The Christian Life is Like a Baroque Sonata. Devotional by Terry B. Ewell. Masterworks Festival, 2021 July 15. Audio only.

The study of music can provide many examples of how to live a rewarding Christian life. Today, I want to present to you a musical analogy that gives rich insights into Christian living. This talk will be about Christian maturity and how to live a life that is more closely aligned with God.

The Christian life is like a Baroque sonata. Now, I could just as easily state that “The Christian Life is like a Jazz Chart,” but since most of us here are classically trained musicians I will stick with the analogy to the Baroque Sonata. Please note that I said, “Baroque” not “broken” or “broke.” I am referring to a period of time when the composers J. S. Bach, Handel, and Telemann lived.

The Baroque sonata features a bassline. The bassline is the foundation of the work, upon which rests that harmony and melody of the work. In music you just can’t play anything you want above the bassline and have a great result. Your melody needs to be in harmony with the bassline. It also needs to match the tempo and style. In music you need to carefully study the baseline to understand its movement and requirements. Learning and understanding the bassline doesn’t just happen in a few moments.

I liken the bassline of a Baroque sonata to the moral will of God. In the Bible in Romans chapter 1, Paul presents the consequences of those who don’t match the moral will of God. If you want to be in harmony with God, yourself, and others it is essential to adjust your life to God’s moral will.

I became a Christian at the age of 15 at a music festival. When I first accepted Christ, I didn’t understand fully God’s will for my life. In the first few years of my Christian life, I was learning about God’s moral will, His bassline. It took me many years of study to understand this, and I am still learning more things even now, almost 50 years later, about that moral will of God. It is the Bible that teaches this moral will and it is the Bible that needs to be carefully studied. 2 Timothy 3:16 reads: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (NKJV) Also, the Holy Spirit will guide you to understand the moral will of God. John 16:13 states, “The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth.” So, this bassline representing God’s moral will is the foundation and first part of the Baroque Sonata.

Accompanying the bassline in the Baroque Sonata are numbers that are often referred to as figures. These are connected to the bassline and for this reason often referred to as “figured bass.” While the bassline of a Baroque Sonata almost always is played as written, this is not the case with those numbers. The numbers do not refer to specific notes in music but rather to intervals above the bass. All of the numbers are dependent upon the bass, but the expressions of these numbers, also called “realizations,” can be played with different notes. Each performer of a Baroque Sonata will realize or present the harmonies above the bass in different ways. You see the realization of these numbers is not legalistic, rather it is dependent upon the decisions of the performer. The expressions of these numbers are artistic not mechanical.

I compare these numbers to our moral convictions in the Christian life. Now, moral convictions are different than God’s moral will, just as the numbers in the Baroque Sonata are different than the bassline. Part of Christian maturity is to understand the difference. So, let me explain this further.

When I first discovered God’s moral will I made the decision to follow it in my life. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 it states that Christians should avoid fornication and adultery. I made the decision to enter marriage as a virgin, not having sex before marriage. This is part of God’s moral will and it is clearly stated in the New Testament.

However, there are decisions of moral convictions that are different. For instance, Eric Liddell, known to us in the movie Chariots of Fire, made the decision not to run in the Olympics on Sunday, his sabbath day. Now this is a conviction, not a commandment given in the New Testament to Christians. Keeping the sabbath is a requirement for practicing Jews but not for all Christians. Avoiding work on the sabbath is not stated as God’s moral will in the New Testament. Eric Liddell’s conviction, however, brought honor to God and Eric was blessed through his faithfulness.

One of my moral convictions that I established during my early years as a Christian was to tithe, that is to donate, 10% of my income to the church. This is not required by any verse in the New Testament, but I saw it as an expression of my faith in God and my desire to please Him. I felt led by the Holy Spirit to make that conviction and I have continued to do so out of love not obligation. As a result, I have found that God has blessed and honored that moral conviction in my life.
Now, some of the confusion as to the difference between convictions and God’s moral will happen due the communities we come from. If you were raised in a very strict, even legalistic environment, you need to carefully study passages about the freedom allowed us in our faith. For instance, when the early church council met in Jerusalem to decide the requirements for the Gentile believers, there were very few requirements given. You can read the letter they sent to the Gentile Christians in Acts 15. These new Gentile believers were not required to be circumcised, to adopt Jewish codes for eating, or required to keep the Jewish sabbaths or religious holy days. You can read further about Christian liberty and freedom in Romans 14. On the other hand, if you were brought up in a very libertine, sexually promiscuous, partying environment you need to carefully consider God’s moral will about sexual purity, intoxication, the use of foul language, etc. Writings in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 provide some counsel about these matters.

