This question still gets asked more than you might think. Hopefully, as Christians grow in their relationship with Christ it becomes much less a case of us thinking in sacred vs. secular terms, but allowing Christ to live in and through us in whatever circumstances. However, I understand the intent of the question, so let’s see if we can answer it.
A large portion of my life has been spent singing, leading, arranging, or writing Christian music.
As I pursued my music degree I learned how much music affects us, especially our emotions. Songs have the ability to help shape our moods positively or negatively.
God gave us the great gift of music. It can be used for good purposes or bad. It can be used as a wonderful tool through which Christians worship and glorify God. However, conversely, music can also be used to promote bad things – immorality, violence, false worldviews, and a plethora of other things that are totally opposite to the Godly values the Bible teaches us.
As I worked within the church, I noticed that many Christians listen primarily to Christian music. Some enjoy a traditional music style and quite a few lean toward a more contemporary music style.
Christian Music Only or Christian Music Plus
However, many Christians still have their favorite Country, Pop, Rock, Jazz, etc., music that many refer to as “secular music.” A lot of times after a person becomes a Christian they ask “should Christians listen to secular music?” Do believers simply have to listen only to “spiritual” songs, hymns, etc., or can they listen to “secular” songs as well?
We should be careful not to go to extremes on any side of that argument. Obviously, as Christian believers, we want to use music for worship that glorifies God and upholds the Godly values found in scripture. As the Apostle, Paul told us that we should be:
“singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”Ephesians 5:19
It’s very clear in scripture that God has given us the gift of music as a method of praising the Lord with not only our voices but with all sorts of other instruments …and dancing.
“Praise the LORD ! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals.”Psalm 150:1-5
God loves and uses music so much that the scriptures tell us that God actually sings over His children!
“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”Zephaniah 3:17
Abstaining From Secular Music?
I want to be sensitive to those Christians who choose to only listen to Christian music. Maybe it’s praise and worship, southern gospel, traditional hymns, or quite a few other styles. If you choose to listen to only Christian songs, then I certainly respect that.
Maybe certain secular-type songs are associated with your past and you simply want to stay in the realm of Christian music.
However, the question remains – is listening to music that doesn’t overtly promote the gospel or other aspects of truth and life found in the Bible actually wrong? Should Christians listen to secular music?
Two Questions About Music That Christians Face
There are a couple of questions that usually confront a Christian (especially a new Christian) when they are confronted with the opinions or viewpoints of other Christians.
- Should Christians listen to “secular” music?
- What music styles are acceptable within Christian music?
We are going to touch on both of those topics, but our purpose here is to primarily answer the first question. Is it okay if Christians listen to secular music?
Before we do that, however, I think we need to define or redefine some terms. Also, perhaps the question to which we are responding should be asked in a different way. Let’s have a look.
Sacred Vs. “Secular”
When it comes to categorizing music, we tend to do so into two broad categories- Sacred vs. Secular or similarly, Spiritual vs. Secular. Here is where I think we can go off the rails, a bit so let’s look at some definitions that may help us with the overall question.
If we address “secular” music in any fashion we need to take a look at the definition of the word, “secular.” Exactly what are we meaning when we say “that song is a “secular” song?”
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary’s top definition of the word “secular” is:
a. of or relating to the worldly or temporal. (Mirriam-Webster gives “secular concerns” as an example).
b. not overtly or specifically religious. (Mirriam-Webster gives “secular music” as an example).
If we’re thinking of the concept of “secular” as being only related to worldly, earthly, or temporal things, then that seems to leave out the spiritual – now and in the life to come. To a follower of Jesus Christ that is not acceptable because we have a spiritual relationship with Him now and forever.
If we think in broad terms of things that are not spiritual in nature vs. the things that are spiritual in nature, there is actually a HUGE difference. Those things could be about the difference between salvation and condemnation – between Heaven vs. Hell – ro accepting a Biblical worldview vs. a man-centered worldview.
So, in those respects, sacred things (or spiritual things) are immensely more important than the secular.
However, does that mean that everything this is “secular” is bad?
Of course not.
The Simple But Complicated Answer
The simple answer to the debate about listening to secular songs vs. Christian songs is actually one of those aggravating “yes-but” answers. “Secular” music is not wrong in itself. However, the lyrics (and perhaps supporting the lifestyles of some performers) are what comes into question.
If I ask – Is it okay for Christians to listen to secular music?- I will say “Yes, it is.
However, there are limitations that believers need to impose on that answer. They are some of the same things that should impose on watching certain types of movies that we watch. Mostly, for our purposes here, it’s about the content of the song lyrically.
I could go to the guitar or piano and play some music that perhaps you have never heard before. However, if I play the notes of that music without adding lyrics (the words) then how will you know if the song is about going to heaven or about bullfrogs……or if there are bullfrogs in heaven?? 😇
You may be able to distinguish what style it is – classical, pop/rock, country, jazz, etc. However, you generally will not know if it’s a spiritual or sacred song until you hear the lyrics.
About the Lyrics
It’s the lyrics of the music that make the music secular or sacred.
So, if the song happens to mention God, then it’s a sacred or spiritual song? Not necessarily. It could have a lyric that actually misrepresents God’s nature and depicts Him in an untrue manner, or undermines the Biblical principles He has given us. We see that in many songs these days.
Also, we frequently hear a beautifully written love song that has a lyric that promotes blatant immorality. Unfortunately, there are many songs like that as well.
We should turn our attention much more to the lyrics and intent of the song rather than the musical genre of a song.
