“New life,” biblically speaking, is eternal life in Christ, not a flowery promise of life improvement here on earth. The gospel is glorious. It directs our gaze off of us and onto God, who humbled Himself, demonstrated His great love by suffering a cruel death on a cross to save us, adopts into His family those who believe, and transforms us.
November 1, 2019
“Is Kanye West really a Christian?” I can’t help but wonder how many people have asked that question—either out loud or in their mind—ever since “Ye” famously announced his profession of faith in Christ. Did the question cross your lips or mind? Should it have? And if it did, should you feel a twinge of guilt for even posing it? After all, God should be the only one to judge, right? Hmmm.
It’s interesting to note how many people may have been judgmental toward those who they claim have been judgmental toward Kanye. And that raises another question. Am I being judgmental for suggesting that those who are accusing others of being judgmental are possibly being judgmental themselves? Are you judging me?
Quite a tangled web, isn’t it? Let me see if I can help untangle it for us. No guarantees.
Isn’t Kanye West just like everyone else? Of course he is, and of course he’s not. He’s an image bearer of God, along with the rest of Adam’s progeny. And like his forefather, he also bears the sinful nature that resulted from the Fall, and is therefore in need of redemption and reconciliation through the gospel—just like everyone else. But he’s also very different from the overwhelming majority of people. How many men do you know who have produced and recorded a mega-hit song in which they called themselves a god, took upon themselves the name “Yeezus,” said that they are a “Close High,” compared to the Most High, and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, dressed up to look like Christ with a crown of thorns on their head? Not many, you say? Ditto.
When the apostle Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost, God’s Word says, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). Notice that there was no mention of questioning the genuineness of this massive crowd’s conversion—in fact, their profession of faith seemed so genuine, all three thousand of them were baptized on the very same day that they called upon the Lord. I would guess that this is partially due to the fact that this throng of new believers was made up of people who, in a general sense, were like most other people.
Does this mean that every one of those three thousand was a genuine convert? Well, based on Jesus’ unforgetable Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1–9; Mark 4:1–9; Luke 8:4–8), it’s likely that there were definitely some false converts in the mix who would have been either wayside, stony ground, or thorny soil hearers. Let’s not forget that after many of Christ’s followers heard Him say things that didn’t sit right with them, John 6:66 tells us that “from that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” And we would do well to remember Judas. He’s the one who seemed to be so genuine that he was entrusted with the money box—the one none of the disciples pointed to when Jesus said one of their number would betray Him. Here’s what our Lord said of him: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70).
Nonetheless, despite that legitimate caveat, all of those who responded to Peter’s call to faith and repentance were gladly and immediately welcomed into the community of saints. But in contrast to how the three thousand were so readily received by the church on the day of Pentecost, notice what occurred when the Christians in Jerusalem heard that a standout like Saul of Tarsus was claiming to be one of them:
And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. (Acts 9:26)
Can we blame those early disciples for being skeptical about the genuineness of Saul’s conversion? Of course not. After all, he himself said this about his preconversion conduct toward Christians:
Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9–11)
But then something very significant happened that totally transformed the situation:
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. (Acts 9:27–29)
Once Barnabas, a solid, seasoned, and trusted leader among the disciples, confirmed the authenticity of Saul’s conversion—based on his encounter with Christ and the fruit that was immediately evident in his life as a result—we’re told that Saul was “with them in Jerusalem, coming in and going out.” On the basis of Barnabas’ validation, brother Paul was now fully received into their ranks.
And later, after Paul left Jerusalem and ventured elsewhere, he said this about his experience with other believers:
Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God in me. (Galatians 1:21–24)
Word had obviously spread that the saints in Jerusalem had fully received Paul into fellowship on the basis of Barnabas’ commendation, and so they not only gladly acknowledged him as a brother in the churches of Judea, but they even glorified God over his conversion to Christ.
So what am I trying to say? Let me cut to the chase. Yes, it is right for Christians to judge others who are claiming to be Christians. But didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1)? He most certainly did, but based on both the context of that verse and what the rest of the Bible teaches about the Christian’s call to make righteous judgments, Jesus definitely did not mean that believers cannot make moral judgments based on behaviors that undeniably contradict God’s standards of righteousness in His Word.
“Let me cut to the chase. Yes, it is right for Christians to judge others who are claiming to be Christians.”
As Pastor Sam Storms wisely pointed out, in the same chapter where Jesus said to judge not, He also said not to give what’s holy to dogs or pearls to pigs, and to beware of false prophets. It would be impossible to obey these instructions without making explicit judgments on who is a pig, a dog, and a false prophet. So, then, what did Jesus mean when He exhorted us not to judge others? Storms put it best when he said, “It would appear that Jesus is prohibiting the sort of judgmental criticism that is self-righteous, hypercritical, and destructive. He is prohibiting the kind of judgment we pass on others not out of concern for their spiritual health and welfare but solely to parade our alleged righteousness before men.”