There is one more thing I want to state about the numbers. Since each performer will realize or present the numbers in a different manner in the music, likewise each of us will live according to our convictions before God. As long as these convictions line up with God’s moral will, we should not be hasty to judge another’s convictions.  In fact, this is part of the beauty of the Christian life. We can play from the same bassline—God’s moral will—and yet present varied music according to our different convictions. This is a wonderful diversity that provides variations to the music we call the Christian life.

So, we have considered the bassline—God’s moral will, the numbers—our convictions, and now we arrive at the melody in the Baroque Sonata. For the Baroque performer, the melody provides for freedoms called ornamentation or free ornamentation. Performers of Baroque music were expected to add their own personal touch and improvisations to the music and produce beautiful melodies. These improvisations would be different with each performance.

The melody of a Baroque Sonata corresponds to our preferences in life: where to live, what career to pursue, who to make friends with, or what to eat. Paul states in Colossians 3:23-24 “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” You see, in our Christian life we have remarkable freedoms, ways in which to satisfy our souls and at the same time to glorify God. Just as Baroque performers would never play repeated passages in the same manner, likewise, the Christian lives need to be filled with rich variation, not monotony.

We also find among Baroque sonatas a special composition called the “trio sonata.” This features two solo lines above the bass and the figures and therefore increases the complexity of the composition. I compare the trio sonata to Christian marriage. This is where two partners are committed to performing from the same bassline, the same harmony, and complementing each other with their ornamented melodies. What an incredible accomplishment it is to see a Christian marriage that exhibits this beauty of God!

In my early years as a Christian, I made the decision that I would only consider dating, going out with, or socializing with a Christian woman. We read in the 2 Corinthians 6:14 that we should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Since there are so few Christians in our society, it is indeed difficult to reduce the number of available partners you can consider. This is a sacrifice. I can tell you, though, that in my 42 years of marriage the wait was worth it. My wife and I have played our music into each other’s lives, into our children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, and community. It is wonderful to look back on a well-performed composition. I want to see each of you have a well-performed composition as a part of your life.

Now, please, however, understand that the trio sonata is not only limited to Christian married couples. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul speaks about a single person who is just as concerned about pleasing the Lord as one would be pleasing a spouse in marriage. A trio sonata is more than just following God’s moral will and fulfilling convictions. It is about pleasing and bringing joy to the other. If you are unmarried, but occupied with bringing pleasure to God, you are now a melody in a trio sonata with the Lord as your partner.

So, I want you to close your eyes now and consider your life with this application to the Baroque Sonata. What it means to be a disciple of Christ, which is more than just an initial decision. This involves daily commitment and daily effort. I want you to examine now how closely you are following God as a Christian.
First, I want you to think about that bassline, the foundation of your life. Is your life in alignment with God’s moral will? You can be a Christian and not closely follow God. Are you letting God write the bassline of your composition or are you trying to be the composer? Are you adjusting your life to His directions?
Lord, I pray for those here hearing my voice and Holy Spirit as you tap them with your convictions. You will point out those areas of their lives where they need to more closely follow your direction, your moral will. So that they will be pleasing in Your Life.

Now, let’s now concentrate on the convictions. Do your convictions express your desires to please God or are they merely out of obligation. Maybe it is to please others. Does your conviction have the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit? Do you have confirmation in your soul and evidence from your actions that this conviction is from the Lord?

Lord, there may be some here with convictions that have been forced upon them or they feel in bondage and not in liberty to worship You and love You. We pray in this moment there would be a release now. That those convictions that they have, Lord, are to serve you, only to please you and not for others.
Keeping on the convictions. Do you have an attitude that brings judgement on others and their convictions? We have to allow for others to live their convictions out.

Lord, we ask you to give us a humble heart. To see that others are serving you. To give them space in which to honor You and express their love to You.

Last of all,  are you considering a partner in life or do you have a partner in life? When you play your melody, is it trampling upon the other melody that is part of your trio sonata?  Or are you allowing room and spaces for your partner to flourish. If your partner is the Lord, then are you sensitive to the Lord being your partner in that melody? Will you align with His will and His desires for your life and the beauty He wants to bring upon you.

God, I pray for those within the hearing of my voice now will be called to this beauty that we have in our lives. You want to make a beautiful melody out of our lives. You want us to align with your will, with your harmony. You want a song that resonates for those around us, our neighbors and friends, Lord. You want it to be something that we are enraptured with. We study as musicians to produce beautiful music so let us study as Christians to make something beautiful out of our lives. We are so grateful to you, Lord. We are so grateful that you are the great composer, the great conductor, the great director of our lives. To you we bow and give our will and ask for your mercy. In your name Jesus, amen.