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

DiM | “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott

Presentation1CCM Radio Edition.

July 27, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott and the Scott Family, which currently sits at #17 on 20theCountdownMagazine.

You may know Hillary Scott as a country singer in the band Lady Antebellum. It’s a good band, as secular country music bands go, but not one that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have absolutely no problem with being in a band as your vocation. None whatsoever. I don’t even have a problem with being in a secular band as your vocation. I have no problem with listening to secular music. None whatsoever. But a song doesn’t become a Christian song simply because the artist says it is, or the artist claims to be a Christian. A song is a Christian song when its lyric proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hillary Scott is a gifted singer. The song doesn’t stand on its own… and I worry about the theology driving the songwriters. It’s a song begging for the Gospel to be preached to the singer. I pray we learn to preach the Gospel to those asking these questions.

VEVO Lyric Video

Lyrics (via KLove)

Verse 1
I’m so confused
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here

I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I got is hurt and these four words

Chorus
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Verse 2
I know you’re good
But this don’t feel good right now
And I know you think
Of things I could never think about

It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that you’re God
And I am not
So

Chorus
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will

Bridge
I know you see me
I know you hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store

I know you hear me
I know you see me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store
So

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Like a child on my knees
All that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

I know you see me
I know you hear me, Lord

Publishing: © 2016 W.B.M. Music Corp. / EKT Publishing, admin. by W.B.M. Music Corp. (SESAC); WB Music Corp. / Thankful For This Music, admin. by WB Music Corp. (ASCAP); Songs of Universal, Inc. / G650 Music/Pure Note Music, admin. by Songs of Universal, Inc. (BMI).
Writer(s): Hillary Scott, Emily Weisband and Bernie Herms

Discussion

Overall, the song is begging for theodicy, an answer for the question “if God is good, then why is there so much evil in the world?”. It is an honest lyric in that the singer is asking questions we all ask from time to time. However, within these honest questions there is also evidence of bad theology. So, the honesty of the questions does not make them good questions by default.

As for the target audience and purpose for the song, I believe it is intended to be a song of prayer. It focuses on 4 words from the Lord’s Prayer, two of which form the song title, and the object of the “you” and “thy” in this song I’m assuming to be the God of the Bible.

Verse 1. A confession of being confused is a good thing, but in common vernacular here in the U.S., it can also be a loaded turn of phrase indicating that the source of confusion is mixed messaging from the messenger, or even hypocritical double-speak. So let’s continue in the lyric. I know I heard you loud and clear So, I followed through Somehow I ended up here… and there it is. I did what you asked me to do, and now I’m here. This is an accusation. Now this doesn’t mean she’s putting God on trial just yet, we see in the book of Job that he hadn’t done anything to “deserve” his trial (though we dare not suggest he was sinless, because he wasn’t). But noticed the claim to having heard God (I’m assuming) “loud and clear”. I don’t know where she goes to church, but with so many big-box churches catering to celebrities and spewing vision-casting leadership driven bad theology, she could be referring to “life tip” sermons filled with man-made law as the source of her hearing from God, or she could be referring to direct revelations she had while practicing the sort of channeling or divination presented in “Jesus Calling” (available at and heavily marketed by your local “christian” bookstore). What we don’t see is her questioning God based on the Written Word of God.

So, the first part of the first verse at least presents the questions:
I’ve done everything You told me to do, God, now why am I here?
I did everything I knew to be right, why am I being punished?
I did everything your church told me to do, so why is none of it working?

The second part presumes an answer based on limited knowledge of Scripture and then extrapolates that assumption into a solution that resembles faith, or at least how faith is generally described in modern evangelicalism. The limited knowledge of Scripture is the idea that God is sovereign over all things. While that is true about God, it doesn’t guide us in the Law nor does it explicitly point to the Gospel, it simply asserts that God is over all things. That’s what I mean by limited knowledge of Scripture, it is Truth that God is Sovereign, but that truth alone does not give us much to go on. The singer then takes that nugget of truth and assumes that since God is sovereign, then clearly she is suffering because God wants her to. I may never understand That my broken heart is a part of your plan is vague enough to be corrected theologically, but it can also run contrary to the full character of God revealed in Scripture. It ignores the problem of sin, the true source of death and heartache in this temporal life.

