DiM | “Grace Wins” by Matthew West

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

October 20, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Grace Wins” by Matthew West which currently sits at #19 on the 20theCountdownMagazine.

I confess that the first time I heard the song, I thought I was going to like it. At the end of the song, I was a little unsure of what the song was pitting against Grace, so I had to carefully listen a second time with the lyrics in front of me. The song seems to suffer from category errors and shallow theology. On the one hand, I feel like I know what Matthew West is trying to say with this song… that no one is out of reach of God’s Grace. That there is forgiveness for all who call upon the Name of the Lord in repentance. However, there are so many problems in what is presented in the lyrics that we simply cannot recommend this song.

Matthew West VEVO (Audio) Video

Lyrics (via KLove)

Grace Wins

In my weakest moment I see You
Shaking Your head in disgrace
I can read the disappointment
Written all over Your face

Here come those whispers in my ear
Saying, “who do you think you are?”
Looks like you’re on your own from here
‘Cause grace could never reach that far

But in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah

Grace wins every time

For the prodigal son
Grace wins
For the woman at the well
Grace wins
For the blind man and the beggar
Grace wins
For always and forever
Grace wins
For the lost out on the streets
Grace wins
For the worst part of you and me
Grace wins
For the thief on the cross
Grace wins
For a world that is lost

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time, every time
Yeah, I’m living proof
Grace wins every time

Publishing: © 2015 Highly Combustible Music / Atlas Music Publishing / House Of Story Music (ASCAP) (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing obo itself, Highly Combustible Music and House Of Story Music)
Writer(s): Matthew West

Discussion

I was going to go through the song as usual, but I fear losing sight of the forest through the trees. I will say that the line in the chorus that gives me great heartburn is “There’s a war between guilt and grace and they’re fighting for a sacred space but I’m living proof Grace wins every time“. We are living proof of the victory of Grace over guilt? Really? No. The Resurrected Christ is the living proof of the Victory of God’s Grace over sin and death. Today, lets just focus on the problem of the forest without getting tangled up in the trees.

There are several key terms missing from this lyric: Law, Gospel, sin, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and the Cross. I’m not saying every song needs to include every word, but if the song is about the Grace of God that surely some of these terms would be included.

Throughout the song, guilt is pitted against grace. This is a glaring category error. Exactly what is being compared? My guilt versus my grace? My guilt versus God’s Grace? God’s Judgement versus God’s Grace? The song asserts that there is some war being waged between guilt and grace. No matter how I try to expand these definitions, I cannot get around the category error. The war being waged within our members (as Believers) is that between our sinful flesh and the Spirit of God living in us.

Guilt isn’t merely a feeling, it is a reality

We are all sinful people and we are guilty of sin. In fact, we are born dead in sin and trespasses, the guilt of Adam’s sin is what we are born into. There is but one remedy for sin, that is the Gospel of Grace, that God would send His Son to bear the full punishment for sin in our place on the Cross. It isn’t like our guilt was just forgotten, Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God paid the full penalty of sin by offering up His flesh and His blood as the final sacrifice. My Grace through Faith in Him our guilt is exchanged for His Righteousness, so that in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ we who are of Faith will be seen guiltless, joined with Christ in His death and Resurrection. Maranatha!

The shallowness of this song is reflected in the abuse of the word “guilty”. It uses the word in place of “sin” in a few lines, but it doesn’t fully commit to the Truth that we are sinful beings, guilty under the Law. We’ll address this later on when we discuss Law, but for now the song uses “guilty” as an out-of-place feeling of blame or condemnation. There’s a big problem with that when we consider the fleshly problem of self-righteousness that refuses to acknowledge that we are indeed sinful and bear the guilt of that sin if not for the Grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Grace: Christ’s Finished Work on the Cross

While we still talk of God’s common grace to creation in delaying the coming judgement, this grace being referred to in this song (I assume) is God’s Saving Grace. I take issue with the notion that God’s Grace continues to wage war against anything… Christ’s finished work on the cross is all-sufficient. The Holy Spirit of God works on the hearts of men, drawing them to Christ. The victory has already been won as far as Grace and Sin are concerned, for Jesus Christ is reigning and ruling in Heaven and we wait for Him to return in the Last Day. We experience God’s Grace every day, and we pray for it, “Give us this day our daily bread” humbly. But the Grace of God has no contender… nothing can overcome the Grace of God. As Paul wrote in his introduction to the letter to the Romans.

