Jesus Saves By Daryl Coley: Why I Love This Song
Posted by Job on July 19, 2010
I know, some of my Reformed brothers and sisters may view this as being irreverent, trivial worship. And no, this song is not theologically deep. However, if you consider the context of the musical tradition that this song is a part of, one cannot deny this song’s artistic merit. Also, despite the lack of deep doctrinal depth, the song’s message and goal is powerful: that Christians must evangelize.
This song is all about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Simply, Jesus saves. However, so many people do not know what is meant by salvation, the meaning of “so great a salvation.” They believe that it means personal or societal reform or improvement, or salvation by works. Not only are these notions heresy, but they exclude a lot of people. In order to believe that this type of salvation is possible, one has to believe that they already possess, that they already bring to the table a degree or amount of inherent virtue and self-worth as a starting point BEFORE such a person has an encounter with Jesus Christ. If you believe in a gospel of personal improvement or in salvation by works, you have to be a pretty good person to start with. Or if you believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ improves society, what Barack Hussein Obama refers to as collective salvation, well the society needs to be moral and functional on some level before it can improve. First, you need the moral standing and good sense to WANT to improve, but you also need a degree of worth, goodness and accomplishment to have the confidence that you CAN improve, plus a sense of knowledge of right and wrong/good and evil to know what constitutes improvement in the first place. So, it is a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” gospel.
Well, that may be the gospel according to some people – an ecumenical pluralistic interfaith gospel of ethics and good works that changes to suit what man chooses to define as ethics and good works throughout the centuries (i.e. then slavery good, homosexuality bad, now homosexuality good but slavery bad) but it is not the gospel of the Bible. And it is the gospel of the Bible that this song talks about. Instead of being a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” gospel, it is a gospel for people who don’t have boots, or for that matter don’t have feet or legs, and for this reason need to rely totally on Jesus Christ. Rather than being a “God helps those who help themselves” gospel, it is a “God helps those who CAN’T help themselves” gospel. Rather than being the “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” gospel of Jim Wallis, it is a gospel for people who have no ability, and whose need is too great to be met by human hands or by any government that such hands can build.
The key is the refrain “Jesus saves to the uttermost.” For the uninitiated, “to the uttermost” is “church-speak” in some circles. A longer form of it is “from the guttermost (bums and derelicts sleeping in the gutter) to the uttermost.” It puts into modern vernacular what Jesus Christ meant when He stated that those who are well don’t go to a doctor, only those who are sick, and in that same manner, He came not to save good people but sinners. (There is a background here where many believed that the Messiah would ingather the devout Jews to the Holy Land and call together armies of the righteous to liberate Jerusalem and Israel from the Romans and set up a human kingdom. So where the people with the false messianic beliefs thought that the messiah would come seeking only the righteous and use them in his armies to destroy the wicked, the true Messiah had an opposite mission: to seek the lost and save them. Also, the Pharisees in particular expected the Messiah to reward them for their piety only to have Jesus Christ state that A. He came for those who were penitent, not those who were justified in their own eyes and B. that the Pharisees weren’t nearly as pious as they believed themselves to be.)
So, Jesus Christ saving to the uttermost has a dual meaning. First, it refers to the target of this so great a salvation. It is NOT people who have some inherent goodness or virtue, or who have some goodness, ethics or knowledge as a starting point. Instead, it is for the worst of sinners, the totally depraved. It is not for good people who want to work at getting better. It is for bad people who know that they cannot become good in any sense even if they were to work as hard as they could for eternity. This is no “man progressing to godhood” gospel of Glenn Beck, because it recognizes that what sinners need is not progression but regeneration, transformation. So, it is not for the decent, good and moral person who wants to get rid of a few character flaws and bad traits to become better. It is for the serial murderer, the rapist, the child molester, the pornography addict, the drug dealer, the extortionist, the traitor, the homosexual, the adulterer, the prostitute, the pimp, the corrupt Wall Street executive, the partial-birth abortion doctor, the Muslim, the Wiccan, the Hindu, the Satanist, the hypocritical family values religious right politician. And it is for all the good, nice, moral people – from little girls who are all sugar and spice to sweet little old ladies – who know that but for the grace of God they would be just as overtly bad as those people because of the sin in their hearts and natures. So when God saves to the uttermost, He doesn’t save good people who need to be better, but He transforms evil, wretched sinister failed people into the image of His Son! God saved Nebuchadnezzar, a figure that was comparable to Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Usama bin Laden or Benito Mussolini. And God also saved Paul, who had the blood of many innocent Christians on his hands. Why? How? Because God saves TO THE UTTERMOST. His salvation extends from the person who has attended church all their lives and done their best to achieve ethical moral productive existences but did not know the meaning of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to people that have done the most evil, wicked, contemptible, vile things imaginable and for that reason have been totally rejected by society.
