Country music just seems to be a gold mine for topics to muse about. A catchy song called Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven caught my ear. Kenny Chesney sings that everybody wants to go to heaven but they are just not interested in going any time soon. I am aware that Chesney is not a theologian so I am not throwing him under his tour bus but there is some shaky theology in this song. For example, these lyrics reflect the beliefs of many people and churches in this nation. It used to be mine.
Preacher told me last Sunday mornin`
Son, you better start livin` right
You need to quit the women and whiskey
And carrying on all night
My issues might not have been whiskey and carrying on all night but I had plenty of my own. And that was my church upbringing. Preachers telling me I had to do better, shape up, quit sinning and live right. It was always mixed with a large dose of what if. If you don’t live right you won’t go to heaven. If you do bad things you will lose your salvation and you won’t go to heaven. If you don’t believe the doctrine of this church you won’t go to heaven. So getting to heaven meant conforming my behavior to earn God’s favor by their own list of rules.
The problem in the message of this song and my upbringing is that the onus falls on the sinner to shape up and quit sinning. Good luck. Can’t do it. The next verse also suggests that we can do something to reduce our sin debt.
Said preacher maybe you didn`t see me
Throw an extra twenty in the plate
Donations for past or future sins won’t get it done. The problem is not a list of bad behaviors that some denomination prioritizes. The problem is sin. No word as powerfully communicates any behavior that separates me from a Holy God. The law did not convict me of blunders, slip-ups and shortcomings. The law convicted me of sin. When we reduce the power of the concept of sin we negate the awesome gift of grace. You don’t need grace to rescue you from idiosyncrasies.
I haven’t been moved by a hymn that says…
How sweet the sound,
That empowered a dysfunctional but spiritually seeking and fundamentally good person like me.
Somehow John Newton’s original line about saving a wretch like me hits a little closer to my story. I am not talking about self-bashing and looking for fault. I am not talking about the potential false humility of spiritual groveling. I am talking about the mind boggling prospect of facing a holy and sinless God with the resume that I would have to present. Am I a good person? Yeah, I think so. Am I up to that appointment without the redemptive endorsement of Jesus? No way. The classic hymn He Took My Sins Away by Margaret Harris would lose some luster if many in our current culture were writing it today. Here is the refrain as she wrote it in 1901.
He took my sins away, He took my sins away,
And keeps me singing every day!
I’m so glad He took my sins away,
He took my sins away.
One hundred and seven years later it might go something like this…
He recognized my dysfunctional past, He helped me find my inner voice
And showed me it was not my fault
I’m so glad He understood my syndrome
He took away my responsibility.
Same verse…everybody sing along now.
Sin breaks the covenant between a Holy God and myself. God doesn’t have scales to weigh our sins versus our good deeds. Sin separates me from relationship with God. I had a sin problem and I needed that fixed. Jesus came to fix it. That gift of forgiveness is incomprehensible. Jesus called sin by it’s name. And He said if we believe in faith that He came to deal with that sin debt then He will call us by another name. His Child. All it takes is accepting the gift of salvation. That is how you get to heaven.
Don`t you wanna hear him call your name
When you`re standin` at the pearly gates
Indeed I do. But my name will not be called because of any great things I have done. It will be called because of Jesus. My name was permanently added to the list the day I put my belief and faith in Him.