“We could call ‘halfway believers’
Only halfway read Ephesians
Only if they knew what I knew
I was never new till I knew of
True and living God, Yeshua
The true and living God
Somebody pray for me.”
Since last week, I’ve been listening to Kanye West’s new album Jesus is King and not just enjoying it, but finding myself inspired by it.
This is an album that puts words to Kanye’s newfound faith in Jesus, and rather than avoiding the skepticism which many Christians will and have already heaped upon him, he deals with it head-on.
In “Hands On,” he asks his brothers and sisters to pray for him, confessing his former allegiance with Satan:
“Made a left when I should’ve made a right,
Told God last time, on life
Told the devil that I’m going on a strike.”
Kanye calls attention to the 13th Amendment on two occasions, calling attention to mass incarceration, and the continued enslavement of human beings despite it. But, for Kanye, this isn’t just about social ills, it’s about a world enslaved to sin, a world which God is calling to lift up hands in worship and place hands on others in prayer.
At one point in this track, he anticipates skepticism of his conversion:
“What have you been hearing from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me.
Make it feel like nobody love me.
Make it feel alone in the dark.”
He can feel all of this criticism as he writes his lyrics, and that he deserves all of it, understanding the Church’s reluctance to accept him as Her own.
Instead of accusations in return, he simply asks: “Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me.”
The diagnosis he gives the Church is this: “halfway believers, only halfway read Ephesians.”
And so, hearing this, I turned and read Ephesians. All of it.
Chapters one through three: all about the goodness of God in saving us, extending salvation in the Lord Jesus, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
The focus in these chapters is on the abounding love of God, who being rich in mercy, has made us alive in Christ.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
And that’s the gospel.
But, in chapters four, five, and six, Paul lays down some hard truth on the Church, calling every Christian to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
He speaks of the grace given in Christ, not just to justify, but to make saints, of the orders given in the Church so that the saints may be “equipped for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
Paul is urging the Church to raise up believers to maturity, so that they will not be tossed on the waves, blown around by the winds of doctrine. These former pagans must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. Those people are callous, greedy, and sensuous.
It must not be so for those who are in Christ, they are “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). He calls them to “imitators of God,” (Eph. 5:1) putting away sexual immorality and crude talk. And then, he calls them to holiness in marriage and to put on the armor of God.
And that’s the gospel, too.
By all accounts, it is this whole gospel that Kanye has accepted, not only the glorious riches of justification, but God’s purposes in sanctification. He has publicly renounced his addiction to pornography and publicly renounced his former life.
Kanye is, in effect, saying, we’ve got a whole lot of Christians, and very few saints.
And, even in his new faith, Kanye knows he wants to be a saint, not only saved from eternity in hell, but saved from a life of sin. He knows he deserves the Church’s skepticism, but in humility, he asks for Her prayers.
As we enter into these days in which the Church not only gives thanks for the multitude of the Saints—that their prayers, encouragement, and gifts truly belong to us—but also turns to God in prayers for the faithful departed—that they may be caught up into the very holiness of God—Kanye West has been used by the Lord to call us to holiness, to call us to put away our skepticism and embrace our calling as Saints, to lift up our hands in worship, and to be “hands on” in prayer.
We would all do well to read all the way through Ephesians, and set aside being “halfway believers,” telling the Devil that we’re going on a strike.
The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C. is a priest, church-planter, and catechist. He has planted churches in Waco and College Station, Texas with the aim of making disciples on college campuses. He is currently the Chair of the Committee for Catechesis of the Anglican Church in North America which produced To Be a Christian, an Anglican Catechism.