A person’s ear can be trained to hear any number of sounds. For some, it’s the cry of their own child. For bird lovers, it may be the unique calls and chirps of birds living around them. For others still, the ear may be trained to hear the rhythm, pitch, and harmony of music.
I have no musical ability, and I did not grow up knowing the nuances of notes and melodies. My wife, on the other hand, is a skilled musician, and she grew up in a family that regularly had songs and instrumental pieces break out around their house. Hanging around them is a bit like being an audience member in an interactive musical. Margaret received formal voice training in college, but she also simply grew up experiencing the elements of harmony and pitch. Music has been deeply woven into the fabric of their family.
She and her family have rubbed off on me. I still can’t sing at all, but my ear has gotten to the point where I can typically tell when something in a musical performance is slightly off. I can’t always pinpoint the error, but I can almost feel that something is amiss. As we’re watching one of the singing competitions on television, I usually have to ask, “What is he or she doing wrong?”
In many ways, the Christian life is a process of ear training. To be more exact, it’s a case of ear re-training. You see, because of our fallen nature, our ears are attuned to the deceptive melody of sin. What feels in harmony with the sin-tuned ditty running through my soul are actions and thoughts with me at the center. We intuitively ask, What can I do to bring myself the most honor or pleasure?
As we are redeemed in Christ, our new goal is a lifelong pursuit of training our ears to hear the pitch and harmony of new creation. Our song is moved from the key of “me” to one focused on the glory and honor of our triune God.
How do we orient our ears to this eschatological tune? First, we learn the song of new creation by studying God’s Word. We could think of the Scriptures as our new creation sheet music.* The Bible is one big story that tells us our past and our future. More importantly, it tells us who God is, how he has saved us from our sin, and how he wants us to live in light of that salvation.
As we faithfully and prayerfully read the Scriptures, the Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, and the self-focused tunes that normally operate as the soundtrack of our lives are replaced with the joyful, hope-filled beat of our crucified and risen King.
To study the sheet music is vital, but it is not everything. Sharpening your ear requires a community. Young musicians grow in their craft by hearing and seeing other musicians perform. Spiritually speaking, it is no different. We need to see the new creation song performed by others. This is why committing yourself to a church is so important.
And just to be clear, there is a difference between attending a church and committing oneself to a church.
It’s possible to attend a church service every week, all the while never actually seeing how brothers and sisters embody the gospel song. This sort of superficiality runs rampant in American churches. But to commit oneself to a church is to form deep, intentional relationships within the congregation. Only then can you see how thoroughly the heavenly tune saturates a sister’s life. You can hear it in her evangelistic boldness, in her refusal to gossip, and in her unwavering faith amidst infertility. Likewise, this sort of commitment opens your own life up for others to point out your growth, as well as the times when you’re spiritually off-key.
Through the prayerful study of God’s word and the commitment to a gospel-preaching covenant community, we become more skilled at living in line with the melody of Christ. Sadly, our lives are often so fixated on the sights and sounds of this world that it’s all the noise we ever hear. But this resurrection song points us to something greater. Its notes of grace, forgiveness, and restoration turn our gaze to the coming of King Jesus. We find that the Christian life is a vocal warm-up to the cosmic concert of when the nations join to sing, “Hallelujah, salvation belongs to the Lamb!”
*This idea of Scripture as sheet music was adapted from Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine, in which he argues for Scripture acting as a script as we play our role in God’s theo-drama.