At the end of this verse, we are still left with a very real question that most in the visible church are asking and even praying. The presumed answer of “God must have a reason for me to be going through this… I hope I can hold on long enough to see what it was” isn’t so much faith as it is positive self-talk. It’s self-focused, and doesn’t point to Christ who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

I’d like to address this question more fully scripturally, but let’s get through the rest of this song first.

Chorus. So the chorus of the song is simply “Thy Will be Done” repeated over and over again. “Do what You want to do, LORD.” While it is indeed part of how we were taught to pray, why not pray the rest of the prayer (Matthew 6; Luke 11)? We’ll get back to this point in a bit, but I want to do so after the second verse.

Verse 2. Yes, God is good. This is an attempt to affirm or confess the goodness of God. Very difficult to do from an emotional place when you’re in despair. That is why it is so important to me to point out that Faith is not an emotion. Our emotions are fleshly, Faith is not part of our flesh. Notice the “but”… it doesn’t feel good all of the time, not even for Christians. In fact, the life of a Christian very rarely “feels” good, because the world hates us. It hates us because it first hated God. It doesn’t feel good because the wages of sin is death, and as long as we live in this temporal flesh, we will have to struggle with sin. Struggle doesn’t feel good. Feelings are a terrible way to find God or search for Him or to try to muster up faith in Him.

Now, to this point the song has been theologically poking at Romans 8, so we’ll look at that in a minute. In the next section, however, I think it starts poking at a passage in James.

James 1:2-4 (ESV) 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.

We find in this second verse a similar thread that we found in the first verse, a bit of an accusation that on some level God isn’t or doesn’t seem to be keeping His promises to the singer, and then she backs out of that thought with a “I’m not God, You Are”… it’s a pious statement, again, treating faith as a sort of blind trust in a Supreme being that I want to know and think I know but I don’t know and am confused by what seems to be double-talk, or even a failure to keep promises.

What promises? The song doesn’t say. The local “christian” bookstores are filled with so-called promises of God that are out there and simply need to be claimed, or earned, or declared. Most of these books are filled with false-promises, blasphemous lies spoken/written from the imaginations of men. God’s promises are True and Amen. We find them in His Written Word, the Scriptures.

Bridge. The endless repeat of the chorus and the bridge ends the song in much the same way it began. I’m doing my part, Lord, I know you see me and hear me but all I’m getting is ‘Thy will be done’. She’s still asking for an answer. What has she done wrong? What should she be doing? Why won’t You answer her? What is she missing?

Conclusion

Well, she’s missing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not saying she “isn’t saved”, I’m saying she’s spending so much time looking to circumstances and seeking direct revelation about them, she is missing the Promises of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She is also missing the Law, or has been filled with man-made laws presented as some quid-pro-quo arrangement for blessings and prosperity. She doesn’t seem to understand the role of sin and death in this temporal life with its heartaches and struggles. You know, the early Church struggled with heavy persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death. I can think of no more relevant source for encouragement than the Epistles of the New Testament, written in a time and under persecution most of us may never witness or understand.

James 1:2-18 (ESV)

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.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Romans 8:18-30 (ESV)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

1 Peter 1:1-13 (ESV)

Greeting
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

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.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

These Church fathers endured tough times, hard persecution, and the LORD blessed them, not in temporal comforts, but in eternal Hope, Faith in Jesus Christ and in the Resurrection. Christ grew His Church through the preaching of His Word. These are the answers to the questions of this song. Christ is the answer, for all of eternity.

Pray to God, make petitions to Our Father in Heaven, a bold proclamation made possible only through the death and resurrection of God the Son, Jesus Christ. Seek His Will by reading His Word. The answers are there. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Written Word, pointing us to Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Don’t look for God in your circumstances, look for Him in His Word.

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 | “Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll” by Rev Karsten

ApprovedWorship Edition.

