I wrote in my previous post about my disagreement with New Covenant Christians singing the song Create In Me A Clean Heart (based on Psalm 51). Recently, Steve McVey wrote his take on an old Vineyard song Take My Life by Scott Underwood. He had problems with the verse:
Holiness, holiness is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness, holiness is what
You want for me
Why? He wrote:
What’s my problem with that [verse]? It’s because it asks for something we already have! We don’t need holiness. We have it right now!
Tony Allen went one step further and proposed some changes to the lyrics of the song and plays it here. The modified lyrics go:
Holiness, holiness is what I longed for
Holiness is what You gave
Holiness, holiness is what
You see in me
His reason for doing so:
The original writers did an awesome job. I just wanted to change up some of the lyrics to place a different focus. The focus to be on our identity and union in Christ. The completed and finished work.
He also changed the chorus from a cry to God for transformation (imperative), “Take my life and form it… Take my mind…, etc.” to declaration of what God has already done in our lives (indicative):
You took my heart and formed it
You took my mind and transformed it
You took my will and conformed it
To Yours, to yours, Oh Lord
Tony also changed the chorus of another Vineyard song Breathe from:
And I, I’m desperate for You
And I, I’m lost without You
And I, I’m living from You
And I, I’m resting in You
I think what Steve and Tony wrote/did is important. I’m largely in agreement with them (although I’m not exactly for people changing the original lyrics of songs so I’m speaking here about the theology of the modified lyrics). Jesus is indeed our righteousness, holiness, sanctification, faithfulness, etc. One way theologians put it is that in the Bible there’s “definitive (some would say positional) sanctification” and then there’s “progressive sanctification”. The former is about us being totally pure and righteous and holy in Christ. The latter is about seeking a progressive and greater in holiness. The indicatives of Scripture speak of your definitive sanctification. The imperatives of Scripture (at least most in the New Covenant context) speak of the need for progressive sanctification.
The problem with the church is that by and large we have tended to focus on the the progressive aspects of sanctification to the neglect of understanding the Christian’s definitive sanctification – that we’re all already perfectly holy and righteous in Christ.
In a very good biblical theological study on Sanctification, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness, David Peterson
challenges the common assumption that the New Testament views sanctification as primarily a process. He argues that its emphasis falls upon sanctification as a definitive event, “God’s way of taking possession of us in Christ, setting us apart to belong to him and to fulfill his purpose for us.” Simply to identify sanctification with growth and holiness, he contends, obscures the emphasis and balance of New Testament teaching and creates unrealistic expectations.
I don’t think the original song lyrics are unbiblical. There are biblical passages to support Christians seeking greater holiness, faithfulness and experience of God (filling of the Spirit). I think it’s just that the focus of the New Testament and of Paul is on the indicatives, not the imperatives. It’s on the truth that we’re totally righteous in Christ, not the fact that we need to grow in holiness. In the Old Testament and before Jesus had come, the emphasis may have been more on what the people of God were to do for God. But now that Jesus has come, the emphasis falls on Jesus and His perfect work for us and how in Him we’re righteous. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to seek greater Christlikeness. Surely we are to do so. But that ought to flow out of who we already are in Christ. The more we focus on becoming holy without understanding that we already are holy in Christ, the more we will struggle and face defeat. The more we focus on Christ and what He did for us and what has already happened in us because of Christ, the more we will live like Him.
In a sense then, it’s about emphasis (though not totally). I think the majority of the Christian church needs to focus more on the indicatives simply because most of us haven’t understood the New Covenant focus on the indicatives and our identity in Christ. It is understanding this revelation that empowers us to live out our lives in Christlikeness. For those of us who already have a pretty good revelation of that, then maybe we need to also recognize that we’re called to live that revelation out for there are also many imperatives in Scripture – not just indicatives. The call then for such Christians is to “become (imperative) who you already are (indicative)”. I think it’s OK to sing about longing for holiness, faithfulness, God’s presence, etc., as long as we understand that in Christ we have all these things already.