Only one more song before I went up to preach. I felt prayed up. Ready. But then a sense of uneasiness came over me. As the first verse began to roll, I prayed, "Lord, help me. Move in your people. May you be glorified. I know the principalities and powers are against us in this place. They are looking for gospel seeds to steal. The enemy is prowling against me and your Bride this day. Help us, Lord. One little word from you is all we need."
The forces of evil (Eph. 6:12) were more real to me in that moment than they had been all week. It was then I realized that there was a snake in lion's clothing slithering through our church (1 Peter 5:8). We were going into battle.
THE COSMIC BATTLE
Singing as Exorcism
I looked to the words of "In Christ Alone" on the screen and joined the church in singing about a Roman cross and an empty grave. The gathered saints of a risen Galilean, the King of Kings, were singing, exalting, and enjoying the gospel of the Kingdom.
"Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied. For every sin on him was laid; Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground his body lay Light of the world by darkness slain: Then bursting forth in glorious Day Up from the grave he rose again!"
As we sang the beautiful truths of the gospel, we were doing more than reciting words. This was no mere singing. Pagans can sing. We were engaging in exaltational exorcism. We were pushing back the darkness around us, in our minds, in our hearts, and in the air.
Tearing Down Strongholds
Cosmic battles are waged in our little churches. It may appear quiet, neat, and orderly to our eyes, but there are powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces that are tempting, distracting, and condemning—even while we shake hands, hug, sip coffee, and take sermon notes. They want Mrs. Jones to be so wrecked by her sin that she wouldn't dare look to Jesus and believe that she's forgiven. Demons swirl around that teenager in the back row, hoping he won't confess his porn addiction to his youth leader—and especially not his parents.
Something nuclear happens we sing the glories of Christ. We are wielding weapons-grade gospel power to tear down strongholds and cast out every word raised against the word of our Messiah, and we fall down before our Lord and follow him.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
THE SATANIC POWERS HATE THE GOSPEL
Victory at Calvary
Satan isn't terrified of our electric guitars, live drums, or hip services; no, when redeemed sinners exalt the Triune God and exult in Jesus of Nazareth, that’s the moment demons shriek and whimper back to the darkness from which they came (Luke 4:33-36). When we sing the truths of the gospel, we aren't the only ones being reminded of the victory at Calvary—the satanic powers are freshly reminded that Jesus is Lord, not Lucifer. They follow a loser.
"And as he stands in victory Sin's curse has lost its grip on me, For I am his and he is mine, Bought with the precious blood of Christ."
Jesus holds me; sin doesn’t. My flesh can't boss me around anymore because Jesus isn't laid up in a tomb—he stands in victory. It was on a bloody hill outside of Jerusalem that, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Colossians 2:15). Jesus has not only conquered Satan, he has made a spectacle of him.
As the army of Christ assembles in high school cafeterias, warehouses, theater chair filled rooms, and under thatched roofs, these buildings are more like barracks. We gather to be filled by the Spirit of the King, refreshed by his Word, and we march back out into enemy occupied territory, singing in unison the battle hymn of the Kingdom: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Songs laced with gospel truth, sung in faith, are anti-air missile defense systems against the flaming darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Read these last lines of "In Christ Alone."
"No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me; From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of Hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from his hand; Till he returns or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ I'll stand."
We sing those words to God, Heaven rejoices, and Satan watches on in horror. No power of Hell can pluck us from Christ's hand. "No power of Hell, Satan. Do you hear us? You and all your rotten might are no match for our Jesus." This is why I advocate for loud singing (Zephaniah 3:14-15). War isn't quiet. No soldier mumbles on the battlefield—and especially not at the victory party. Belt the glory of Christ. And know that our Champion sings loudly over us (Zephaniah 3:17).
Crucified with Christ
We focus our hearts and vocal chords on the lifeless body of Jesus and his life being returned to him three days later, to remember that Calvary happened to us too. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). The Dark Snake lost his grip on us when Jesus gave up his life and came back from the dead, because Jesus brought us with him (Ephesians 4:8). We too lost our lives and got them back. We died on that cross. We rose from the grave. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)—and the fallen angels hate it and don't want us to know it or enjoy it. But "here in the power of Christ I'll stand!"
Church singing hacks away at the unrealities we've bought into during the week. A part of spiritual warfare is cutting the heads off of lies with the shovel of truth. The satanic forces work in tandem with our flesh and without noticing it, we start to believe that maybe we have sinned too big or too much this week, and then we hang our heads, and drag our knuckles on the Lord's Day. We think, "Maybe this sin is, you know, just the way it's going to be."
But that's all anti-gospel. That thinking didn't come from the throne, but the ground. We tear down that stronghold and sing, "No guilt in life!" (Romans 8:1).
SING THE GOOD SONG, FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
Some people endure the time of corporate singing, just so they can get to the sermon. Well, there are a lot of dumb things to do in church, and that's one of the big ones. You may not like the style of music, but that doesn't matter. If God wanted one style of music, or even the songs done in a certain way, we'd have sheet music instead of maps in the back of our Bibles. God commands us to sing, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name" (Psalm 30:4). And it might be that during those songs we are being made ready to hear their word of our Christ. The belt of truth is being tightened, we remember the righteousness of Christ as our breastplate, the gospel shoes are being laced up. As hands are raised in response, they are lifting up the shield of faith blocking the darts of the Serpent (Eph. 6:13-17). We are confident in the helmet of salvation, and we've heard the sword of the Spirit through our songs. And it is in those verses and hymns, these gospel songs, that the Spirit gives us the spiritual gift of street fighting.
Believe and sing. Sing and believe. You are in the middle of a war. Look at the words, take them in, believe them, and let them soar into the air. Lift up the shield of faith by lifting up your voice.
And sing loudly. Maybe God will use your voice, as you sing a spiritual song, to help a brother or sister look away from lies, cheap thrills, and temptations. Help lift their droopy hands and dwell on Christ (Colossians 3:16).
The Mighty Fortress
Pastors, worship leaders, lead us to the gospel waters. Help us hear, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
Select songs that are jam-packed with gospel glories. "His glories now we sing." Is your church singing the glories or a bunch of goofiness? Are we singing about a solid rock of truth or soggy love? If we aren't singing about the cross and the empty tomb, what are we singing about? God's love? 1 John 3:16 much? Take us to Jerusalem, show us Golgotha and that empty grave, and then point us to the clouds that will be rolled back like a scroll.
Martin Luther knew this kingdom warfare theme. In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, he sings:
“For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal."
He knew our enemy and his work against us. Luther's conclusion?
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.”
One word from Christ, that's all. One truth. The truth. Like Tolkien's elvish waybread, one gospel crumb is enough to sustain the whole church, for a whole lifetime, for a whole eternity.
Sing the good song of the good news. Fight the good fight of the faith—we are in a war after all.
J.A. Medders is the Lead Pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX. He is pursuing his M.Div at Southern Seminary. He and Natalie have one precious little girl, Ivy. Jeff digs caffeinated drinks, books, and the Triune God. He blogs at www.jamedders.com and tweets from @mrmedders.