Sing for Your Life
The devil covers the hook of sin with tempting bait coated in sugar.
So how should we fight in the moment when our hearts are lunging
toward sin? We grab for the spiritual weapons forged by God and
strategies to meet temptation and make a way of escape.
But for too many of us, we ignore one of the single greatest weapons
in the battle.
The Art of War
We often lose against sin because we grow blind to the nature of the
war. Holiness is not simply about minding the right prohibitions. The
deeper reality is that sin is fought in the wrestling of our desires
and wants. Our heart is a craving beast, clawing ceaselessly for
something more, something new, to quench its voracious hunger pains.
We will not stop hungering — because God made us to pine for the
infinite — so we must learn to find more solid joy as the object of
our delights, turning away from the flimsy cheap-plastic delights
offered to us by the world. All of this means that so much of the
Christian life, then, boils down to the affections of our hearts.
Thomas Manton (1620–1677) remains one of the Puritan’s great
preachers. His sermon legacy — about 10,000 published pages long — is
clear, powerful, and deep.
As Manton meticulously labored through Ephesians from the pulpit, he
noted that the charge for Christians not to get drunk is followed by
the command to worship and to take up the power of song.
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled
with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your
heart. (Ephesians 5:18–19)
The apostle Paul intentionally counters alcohol-filling with
Spirit-filling. Manton labored to connect the passages in his sermon
on Ephesians 5:19 (Works, 19:408–417).
The battle between the Spirit and drunkenness is a struggle of
expelling the one by welcoming the other. In the war against sin,
Manton discovered a mighty weapon called singing.
Expulsive Power of a New Song
A heart not lured to drunkenness is a heart filled with the Spirit —
and a heart filled with the Spirit is a heart that sings. But you can
come at it from the other side, Manton shows. If you sing, you fill
your soul with the Spirit, and by filling yourself with the presence
of God, you push aside the alluring buzz of drunkenness.
Thus, not only singing together in church, but also personal singing
“subdues the lusts and passions of the flesh by diversion, or
directing us to a purer and safer delight. Much of the strength of the
sin lies in the sensual inclination, or the inordinate love of
pleasure. Now if we can find sublime and chaste delight elsewhere, it
takes us off from the unlawful pleasures of the flesh.”
That is the work of spiritual singing. Rather than getting filled with
liquor, God calls us to be filled with spiritual joy, and that joy is
found in musical worship. When temptation catches our eye, we need a
greater delight to capture our hearts. To reroute our heart’s
attention requires a great power, and singing is powerfully up for the
Private Singing and Unbelief
Not only in the face of lust, singing also works its power against
unbelief, says Manton. Singing “inspires us with fortitude, courage,
and constancy in wrestling for the truth; for singing of psalms is our
exultation in God, or our making our boast of him in defiance of all
worldly powers that can hurt us; as Paul and Silas when whipped and
imprisoned, and many of the martyrs, raised their courage by singing
of psalms” (see Acts 16:16–26).
Singing “fixes the heart upon the sweet and lively meditation of what
we sing.” Singing can rivet our gaze on the preciousness of the truth
Thus, “dead-hearted” singing and rote motions are really a grave loss
in the Christian life. “They that joy in the Lord delight most in
singing, because everything that brings God to remembrance is sweet
and acceptable to them.” Singing matches the delight we know we should
have in God and awakens the desires within us. Done correctly, singing
is how we “keep up a holy delight in God,” says Manton, “for singing
is the vent of our joy.”
Singing is the vent of our joy — I love that phrase. Singing gives
vent to the affections of the heart, and like billows, the venting of
affections leads to greater and greater affections, and stoking
greater affections in the heart is our essential warfare against lust
Of all people, Manton knew that feeding oxygen to the fire of holy
affections in the heart was the central struggle in the spiritual life
against lust of the flesh and the unbelief that so quickly steals our
Spiritual Life at Stake
Singing is a potent life skill. Even the world knows that singing —
true, heart-engaged singing — releases oxytocin into the body, a
hormone that helps to alleviate anxiety and stress, while boosting
your immune system, your mood, and serving as an ally in the fight
against cancer. But even more importantly, singing is nutrition for
the soul and a spiritual hormone that breaks apart the cancer of our
most ingrained sinful habits.
Singing is one of the most immediate actions we can take to stoke our
God-centered affections, and yet we grow careless of this neglected
“The song of our solitude should be full of living joy,” Charles
Spurgeon told his congregation. And yet, “I am afraid there is very
little private singing nowadays. We often hear talk concerning private
prayer, but very seldom of private praise — and yet ought there not to
be as much private praise as private prayer? I take it, from how
seldom we talk about it, private thanksgiving has grown to be a sleepy
Is the same true of us? Has our drowsy neglect of private worship
rusted the blade of one of our greatest weapons against our most
potent sin struggles?
The negligence is easily remedied. Get an album of hymns and spiritual
songs of robust truth, songs like those from Sovereign Grace Music,
The Gettys, or Shane and Shane. Get to know the lyrics by heart.
Weaponize your phone, make a playlist, name it “Battle Songs,” and
load it with your favorite tracks.
And when the siren sounds for warfare against the sinful desires of
your heart, when unbelief rears its ugliness, declare war and get in
your car and drive. Or just get alone. Turn off all the other noise
and talk radio and secular music and podcasts. Focus your mind on the
truth of the lyrics. And sing! Fill your lungs with air and activate
the billows of your affections in private worship as you fan the
little spark of faith inside your heart into a great flame in the
presence of the beauty and majesty of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Faced with the delight of what is really soul-deadening sinful
pleasures, give your heart over to a greater delight and a sweeter
Sing for your life.