June 30, 2016. This month has been extremely busy for our household. It’s been both wonderful and exhausting. We attended our first IssuesETC conference, and this past week we took a special trip to have our kids baptized. Next month will be equally busy, so currently we are trying to get to August. I will be attending the PCR conference in August, but that should mark the end of our crazy summer of travel. I didn’t get a chance to research a CCM Edition of DiM for this week. But we have a special treat today to share a new Hymn written for Worship.

A recurring critique, or comment, about this DiM work is the question of whether or not the standard being applied is fair, or whether or not any song or hymn or even Psalm could earn an “Approved” status. When it comes to Hymns from the major, orthodox churches, we don’t normally look through those because their very presence in the official hymnals means they were scrutinized and approved by governing church bodies for their worship. Here, we are primarily concerned with what is coming out of an industry that mass-produces songs and declares them “Christian” for either radio airplay or even worship services without any oversight or scrutiny.

Karsten named winner of Reformation hymn competition

The Rev. Dr. Wilfred Karsten, pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Moline, Ill., is the winner of a hymn-writing competition held by LutheranReformation.org — the official website for the Synodwide celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The lyrics of Karsten’s original hymn, “Though All Our Life Is Like a Scroll,” are available to view here, along with two musical settings of the hymn (including accompaniment and congregational pages).

Judges for the competition included the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Starke, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, Amelith, Bay City, Mich.; the Rev. Dr. Jon Vieker, senior assistant to the LCMS president; and Peter Reske, senior editor of music/worship at Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis.

The announcement came June 17 that Karsten was the winner of the hymn for the Synod’s anniversary celebration, which has the theme of “It’s Still All About Jesus.” [Read More]

So we have a brand-new hymn to examine. It was already awarded and praised within the LCMS, but I thought we could take a look at it together. Does it only pass a Lutheran test or is this indeed a sound, Christian, song? Let’s give it a listen.

Concordia Publishing House Music Video

 

In the interest full disclosure, I struggle with the operatic singing. A lot, actually. I find it masks and obscures the lyrics such that I cannot comprehend the point of the song, much less the details of the doctrine, without reading the lyrics directly. Are the singers’ voices lovely? Absolutely. Can I understand what is being sung? Nope. The hymn writer only wrote the hymn, someone else composed the music… which is tough to sing along with at parts. Now, I’m no stranger to classical music, and overall it is a beautiful sound. I don’t care for organs (that’s putting it rather mildly, in fact) but in this tune the organ is not overpowering and it is in-fact supporting the singing rather than drowning it. The organ was nicely done. What remains is a pretty tune, classically sung… but if we don’t read the words we’ll have no clue what we just heard.

Lyrics (via LutheranReformation.org)

Though all our life is like a scroll
Unrolled with blemished pages;
Though sin has shredded what was whole
And death is now our wages;
Yet here we stand in confidence,
With Jesus as our sole defense,
For He alone still saves us.

Though pompously we try to dress
In costumes of our making;
Though fig leaves of self-righteousness
Are futile and heartbreaking;
Yet filthy rags Christ gladly wore
So we would perish nevermore.
His grace alone still clothes us.

Though earth’s deep waters foam and roar
As surging waves are rolling;
Though all the nations rage with war
While bells of doom are tolling;
Yet God gives peaceful fortitude,
He nurtures us with Heaven’s food.
True faith alone still anchors.

Though critics cut out Scripture’s claims
And treat them with derision;
Though they conduct their hostile aims
With scalpels of suspicion;
Yet how the living, two-edged sword
Proclaims the dead and risen Lord!
God’s Word alone: still truthful.

Now sing a high doxology
To God who gives salvation.
Both here and in eternity
Let this be our vocation.
To Father, Son, and Spirit raise
A symphony of grateful praise,
For He alone is worthy.

Discussion

Hymns don’t generally follow the popular “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, refrain ∞…” instead you usually get a tune that carries the singer through several verses that build a doctrinal statement or teaching. This one has 5 verses or stanzas.

Verse 1. Here we have the Law presented, that our lives are shredded by sin and we are deserving of death. We aren’t left there, though, because it turns to the Gospel, our hope of salvation, Jesus Christ.

Verse 2. Interestingly, we first address self-righteousness and the pompous act of presuming to be made righteous by our works, and then we see it rooted in the actions taken by Adam and Eve after the fall… they tried to cover their nakedness when they heard God walking in the garden. We are getting theology here, good sound theology. In the Genesis account, once the punishment has been declared as well as the seed of the Gospel prophesied, God then clothes them temporarily by the first animal sacrifice. The song doesn’t dig there, but jumps directly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Promised seed. On the cross, Christ became sin in our place, wearing our filthy rags (sins of the world) upon that cross, so that we would not perish. Christ clothes us in Grace. Amen!

Verse 3. This verse centers on the hope of Christ in the midst of the storm, the earthly struggle. We’ve been given a spirit of peace, even when we cannot see peace around us. Our Hope is in the LORD, not in princes of earth. Lutherans will see the Lord’s Supper in this verse, but not in such a way that the Reformed should recoil. For we know that the heavenly food is God’s Word.

Matthew 4:4 (ESV) But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Faith in Christ Jesus is our anchor through the storm of this temporal life. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17).

Verse 4. Here we proclaim the enduring Truth found only in God’s Word. The world, and the wolves in many pulpits of the visible church will assail, twist, and mutilate the Scriptures to teach their own dreams and visions and lead many astray. But God’s Word Still truthful, and it is effective and it is powerful. Those who twist and attack God’s Word will face judgement… the two-edged sword executes judgement as well as granting saving Faith. The two words of Scripture are Law and Gospel. Those who reject the Gospel will find themselves condemned under the Law.

John 3:16-18 (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.

Verse 5. Now sing this high doxology, is saying “now sing Praises to the Triune God of the Bible”. This is our prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for our Salvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, from the Word of Christ alone. We will pursue as our vocation both in this world and in eternity the praise of the Triune God. To the Glory of God Alone.

Conclusion

This hymn sets a high watermark for Worship songs. As for our CCM DiM reviews, if a song could cover in 2 verses, a chorus and a bridge what this song covers in a single verse, it would probably get an Approval rating. What is sorely lacking in today’s CCM is a clear Gospel as an answer to the Law. We are sinners. Not merely “people who make mistakes”. Sinners. And the only answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We who bear the name of Christ (Christians, the Church) are stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. CCM has become completely engrossed in pagan entertainment and has become derelict in their duties as stewards of the Gospel. What we pump out into the airwaves should serve the Gospel, and the ministry of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:11-15 (ESV) | The Ministry of Reconciliation

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | Trey Pearson and CCM

Last week, I saw the following headline from theBlaze pop up on my Facebook feed:

Christian Rocker Comes Out as Gay:
‘I’ve Tried My Whole Life to Be Straight’

Naturally, I was curious as to who this “Christian Rocker” was and wanted to know how the CCM Industry would spin it. After some searching, I realized that this poor young man’s crisis of faith had already published previously, and the community should have picked up on several warning signs. What we have here isn’t a sound Christian suddenly performing a 180º turn, merely the revealing of an unbeliever’s unrepentance.  Today, I want to focus your attention more on the Contemporary “Christian” Music (CCM) industry than on the man, Trey Pearson and his rebellion.

That article from the Blaze is mostly a rehash of the original interview posted here. The interview’s title is “A Modern Gospel”, but it isn’t a modern gospel, it’s a false one. Some heartbreaking quotes:

…“I’m gay, and one of the only people who knows is my wife.”…

…“Most of us reach at least one pivotal moment in our lives that better defines who we are. These last several months have been the hardest—but also have ended up being the most freeing months—of my life. To make an extremely long story short, I have come to be able to admit to myself, and to my family, that I am gay.”…

…“There is a weight that has been lifted, and I have never felt so free. I cannot even believe the joy and lightness I feel from being able to accept myself, and love myself, for who I truly am … but I have also lost some of the closest people in my life. I have felt betrayal by people I loved a lot, and cared so much about.”…

…“I’m starting over in so many ways. It is freeing, but it’s also starting out lonely”…

