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Former country music artist Granger Smith rejects ‘cultural Christianity’ to find true joy in Christ

Liberty University welcomed minister and former country music artist Granger Smith to Convocation on Wednesday to preach on the importance of denying oneself for Christ.

Smith, who performed his last concert on Aug. 26, spent 24 years touring before feeling called to leave behind country music to serve at his local church outside Austin, Texas. He is also an accomplished author and released his second book, “Like a River,” in August.

Smith began his message by telling the audience that he had been looking forward to speaking on Liberty’s campus.

“I understand the speakers are brought here to maybe bring an encouraging word or a little conviction, and I want you to know that you have already been that for me,” Smith said.

Reading from Mark 8:34-36, he spoke about the large role that sacrifice and “taking up the cross” plays in following God. He said sacrifice alone is not the means of one’s salvation, but instead the result of the work that God has already done.

“When Jesus said, ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me,’ in one sense He’s identifying a certain kind of person that can do that … not a person that has earned it, but a person that has died and then been reborn.”

In a similar vein, Smith noted that although the imagery of picking up a cross, an ancient form of execution, may not sound easy or enjoyable, following Christ is worth it.

Smith said he grew up in a Christian family but never learned to truly deny himself. He spent this time living in what he called “cultural Christianity,” in which he lived a comfortable life and eventually emerged on the country music scene. He found major success and attributed it to his own efforts instead of the grace of God.

Former country music artist Granger Smith spoke on living a life of sacrifice at Convocation. (Photo by Brooke McDuffee)

“Who gets the credit in your life?” Smith asked the audience. “I’m not asking for your culturally Christian influence to answer; I’m asking your heart. Why are you seeking the degree that you’re studying for right now? And for whose glory will you use it?”

Smith’s life drastically changed in 2019 with the death of his 3-year-old son, River, a point at which he “hit rock bottom.”

“When you hold a lifeless child in your arms, one that you love more than most things in this world, it will change you. You will question how much control you really have in your life,” he said.

Following the tragedy, Smith began searching for comfort many different places, including self-help books, devotionals, medication, therapy, and meditation. He finally found the answer while listening to a sermon on John 14 in his truck, and he was filled with a desire to pursue Christ and obey His commandments.

“It doesn’t take a lot of complex theology to say it this way: I like denying myself for His sake. That’s the difference between the old me and the new me,” Smith said. “Denying yourself as a Christian doesn’t mean forcing yourself to do things that you hate. It’s the opposite.”

In 2021, he began acting on this conviction by leaving his successful record label, and he later decided to leave country music completely with one last tour over the summer. Addressing the question of why he could not just use his music as a means to share the Gospel, Smith said that playing music had become too much about his own glory.

“If I walked on stage playing music and nobody sings and nobody shows up, I would take that personally,” he said. “It’s about exalting myself then, and I need to deny that. Exalting myself doesn’t reconcile with the Gospel.”

(Photo by Chase Gyles)

“Many times, as Christians we have to give up things that aren’t inherently bad themselves. Music touring is not a sin in itself,” he added. “Neither is social media, caffeine, alcohol, or college football, but anything can become sin when it starts to hinder our walk with Jesus. So, we have to surrender that. That’s part of what it means to ‘deny yourself.’”

As Smith prepared to walk on stage for the last time as a country singer in August, he said he found comfort in the phrase, “Sept. 6, Liberty University,” because it signified the start of a new chapter in his life.

“(Liberty is) the first stage of the new stages in my life. This stage, this day, the phrase represented a sunrise of a new day and a new beginning,” he said. “(It was) something that gave me so much rest. Denying yourself for Christ is not a burden. It’s peace.”

Smith concluded his message by harkening back to the joy that he has found in sacrificing for Christ and comparing his life to that of the man in Matthew 13:44 who sold everything to attain hidden treasure.

“Following Jesus requires sacrifice,” Smith said. “It requires suffering. You will have sorrow, pain, temptation, and grief. In this world you’ll have tribulation, but take heart, Christian, because Jesus has overcome the world so that you could have joy through all of it, even after the unimaginable pain of losing a child.”

“Denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus is not at odds with your joy but in fact is the source of it,” he added. “Nothing in this world can satisfy you with the fullness of joy like Christ alone.”

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