Making Wise Choices Within Our Christian Liberty
Living by grace and not under the law gives us a great amount of Christian liberty and allows us to walk daily in the love of Christ and not have to worry about every little thing we do. Jesus freed us from the law. The Apostle, Paul talks extensively about that freedom.
However, he does warn Christians that even those things that might be permissible are not always profitable for us.
He gives us some instructions:
“You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.”1 Corinthians 10:23
Is Christ Jesus going to punish you and take away the Holy Spirit from you because you listen to what some might call a “non-christian” song? No.
However, there is some music that you will need to say no to because it’s simply not beneficial to you as a believer.
There seems to be no prohibition for Christians to listen to secular music for pleasure and entertainment. However, are there limitations to that? I think so. Here are some.
Songs That Are Blatantly Evil or Immoral
No matter how good that song sounds to us, I believe that it’s beneficial to us to at least be somewhat careful about what we listen to and the music artists we support. You may immediately think of singers or bands that might not be the best for Christians to support.
There are some specific musical artists and sub-cultures of music that promote violence, and decadent immorality and also degrades women.
In addition, there are music groups and subcultures that overtly promote the satanic or demonic in their lyrics and in their stage shows. If we want our lives to honor God, I’m not quite sure how we can support and listen to those types of songs or groups. Actually, we can’t.
There are a lot of popular songs in modern music that include a twisted worldview and morality that doesn’t glorify God. On the other hand, there are some very good songs that are not “Christian” songs but they aren’t filthy and have a decent, or sometimes just a fun message. They can lift our moods and help us enjoy life.
However, we don’t have a formula for every choice for every area of life, including music. Each Christian should depend on the Holy Spirit and learn to use discernment about what songs and what artists they choose to listen to.
I will strip this down to a personal level and give you a couple of examples. There are for me and they might not apply to you.
I listen to a lot of Christian music of various styles. However, at times you might find me listening to some country or classic rock.
So, just for kicks, let’s say I’m riding down the road listening to a bit of country music, and the song, “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood (released in the mid-2000s) comes on. I generally like her voice and music.
That particular song is about a girl who takes revenge on her cheating husband/boyfriend by practically destroying his “pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive” automobile.
In a literal sense, is that the way a Christian should handle that situation? Probably not. However, it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek and a bit comical. It’s a fun song and everybody gets the point.
Do I get into a worship mindset when I hear that song? No, but it entertains me. If the music isn’t sinful and it is entertaining to me, I think it’s fine. When that song comes on the radio, I’m not going to turn the dial. In addition, on that same album, Carrie Underwood released the sweet and inspirational song, “Jesus take the Wheel.” She is also a professed Christian.
Now, I will really show my age. Let’s say I’m listening to some classic rock because I do enjoy many of those styles. However, if the song “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC comes on, I’m going to change it.
I know that much of that song was written about being on a tour bus in a rock band. However, it does say “Hey Satan, paying my dues..” and just the chorus of the song doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not on the highway to hell and don’t want to listen to it or sing about it.
Although I like the sound of some of AC/DC’s music. Much of their lyrical content doesn’t coincide or is diametrically opposed to my faith. So, I’ve never been a fan.
Also, I am aware of death metal bands today that make a song like “Highway to Hell” and a group like AC/DC sound very mild, but I’m not going to give those bands any mention here. Stay away from satanism in music, period.
I simply use the example of those two songs above as what my personal filter (I hope it’s the Holy Spirit) seems to allow or not allow me to listen to. There are so many artists, so many bands, and so many songs that you have to make those choices yourself.
So, how about the music inside the world of Christianity?
What About Christian Music Styles and that “Devil Beat?”
40 years ago I heard the teaching about certain types of rock beats being demonic in nature, etc., etc.
First of all, I can’t find that in scripture. Second, after I studied to get my music degree, I spent 35+ years leading or involved in arranging music in some way. I have never come across the “devil” beat or demonic beat yet. Yes, music can be misused as we talked about above. However, it has to do with the lyrical content and perhaps the lifestyles of the performers, not some kind of rock beat.
Most of those preachers and teachers back then who were teaching against modern Christian music did so because they weren’t comfortable with the style – not because the style was sinful.
Many well-intentioned teachers used to teach that “secular-sounding” music with a rock-style beat was wrong. Unfortunately, many Christians bought into that teaching which brought us into what the church saw as the “worship wars.” It was traditional church music vs contemporary Christian music. It was kind of embarrassing when we think about reaching out to non-Christians.
Much of that mindset, although not all, has settled down as believers began to realize that the music styles were not so much about right and wrong but about personal preferences in the styles of songs that were sung.
Anyway, back to question # 1.
Sacred or Secular?
Do I think it’s best if Christians fill their mind predominantly with more Christian music than other types of music? Yes, I do. However, I don’t think we’re limited to it. We just need to be discerning as we enjoy listening to other styles.
It appears that some Christians believe that music is only for worship. And, absolutely that was one of God’s primary purposes for music.
However, it can be used to entertain us, make us feel better, motivate us, and just help make us happy. And, as you enjoy music and it makes you happy, just thank God for the gift of music He has given us!
For the most part, I hope that you choose to glorify God personally and intentionally with sacred and spiritual songs. However, if you have good, wholesome music that simply serves as entertainment, let the joy of music lift your mood and enjoy the gift that God has given you.
There is not a chapter in the Bible titled, “Guidelines for Listening to Secular Music.” However, as we spend time with God, walk with Him, and learn and study the scriptures, the Holy Spirit can give us the discernment we need in choosing songs.
God bless you as you worship, sing, play, and listen to one of God’s wonderful gifts – music.