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Why We Sing Repentance

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series

"Out of the Depths"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Psalm 130, a corporate song of repentance, has shown us the power of art to both tell us what true repentance should be like and also show us artistically through use of metaphors, and repetition, careful word choice, and names for God.

And this is why we sing. We sing not only to say right things, although everything we sing should be right. We sing not only to teach us truth, although everything we sing should teach truth.

We sing so that we can express and experience truth in ways that are not possible otherwise—that is the power of art. This is why God inspired much of his Word as artistic literature; it communicates aspects of his truth that can be expressed only through the use of artistic expression.

Since God is a spirit and does not have a body like man, since he is infinite, eternal, and totally other than us, God chose to use particular aesthetic forms to communicate truth about himself that would not have been possible otherwise. This is why Scripture uses all sorts of artistic devices to communicate truth about God—some of these devices are in this psalm, and some are in other psalms or portions of Scripture. These are tools that poets use to communicate truth in ways that mere prose cannot.

This is why Scripture calls God a king, and a shepherd, and a rock, and a fortress; he is not literally those things; they are metaphors that artistically communicate something about the nature of God. This is why Scripture uses parallelism, and alliteration, and allegory, and so many other artistic devices. These aesthetic forms are essential to the truth itself since God’s inspired Word is exactly the best way that truth could be presented.

Allow me to give an example of how important and powerful this is. First John 1:9 commands us as Christians to regularly confess our sins to God as part of our progressive sanctification; it is essentially a summation of Psalm 130: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here is a simple, clear statement of our need for repentance. We should preach this truth; we should teach this truth to our families and to our churches.

But what if you preach this need for repentance, and someone asks you, “Well. What does this look like?” You might explain to them that repentance is a turning away from our sin and a commitment to follow God, but they might still press you: “How do I know I’ve repented? What does true repentance feel like? What is the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow that leads to repentance?”

Fathers, how do you teach your children what true repentance is? Pastors, how do you teach true repentance to your congregation? You would be hard pressed to thoroughly communicate what true repentance is like. You probably could eventually, but it would take a whole lot of explanation.

But you could express the nature of true repentance fairly easily with a song like Psalm 130. A poem that uses this artistic language to paint a picture helps us to communicate what would otherwise be very difficult. It helps us to enable people to experience for themselves what repentance is like, and so a good song of repentance can shape and mold us to be people of repentance.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

One Response to Why We Sing Repentance

  1. I found this page and agree with the premise in regard to music and how it can communicate in ways words cannot express. That is the same (I’ve found) with ‘Pictures”. The Prophets spoke often in Graphic Terms, imagery. If a picture can speak a Thousand Words, His Manifestation will leave you speechless”. But what does a picture of True Repentance in the Depths (esp. after Conversion, dying even into The Baptsim of his Death) ? How can you put all that in words, and express ‘The Big Picture’ all at one time? With a picture (and music). But there is another thing, what Does His Forgiveness with That Repentance, knowing That aspect of The Gift of The Gospel, Christ – The Forgiveness of God? I have some music that Truly means, the Effect of it – as in Ephesians 2:4-8, we’ve been taken from the Grave to being Seated with God in Christ in The Heavenlies,

    Psalm 116:5 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, deliver my soul!”
    5 The LORD is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
    6 The LORD preserves the simplehearted;
    I was helpless, and He saved me.…(redemption)

    Deuteronomy 4:30
    30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you
    , then in later days you will return to the LORD your God
    and listen to His voice.

    31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God;
    He will not abandon you or destroy you
    or forget the covenant with your fathers,
    which He swore to them by oath.

    1 John 1:9 If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness,
    we lie and do not practice the truth.
    7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light
    , we have fellowship with one another,
    and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (forgiveness)
    (My blood shed for the forgiveness of sin)

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