In the article, we see Trey fully fixated on himself while taking shots at Christians for not treating him the way he thinks he should be treated. Really, Trey? You’re leaving your wife. Your wife is no longer your wife, you’ve made her out to be merely part of what you’ve now decided isn’t the real you. Rather than resist sin, you’ve decided to identify by it, and expect others to accept your sin as something that should be embraced, celebrated, and even loved. The “joy and lightness” you’re describing now is no more substantial than the adrenaline high most get from doing something they know is wrong. This isn’t freedom, it is bondage to sin. This hedonistic gospel is no gospel at all. There is no life in it, only death. Let’s turn quickly to Paul’s comments regarding sin in his letter to the Romans, a rather hedonistic society in its day even by modern standards.

Romans 6:15-23 (ESV) | Slaves to Righteousness

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So you see, Paul points out the hard truth of the so-called “freedom” trey is currently experiencing… it’s a freedom in regards to righteousness, meaning that giving yourself over into slavery of sin is to rid yourself of all righteousness. We have no righteousness of our own, so we must become slaves to righteousness by faith in the Righteous One, Our LORD Jesus Christ. In denying the Law of God (specifically that sexual immorality is sin), he’s cut himself off from the very Gospel of God, forgiveness from the sin he refuses to acknowledge as sin. What we see here is a man who is still firmly planted in Romans 1.

Romans 1:18-32 (ESV) | God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Which leads us to the focus of this discussion here. Yes, Trey is in unbelief and I pray the Holy Spirit open his eyes to the Truth, that Trey’s hardened heart and stiffened neck against the Truth of God be softened. But Trey has a platform that the CCM Industry has built for him, and that our godless society is capitalizing on. Check out this troubling segment of the View.

A wife and two children, and all he can think about is himself and his passions. He put all of his faith into his ability to “be something he wasn’t”. Folks, that isn’t the Gospel. The Object of saving faith is NOT our ability to uphold the Law. The Object of our faith is Christ Jesus.

I will concede one point… in part. If the visible church keeps preaching sanctification as a choice we make, it’s teaching the wrong thing. The Law clearly pronounces homosexuality as sin. Abominable sin. As sinful human being, sinless perfection is outside of our reach and beyond our strength to attain in this life on our own. Repentance is a daily act of faith, not a one-time contract that relies on your sanctified perfection to maintain. We must encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction to continue bearing the fruit of repentance, just as we who struggle with heterosexually immoral temptations need to. Your secret addition to pornography is no less abominable than their same-sex attraction, in the eyes of God they are both sexual immorality, sexual sin, on par with Idolatry, and punishable by death. And they are both covered, paid in full, by the Perfect atoning sacrifice of our LORD Jesus Christ on the cross. Repent, and be forgiven in Jesus’ Name. Take up your cross, die to self, and follow Christ daily. There will come a day when at last we will be free of this sinful, fallen flesh, and we will be given new bodies in the Resurrection. Until then, the righteous live by Faith, not by their own works.

The CCM Problem

As I mentioned earlier, I found an older article from 2013 (Sojourners link) that should have raised several warning flags concerning Trey Pearson and the CCM Industry. That it didn’t indicates that the majority of the Visible church is sleeping or flat-out derelict in their duty to preach sound doctrine and to hold CCM (and themselves) accountable. If you have some time, read through the interview… it is quite telling of the problems within the CCM Industry and with Trey’s theology. These issues, even if Trey can’t speak for the entire industry perfectly, are clearly driving forces behind why so many of our DiM posts end up in disapprovals and warnings. The industry is deeply flawed, and the Church is blindly eating it all up. Let’s look at some of the more damning quotes in the SOJO article:

SOJO: What about the industry surprised you?

Trey: I have been in the industry for 11 years full time, so that’s a bit of a loaded question! I was pretty naive coming into the industry. I assumed everyone there was just trying to make great art, to glorify God. But it was more than that. I thought that what these musicians were doing was somehow sacred, distinct from the “secular” music that other artists were producing. That is what I had been taught as a teenager, by people that were really influential in my life.

