God show me the way because the Devil’s tryna break me down
(Jesus walk with me)
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now
And I don’t think there’s nothin’ I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus walk with me)
I wanna talk to God, but I’m afraid ‘cause we ain’t spoke in so long
Kanye West, “Jesus Walks,” 2002
This week my social media feed has been filled with stories about Kanye West. For those of you who don’t know who Kanye West is, he’s arguably the most famous musician / artist / rapper / clothing designer in the world. He’s sold more than 140 million albums. He’s won 21 Grammy Awards. He’s married to Kim Kardashian. A pair of his Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 Pirate Black sneakers (pre-owned) will set you back $720 on eBay. He once (infamously) blurted out, “George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people,” during a live fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He also really likes Donald Trump. I did a random search for “Kanye West Lyrics,” and came across a song filled with so much profanity, misogyny, and general celebration of things that are antithetical to the message of Jesus Christ that I was shocked and somewhat appalled. (Please just take my word for it before you search for Kanye West lyrics.)
To make matters worse, Kanye West has often (in the past) appropriated Christian imagery to sell his anti-Christian message. He once appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine wearing a crown of thorns, next to an article entitled, “The Passion of Kanye West.” He once recorded an album called “The Life of Pablo,” and explained that it was about the Apostle Paul. He called the album “a gospel album, with a whole lot of cursing on it.” Umm … okay.
So why would Kanye West dominate my newsfeed … a newsfeed that’s mostly dominated by pictures of my kids, pictures of my friends’ kids and grandkids, Dad jokes, Calvinist memes, and cat videos? Because Kanye West became a Christian. Go ahead and read that last sentence again. Seriously, I’ll wait.
Not only did he become a Christian, he even recorded a new album called “Jesus is King.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics:
Everybody, I will tell 'til the whole world is healed
King of Kings, Lord of Lords, all the things He has in store
From the rich to the poor, all are welcome through the door
You won't ever be the same when you call on Jesus' name
Listen to the words I'm sayin', Jesus saved me, now I'm sane
The reaction in the Christian community has been mixed. Some are absolutely convinced that his conversion is a cynical attempt to sell his music, clothing, etc. A friend of a friend wrote, “Yeah, except he doesn’t mean it. He has a full line of very expensive merchandise to go with it. He is profiting from this whole ‘phase.’” Others have celebrated his conversion as a modern-day version of Saul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus, noting that Kanye has “shared the gospel with more non-Christians than the majority of Christians judging him and his salvation.”
So what are we to make of this? How should we respond when a prominent person does a complete reversal and embraces Christianity? How do we respond when anyone comes to faith in Jesus Christ? Should we be cynical? Should we celebrate? Should we be cautiously optimistic?
I’ll confess that when I first heard about this, I reacted a little like Ananias reacted when God told him that Saul had become a Christian. “Lord, I have heard from many about this man …” (Acts 9:13a) In other words, “Are you sure, God? We’re talking about the same Saul, right?”
Kanye West is certainly a unique case … but what about when your alcoholic brother-in-law claims to have “found Jesus”? (That’s just an example, by the way … none of my brothers-in-law are alcoholics.) What about the woman who finds Jesus in prison? Do we kill the fatted calf and throw a banquet like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Do we get angry like the older brother from that story did? Do we adopt a “wait and see” attitude like Ananias in Acts 9?
Let me suggest four responses that might help us think through something like this.
Number 1: We should REJOICE.
Consider this parable from Luke 15:3-7. “So [Jesus] told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
We should rejoice when lost sheep come home, carried in the arms of our Good Shepherd , Jesus Christ! We should rejoice when people are born again to a living hope! We should praise God for Kanye’s repentance, faith, regeneration, justification, adoption, and sanctification! We should rejoice that when Jesus comes back, we’ll get to hear Kanye’s story in person and praise God with him forever!
Number 2: We should PRAY.