Romans 1:1-7 (ESV) | Greeting

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:16-17 (ESV) | The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The focal point of God’s Grace is the cross, where a Holy and Just God poured out His full Wrath against sin upon God the Son (Jesus Christ), the pure and spotless Lamb of God, so that He might Justly extend Grace and Mercy to sinful man so that by Faith they might not perish but be born again to everlasting life.

Romans 3:19-30 (ESV) | The Righteousness of God Through Faith

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

The Man/Woman of Faith is not Condemned

Now let’s address what seems to be a major concern in the song… that of blame, shame, and condemnation. When we rightly understand sin, guilt, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we can rest assured that in Christ Jesus we are made righteous by Faith.

Romans 8:1-11 (ESV) | Life in the Spirit

8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Law and Gospel are not at War, they Work Together

One final thought on what might be (mis)represented by the song’s assertion that there’s a war between grace and guilt, is the error of thinking there is a war between Law and Gospel. The Law points out sin in our flesh and crushes us into humble submission unto repentance so that the Gospel can bring us out of sin and death and into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Conclusion

I’m not happy with the song. I’m not happy having to disapprove of it. Though I do think the writer was trying to say something good, the lyrics didn’t deliver and in-fact introduce a lot of confusion in its poor treatment of terms and categories. I’ll concede I may have been a bit harsh on this one, but I simply couldn’t find a rescuing hermeneutic that could be applied to the song. It was simply errant.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

11 thoughts on “DiM | “Grace Wins” by Matthew West

  1. I was surprised by your thoughts about this song being shallow theology. My thoughts when hearing and reading the words of this song are the compete opposite. I find this song so deep. Are you aware that when asked what he should tell people his name is, by Moses, God states he is “I am who I am”? Its for this very reason it bothers me greatly when people say anything negative about themselves saying “I am…” I dont think Gods choice of name was acciidental but so deep and wise. God revels all the way back with Moses that we all are his creation, so when were make negative statements about any of his creation we are not recognizing the beauty he instilled in that very creation. Yes, Gods creation can make bad choices that harms his creation, but the creation itself ought never be regarded as bad..only the acts that harm that creation are sinful. When re-reading these lyrics and thinking of the nature of god is being represented by the words I am, maybe it may bother you less. Maybe not. I highly value the depth of these words. Either way, I would hope God values your passionate love for him, that would bring you to look deeply into what you allow your spirit to take into your being. Much grace and peace to you, his faithful servant. In him too, kat

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      When God told Moses that He is the “I AM”, God was identifying Himself, not us. Any attempt to apply the “I AM” to ourselves in any way is a 1st Commandment error. Positive self-affirmation is fine where it is truth, but telling yourself “positive lies” in hopes of effecting change in our reality is NOT a Christian doctrine… that nonsense comes from the New Age movement.

      As I pointed out in this post, I think the overall attempt is at proclaiming the power of the Grace of God. That is a good thing in general, but the song falls short of defining the Grace of God Biblically. The theology of this song is shallow, because it doesn’t address the need to repent and be forgiven. Focusing on only one part of God’s character isn’t deep theology, it’s incomplete. God is Love, yes, and He’s also Holy and Just.

      As for creation, it is indeed now cursed as a direct result of the fall in Genesis 3. For a quick reference, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:19-21 (ESV), “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

      And that freedom will come when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, when we will rule and reign with Christ in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Maranatha!