In one of his epistles, Paul gave us a perfect example of when it’s appropriate to exercise righteous judgment. When he was writing to the Corinthian church, he exhorted them to not keep company with any so-called brother who is outwardly living in sin, and then he asks the following, along with issuing a stern directive: “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Corinthians 5:12,13).
“If we see a pattern of habitual sin in a professing believer’s life, we are to make an objective judgment regarding their standing within the Body of Christ.”
This means that if we see a pattern of habitual sin in a professing believer’s life, we are to make an objective judgment regarding their standing within the Body of Christ. After all, we are told in Titus 1:16 that some “profess to know God, but in works they deny Him.” And Jesus made it very clear that many will call Him “Lord, Lord” on the Day of Judgment, but He will declare that He never knew them, because they practiced “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21–23). This is further reinforced by the apostle John’s strong words in his first epistle:
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:5,6)
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3,4)
Now, I realize that Kanye’s life obviously does not perfectly parallel the life of Saul of Tarsus, as he was not persecuting Christians and seeking to destroy the Church. Nevertheless, I would still say that he is undoubtedly an uncommon standout amid the droves of professing believers. It is without question that Kanye lived a notoriously blasphemous life on an undeniably scandalous scale. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable why some would struggle to readily accept him as a brother. However, I’m happy to say that Kanye seems to have found his Barnabas in Pastor Adam Tyson. We were first introduced to Pastor Tyson at one of Kanye’s roving Sunday Service events when he was invited to preach the gospel to a crowd of thousands. After being delightfully impressed and refreshed by Adam’s Christ-centered, gospel-focused message, we were overjoyed to discover that he trained at one of the finest seminaries in the world and pastors a very solid and biblically sound church (in fact, the one where my pastor formerly ministered).
“It is without question that Kanye lived a notoriously blasphemous life on an undeniably scandalous scale.”
Adam has spent many, many hours at Kanye’s home and studio, has traveled with him across the country, and has invested much time mentoring him at the church where he pastors. He has testified to seeing the fruit of genuine repentance in his life. That, coupled with Kanye’s convincing profession of faith and declaration of repentance—along with the apparent fruit of repentance that has been publicly visible through his actions—makes me delighted to embrace him as my brother in Christ and to follow in the footsteps of the saints from the churches of Judea by glorifying God in him. And rather than nitpick this fledgling believer over every little error he makes, I prefer to pray that God will send more Aquilas and Priscillas into his life, who will together “[take] him aside and [explain] to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
I know that many of us are prone to say, “Well, we’ll see.” I’ve probably even said it once or twice myself recently in reference to Kanye. As a former gang member who reveled in extreme iniquity and darkness in my early teens, many said the same thing about me when I initially proclaimed my faith in Christ decades ago—and I don’t blame them one bit. However, if we overdo it by unreasonably persisting in that mindset, when will we ever be able to say, “We’ve seen”? Will it be in six months, or in one year, maybe two years, or ten? Or maybe it will be when our sapling brother has finally reached perfection (warning: sarcasm ahead)—sort of like Peter and Barnabas when they plunged headlong into hypocrisy, were not being straightforward about the truth of the gospel, and Paul had to rebuke them in the presence of all (Galatians 2:11–21). Or wait, perhaps Peter and Barnabas weren’t true Christians after all? (End of sarcasm.)
“Kanye’s convincing profession of faith and declaration of repentance—along with the apparent fruit of repentance that has been publicly visible through his actions—makes me delighted to embrace him as my brother in Christ.”
Or maybe—just maybe—when all the signs seem to be pointing in the right direction, we need to trust that God is bigger than our undying, ever-nagging doubts and suspicions, and simply follow in the footsteps of our forerunners in the faith who were confident enough to baptize and welcome into the fellowship of the church Lydia, the Philippian jailer, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Cornelius on the very same day they professed faith in Christ. And at the same time, may we have the discernment, courage, boldness, and love of Peter, who after perceiving a lack of genuine conversion in Simon the sorcerer—after he had made a profession of faith, was baptized, and received into the Church—said to him:
Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity. (Acts 8:20–23)
As I choose to joyfully embrace Kanye West as my brother, I pray that words like that will never have to be said to him, or to you, or to me. Let’s all examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), and let’s make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). And if we find ourselves to truly be in Him, let us run our race with endurance, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1,2).
Our very own Mark Spence hit the streets and asked people their candid thoughts on the matter. While I may have perhaps tangled the web even more, Mark is sure to untangle it through this powerful and dynamic video: