I have been hearing a song on the radio that really bothers me. I usually don’t write or even think about song lyrics because musicians usually sacrifice good theology in the place of good music. As unfortunate as that is, singing theologically sound lyrics typically don’t inspire the type of awe and reverence that most people want out of worship. I have learned this through many “subtle” changes to various songs thought the years at my Presbyterian church. While most of the changes make the lyrics better align with our church doctrine, they oftentimes change the flow and rhythm of the songs. Not to mention that they typically are ignored. All that is to say, I’m not a big fan of changing song lyrics or even criticizing them. I feel that if you disagree with a song, you can probably find hundreds of others that fit your worship style or beliefs better. However, the song I am going to write about bothers me because it attacks the very foundation of what I believe.
Now, I don’t think the writer intended the song to reverse the gospel, in fact I think the song was meant to encourage Christians, but ultimately it alters the gospel in a way that I cannot feel comfortable even listening to. The song “Waiting for Tomorrow” by Mandisa is not all that different from most christian call-to-action songs. It’s message is that by trying harder and believing more, you will better reflect your Christianity. It calls you to action through the repeated phrase “I don’t want to look back and wonder if good enough could have been better” which, while incorrect, is not too different from what a lot of Christians believe and preach. Even if you don’t believe it, we all have struggled with the idea that if we just tried a little harder we would finally get where we want to be. This gives us control of how God views us, and even though that may seem horrifying, at least it’s easier than having to trust in someone else. This, however, is not my main concern. While a “try harder” theology is definitely unsettling to me (and something that I will definitely be writing about in the future), it is the misuse and misunderstanding of grace that troubles me the most.
In the chorus, we find the lines “I can't live my whole life wasting all the grace that I know you've given.” While these lines only continue to reinforce the “try harder” message of the song, they also show a much more unforgiving and ultimately hopeless gospel. The first thing we see is that grace can be wasted. What does that say about you and me, recipients of God’s grace? First, it says we might not be worth it. God might have made a mistake giving you grace because maybe you aren’t the person he thought you were. Maybe He is wasting his Son’s blood to save you. Second, it says that we have an expectation. If there is a way we can waste God’s grace, then there must be an appropriate way for us to “use” it. We need to start living up to the standard and we need to make sure that our “good enough” couldn’t be any better. It says that we need to do something in order to insure God’s grace. Both of these thoughts reduce us down to the orphans we once were. Instead of being viewed as sons and daughters, they say that we are just barely acceptable benefactors to God. We need to just “do enough” to receive God’s grace and make our life worthwhile.
The second message these lines send is that grace isn’t all that useful. Basically, this sentence says that grace is only good for ensuring value in your life. While that certainly is a benefit of grace, the gospel is, means, and does so much more. By reducing the gospel simply to something we use, viewing it as a tool, we remove the gospel from grace. Basically, we are saying that what Christ did on our behalf wasn’t complete, wasn’t total, wasn’t final. It creates a “grace and” mentality that puts our works back into the equation. Ultimately, by looking at grace as only the means by which we are pardoned, but not the means by which we are transformed or made righteous, we say that Jesus’ blood didn’t satisfy God’s wrath and didn’t fully secure our adoption by God (Romans 8:15). If grace is merely the pardoning of sin and nothing more, then we cannot experience the joy, love and peace that comes from knowing our God as Father.
In closing, I want to again say that I do not want to throw-out this song, nor am I claiming that Mandisa isn’t a christian, rather I am urging you to be careful when listening to music (particularly christian music). While music and worship in general is a much more personal and emotional event than say analyzing theology, I think it is vitally important that we don’t fill our heads with doctrines that debase the gospel. While grace doesn’t need to be the central theme in every song you listen to or book you read, if it is in any way reduced, rejected, or limited, then it is being deeply misrepresented.
“And Jesus your grace is all that I need, it's all that I need, yeah.
And grace upon grace is all that I breathe, it's all that I breathe.
In Jesus alone my atonement is known, I stand on grace.”
Jimmy Needham (Stand on Grace)