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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just As You Are

Francesca Battistelli is a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter. The first I heard of her was when I tuned into the Christian music station the other day. The name of the song was Free to be me. "Wait," I thought, "that can't be right." It was. "Perfection is my enemy," she sings. "On my own I'm so clumsy But on Your shoulders I can see I'm free to be me."

They call it an "accept-yourself-as-you-are anthem." She says she is a perfectionist, and that's not a good thing, so "Perfection is my enemy." What she has to do is "celebrate the person you are." In fact, Battistelli believes that if she ever had a song that God helped her to write, this would be the one.

This is what passes for good thinking in much of American Christianity. (According to the article, "The song shattered records in becoming the most added song by a female artist in Christian radio history and holding the #1 slot for ten consecutive weeks.") In our contemporary feel-good, "it's all about me" mentality in this world, many Christians are embracing this line of thinking. They think that salvation is more at "saved from thinking bad about myself." Like the Michael W. Smith song, Christ "thought of me above all." Because we believe we are saved apart from works, we think we merit grace. Some argue that "saved" simply means "enabled to be me, the good person that I am on the inside." "Born again" is simply "gaining access to the God within myself." It's the "God loves as we are" thinking that concludes, "so we should, too." And, from that, "If I'm a homosexual, God loves me just as I am and I should, too." You can see, out on this trail, how "If you think otherwise you think so against God" is the conclusion.

But ... is it true? Does God love us for what we are? Or does He love us despite the way we are? There is a critical difference in the two. One concludes, "So I'm free to be me" and the other would end up with "So I need to become what He wants." Which does the Bible support?

There is no text in Scripture that would suggest, "People are basically good." Instead we read humans are deceived (Jer 17:9), sinful (Rom 3:23), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), "evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21), unable to comprehend (1 Cor 2:14), dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3), blinded (2 Cor 4:4) ... for starters. The biblical description of God's view of this human is "wrath" (Rom 1:18). The "me" that the CCM singer suggests Jesus makes us free to be is condemned, not celebrated.

Where, then, do we get the idea that "Jesus loves me just as I am"? It's an easy mistake to make. We know that "while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom 5:6) Beyond that, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:9) (See also Rom 5:10.) And who can forget the definitive "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16)? Well, there it is, isn't it? No. What we learn here is that God loves us, but it does not say He loves us "just the way I am." The ever-popular John 3:16 declares that His love is demonstrated in giving eternal life to "whoever believes in Him", not indiscriminately.

Beyond that, it is abundantly clear that God has other ideas than "just the way you are". We are "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph 2:10). We don't go on living "free to be me"; we die (Rom 6:3-11; Gal 2:20; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5; Luke 9:23; Rom 12:1; Gal 6:14). Scripture doesn't celebrate self; it claims a "new creature" in which "the old has passed away" (2 Cor 5:17). God doesn't love us for who we are; He loves us for what He can make us. He loves us by making us new, beginning with our believing in His Son.

It is true that we humans get caught up in the little things. "I made a mistake, an error, a goof," and we'll berate ourselves over it. We shouldn't. That much is true. That was part of Battistelli's thinking, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree on that point. But we should never buy the lie that "I'm fine as I am" or celebrate "me". Our celebration is in Christ, His work, His salvation, and what He can make of us. The "celebrate the person you are" mentality makes God out to be a liar and elevates self to the top of the heap. Christ must always be at the top. That much is certain. The point is not how bad we are; the point is how marvelous He is. We won't get that until we see the drastic difference between what we are and what we should be.


Craig said...

I’ve never liked that song, now I know why. While I think you’re right in your analysis, I always heard that more as saying that God is more powerful than our mistakes. I suspect that’s what the intent was. But it’s hard to fit a somewhat complex theology into a pop song.

David said...

I'm more inclined to believe Stan's conclusion on the intention of the song. I was at a church that the pastor taught that we don't need to worry about being perfect because God loves us as we are. That mentality is completely opposed to Scripture and ignores the great news of the Gospel. We are commanded to be perfect, just as He is perfect. Bad news folks, we can't be. Good news folks, believe in Christ and He applies His perfection to us. So much good news is missed out when we try to tell people they don't need to be perfect, and the bad news is made less bad.

Craig said...

I think I’d have to see who wrote it before getting definitive about intent. If the singer wrote it as a teenager I could see that it’s more immaturity and expressing herself poorly than intentional bad theology. If it was written by someone else, that might change that perception.

To be clear, I’m not disagreeing with Stan’s evaluation, just wondering how intentional the bad theology was.

Craig said...

Looks like she wrote it in her late teens early 20’s, so I’d bet on some immaturity. Also, the verses are less problematic than the chorus.

Still don’t think it’s great, but I’m wondering if there shouldn’t be some sort of mentoring/discernment process in CCM where there would be someone to walk through these sorts of things.

Stan said...

Don't you wish?

Craig said...

Actually, I do.

Marshal Art said...

Gee. If God loves me just as I am, I'd say He's set the bar really, really low. Doesn't sound much like the narrow path.

Craig said...

Yes I would.

Not to excuse poor theology (I actually used this as an example last night in Bible study talking about false teachers), but isn’t there a sense in which God does love us as we are. It seems as thought the whole “Christ died for us while we were sinners...”, indicates some level of love as we are.

That’s not an excuse for Christians to avoid sin and not be transformed into a new creation, but there’s maybe some truth there.

Stan said...

That's the problem. In a sense He does. That's why I included texts like "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us." He loved us then, and, in fact, has a general love for all mankind in that He brings rain for their crops, etc. But it's not so much as "as we are" as "that we are". He doesn't love us for something in us, but simply because we are His creation in His image, tarnished mirrors that we may be, and that whole "tarnished mirror" thing has got to go. "God loves us as we are" seems to imply that "as we are" is lovable to God and "as we are" is not actually in view.

Craig said...

No argument, I’m just saying the it’s possible that the song poorly expresses that aspect of God’s love for us.