I didn’t realize how much the industry was geared toward soccer moms, who support Christian radio. I didn’t realize how many people in the industry had really different views on what it meant to follow God, or just flat out didn’t seem to care. The Christian music industry has the same struggles with drugs, sex and power as the secular music business.  [emphasis mine]

The Christian Radio stations are inextricably linked to the Industry machine. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be lulled into the lie that they are simply dealing with the hand they are dealt from the recording studios. It matters who they target with their marketing for “business partners”, it matters that they claim to proclaim the Gospel while promoting and playing mostly ear-tickling pablum. Trey goes on to lament the art that is lacking in the CCM Industry.

The formula of CCM started with them knowing how to sell to the adult contemporary (AC) format. About a decade ago, worship music became really popular, and it has pretty much melded with that AC format. There are some slight differences at times, but it is all geared to be cool enough to make a soccer mom think that it’s edgy, and yet not be too controversial. What is intriguing to me is that you will almost never find someone making art in the rest of the music industry, trying to become an “adult contemporary” artist. You will see Top 40 [pop artists] cross over some of their songs to AC, but all the artists at the top of those mainstream AC charts right now are Rihanna, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, and Justin Timberlake. That’s a far cry from an industry that pushes young people into trying to make Christian AC music, that never ends up being about the art, but just fitting in the right formulaic words like “grace,” “saved,” “Jesus,” and trust me, they have them. And it never leads to good art. No offense to the artists that are ruling Christian music, but it’s just not at the peak of the creative music spectrum…

…Generally, only messages of certainty and positivity are promoted and accepted within Christian AC and worship music communities. It is next to impossible to create art that has transparency and honesty, expressing doubt, and vulnerability. You can see those things all throughout Scripture, but the system in place to sell albums has a very narrow view of belief that they want to promote to their consumers.

So, in these answers we are starting to see more of Trey’s theology, but we are also seeing that the CCM formula is centered on entertaining the Adult Contemporary market rather than on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The standard isn’t God’s Word, it’s what they think they can get away with to be comfortably edgy and at least nominally orthodox (using the formulaic words he cited). Seriously though, Trey just included the Name that is above all Names in his list of “formulaic words” as a bad thing because it hinders art.

Do you see Trey’s theology emerging a bit here? Might you be inclined to guess at who he’s been listening to, and learning from? Any chance it’s a faithful exegete?

SOJO: Talk about the authors and others who started opening your eyes to other ways of thinking about God.

Trey: The biggest influence that made an impact on making me rethink the sacred vs. secular divide, and on understanding that everything is spiritual, was Rob Bell. He helped me realize again that everything that is good is from God. I stopped believing in Christian music or Christian events or anything else described as a “Christian” that didn’t seem intent on following Jesus.

I’m all for a group of Christians coming together to try to make an impact in people’s lives for the Kingdom of God. I just believe there are better ways to go about it. If you believe that everything that is good is from God, it starts to really change your perspective on how all of this works. Rob was sort of a gateway for me to other authors that have had huge impacts on me like Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, Walter Brueggemann, and many more. [emphasis mine]

There is a reason we call out these false teachers. There is a reason we need the ministries of Pirate Christian Radio, the Pulpit and Pen, the Berean Research, Wretched Radio, et al. The visible church is derelect in its duty to exercise Biblical Discernment, to mark false teachers, and guard the flock against the wolves.

Conclusion

I pray the LORD soften Trey’s heart and grant him saving faith and repentance. I pray for his wife and children, for that they might find Faith, Hope, and Restoration in Christ alone. I pray that the Church wake up and start taking their charge to keep the Faith, to keep the Word of God. Dear Christian, do the work of a Berean. Examine your doctrine with an open Bible, to see if it is good. Ensure that your local church faithfully preaches the Word of God, both Law and Gospel unapologetically. Exercise Biblical discernment in what you are listening to, purchasing online, and reading.. particularly those things that claim to be “Christian”. Hold your local CCM Radio stations accountable. They raise funds claiming to be a Christian ministry… is it true? Do they proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ? or are they merely an entertainment platform for a CCM industry looking to make a buck.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV) | Preach the Word

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

DiM | “When I’m With You” by Citizen Way

CCM Radio Edition.

disapproveMay 24, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “When I’m With You” by Citizen Way which currently sits at #19 on the20theCountdownMagazine.

