DiM | “Chain Breaker” by Zach Williams

disapproveCCM Edition.

August 23, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Chain Breaker” by Zach Williams which currently sits at #20 on 20theCountdownMagazine.

This song presents a sales pitch of sorts for a “He” who is the remedy for your circumstances and your hurting. The “He” is never identified. We are left to assume the song is pointing to Jesus Christ, but is it? Is this how the scriptures present the Gospel of Jesus Christ? As an option out there that folks should try instead of trying all of the other stuff? hmm… doesn’t sound like the Gospel. Let’s give the song a listen and then look for the Gospel in the lyrics.

Zach Williams VEVO (Official Lyric Video)

 

Lyrics

If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles
If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies
If you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside
There’s a better life, there’s a better life

If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost, He’s a way maker
If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you got chains, He’s a chain breaker

We’ve all searched for the light of day in the dead of night
We’ve all found ourselves worn out from the same old fight
We’ve all run to things we know just ain’t right
When there’s a better life, there’s a better life

If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost, He’s a way maker
If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you got chains, He’s a chain breaker

If you believe it, if you receive it
If you can feel it, somebody testify
If you believe it, if you receive it
If you can feel it, somebody testify, testify
If you believe it, if you receive it
If you can feel it, somebody testify

If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost, He’s a way maker
If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you got chains, He’s a chain breaker

If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you got chains, He’s a chain breaker

Discussion

Okay, so If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If? We’ll get to this point in a minute, and we’ll try to give it its best possible construction, but first let’s discuss the song lyric as a whole before trying to examine individual lines.

Every line of this song in every stanza but one begins with the word “If”, and stylistically that’s cute. But what’s on the flip-side of the “if”? In computer programming, we use “if-then” statements to execute a line of code based on positively identifying a particular condition. However, when programming an “if-then” statement, you also have to capture the conditions that don’t match, so we use an “if-then-else” statement. Without the “else”, the program will just run straight through the code and never execute the “then” since the “if” never panned out. This song has no “else”, so it’s assuming it’s covered all of the “if” scenarios. So, for applying our best construction on this song, we have to assume that the “else” of the song is the unbeliever who is absolutely clueless of his sinful condition, isn’t aware of his chains, enjoys the miles and miles of same old road, believes the lies, and is unaware of the holes in his life. Basically the sinner unaware that he’s a sinner. Such an individual needs the Law of God preached, so that the Holy Spirit can convict the world of sin.

John 16:7-11 (ESV) Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Incidentally, in this passage we see the Trinity: God the Son (Jesus) is speaking to His disciples concerning His sending God the Holy Spirit (as a Helper or Advocate) and God the Father. Notice the focus here, it is to convict the world of sin for not believing in Christ, that by the Grace of God they might repent and believe in Christ Jesus and be saved. Our song today doesn’t address the need for repentance. Not even remotely. It avoids sin and repentance completely via the unresolved “if”. That’s a problem.

Another problem is in it’s intended audience. If the goal is evangelism, then you’ve failed in not proclaiming the need for repentance. Also, the “He” is never identified in the song. We have to assume the song is pointing to Christ Jesus, but it doesn’t really, it’s pointing to someone who’s aim is apparently to give the listener a better life now and change his/her circumstances. Eternity isn’t mentioned, and that’s the focus of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the intended audience is believers, now we have a different problem… one of false promises. There’s a better life? When? Everything in this song points to temporal circumstances, so trying to rescue this line by saying it points to eternity is quite the stretch, particularly given the “if you need saving”… eternally speaking, there’s no room for “if”, it is a declared fact of the Scriptures that all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.

Romans 3:20-26 (ESV) | The Righteousness of God Through Faith

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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. 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.

