On Grace, Personal Holiness, and “Christian” Rock

“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?”

Galatians 4:21

From the minute I first saw tweets that showed Christians protesting a Switchfoot concert, I was extremely confused as to what they were against. The signs I saw in the pictures contained no real context other than some Bible verses that, in and of themselves, proclaimed no specific message against anything that I know Switchfoot to stand for. Then, a friend of mine posted the above video, and I received all of the context that I needed.

Overall, the message of Mr. LePelley is rather simple and, in the video, rather loud: Christianity cannot be combined with the things of the world and consider itself holy. To that, it is easy to say amen. For LePelley grounds this message in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, which I will quote at length in the King James Version as LePelley would prefer (although I am only fairly certain that it is the 1611 version):

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

When a man proclaims the Bible, there is very little to disagree with, and LePelley’s message as it relates to the Bible, though his method is  arduous, is sound. Where LePelley fails is to show exactly how Jon Foreman and his music has fallen into the sin of blending with the world. The argument is that it is because he has blended a Christian message with rock music. Yet, what biblical evidence can be brought forth to defend that claim? For that claim, no real argument is made other than “if it moves your body before it moves your soul, it’s sin.” No biblical foundation for this idea springs immediately to my mind.

One instance, however, does come to mind, and from the Old Testament at that, which depicts a man who, in great exuberance, dances in the streets of Israel in his underwear. That man is King David, and the story has been recorded in 2 Samuel 6:12-23. Now, another young gentleman in the video brings up this story to one of Mr. LePelley’s men (it may have been LePelley himself), and he responds by saying, “You’re no King David.” To this, my jaw drops to the floor. For who was King David that he was so holy and righteous in comparison to any other human being in history? He would go on to have sex with another man’s wife and then murder the husband, Uriah, after his elaborate cover up plan fails.

Now, when confronted about this treacherous sin, David fell to his knees and wept in agony and repentance. So, David’s sin was great, and LePelley would likely point to that repentance as evidence of David’s righteousness before God (and yes, I would consider this proof of David’s righteousness as well). Yet, if dancing is a sinful sort of thing, then why does David not repent of it? For he is confronted about his revelry in the streets of Jerusalem by his wife, Michal, and he responds by saying, in the King James Version, “And I will yet be more vile than thus” (2 Sam. 6:22).

Let me repeat this. In the KJV, David calls his actions vile and claims that he will become even more vile than this. Vile can be defined as “extremely unpleasant” and even “morally bad.” Other translations will say something like: “I will become more undignified than this” (NIV). Yet, we need to stay within LePelley’s parameters and stick with the KJV. So, in that version, it could be understood that we are allowed to increase in moral wickedness and so please the Lord. What’s a way to become even more vile? I can get drunk! Intoxication tends to lead to higher levels of craziness in dancing and such things. So, it seems, from a strict reading of the word vile, that I can pursue anything which enhances my ability to get a little crazy so as to honor the Lord.

Now, what prevents me from reading this passage in that way? Without even appealing to other passages of Scripture that refer to drunkenness, it should be easy to avoid such an interpretation. For David, even if we run with the KJV translation of the vile, was not intending to say that his actions did not matter before God. The heart of David’s message is that he did not consider his own propriety, his decency, or, in a phrase, his personal holiness to be something that God was all that impressed by. David recognized something, before the advent of the Christ, that many of us have trouble grasping though Christ has been revealed to us. We cannot create our own righteousness; it must be imputed upon us through the sacrifice of Christ.

LePelley quotes a passage from Hebrews at length in his sermon, 10:26-31. Allow me to take a look at this passage verse by verse in the KJV while I provide a little bit of commentary because it can be a little confusing without an understanding of Old Testament law (especially in Old English):

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (v. 26-27)

Now that Christ has come, there is no longer a means for us to be saved outside of receiving the forgiveness that comes through Jesus’s final sacrifice on the cross. No longer does obeying the Law provide any means of salvation. It is grace alone through Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9). The only thing that remains outside of the grace of Christ is judgement and, ultimately, hell.

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (v. 28-29)

The author of Hebrews then compares the punishment under the Law against punishment for those who do not accept the new covenant made possible by the Son of God. Those who despise the grace provided through (and only through) Jesus Christ have committed a treachery far worse than simply disobeying the Law of Moses because they have rejected the very offering of grace made possible through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, they have rejected God himself since they have forsaken the only means of knowing the Father (Jn 14:6).

For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (v. 30-31)

Jesus said that he did not come into the world in order to condemn it; instead, he came so that the world might be saved through himself (Jn 3:17). Though Jesus did not initially come into the world to judge it, there will come a time when he will return and will be a judge of all humanity (2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5). To face this judgment is a terrifying thing. For who can be found righteous before God on his or her own merit? The penalty for trying to do so is to fall into the hands of God without any kind of defense against his wrath. Indeed, this is an extremely fearful thing.