      In Christ Jesus,
      Jorge

    • An interesting approach to turning “Grace” into an acronym, but it’s not really a definition of Grace. The Gospel is that Christ paid the price of our sin so that through Him we might be forgiven of our sin and adopted as sons of the Most High. I’m not a fan of inserting “riches” there. “Reconciliation” might be a better “r” word if we’re going for the bumper-sticker type slogan. The Grace of God does win, because God wins. Sola Gratia is one of the 5 Solas of the Reformation. This DiM post wasn’t about undermining the Grace of God; rather, it was about how the lyric of this song fell short of conveying the Truth of the Gospel.

      I’m sure many will defend the song because the phrase “Grace wins” is repeated throughout it, and they’ll never care to weigh the rest of the lyric. Those folks probably disagree with almost every DiM we post. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the Grace of God this morning. Thank you for sharing your comment.

      Soli Deo Gloria

  2. Excellent, biblical review of this song. I’m so glad I found this post. The first few lines of the song I related to, but as the lyrics went on, they left me feeling concerned about the message being put forth. Your treatment of the lyrics was generous and more gracious than I could have done. Thank you for grounding your thoughts in gospel truth and sharing. I look forward to reading more of your song posts!

  3. I appreciate wanting to be theologically sound but really?
    It’s a song – The song writer does not have time to unlock a theological discussion. A song is just an expression of personal thought or emotion. The bottom line is that grace wins. That is true for you and for me, bottom line – these songs are written for Christians for those of us who are supposed to know the work of Christ on the cross. Written by and for Christians I don’t believe this song is supposed to exist in a vacuum without that knowledge.

    When the song discusses the condemnation – it is what is felt – most christians know what it means to feel shame and condemnation – and that is what this song is about. Not saying that we are condemned but that feeling can dog anyone.

    Knit picking is a joyless existence. There may not be a real war between guilt and grace – the writer is expressing his emotions. C’mon guys

    • Yes, really. The writer is doing more than expressing emotion, he’s expressing theology in musical form. Either that theology is sound or it isn’t. It is a song, a song that is wildly popular (it has been on the charts for some time now) being promoted as “Christian”. It’s a very catchy tune. Anthemic, even. It just doesn’t properly handle sin, guilt, and Grace clearly. “Grace wins every time” is a great jingle… 4 minutes is enough time to work in sin, guilt, repentance, and forgiveness by the Grace of God.

  4. While I appreciate your theology, thoroughness, and clarity in presenting your thoughts, and do not disagree with your theological explanations, I must say that the beauty of these lyrics is that they avoid the proverbial forest and trees to which you referred. Someone scrolling along the radio dial might happen upon this song, and not even being a believer or raised in Christian faith, he/she could grasp the message of saving grace in this song. Guilt and Grace are used in a general way in these lyrics, but it’s ok. The overall message comes across beautifully. Consequently, the message of the saving grace of Jesus Christ being able to triumph over guilt could be a message that saves someone’s life – literally and spiritually
    .
    It’s great that you can go so deep and be so clear in your message (it is a gift to be able to do so), but there is also beauty in being able to share the same message with simplicity. The Holy Spirit can take over from there, leading the person to a deeper understanding as they journey in their faith.

  5. We agree that there are many who have not known the name of Jesus, whose ears might come upon this song with a sense of spiritual encouragement. Would the Holy Spirit prick their hearts and draw them closer to the aroma of Christ? If the motivation of this song is to proclaim the Good News, it does so without naming the source of our Good news: Jesus himself.

    There is no proclamation of Christ, no message of our redemption from sin as it has been pinned to the cross by Yeshua, our Lord and savior. It is not grace that has overcome sin; Christ himself overcame our sin. It is the perfect, selfless act of a God who loves us even while we were sinners. Without crediting God or His son, we boast from an empty grace instead of an empty grave (Galations 6:14).

    To describe the power of grace without our Lord and savior is like a man sharing his excitement about having won the lottery. He visits a nearby ghetto, sings out loudly among the poor how wonderful his life has become. And yet after he’s finished singing, he returns home wealthier, and the listeners….just as poor as they were before.

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