So if you’ve got pain, He’s the pain taker is another promise that can be correct if viewed through the lens of eternity. Christ is our great physician, and our diagnosis is: dead in sins and transgressions (Eph 2:1-10). He heals us of death and grants us eternal life by His Grace through faith. This is an eternal removal of pain, suffering, heartache, and death. In this life, however, we’ve not been promised a complete removal of pain. God is still able to heal us and He certainly does so according to His Will, but He hasn’t promised us earthly lives free of pain. He hasn’t promised us lives that are “better” in this life, either. The fruit of the Spirit, of faith, most assuredly grants us better lives anchored in the Hope that is kept for us in Eternity, that’s true, but without the lens Eternity our temporal lives are hard. The world hates those of us who are in Christ Jesus because it first hated Him. Let’s take a look at Peter’s encouragement in 1 Peter 1:

1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV) | Born Again to a Living Hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t merely an option out there, an alternative to worldly living that people should try so that they can find fulfillment… the Message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of salvation from eternal damnation, the Wrath of God against sin. Presenting the Gospel as merely an option to consider is dangerously untrue. This is part of the Pelagian heresy, the idea that people are born essentially neutral to the things of God, not saved, but not condemned. That’s patently false.

John 3:16-20 (ESV) | For God So Loved the World

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

We were all born into the sin of Adam, born in unbelief, condemned already for that unbelief. “If” you need freedom or saving? Not if, it is certain. You need saving. Jesus Christ saves.

Now, back to that “He’s a prison-shaking Savior” line. This is likely a reference to Paul and Silas in a Philippian jail. Such a great story. Let’s take a look at it.

Acts 16:25-34 (ESV) | The Philippian Jailer Converted

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Such a beautiful passage of the Salvation… not of Paul and Silas being let out of jail, but of the jailer and his entire family being set free from their eternal condemnation of unbelief, rescued by the Gospel of Jesus Christ as their LORD and Savior. To point to this passage as some sort of promise that God will rescue you from your temporal situations is a lie and a distraction from the true point of the Gospel. Paul closed out his earthly ministry in a Roman prison… eventually beheaded under the Emperor of Rome. False promise is false, and should be rejected wholly. Now, the best construction is the acknowledgement that God is capable of doing anything He wills, but that’s not how this song is presenting the message. The song is fixed on the temporal, on circumstances.

The song winds down in that “whip the audience into a frenzy” of the somebody testify. Testify to what? Well, their experiences. Certainly that’s the proof we need that God is good, right? Our experiences will prove it to ourselves and to our neighbors, right? Such pep rallies do offer temporary excitement and emotional pick-me-up, and they also get many to engage in “positive affirmation” hoping that confessing the positive stuff will lead to positive stuff via some sort of spiritual quid-pro-quo mechanic. But once the emotions wane, and the adrenaline subsides, there is only empty words, false promises, and nothing of substance to carry the listener on through the trials that are coming. They’ll be chasing the next emotional high, when what they need is the Word of God, both Law and Gospel rightly distinguished, convicting of sin and comforting with forgiveness and the eternal Promise of Salvation.

Conclusion

I expect this song to get a lot of play. CCM is filled with a lot of sweet-sounding promises of temporal gifts, the “better life”, and relief from pain. That’s how the celebrity preachers get rich, they keep selling those tropes… all the while distracting listeners from the true beauty and Promise of the Gospel… Eternal Life in Christ Jesus.

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

DiM | “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe

disapproveCCM Edition.

June 21, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe which currently sits at #19 on the20theCountdownMagazine.

I got frustrated with the song during the discussion of the lyric. This song spends most of its time, first couple of verses and even the chorus, building up to a climactic lesson or point. From the very beginning, we know there’s supposed to be a lesson, that cliche of “If I could tell the my younger self one thing…”. The artists relied on a bridge to bring the lesson home. It is almost good… almost. We’ll get to that point in the discussion, but this song could have been rescued were it not for the overwhelming self-focus in the problem and in the proposed solution.

MercyMe VEVO

 

Lyrics (via MercyMe)

Dear younger me
Where do I start
if i could tell you everything that I have learned so far
then you could be
one step ahead
of all the painful memories still running thru my head
i wonder how much different things would be
dear younger me

dear younger me
i cannot decide
do i give some speech about how to get the most out of your life
or do i go deep
and try to change
the choices that you’ll make cuz they’re choices that made me
even though I love this crazy life
sometimes i wish it was a smoother ride
dear younger me

if i knew then what i know now
condemnation would’ve had no power
My joy my pain would’ve never been my worth
if i knew then what i know now
would’ve not been hard to figure out
What I would’ve changed if I had heard

dear younger me
it’s not your fault
you were never meant carry this beyond the cross

you are holy
you are righteous
you are one of the redeemed

set apart
a brand new heart
you are free indeed

every mountain every valley
Thru each heartache you will see
every moment brings you closer
to who you were meant to be
Dear younger dear

