DiM | “One Step Away” by Casting Crowns

Presentation1CCM Radio Edition.

August 16, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “One Step Away” by Casting Crowns, which currently sits at #18 on 20theCountdownMagazine.

Overall, the song presents itself as a generalization of the parable of the prodigal son. I think it misses the mark by being too broad in scope of the problem and too vague in it’s solution. While there is no glaring error in the song’s lyric, it doesn’t stand on its own and there is no clear Gospel. I spent most of my time trying to appeal to individual I think the song is trying to reach.

Unofficial* Lyric Video

* Casting Crowns hasn’t released a video of this song on YouTube yet, so I plan on replacing this link once they do. This listener channel is currently the most popular hit on search engines, so we’ll use it for now.

Lyrics (via KLove)

What if you could go back and relive one day of your life all over again
And unmake the mistake that left you a million miles away
From the you, you once knew
Now yesterday’s shame keeps saying that you’ll never get back on track
But what if I told you…

(chorus)
You’re one step away from surrender
One step away from coming home, coming home
One step from arms wide open
His love has never let you go
You’re not alone
You’re one step away

It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone
Mercy says you don’t have to keep running down the road you’re on
Love’s never met a lost cause
Your shame, lay it down
Leave your ghosts in the past ‘cause you know that you can’t go back
But you can turn around
You’ve never been more than…

(chorus)
One step away from surrender
One step away from coming home, coming home
One step from arms wide open
His love has never let you go
You’re not alone (not alone)
You’re one step away

Lay down, lay down your old chains
Come now and take up your new name
Your best life up ahead now
You’re one step away

(chorus)
So come on home, come on home
One step from arms wide open
His love has never let you go
You’re not alone (you’re not alone)
You’re one step away

Lay down, lay down your old chains
Come now, take up your new name
Your best life up ahead now
You’re just one step away

Writer(s): Mark Hall, Bernie Herms, Matthew West

Discussion

Okay, so right away I can see that we are dealing with some synergism which may or may not be helpful in this song. My Lutheran readers might recognize a confusion of Law and Gospel, while my Reformed readers might be more concerned with whether the song is pointing to sanctification or salvation. Let’s work through the lyrics and I’ll try to comment on my concerns in the messaging.

Our first order of business is to try to figure out the dilemma or problem the song is attempting to address. The first verse is rather vague on this point, and I think that is by design. Are we talking to a Christian who is struggling with a heavy burden of shame/guilt over a sin of the past, or are we talking about someone who has fallen out of the church, or are we talking about someone who is an unbeliever having to come to grips with the realization that he isn’t a “good person”? Not sure by the “what if” thought exercise in the first verse. Sadly, as we scan throughout the song, the intended target audience isn’t all that clear. The root of every problem in our life is sin, and we rely on the Holy Spirit to diagnose our sin via God’s Law. The remedy for sin is always the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whenever a song starts with a problem, I’m expecting a solution at the close, especially from a “Christian” song. Wallowing in uncertainty is something I expect from pagan artists.

Verse 1. I’m not a fan of “what if”, though it can sometimes be a helpful rhetorical device. The singer is asking the listener to consider going back in time to unmake a single mistake. Is there anything significant to be gained by such a mental exercise? Are we talking about a mistake or sin? While the two concepts have overlapping meaning (think of a ven diagram), there is a bad habit in evangelicalism to avoid discussing sin by only speaking of “mistakes” we’ve made rather than “sins” we’ve committed. Whatever it is we’re supposed to be what-if-ing, it’s something we feel has completely separated us from God? From the Church? No, from the “me” I once knew. Well, that’s not helpful. Is this intended to be a catch-all for what is sometimes referred to as a “back-slidden” Christian?

A Christian who has fallen away from the Church might sometimes be labeled a “backslider”. I don’t want to get too bogged down in this terminology, but suffice it to say that its use betrays a sloppy soteriology (theology of salvation). If Salvation is by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone (it is), what exactly is going on in the life of a believer that constitutes a “backslide”? This question has several errors, but I think chief among them is a failure to understand sin, the Fall of Adam, and original sin. If you don’t understand sin, you buy into the idea that your will had something to do in your “becoming saved”, and then that leaves room for a bad choice to somehow undo your good choice of becoming saved. Since the song lyric doesn’t ever give clear guidance to the contrary, let’s spend some time in God’s Word now.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) | By Grace Through Faith

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The Apostle Paul leaves little room for our works or our decisions to play an active role in our salvation. If ti were a result of works, we’d have room to boast. We don’t have any room to boast. Salvation is God’s work for us. But we still have sin to contend with as long as we live in these fleshly bodies in this temporal life.

Romans 7:15-25 (ESV)

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

We should take comfort that the Apostle Paul struggled with the sin of the flesh, and we should look to the very same Gospel that he preached for the forgiveness of our sins. Daily. We Christians need to be reminded of the Promise of the Gospel daily, for we sin daily. We fall short. Our flesh is corrupt and wages war against the Spirit of God within us. Notice how Paul draws upon the Promise of forgiveness of sins and of Salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. The very next chapter flows from that promise.