I think we should pray for new believers. In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The devil wants to attack all of us, including and especially new believers. The devil will lie to Kanye West and say … as so many Christians are saying … “You can’t really be a Christian. Look at everything you’ve done. This is just a phase. This is just an attempt to sell merch to gullible Christians. You’ll get over this. You’ll be back to your old antics sooner or later.” Pray for him. Pray for all new believers. Pray that Kanye West will be surrounded by a solid group of Christians – Christians who love him enough to tell him the truth. Pray that he will listen to solid, Christ-centered pastors who will shepherd his soul. Pray that he won’t get discouraged. Pray for his endurance. Pray!
Number 3: We should he GRACIOUS.
How many of you became an international spokesperson for Christianity … three minutes after coming to faith in Jesus? Anyone? This is where Kanye West finds himself today. Kanye West has been a Christian for a very short period of time, and he’s being thrust into the spotlight to explain his newfound faith in Jesus. Will he make mistakes? Yes. Will he say things that are a little bit off, theologically? Probably. He’s peppered his language with curse words for more than three decades. Will he slip up and curse sometimes? Probably. Will he, in his zeal to tell everyone about Jesus, explain things in a way that are a little cringy? I certainly did … and I certainly still do sometimes! (I rarely go back and read old sermons for this very reason!) Will he have to search his name and find random pastors analyzing him, as I’m doing right now? Yes. Will that be annoying? Probably. (If you’ve Googled this, sorry Kanye.)
Let’s be gracious to our brother. Let’s give him room to grow. Let’s not expect him to have the same level of theological sophistication as someone who’s been a Christian for 50 years. Let’s not hold him to an impossibly high standard of morality, expecting him to literally “go forth and sin no more,” while we excuse our own sins and shortcomings.
Sadly, Kanye seems to know that many Christians will not be gracious to him. In his song, “Hands On,” he writes, “What have you been hearin' from the Christians? They'll be the first one to judge me, make it feel like nobody love me.” Ouch. That breaks my heart. Let’s quiet those fears … not just for Kanye West, who most of us will never meet … but for all new believers! Let’s make him feel like we DO love him! Let’s be gracious, remembering the amazing grace of Jesus … grace that saved a wretch like me … and you … and Kanye … and everyone else who comes to faith in Jesus.
Number 4: We should celebrate God’s SOVEREIGNTY.
Here’s what my cynicism about Kanye West’s conversion says about my own belief system. I don’t really believe that God is sovereign over salvation. I say I do, of course … but when someone comes to faith in Jesus and I immediately doubt their sincerity, what I’m saying is, “Some people are more likely to be saved than other people. Good, traditional, khaki-wearing people … people who look a lot like ME and talk a lot like ME … are much closer to the Kingdom of God than people like Kanye West.” (Okay, I made up the part about wearing khaki, but you get the idea.)
Is that true? No! Of course not! The Bible says (in Ephesians 2) … that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins until God makes us alive. By grace we have been saved, through faith in Jesus. Period. Full-stop. God gives his grace to murderers, liars, adulterers, cowards, thieves, gossips, slanderers … the list goes on and on. That’s who I was before God saved me. That’s who Kanye West was before God saved him! There’s no difference, other than the fact that Kanye West has lived a huge portion of his life in the spotlight. My sins weren’t broadcast on TMZ, because I don’t have musical talent like Kanye West does.
In Romans 5, Paul writes … “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That means, when someone comes to faith in Jesus, we should have two immediate reactions. We should be amazed, and then not amazed at all. We should be amazed that God would save this sinful person … and then not amazed at all … because the Bible tells us that everyone is a sinful person, and that Jesus came to save sinful people! Left to our own devices, no one would come to faith in Jesus! But if the Holy Spirit draws us, his grace is irresistible. (That seems to be what Jesus is getting at in John 6:35-51.)
Kanye West is a Christian. Amazing! He released a really good album that glorifies Jesus. Praise God! Let’s celebrate God’s goodness. Let’s pray for our brother, even as we show him mercy and grace. Let’s remember that I am Kanye West and Kanye West is me. (Minus the $720 Yeezy’s.) Let’s ask God, “What can Kanye West teach me about the gospel? What can he teach me about your Kingdom?” Let’s let God surprise us with his answers! God is good! Our lost brother has been found! What an amazing time to be alive!