Discussion

So who is the artist talking to? Well, the obvious answer is “himself”. The secondary target audience is anyone who has done some introspection and reflection and had the thought if I knew then what I know now. I think that idea has crossed everyone’s mind at one point or another, how we answer the question or go about answering that question is what tends to vary the most. I’ve come to the point now where I understand how the Bible describes sin and the corruption of our flesh that whenever these thoughts come to mind, the simple answer is always, “I’d not have believed myself, and would have simply gone on sinning”. We don’t get to go back and try to undo or redo anything, and we don’t need to. We have something much, much better. We have the Cross, the Gospel of God’s Grace, the promise of Forgiveness and Salvation, the Hope of Eternal Life in Christ Jesus. It is Finished.

Verse 1. Nothing particularly profound or particularly Christian in this verse. It is asking honest questions. That they are honest doesn’t make them good questions. For example, there is a hint in one of the questions that somehow we might be ahead in life if we had extra information. I don’t think that’s true for the Christian. We don’t sin due to lack of knowledge, we sin because we are sinful. The artist isn’t explicitly addressing sins of the past, and I find that troubling. Popular evangelicalism doesn’t know what to do with sin, doesn’t know how to describe it in light of the Gospel. So what normally tends to happen is sin gets treated as mistakes of the past that are now gone. That’s not completely wrong, but it’s missing the reality that as long as we continue living in this fallen world, sin is what our flesh will crave. We are born into the corruption of Adam, and our flesh bears that mark until the Resurrection, when we’ll finally be rid of this sinful flesh and granted new bodies. Our hearts and minds (flesh) bear many scars inflicted by our own sinful desires and the sinful desires of others. The song seems focused more on regret, guilt, and condemnation… so it is dealing with the hurt of past sins without naming the enemy.

Verse 2. Again, this song builds slowly. But here we see something that looks like a throw-away piece of advice, that almost seems awesome. Granted, we’ve still not seen anything in the song that is particularly Christian, but if we make that assumption based on the band and the CCM marketing model, who is out there preaching “how to get the most out of your life“? Most of popular evangelicalism is, the celebrities who preach themselves and life-tips (Greg Surratt, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren) instead of Christ and Him Crucified. The guys making up their own creeds (Joel Osteen, Keith Craft) and rejecting Biblical orthodoxy (Andy Stanley), and just reading themselves into every possible scripture, including the ones plainly talking about God (Steven Furtick). At this line in the song I got my hopes up thinking, “wow, this song is rejecting that man-centered drivel and is going to point us to Christ”. Sadly, that thought didn’t pan out. The artist then talks about going deep… by questioning if we should really change anything in the past since those past mistakes are part of what makes us who we are. Well, great. So, going deep is to question whether or not past mistakes were really mistakes or building blocks for who we are now? /sigh. That’s not deep, that’s self-justification. At this point, I’m glad the artist isn’t clearly naming sin as the enemy, because that would make this turning point in the song very bad. As it stands, this turn in the song makes it very surface-level and thin… like wondering if I would have finished my degree according to plan right out of high school or if I’m better off having failed at college and struggled for years before joining the Army. That’s not deep… it’s self-centered, self-focused conjecture that can either lead to a self-pity-party or a self-love-fest or vacillate between the two. So far, we’ve seen nothing in the song that separates it from secular humanism. The song is further downgraded in impact when the artists claims to love this crazy life, he just wishes sometimes it was a smoother ride. Who doesn’t want a life with less pain and fewer bumps?

