Are you a “Country Music Christian?”

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February 7, 2022

Any country music fans out there?

I don’t know about you, but with a mom from Kentucky, I was raised on George Strait, Alan Jackson, and John Michael Montgomery. From the time I could talk I was singing Little Bitty, Chattahoochee, and Boot Scootin’ Boogie in my diaper and Tweety Bird t-shirt. (True story.)

It wasn’t until I tried to indoctrinate my husband with country music that I learned something important about my childhood-favorite songs. One day, brow-beaten by my attempt at southern twang as I belted country classics in the car, he finally blurted out something like this: “How can you sing this stuff? All it talks about is drinking beer, getting with women, then going to church.”

First of all…rude. Second of all, he might have a point.

It turns out, the type of “faith” country music preaches sounds eerily similar to the kind the Apostle James warns us about:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? — James 2:14

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Let’s take Church Bells by country music queen Carrie Underwood as an example. This song captures the irony of a young newlywed sharing a church pew with her abusive husband:

Saturday night, after a few too many
He came home ready to fight
And all his money could never save Jenny
From the devil living in his eyes

It was all bruises, covered in makeup
Dark sunglasses
And that next morning, sitting in the back pew
Praying with the Baptists
She could hear those church bells ringing, ringing

In other words, the man who drank himself mad and beat her Saturday night is the same one sitting next to her at church Sunday morning. Other country songs reveal a similarly low view of “faith,” where men party it up on Saturday with longneck beers, five-card poker, and pretty women in cutoff jeans before heading to church the next morning.

James uses a different example to illustrate this same type of faith that doesn’t walk what it talks:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. — James 2:15–17

In this passage, James makes it painfully clear that there are two types of faith: genuine, saving faith and a false faith he refers to as “dead.”

As Pastor Jacob Ley explained in a recent sermon, “For James, faith and the actions it produces are inseparable realities. To claim to have faith that doesn’t result in tangible action is absurd, illogical, and hypocritical. It’s false faith.”

If I had to guess, I’d say some of you are itching to call a flag on the play right about now. You’re thinking, “But Scripture says I’m saved by faith, not by works!” Right you are, my friend. Let me clarify.

In many other places in God’s Word, we learn we receive salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, not by our works. Let’s take Ephesians 2:8–9 as an example: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So, how can both of these claims, which seem to contradict, be true? Our answer lies in a couple of everyday household items.

Consider with me a thermostat and a thermometer. The purpose of a thermostat is to set the temperature, yes? On the other hand, a thermometer doesn’t set the temperature but reports it.

Do you see where I’m going with this? When it comes to salvation, faith placed in Jesus Christ functions like that thermostat. Our faith sets our actions and sets justification before God, by His grace. In contrast, actions are like a thermometer: they don’t establish salvation, but reveal it.

Armed with this handy metaphor, then, it’s time to face the inevitable question: What are my actions revealing? Anyone’s thermometer reading “country music Christian”?

If so, the antidote to dead faith may not be what you think.

Please understand I’m not encouraging you to run off and do a bunch of good works. Because, as we just explored, good works don’t save us. Jesus does.

Instead, I’ll leave you with this:

A genuine faith that is revealed through actions doesn’t start with actions. It starts with faith. And so, the call today is not to suddenly feel like you’ve got to start doing a whole bunch of things to prove you are a Christian, but instead, it is a call for all of us to place our faith in Jesus Christ and let God transform our lives in such a way that our faith is revealed through our actions. -Pastor Jacob Ley

Respond today not by working to redeem yourself (impossible, by the way), but by surrendering to the One “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).