loudness of the keyboard during church, or our lunch plans after church. But if we entered the corporate gathering with an expectation that God would actually change us, we might find ourselves weeping with gratitude as we sing about sinners losing all their guilty stains. We might be moved to repentance when we confess yet again in song that we’re prone to wander and leave the God we love. We might be overcome with awe as we address the holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed trinity. We might have increased confidence to face Monday because on Sunday, we were reminded that as he stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.
One of the traditions at our church is to sing the benediction to one another at the end of our gatherings. Adapted from 2 Corinthians 13:13, we sing:
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
And the love of God the Father
And the Holy Spirit’s presence abide
With you now, and with you forever
With you now, and with you forever
As we sing, we look around at our brothers and sisters and literally encourage one another with Scripture set to music. And each week, my story is the same. No matter what I may have felt coming into church or how challenging the previous week may have been, those moments of eye contact with the saints as we participate in that holy serenade do something—not just for me, but in me. I can’t always pinpoint it, but by faith I know that after we sing, I’m not quite the same as I was when I walked in. It’s not always earth-shattering, but there’s a difference and it’s supernatural.
In other words, singing really does change people.