Sidenote: Can we please just stop cop-opting secular love songs? Can we please stop “dating God”?  The world woos their lovers by proclaiming how great a person they become “when they’re with that other person”. The unspoken flip side of the coin is “I’m lost without you” sort of thing. Which, of course, is an exaggerated emotional sentiment intended to woo. It is not our job to woo God. We cannot, by our words or deeds, curry favor with God. We’ll get into that more in our discussion, but for now I’m just generally quite frustrated with the “Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend” trope in CCM. *sigh*

Okay, so let’s talk about today’s song. There are a couple of nuggets in the song that bear some truth, and at least it names Jesus (which makes it a bit more direct that much of what is playing on CCM radio), but there is some confused theology in the song. I think the core of the song is the confused theology, not the nuggets of truth. The song doesn’t stand on its own, and since it falls in the “dating God” vein, it falls in the “Disapprove” category for us.

CitizenWayVEVO

 

Lyrics (via KLove)

These are the things that I need to pray
Because I can’t find peace any other way
I’m a mess underneath and I’m just too scared to show it

Everything’s not fine
And I’m not okay
But it’s nice to know
I can come this way

When I’m with You
I feel the real me finally breaking through
It’s all because of You, Jesus
Anytime, anywhere, any heartache
I’m never too much for You to take
There’s only love
There’s only grace
When I’m with You

Nobody knows me like You do
No need for walls, You see right through
Every hurt, every scar, every secret… You just love me

I’m breathing in
I’m innocent
It’s like my heart’s on fire again
I’m not afraid
I’m not ashamed
I’m safe when I am with You

So I’m here just as I am
Bruised or broken
I don’t have to pretend

Publishing: Calhoun Tunes / Fair Trade Music Publishing (ASCAP) (admin. by Music Services, Inc.); Mr. Blue Sky / Fair Trade Tunes (SESAC) (admin. by Music Services, Inc.); and 2 Hour Songs / Centric Songs (admin. by Centricity Music Publishing). All rights reserved.
Writer(s): Ben Calhoun; Josh Calhoun; Seth Mosely

Discussion

This song is completely bent in on itself. The target audience is the singer. The secondary audience is anyone who wants to be like the singer. Jesus gets a by-name honorable mention. I know that’s a hard introduction to this discussion, but I’ll explain what I mean here. We’re starting with what is wrong with this song, and only then will I point out the truth nuggets I mentioned earlier.

The intro to the song tells us that these are the things the singer needs to pray… why? because he wants to feel better. This isn’t about bringing glory to God or proclaiming the cross, this is about making me feel better, making me feel at peace. What’s worse? This “prayer” we’re about to be shown is the only way the artist finds peace. I have a big problem with that… because he’s finding peace in the prayer he’s about to pray… not in what Christ has done on the cross for us, or what Christ has proclaimed to us in His Word.

When we hit the chorus, the opening line is When I’m with You, which jumps straight to… I’m not sure what, really. Let me explain, when we talk about being with someone having an impact, by default we are suggesting that the opposite happens whenever we are NOT with that person. So what are we contrasting here, theologically? Unbeliever versus Believer? Unregenerate versus Regenerate? Natural Child of darkness versus Adopted Child of Light? Or is this more reflective of the emotional yo-yo that is part and parcel of seeker-mergent evangelicalism where you have to do something to “feel the Presence of God” in your life again after having grown cold or worn-out (or burned out from all of your zeal-driven works). So, pausing those questions for a moment, let’s see what is happening when the singer is with Jesus… I feel the real me finally breaking through. Okay, now I’m confused. Is this the “real me” that is a mess underneath or the me that is at peace because I have been forgiven? How does one “be with Jesus” without repentance? Yeah, this is seeker sensitive theology, the notion that church is a place where unbelievers born in sin are encouraged to come to church to get a taste of the Presence of God so that they might at last open up their sinful hearts to God so that He can then forgive them of their sin and make them new creatures. That’s not the role of the church, and that is not how the Bible describes regenerating faith. You don’t convince a dead man to consider what it might be like to be made alive in Christ. You preach God’s Word and God the Holy Spirit breaths life to dead bones.