Romans 8:1-4 (ESV) | Life in the Spirit

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.

Now, as a Lutheran, I feel it necessary to address the problem of apostasy, for it is a very real danger, though not something someone can accidentally oopsie into. The author of Hebrews paints a very clear picture of apostasy in chapter 6.

Hebrews 6:4-8 (ESV) For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

There is a point of no return, and that point isn’t a limitation on God’s ability to forgive; rather, it is a point where the man refuses to repent. Once a believer turns his back on the need to repent, there is nothing left to do, for Christ will not be re-crucified. This is what Christ talked about when He referenced Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, for His primary work is to convict the world of sin and point them to Christ. To ignore this conviction of the Holy Spirit unto repentance, is to retain the condemnation of sin.

So then, where we Lutherans and the Reformed agree is in the monergism of Salvation. Where we disagree is in what constitutes Apostasy. We maintain that false doctrine runs the very real danger of shipwrecking faith to the point of damnation, while the Reformed rely on supralapsarianism and the category of “false converts” to explain apostasy. Either way, neither should be comfortable with what we see going on in the dilemma of this song as it’s being constructed in the first verse. A Christian who is heavily burdened by guilt and shame of a past sin needs comfort that only the Gospel can provide. He needs to be forgiven, and to hear he is forgiven according to Scriptures. He needs absolution.

Verse 2. So when we return from the chorus into our next verse, there’s a clash of metaphors. To some extent it is intentional in the “you’re not as far away as you think you are” but I don’t think really works all that well, and it only muddies up what really should be made clear here. This person needs forgiveness and absolution, not some vague “though you’ve traveled miles down into a dark valley you’re only a step away from the light” kind of hokum. I confess I’m getting a bit emotionally invested here, but I struggle to deal with this scenario in the abstract, the visible church is full of believers trapped in this sort of despair who need the clear assurance of the Gospel, not artistically vague inferences to it.

Chorus. Now, the chorus seems to be pulling less on the thread of salvation, sin, and absolution and more of a runaway theme. It seems to be borrowing from the parable of the prodigal son, but with an emphasis on the son and his need to return home rather than on the Father (the Father is the real emphasis of that parable). But what is the solution being offered by the song to the dilemma(s) being introduced? Surrender, lay down your old chains, pick up your new name. So even the solution is coded. That’s frustrating. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Gospel is clear, please stop muddying it up in the name of artistry. The sinful flesh of the listener does that enough on its own without being aided by the artist. Remember your baptism, repent and be forgiven in Jesus’ name. Will there be earthly consequences? Yes, but our Hope is stored up for us in Heaven where neither thief nor moth can destroy it.

Bridge. I wanted to avoid it, but frankly, I can’t. Any reference to “your best life” smacks of Joel Osteen’s prosperity false-gospel. The Promise of Life is an eternal promise, not a temporal one. The Apostles lived hard lives of persecution and martyrdom, and they endured it by faith in the Life to come, not this temporal one. The hard truth is that the life of a Christian is a life of suffering for His Name sake.

James 1:2-4 (ESV) | Testing of Your Faith

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 5:1-6 (ESV)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

If we can trust that the listener rightly understands what it means to “lay down your chains” and “take up your new name”, I suppose this serves as an answer to the problem. As a Lutheran, I know to interpret this through the phrase, “remember your baptism”. that is the moment where we were joined with Christ in His death and resurrection, where our sins died as we went under the water, and we rose up from the waters alive with Christ, with our new name. Notice, I have to bring that meaning into the lyric of the song. It’s not there on its own.

Conclusion

Looking back over the song and my frustration with these lyrics, it seems clear to me that this whole thing is a vague retelling of the parable of the prodigal son, but the emphasis is in the wrong place. Pointing the prodigal to something (vaguely) he needs to do, no matter how simple you make it out to be, isn’t going to produce the change you’re aiming for. It’s not even what turns the prodigal around in the parable. Remembering the goodness and provision of his Father for even the slaves is what turned him around. And still the prodigal intended to negotiate his way back into his Father’s house, not as a son, but as a slave. And the truly beautiful part of this parable, is that the Father would have none of that, no negotiation for slavery, just forgiveness and treatment as a son who has come back from the dead. Which brings me back to what I think should have been the focus of this song, forgiveness and absolution. Whether the intended listener was an unbeliever realizing the depth of his sin for the first time, or a believer who is suffocating under the crushing weight of condemnation and shame for sins of his past, or even a current, besetting addiction to a particular sin… the answer for this despair is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the promise of forgiveness in Jesus’ Name. Dear Christian, if you find yourself in the throws of despair, know that Christ died for your sins… all of them… and He is faithful and Just to forgive you of all sin. Repent, and be forgiven. It’s not a matter of feeling forgiven, it’s a matter of knowing you are forgiven regardless of how you feel. Christ died for that sin, He paid it all, and He declared on that cross It is Finished. Trust in His Word. If you’re still struggling with the condemnation, go to your Pastor and confess your sin, and listen to the absolution.

Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV) Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will,working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

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