Here we must look to the verses that precede this passage from Hebrews in chapter 10. The author of Hebrews provides for us a demonstration for why Jesus Christ’s death fulfilled the Law and therefore freed us from practicing it as a means of achieving righteousness. Every year, the Jewish high priest would have to sacrifice animals for the sins of Israel. That they had to do this repeatedly demonstrates the sacrifice’s inability to accomplish true cleansing. Yet, when Christ submitted to the cross and had been raised from the dead, he sat at the right hand of the Father because that offering is effective to cover sin and need not be repeated. Here I am summarizing the beginning of Hebrews 10, and it culminates in verse 14:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

By faith, we now receive that sacrifice. We are saved and made right with God. The effect of this is that we can now know him intimately as a Father. We can go boldly before God and seek his face whereas, before Christ, the Holy of Holies (where God’s presence was manifest) could only be accessed by the High Priest of Israel, and even then, he had to worry about being struck down should he not be ceremonially and ritually clean. But Christ’s sacrifice has done away with all of that. When we seek God, we don’t need a GPS tracker so that people know where to find us should we mysteriously go missing on account of God’s holiness actually killing us.

Now, does this mean that we can live however we want to without the fear of God’s punishment? Of course not, but it does mean that we can go forward in the confidence that, because of Christ and Christ alone, we will not suffer the full extent of his wrath. Instead, we will be directed to a higher standard of living, i.e. we will be sanctified. The fruit of God’s grace is not primarily demonstrated through this or that kind of moral living. As Christians, should we conduct our lives to a high standard of morality? As a response to God’s grace, of course we should! But the true purpose of God’s promise to Abraham was that he be a blessing to all people (Gen. 12:2). Christians, in response to the overwhelming and gracious promise of God, should be, as Hebrews 10:24 states, to find every possible way for us to love other people and do good works. Christians should be a blessing to all people through the overflow of the immense gift of grace that has been bestowed upon them in Jesus Christ.

In the end, LePelley, it breaks my heart to say, stands condemned under the very message that he proclaimed from Hebrews 10:26-31 because he has despised the grace of God through the imposition of his standard of personal holiness that, though it has roots in the Bible, more immediately resembles a pharisaical yoke of slavery rather than the yoke of grace found in Jesus Christ. It is true that immoral people will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10), but we cannot forget the very next verse that follows Paul’s list of types of sinners: “and such were some of you” (v. 11). A true Christian has been washed by the blood of Christ (v. 11) and now enjoys a plethora of benefits, freedom being first and foremost (Gal. 5:1).

We can dance; we can sing; and we can become even more undignified than this (though some would say its foolishness) because of the glorious redemption that has been awarded us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The video sadly ends with LePelley singing his “favorite contemporary Christian song” to the tune of Israel Houghton’s “I Am a Friend of God:”

I am afraid of God
I am afraid of God
He makes me scared.

As a Christian, that this is LePelley’s view of God breaks my heart. It fully demonstrates that he has no idea what salvation and redemption mean, and he only condemns himself further by trashing grace. Wake up, Mr. LePelley! Your house is on fire and it is burning to the ground! If you don’t come out, you will suffer the fire of hell that you so obviously fear. For a standard of moral living does nothing to save you. God wants to know you, and he wants to walk with you so that you don’t have to worry about falling since he holds you by his secure hand (Ps 37:23-24). He wants to be your friend (Jn 15:15). Instead, let your relationship to God be based on Galatians 5:4-6, and let this passage be a warning unto you as well:

Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

For those of us who may have trouble grasping the full meaning of this passage since we no longer use this older brand of English, allow me to close out this blog with the ESV translation:

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

3 thoughts on “On Grace, Personal Holiness, and “Christian” Rock

  1. Thank you so much for this. I saw the video of Mr. LePelley a couple of days ago. I researched into his ‘ministry’ (which is also found on WordPress, BTW) and found out what he believes. In the process, it threw me off kilter.
    You see, I came out of a “christian” cult before I was truly saved. It had a powerful effect on me-still does to this day, although I am working at letting go of it. They were very judgmental, very strict, and valued personal holiness and “soul-winning” above all else. The grace of God had no place in their beliefs, and the mercy of God was so rare as to be non-existent.
    Even though I know that this is wrong, I found myself falling back into questioning my salvation based on external things. I then determined to “figure it out” once and for all. So, I started researching the fear of God and I somehow found your blog entry.
    Thank you for presenting your case so well. I find now that I pity Mr. LePelley and those who follow his “doctrine”. That way lies fear, distress, doubt, and never being sure of your salvation
    Good luck in your seminary studies!

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