Well, it’s 2016 and I made a commitment to myself that I would blog more. Especially since I did not blog once in 2015. I’ll offer the excuses (as wonderful as they are) of planning a wedding, purchasing a home, and enjoying the first 5 months of marital bliss as my reasons for not blogging. But enough of that, I’m to jump right back in like I never left.
I’ve been a church musician/worship leader for over 10 years now and the older I get and the deeper my relationship with Christ goes, I am more and more critical when it comes to song selections for corporate worship, but also for private devotion. As a student at Biola University I went through a period of complete disdain for Gospel (African-American style) music because I felt most of it was either self-centered, lacked depth, and/or I couldn’t agree theologically with the lyrics. I kept it to myself because I realized most of it probably boiled down to preference and disagreement on “secondary” issues. Fast forward to the present, and there is still some disdain there, but serving as the Gospel Choir Director at Biola the past four years my love for Gospel music was recaptured. Nonetheless, I still hear music that immediately causes me to cringe, but I just kind of shake it off for the same aforementioned reasons.
Recently, I heard a song on my wife’s (shameless plug) Pandora Station by the group Anthony Brown & Group Therapy called “Worth”. The crux of the song says (as found on Metro Lyrics):
You thought I was worth saving
So you came and changed my life
You thought I was worth keeping
So you cleaned me up inside
You thought I was to die for
So you sacrificed your life
So I could be free
So I could be whole
So I could tell everyone I know
Some person may read this and go, “Yes! Finally a song that describes how I feel about my salvation.” Not me though and for some reason the first time I heard this song (and every time afterwards) it hasn’t sat well with me. Therefore, this post is my attempt to flesh out why I believe this song is damaging; mainly that it misrepresents the Gospel: God in Christ, Sovereignly (keyword) reconciling the world back to Himself, for the sake of His glory, to the praise of His glorious grace and for the good of the elect (His chosen people). In fact, I only really take issue with the “cause” (You thought I was worth…) statements of the lyrics and not so much the “effects” (So I could be…) statements. Let me explain why.
God’s Redemptive Acts in Scripture
I believe Scripture is clear that God’s redemptive history shows that His calling and saving people is never based on any inherent “goodness” or “merit” or “worth” they possess but because of His sovereign choice; according to the counsel of His own will. For instance:
When God called Abram (aka Abraham), he was a heathen who lived among an idolatrous, pagan group of people (see Gen. 11:31 and Joshua 24:2). Abram was in no shape or form worthy of God’s call.
When Moses asked God to show him His glory, God responded this way: “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)
God made it plain to the Children of Israel that their selection and His affection for them was purely a matter of grace: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut. 7:7-8)
After hundreds and hundreds of years of God’s people falling into sin and coming under His wrath, judgment, and then deliverance time and time again, God made this prophetic statement through Ezekiel saying, “…It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst…I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:22, 24-26)
I could go on and on, but the picture I am trying to paint (and hopefully you are seeing) is that God has never been in the business of calling/saving people based on “worth”. The passage in Ezekiel is a direct link to the New Testament and speaks of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I can take it a step further and point out that even the Disciples were not men of great honor, great resumes, or great moral character. The Gospels expose their character flaws and show us many reasons why they shouldn’t have been chosen to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world.
And then there is the Apostle Paul, the self-described “chief of sinners”, he certainly was not a ripe candidate for salvation. I’m sure there were others with a cleaner track record, yet his writings (God-inspired Scripture for that matter) are riddled with the notion that salvation is based on the grace of God alone. No one is deserving, no one merits salvation, no one is worth saving. In fact, what all of creation merits is death, namely separation from God for eternity (see Romans 3:22-23, Eph. 2:1-3; cf. Isaiah 53:6). The world because of its sinfulness is worthy of God’s wrath in judgment. So why did God save me? You? Anybody? This is what the Bible says in a few places:
Ephesians 1:5-6 – In love He predestined us for adoption as sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.
Ephesians 2:4-5 – 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…
Titus 3:4-7 – But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Re-read those verses slowly and contemplatively…It’s hard to deduce from those passages anything other than the fact that God saves not because He should, but because He wants to. Not because we are so save-able, but because He is so merciful. Not because we are so love-able, but because He is so loving. That my friends is the essence of the Gospel. That is what Scripture teaches. That is what men like Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, myself, and countless others believe.
I honestly believe the lyrics to the song “Worth” downplay how great a salvation God has given to the world; a salvation so great and glorious that even Angels are enchanted by it (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).
What I Am Not Saying
Before I conclude let me, in anticipation of disagreement, address what I am not saying. I am not saying that human beings possess no value or worth. Jesus expresses the value of humans, especially God’s adopted children in Matthew 6:26 and Matthew 10:29-31 (for starters) where He says humans are superior to animals. In the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Coin, and Prodigal Son we see the care each main character displays toward the things lost. All humans are image bearers of their Creator and are inherently valuable from the womb to the grave. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…”, which shows us that God cares about His creation. Every life is precious. There is no one who is excluded from the possibility of receiving salvation. Like Black lives, all lives matter. Conversely, there is no one who is so valuable that they deserve salvation.
It may seem as if I am splitting hairs or being over-dramatic (it happens), but as previously stated this song, in my opinion, speaks of our worth in terms of meriting God’s love and favor; of which we could never do. To suggest anyone is worth saving is to deny the reality of how deeply sin has radically corrupted our hearts and whole being. To suggest that anyone is worth saving is to say that God shows partiality: some are worthy, some are not. Both deny the truth of Scripture and undermine the magnitude of God’s saving grace and His sovereignty. To suggest anyone is worth saving denies the Gospel. This is why I believe this is a serious matter. I may be totally wrong in my assessment of this song, but if I’m not, I would re-write it (which sometimes happens admittedly) to go like this:
I was never worth saving (Rom. 3:23, Eph. 2:1-3)
But You came and changed my life (John 10:10, Eph. 2:4-9)
I was never worth keeping (Rom. 6:23a)
But You cleaned me up inside (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
I was never to die for (2 Cor. 5:21a)
But You sacrificed your life (Isa. 53)
So I could be free (John 8:36)
So I could be whole (Matt. 11:28-30)
So I could tell everyone I know (Matt. 28:20)
What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below. In taking the liberty to leave a comment, I would invite you to really read through the passages I have listed in full and simply referenced. Thanks!
Amazed by grace,