Let’s get review some scripture passages, for their greater contexts I strongly urge you to read Romans and Ephesians in full.

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.

Romans 3:9-31 (ESV) | No One Is Righteous

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
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. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

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.

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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 10:5-17 (ESV) | The Message of Salvation to All

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For“everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

The heart that believes the Word of Christ and the mouth that Confesses the Word of Christ has already been made alive with Christ by the Grace of God, who has granted saving faith to the hearer of the Word of Christ. And having been brought to life in Christ, we have this Promise from Him that He will never leave us.

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is where we find Peace, in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, in the Promises made to us from our Resurrected and Returning Savior, Jesus Christ our LORD. Placing your faith in your prayer is missing the point, and focusing on your own works. Our faith is not in our prayers, it is in the One to whom we pray. The prayer of faith isn’t measured by zeal or feeling, but by the Truth of God’s Word… the Person and Work of Christ Jesus.

As for the truth nuggets in the song, the idea that we are a total mess, that we’re not okay, is mostly true. The Truth is that we are much worse than these words convey. That wouldn’t be a ding on this song on its own, it is a short song after all. The problem here is that while the artist is right that we aren’t expected to clean ourselves up prior to coming to God (I can come this way) there is no mention of repentance nor forgiveness, even. It’s as though it just not an issue. Going back to the the real me finally breaking through we don’t have mention of being made a new creation, or of dealing at all with our sin or our sinful natures. That’s why these are mere nuggets of truth. Later in the chorus, the singer declares that with Jesus there’s only Love and Grace. Well, that’s not the whole story. There’s also Justice, Wrath, and Forgiveness by the Blood of Jesus shed on the Cross. It’s all there, together, in unity. It is dangerous to try to present the Gospel apart from the Law (and yes, equally so to present Law without Gospel).

I find the bridge particularly grating. It’s designed to serve as an anthem for all of those in the audience who want to be like the singer… it’s completely focused on the self

I’m breathing in
I’m innocent
It’s like my heart’s on fire again
I’m not afraid
I’m not ashamed
I’m safe when I am with You

It’s all about “I” in this portion. We aren’t innocent in our own right, we’ve been declared righteous according to Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sin. Christ died for our sin, so that in Him we might be declared righteous in God’s sight. If the song gave Jesus more than a mere honorable mention, I wouldn’t have such a problem with this phrasing… but given the whole of the lyric I have a problem with this phrasing. Without repentance and the atonement, the song paints grace and love as a mere wiping away of the sin and the law just because we’re so cute and cuddly to God. That presents a false gospel.

Conclusion

Best construction on this song is the idea that we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. While that’s true, it’s not all of the truth. You see, it’s not simply that we don’t have to be perfect, it’s that we cannot be perfect, or even good. We are dead in sins and trespasses… horribly unrighteous, not even seeking after God. At its worst, this song seems to suggest that the point of the Gospel is that it’s okay to be horribly broken and sinful, since God loves you anyway, and as long as you admit that you are a mess, God declares you innocent… just like that. No need to confess sins, acknowledge the cross, be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection… see where I’m going? In ignoring the Law, we get a diluted gospel. When you have a diluted gospel, you wind up with a navel-gazing spirituality in constant search of a feeling of peace and right-standing with God… a spirituality of the emotions. God hasn’t promised to be found in your emotions, He is found in His Word, both Law and Gospel rightly preached.

In closing, I’d like to share the confession we pray each Sunday morning at church.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.  (from Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service, Setting One)

What is truly comforting, is knowing that this prayer is in keeping with the Scriptures and that we serve a God who is Faithful and Just to forgives our sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness, for His Glory and His Praise.

Romans 16:24-27 (ESV) | Doxology

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge