I heard a song the other day that caught my ear. It is musically catchy and the first line of the chorus is “Take me to church”, so naturally it caught my attention. The third line of the chorus, however, is what broke my heart: “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife”.
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life
Curious, of course, I googled the author’s meaning in the song. These are the two direct quotes I could find from the him:
“I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment–if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes–everything you believed about yourself gone. In a death-and-rebirth sense.”
“Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God. The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”
– Andrew Hozier-Byrne
He writes metaphorically; comparing his lover to religion.
The music video is about a male homosexual relationship and the backlash the couple receives from the community when they are found out. Hozier made this statement in regards to the video:
“The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious [organizations] and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.”
As the lie continues to evolve that we have the freedom to determine right and wrong for ourselves, and that there ultimately are no moral, ethical or eternal absolutes, people will misunderstand the intentions of Jesus and Christianity and will consider themselves the victim for any public declaration of a “different truth” than what they are choosing to believe.
The extremely difficult calling for the Church, for us, for you and for me, is to learn how to walk in obedience to Scripture, to encourage others to walk in obedience to Scripture, and yet to show them love at the same time. We are all sinners, we all were born in darkness and wickedness and we all were enemies of Christ until God breathes Spiritual life into us. And yet we all continue to fight our sin daily, failing at times. Are you afraid that if you confess your sins to another at church that they will “sharpen their knives” and prepare to crucify you for them? I have seen it firsthand. I have experienced it firsthand, and that over a non-sin issue!
The opposite extreme is just as dangerous. Jesus always commanded the sinner who came to Him,
“From now on sin no more.”
– John 8.11
Jesus does not accept or condone our sin. The Bible tells us clearly what God considers right and wrong, and He – as the creator – gets to decide. Not me. Not you. Not the culture at large. Only God. He knows that we are sinners and Scripture tells us that the glory of grace is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8). Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and He wants us to knock it out! He most certainly did not pay the punishment so that we could keep doing those things that He hates! He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us and He desires that we would live according to His code of conduct, if you will. But He does not sharpen His knife when we stumble and repent. He forgives us – when we confess and turn away from that sin.
There in lies the problem. What is our attitude about sin? Hozier makes this alarming and enlightening statement in the very same song:
I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.
This is actually a quote from Christopher Hitchens, a New Atheist, with the phrase “but I love it” inserted in the middle. Hitchens rightly observes that he was born sick. But he is only half right. We are all born “dead in our trespasses” (Eph 2.1). We love sin and darkness and we choose it. So why would someone “command me to be well”, when I am completely incapable of being well? Hozier adds the sentiment “but I love it”. We do love our sin. It is a miracle of God that we are convicted of it and drawn to repentance.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
– John 3.19-21
Hozier’s sentiment is Biblical. Everyone who does evil hates the Light – and the Light is Jesus and His Truth. The world lives in darkness and the darkness sins boldly because they receive affirmation from one another. Being in the darkness does not mean that it is in secret. It means that it is not in Christ: the Light. And we are all born in darkness, in sin, in spiritual deadness. We hate the Light, in-and-of ourselves. We need Jesus to breathe life, to convict us of sin, to save us.
So, Church, when should we sharpen our knives? If someone comes into our lives who was “born sick” and still loving it, then our concern is not their sin (or sins) of choice. Our concern is their salvation. Until the sinner realizes the truth of the Gospel and comes to Jesus for salvation, their actions simply do not matter. It makes no eternal difference if they happen to abstain from one or more particular sins. Apart from Jesus, that is as “filthy rags” and worthless (Is 64.6). If you are in Christian community and someone confesses a sin of habit or temptation, if they are clinging to Jesus and trying to die to that sin, there is no place for knife sharpening either. In fact, this is one of the most beautiful callings of the Church community: to hold one another accountable and push one another on to righteousness.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
– James 5.16
The only time we are commanded to take strong action against sin is when someone among us who claims Jesus gives in to sin and its temptation and will not turn from it. An unrepentant Christian – one who knows the Truth, has claimed Jesus’ salvation for His sins, yet disgraces Jesus and God by choosing sin instead of obeying God. Jesus gives us very clear instructions for how to handle such a situation, and it is bathed in love, giving the person multiple opportunities to obey (Matt 18). We are never commanded to go on a witch hunt, or to crucify someone, but to remove them from our midst with the hopes that they will repent later. Our primary concern, however, is the holiness of the community at large, and if one will not submit to God, he should be removed for the sake of the Church.
Dear Church, put down your knives. Love the non believer as one who needs Jesus. Love the repentant believing sinner (the vast majority of us within the Church) as one who is struggling, just like you, and push them on to righteousness and to obedience. And love the unrepentant believer by pointing out his sin, naming it for it’s eternal danger, and removing him from the church – to the end that he would repent.