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Justin Bieber, Saint And Sinner

Justin Bieber

In a wide-ranging and deeply personal interview with Joe La Puma of Complex, the Biebs, now 21, talks about his life, his past love (Selena Gomez), his mistakes, and his faith.

He sounds surprisingly real.

Anyone who has paid attention to Justin over the years could see a young man teetering on the edge of chaos. It’s a story of underage drinking and marijuana use, once so bad that the pilots of his plane reportedly had to wear oxygen masks to escape the smoke. Pictures of crude and boorish behavior populated his Instagram. He feuded with neighbors. And there was that January 2014 arrest for drag racing in Miami, where the underage Bieber tested positive for alcohol.

Never mind he was driving his Lamborghini at 55 MPH and his alcohol level was far below the legal limit. Illegal, to be sure, but hardly meriting worldwide headlines. Never mind that most of us, given unimaginable wealth and mind-blowing fame at age 19, would probably have done far worse.

It can be confusing to grow up a superstar. Justin told La Puma:“When you get famous, you get people that will encourage whatever you do. You’ll do something and they’ll be like, ‘That was dope, Justin!’ When you’re young especially, you don’t know who’s bullshitting you.”

Bieber’s Christian Faith

For the past year or so, Justin has been laying low, surprisingly quiet. There have been no more big brushes with the law, no out-of-control twenty-first birthday parties. Now he is speaking boldy and unapologetically about his Christian faith:

At this point, my faith has gotten me to where I am. My faith has brought me to a whole other level. I love talking about my faith. I think that with Christians, they’ve left such a bad taste in people’s mouths. Just like, overly pushy with the subject, overly churchy and religious.

I think that people, as soon as they start hearing me saying I’m a Christian, they’re like, ‘Whoa Justin, back up, take a step back.’ Also, I do not want to shove this down anyone’s throat. I just wanna honestly live like Jesus. Not be Jesus—I could never—I don’t want that to come across weird. He created a pretty awesome template of how to love people and how to be gracious and kind. If you believe it, he died for our sins.

I’m at a point where I’m not going to hold this in.

It’s like a girlfriend. If I have an awesome, bomb girlfriend, I’m gonna wanna show her off and go around and tell people my girl is the shit. I’m not gonna cheat on her because she’s the best. It’s like with God: The whole thing with religion is you present yourself holy and bring your offerings so that God can bless you, when the whole point of the relationship [should be], ‘No, I’m gonna do this because he loves me. I’m gonna do this because he’s amazing and not because [I] have to, [but] because [I] want to.’ That’s the whole thing with religion that’s been throwing off the people. It’s not a ‘have to.’ It should be just like a personal relationship. Like, ‘Hey, I love you because you first loved me.’

This is the riddle of Justin Bieber. The secular world does not know what to do with someone who so confidently talks about Jesus. Not God, or spirituality, but Jesus. Specifically, a Jesus who forgives and heals. It’s a bold witness, born of an artist and personality who never asked anyone’s permission for his actions.

Both A Saint And A Sinner

For the church, the puzzle is just as complicated. Bieber grew up a Christian and has expressed faith, off and on, his entire life. This is no recent come-to-Jesus conversion. All of his bad behavior occurred as a child of the church. He was a Christian when he smoked pot and posted topless pictures of women, when he threw eggs at a neighbor’s house and partied till the cops came.

He may offend pewsitter notions of propriety. But there is no denying this faith is vivid and living.

Even now, he’s no typical saint, either. On one hand, Bieber talks about moving in with his girlfriend, endorsing gay rights, and drinking (and, by the way, swears while doing it). Hardly typical Sunday School material, although perhaps it should be.

On the other, he expresses deep, sincere, and orthodox Christian faith. His insight into faith not as a system of rules, but as a desire to please One whom you love? Well, many theologians could not express it better.

Like other 21-year-olds who grew up in Sunday School, and like some of us much older, Bieber is reconciling real faith to real life. He’s a work in progress, a sinner and a saint in one miraculous package. He may act out again in selfish ways. He may offend pewsitter notions of propriety. But there is no denying this faith is vivid and living. It’s a privilege to get to see his journey.

The entire interview is worth reading, and the images are beautiful, too. You can find it here at Complex.