If Christians want to know how we should respond when sinners tell us they have come to faith in Christ, Christ himself gives us a pretty unambiguous answer: We should rejoice.
We should rejoice that Christ found the coin that was lost. We should rejoice that our Good Shepherd found the little lost sheep and brought him back to our flock. We should gladly join the feast and share the fatted calf with our formerly wayward brother.
Why, then, have a good number of Christians responded to Kanye West’s coversion by lingering outside the feast and mumbling “I’m not so sure about this” to themselves? Why is skepticism so often our default reaction to the newfound faith of once-proud unbelievers? Why do we act as though West has a responsibility to prove that his faith is genuine to us before we’ll stop suspecting that “Jesus Is King” is nothing but a publicity stunt and a Christianity-scented cash grab?
I think there are two answers to this question: bitterness and self-preservation.
Christians Doubt Kanye’s Salvation Because They Doubt Theirs
With regard to bitterness, an important thing to understand about Christians is that our faith compels us to love our neighbors by giving them what we believe Christ first gave us. Because Christ showed us mercy and forgiveness when we were his enemies, we want to show mercy and forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Because Christ gave comfort and peace to us when we were troubled, we want to do the same for the troubled souls we encounter today.
Things go a bit haywire, however, when bad theology convinces us Jesus hasn’t actually given us the gifts he has, which causes us to withhold those gifts from our neighbors. To understand this point a little better, please follow me down a Lutheran rabbit hole.
God doesn’t simply want to save those who are lost. He also wants those he has saved to know he has saved them. He wants those to whom he has given comfort to feel his comfort. This is why he has given his church the sacraments — namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
“Yes, salvation comes through faith,” Christians often say to themselves. “But how do I know my faith is real? How do I know it’s genuine?” To answer this question, God points us to the waters of baptism. “Baptism now saves you,” he says through St. Peter. “In baptism, you’ve been made dead to sin and alive to Christ, washed in the waters of regeneration,” he says through St. Paul. In all of this, God is saying, “If you want to be certain that you really belong to me, that you truly are my child, look to these waters where I claimed you.”
Likewise, when Jesus tells us to take the bread and wine, to eat and drink his body and blood, he’s telling us, “How do you know that you are really, truly saved? You know it when I invite you to eat and drink the flesh and blood that give you my salvation, which I’m doing right now.”
On account of this, when Christians reject the sacraments, they cut themselves off from the comfort God intends to give through them and find themselves scrambling to mine that comfort from somewhere else. Very often, Christians will look for this comfort in their own behavior, misunderstanding passages such as 1 John 2:1-5 and concluding that they can manufacture the assurance that they truly are God’s children by sufficiently acting like God’s children.
Don’t Be Like the Prodigal Son’s Brother
But because we always struggle with sin and perpetually fail to live the holy lives we should, trying to find the assurance of salvation in our works will frequently drive us to despair, making us worry our faith isn’t genuine because we aren’t living faithfully. Despite our prayers, it appears God hasn’t given us the self-discipline or the strength necessary to make our election sure, which means God hasn’t given us the assurance that our faith is real.
So, when a new convert comes along, asking us to acknowledge the legitimacy of his faith, we won’t because we can’t imagine sharing with him the assurance that God supposedly never gave to us. Instead, we demand he prove himself worthy first.
We insist that he show more evidence of his sanctification, that he demonstrate an even greater commitment to Christ than he exhibited the day before, that he perform all the acts of obedience we’re secretly afraid we’ve failed to perform before we’ll acknowledge that, yes, he is indeed God’s beloved child. Like the prodigal son’s older brother who doesn’t realize he’s been surrounded by the celebration of his father’s love every day, we stand outside the feast, complaining that we’re not going to go in until God first gives us a feast of our own.
