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With all the different music choices we have before us, how do we determine what is beneficial to our faith and what may taint our minds with ungodly thoughts (1 Corinthians 6:12)? Is there any music in the world that is totally off limits? Should we only listen to gospel or music labeled as Christian? This is one of the our most-asked questions at 412teens, so if you are agonizing over what you "should" be listening to, be encouraged that you're not alone.
Firstly though, if your parents have told you not to listen to certain types of music or specific bands/artists, it would be a sin to disobey them (Ephesians 6:1). However, if your music choices are left up to you, then figuring out your music choices is a matter between you and God.
God gave humankind a creative heart; there is no music that has not stemmed from that initial gift. In fact, we can find bands not categorized by the music industry as "Christian," though they have Christian band members and/or their songs carry a message of hope. For example, Skillet is an all-Christian rock band, but they're primarily played on the hard rock radio stations, alongside Korn and Black Sabbath. The band Switchfoot is not overtly Christian, but their songs proclaim the morals and message of a Christian faith. These "non-Christian" bands speak light into a dark world through the secular market. It's pretty amazing how God can use any platform for His glory.
Of course, like so many things, sin has a way of twisting what was originally meant to be beautiful and spoiling it. That is where your intelligence, along with discernment and wisdom from God, will help you make godly choices about listening to music (James 1:5).
God does not condemn music. Music has many purposes. In the Bible, we discover people singing and playing instruments to praise and worship God (Psalm 4:1; 6:1, 54, 55; 61:1; 67:1; 76:1). When Mary finds out she's pregnant with Jesus, she praises God in song (Luke 1:46-55). Music can soothe our troubled souls (1 Samuel 16:14-23) or be used in times of war (Nehemiah 4:20; Judges 7:16-22). Music can encourage (Ephesians 5:19) or express suffering, struggle, and sorrow to God (Psalm 88).
Since the Bible does not specify what kinds of music Christians should listen to, believers may enjoy a freedom of choice, using biblical principles to give us discernment about those choices. A lot of songs out there goes against godly morals or to foster animosity, aggression, and hate; negative principles are not something we want pounded into our minds over and over as we listen to music (1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 22:24-25).
Music itself is amoral—neither good nor bad. There are no "evil" musical instruments nor "morally good" styles of music. What differentiates the beneficial from the not-so-beneficial comes down to the lyrics. Music affects each of us in some way; specific songs can affect different people in different ways. While a certain song may not affect one person, it may be detrimental to another. (See 1 Corinthians 10.)
We can find songs appropriate for Christians to hear and relate to just as easily as we can find songs that are not healthy for our faith. The Bible is clear that some things are definite sin, such as lying, stealing, lust, etc. Listening to a song about a careless one-night stand is going to affect our spiritual health differently than a song with a hopeful, pure message about two people in love who long for marriage. Other topics are not as clear, such as dating, careers, technology, pop culture, etc.
How can you tell the difference between what's good and bad for you? Music's messages are expressed through lyrics, and that's where you need to exercise discernment. Here are a few questions to ask that may help you to discern which music is beneficial to you personally and which songs are not:
Now, I want to clarify here that it is not a sin if you happen to hear an ungodly song. If it was a sin just to hear music with bad words or themes, you'd be sinning just by walking into the grocery store without earplugs! It is not a sin if Spotify spits out a song with explicit lyrics and you happen to enjoy the beat before you realize they're dropping f-bombs. The key to Philippians 4:8 is the phrase "dwell upon" or "think about" (depending on your translation). Will you allow the message of that song to affect you negatively (Matthew 26:41)? Or will you choose to stand firm against that temptation (James 1:12-16)?
Different music styles, types, and genres are equally fine. Biblically, none are forbidden in and of themselves. That said, people resonate with what connects with their own heart and usually prefer listening to that kind of music, and that is OK. Some enjoy heavy metal, some classical, some gospel, some rap, and the list goes on. It's simply a matter of taste. This reflects the fact that God made us uniquely, with unique tastes in what we enjoy.
I personally like a lot of different music—both Christian and secular. A Christian label has nothing to do with how a song will affect a person; it has more to do how it affects you personally and (to an extent) the intention of the artist. Even though I do listen to secular music, I realize some songs affect me negatively, so I avoid them. Of course, a song that affects me badly may not affect another person at all. So discernment must be done on a case-by-case basis. There is no "blanket" rule about which styles of music are OK. It depends on each song and each person.
As you evaluate the music you listen to, also do an honest evaluation of your heart. Is your desire to listen to certain songs motivated by a desire to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) or are you listening to it because it fulfills selfish desires? Why are you drawn to any given song? How has it affected your faith, your actions, your words, your relationships with others?
As a Christian, you aren't limited to "Christian" music or only songs that are sung in church. There is nothing wrong with enjoying different types of music. You may choose what's best for your heart, between you and God. At the same time, do not harshly judge those who choose different music than you. God created us to grow in Him and to glorify His name. Any music—Christian or secular—has the ability to do so.
Music, no matter the style or instruments, is not sinful in and of itself. Determining what kind of music and what songs you listen to is a matter of taste and discernment, between you and God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Do your music choices allow you to glorify God? If not, then look for new music you can enjoy but that doesn't have a negative effect on you (Philippians 4:8). When considering a certain song, use your intelligence, along with discernment and wisdom from God, to make godly choices (James 1:5).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two teenage kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.