And yet, there is a second dimension: the extent to this salvation. “To the uttermost” doesn’t mean simply getting better, merely improving. It isn’t like Gru in “Despicable Me” who goes from being evil to less evil. Or like the “self help teacher” on “The Simpsons” who helped an alcoholic go from dozens of bottles of alcohol a day to “one highly concentrated glass of wine.” It isn’t taking the fornicator and getting him to be outwardly physically chaste while redirecting his desires to pornography, or taking the racist and teaching him political correctness. That would not be “so great a salvation”, because taking something that was bad and making it APPEAR less bad is not only great, but it isn’t even truly salvation. Instead, saving to the uttermost means taking that which was corrupt, flawed, marred, broken and useless and totally transforming it into something that is acceptable by God. God cannot accept sin. That is why merely rehabilitating the sinner doesn’t work. The rehabilitated, new and improved sinner who is under new management with space age features and shiny new packaging is still a sinner, meaning that God cannot accept Him. Instead, the “so great a salvation” means having your sins paid for and declared sin free through identification with Jesus Christ and His atoning death and resurrection, and being placed in Christ. It is only that “so great a salvation” that allows you to be reconciled with God, because that is the only salvation that results in a liar no longer being a liar, a murderer no longer being a murderer, a homosexual no longer being a homosexual, or a pagan no longer being a pagan. It is true that what falls significantly short of “so great a salvation” is accepted in the world’s eyes. You can see that practically every day on television, especially the talk shows. But only “so great a salvation” is acceptable to God. Yet, this “so great a salvation” is possible because God Himself accomplishes it for those whom God wishes to save.
As great as that all is, this STILL is not the point of the song. Why? Because the people listening to this song know it already! That is the rub. This isn’t a song by Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, Elton John, Lil’ Wayne, Rihanna, Lady Gaga or Sting. This is a gospel song that Christians who know the Bible and the gospel will hear and sing. So, it is “preaching to the choir.” Of course, we ought to sing worship and praise songs to the God who alone is worthy for His mighty and loving deeds. However, this is not really a “praise” song that preaches to the choir. It is an ACTION song. The ACTION that this song wants us to take? EVANGELISM! The complete refrain tells us, who know and are participating in this already that WE HAVE TO LET THE WORLD KNOW THAT JESUS SAVES TO THE UTTERMOST!
How many people are there out there who don’t know that so great a salvation is available to them no matter what they have done? How many people know that not merely self improvement but a complete and total transformation from sinner to righteousness, from death to life, is available? And how many people out there don’t know that being good, moral and ethical isn’t good enough because they will still die in their sins and receive the same eternal punishment as mass murderers? And the latter is particularly the case for those who believe that another religious tradition (i.e. Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, shintoism, Scientology and yes liberal Christianity) gives them morality and ethics and allows them to be “good people” that are all worshiping the same god and are simply on different paths to the same place. We have to go take the gospel to all nations, from the utmost to the uttermost, to let them know that they are all indeed worshiping the same god, but it is not the God of Heaven but rather the god of this world, Satan, and that they are indeed all on different paths to the same place, but that place isn’t heaven but destruction, the lake of fire!
So, how will people know that Jesus saves unless we tell them (Romans 10:14)? That is what this song is about, and that is why it is a good one even if your “theology of worship” claims otherwise. Or should I say: to what effect is having a proper theology of worship if you are not out letting the world know that Jesus saves, and saves to the uttermost?