Likewise, Christians are often skeptical of high-profile converts out of a misguided sense of self-preservation. As Trevin Wax of The Gospel Coalition recently noted:
Feeling perhaps a bit insecure regarding our faith in a secular age, and hoping that a famous person of great stature might make our faith more plausible to others, we celebrate a conversion because it says something about the legitimacy of what we believe. We don’t feel so ‘out there’ or so ‘strange’ when a respected celebrity gives us a nod.
The most extreme expression of this outlook leads us to celebrate the vague, spiritual comment from a celebrity more than the conversion of someone in our congregation, even though we have a relationship with the latter and not the former. Because the world says celebrities ‘count more,’ we think their conversion counts more, too.
In other words, Christians hope that celebrity Christians will make us welcome in pop culture and in secular culture. We hope that they can convince an increasingly anti-Christian world to make room for us again.
Our Faith Isn’t Found in Other Christians
But all too often, celebrity Christians end up betraying our trust by caving to that anti-Christian culture the second any pressure is applied. Five seconds after Christian singer Lauren Daigle was invited to perform on Ellen DeGeneres’ show, for example, she was pleading ignorance about God’s will on the morality of homosexuality. Likewise, NFL quarterback Drew Brees and actor Chris Pratt both caved in some measure when the LGBT Pharisees demanded they give an account for their associations with Christians who hold the historic position on human sexuality.
Having seen the faith of many celebrity Christians either outright die or begin to wither the moment Hollywood and social media applied some pressure, it’s not hard to understand why many Christians don’t want to give Kanye the opportunity to betray them, disappoint them, and make them look foolish. To echo Christ’s language in the parable of the sower, these Christians with trust issues find themselves saying, “I’m not going to praise Kanye West’s faith until he proves himself to be good soil that can withstand the rocks and the thorns of unbelief.”
What Christians should recognize, however, is that Jesus didn’t give us the parable of the sower to teach us how to spot genuine faith. Rather, Christ gave us this parable so we wouldn’t get discouraged when people hear the Word and either never believe or believe for a time and then fall away. Through the words of the parable, Jesus is telling us, “This stuff is going to happen when you preach the gospel, so don’t think something is wrong with the Word when it fails to bear fruit.”
On account of this, Christians shouldn’t be surprised if Kanye West (or anyone else, for that matter) eventually turns back from the King he’s currently proclaiming. But at the same time, we also shouldn’t be surprised if Kanye remains steadfast in the faith and continues to bear more fruit in the years to come.
Either way, Christians should recognize we don’t need to be afraid of getting burned, either by Kanye’s unveiled insincerity or his eventual apostasy, because our faith isn’t rooted in the fidelity of Christians but the faithfulness of Christ, which never wanes, no matter how many hucksters and heretics come and go.
Rejoice and Join the Feast
Likewise, Christians shouldn’t demand that Kanye bear more fruit before we celebrate his conversion or accept his confession of faith. Rather, we should recognize that the feast God is throwing for Kanye West is our feast as well.
Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, which means Jesus died for your sins and the sins of Kanye West. Rejoice. Come join the feast, knowing that nothing can stop Jesus from being anyone’s Savior.
The salvation Jesus won on the cross is given to all who believe. Kanye West has boldly, if imperfectly, proclaimed that faith. So have you. Rejoice. Come into the feast and pray that God may keep West safe from any false teaching that might destroy his union with Christ, just as you pray that God may do the same for you.
God gave his church the sacraments so we may possess his love, see it, feel it, taste it, and touch it. West has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So have you. Rejoice. Come into the feast and pray that, through faith, God may keep you covered in those baptismal waters that daily destroy your sins and mark you as a child of God the Father and a brother of Jesus Christ.
God has not called you to be Kanye West’s faith auditor. He’s called you to be Kanye West’s brother. So instead of trying to keep him outside the feast of salvation until he’s proven himself worthy, rejoice to enter with him into the feast where all formerly unworthy sinners are invited to eat and drink the worthiness of Jesus Christ. Likewise, pray that God would keep both you and West within the walls of that feast until you both fall asleep in the arms of Jesus Christ, your King.