Chorus. So what is it that the singer knows now that he didn’t know then? It has something to do with removing the power of condemnation, and it would have provided a sense of worth greater than joy and pain. That sounds fantastic, but what is it? What would you have told your younger self sooner to have all of these powers (or maybe told your younger self if your deep thoughts concluded it was worth avoiding some hardships)? We get one more teaser toward the end of the chorus that suggests that if he’d known then what he knows now it would have been easy to figure out what he would have changed if only he’d heard (may need a chart that sentence out on a piece of paper and colored markers, lol)…

Bridge (the answer). It’s not your fault. WHAT?!?! That’s the big payoff, that it’s not your fault? What is not your fault? Your sin? Your sin is your fault. You are born in it, born into it, born a slave to it, it comes from within you, it is in your heart, it influences your speech, your thoughts, and your actions, it is yours. The message of the Gospel is NOT that we are victims of injustice, it is that in our guilt and shame God stepped in to pay the price we owe but could not pay in our place so that in Him we might be saved and made righteous.

In fairness, I’m the one that has been trying to understand the lyric from a Biblical Christian perspective. The song hasn’t been talking about sin directly. The next line mentions the cross… oddly. you were never meant carry this beyond the cross. To give this single line/thought its best construction, completely removed from the rest of the song, this could be a wonderful thought reinforcing the Truth that Christ died for your sins and has forgiven them all. Once you’ve been absolved by the blood and body of Christ Jesus, It is finished is what He spoke on the Cross, and It is forgiven is what remains of your absolved sin. That is glorious good news, Gospel. Sadly, the song hasn’t been building to this truth of the Gospel. I do believe this is intended to provide relief to the weary believer who struggles to find assurance of his salvation. That is a prevailing source of torment for the majority of professing Christians in popular American evangelicalism whose focus is always on works and self-examination, a form of Christianity that is foolishly looking to progress beyond the Gospel of Jesus Christ into human perfection under the LAW. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t something only unbelievers need to hear… Christians need the Gospel preached to them continually also, Christians need to hear that their sins are forgiven constantly because we sin constantly and are constantly in need of forgiveness.

1 John 1:5-10 (ESV) | Walking in the Light

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Now, regarding the issue of picking up old regrets, and listening to the condemnation of the enemy concerning sins we’ve already been forgiven of, that’s why we need our brothers and sisters in Christ speaking life into our lives. No, I’m not talking about “positivity” I’m talking about the Truth of the Gospel. I need to hear a brother in Christ say to me, “yes, we’ve committed the sin of idolatry in the past… but that sin has already been absolved, there is nothing more that needs to be done there, Christ has forgiven it, you need to let it go” (words my pastor spoke to me over some ice cream). I need to hear that. You need to hear it also. When the struggle is internal, you need to look to the external, objective Word of God to build your faith. Wallowing around in the mire of introspection won’t build your faith, it will distract you from God’s Word. If this was intended to be the central point of the song, it wasn’t build up well and there is no acknowledgement of the Law, no clarity in the Gospel, and what’s worse, the song simply ends in a blanket of positive affirmations and promises without a tether to Christ and Him Crucified.

you are holy
you are righteous
you are one of the redeemed
set apart
a brand new heart
you are free indeed
every mountain every valley
Thru each heartache you will see
every moment brings you closer
to who you were meant to be
Dear younger dear

Every promise pointing to how great “me” is… I’m now going to be who I’m meant to be. In the end, this is a motivational song that any secular humanist could relate to and agree with and never be convicted of sin or made aware of the Gospel. Are these fragments all part of actual promises in the Bible? Yes, they are. But they’ve been divorced from Law and Gospel and applied blindly. The focus is on the self, not on Christ. Throughout the whole song, the focus is on the self. The cross gets a small mention.

Conclusion

If this was a song intended for secular airplay, just part of everyday musical art being performed to pay the bills, it would make for a cool, positive song. I’m used to ignoring bad theology in secular songs. However, this song is written by Christians for a Christian audience, so it’s bad theology is central to the song and it cannot simply be ignored.

If I could tell the younger me something, it would be to read the Scriptures with a Christ-focus, looking for how this passage is pointing me to Christ rather than constantly trying to see “what this passage is telling me to do”. As I wrote earlier, I made the bad choices because of sin. I am where I am today because of the Grace and Mercy of God through the working of the Holy Spirit, not by anything I did or realized on my own. What I know now is because the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, and there is nothing I could say to my younger self that would help the Holy Spirit do His work any differently. Believers don’t get “do-overs” we get something much, much better… we get It is Finished; You are Forgiven.

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