Can a Christian listen to secular music and not be sinning? Does the Bible give us freedom to do this? What principles does the Bible give about this subject?
Just because something is secular doesn’t necessarily mean its evil. Even though the definition of secular is something that is detached from the religious and considered worldly by definition, we cannot throw out everything that is secular just because it is not religious, can we? Just think of the many things that are not found in the Bible that we practice every day. We ride in vehicles, we take our children to a playground, we might attend band concerts at a park, and we go camping, swimming, play golf or softball or dozens of other activities that we participate in that are not considered sinful. So what about secular music? Is it sin to listen to non-Christian music?
What is not of Faith is Sin
Romans 14:22-23 “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
These might be some of the most misunderstood verses in the entire Bible. Paul tells us that we have “no reason to pass judgment” on ourselves or others “for what [someone] approves” of. The grey area comes into play when we have “doubts” about whether we should be doing something or not. If there is doubt or your conscience bothers you or you are concerned that it might cause your brother or a “weak” (new believer) brother to stumble, then we should err on the side of caution and not do it. God works through our conscience with His Holy Spirit which convicts about whether something is sin or not. Paul says that the person who doesn’t judge themselves as doing something that makes them feel guilty is blessed but if there is doubt, they are “condemned” by their conscience because “it is not from faith…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
In the World but not of the World
Jesus was going to ascend to the Father after His death and resurrection and told the disciples “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world” (john 17:11) but “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). An important distinction is that they were “in” the world but not “of” the world and Jesus prayed to the Father for them by saying “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Many that are quick to judge others over what they listen to quote these verses and say that we are not of the world and should not be part of the world. Naturally, when a person is saved they have to live in the world but they are not supposed to be part of the world; that is the part of the evil, fallen system of the world.
Stop Passing Judgment on Others
I have been criticized many times because I listen to some, but not a lot, of secular music. My favorite non-Christian song is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Even though this is not a Christian worship song, it is one of those songs that make me praise God for His giving Ludwig Von Beethoven a great gift in his ability to compose symphonic music. It is very inspiring to me even though it may not be inspired from God. I believe that he is one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time. I can listen to this symphony over and over again and it inspires me. Paul writes “for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1) and in addressing the problem of believers judging one another over what they ate, he wrote “let not the one who abstains [from certain foods] pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him [and] who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom 14:3-4). Unless a believer is listening to music that is blatantly sinful and the lyrics contain words that are contrary to the teachings in the Bible we should not be judging others over what type of music they listen to because. “ It is before his own master that he stands or falls” and so “who are you [or who am I] to pass judgment on the servant of another” because “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14:10) and you nor am I sitting in the “seat of God” to judge him or her for it. I have no right to judge someone in an area that is not plainly sinful and neither do you, yet all too often we do.
Words Have Meaning
Just as the Bible’s words have meaning, so too do the lyrics or words of a song. When the words of a song glorify sin then listening to those songs is obviously sin and we should point that out to our believing friends. When we are not sure or if the words do not condone sin then we have no business passing judgment on our brothers or sisters. That is between them and God and not between us and them. The same principle applies to other things besides music. Movies that contain graphic violence and repeated blasphemes of God are something that a Christian should never watch. There is no wiggle room here just as there is no grey area in music that sings about sex outside of marriage, violence on the innocent or any other thing that the Bible calls sin. Words have meaning and so do images and the believer is called to think, hear, or watch “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable [and] if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). The point is just as “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). They should not “be fully convinced” by our own mind but by their own!
I see nothing wrong with listening to secular music if it doesn’t contain sinful lyrics, no matter what style of music it is. We need to stop judging others in areas that where we are not certain of and where the Bible does not clearly indicate that something is sin. We need only to judge ourselves and be fully convinced in our own minds. I am not saying that when there is open, sinful activities that another believer is involved in we should not stay out of that. We have a duty to go to that brother and tell him or her their fault and if that doesn’t work, take another believer with you…and if that doesn’t work, bring it before the whole church (Matt 18:15-20). If a person is not a Christian, we cannot apply this principle. We can only pray that the person repents, confesses their sin, sees their need for the Savior and then puts their trust in Him because it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict them of sin (John 16:8-11),not ours.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon