justification and old-school derek webb

this was the song all the christian college kids liked to learn on their acoustic guitar--i mean, the lyrics included "whore" and "bastard" but you couldn't get in trouble for saying them because it was still about Jesus. you know, kind of like the Bible.


anyway, i was listening to "wedding dress" while i was driving around town today, and i heard it in a new light.

at lunch with my community group, a question was posed about how best to teach the doctrine of justification. we discussed different analogies and how it had been best described to us, and it was a fairly illuminating conversation. here's what i gleaned: we have been given, regardless of merit but rather by the work and power of Christ, the identity of Christ. it's something that is put on us like clothing, in the same way that the prodigal son is given a robe and a ring--signs of power and authority even though he squandered his inheritance and ran away. "the clothes make the man"-- and we are clothed in righteousness, we are called righteous by God, and so we are. we didn't DO it, and yet we ARE, because He said so. He creates life by His breath, certainly he can make us justified with the same.

after our lunchtime theological discussion, i was listening to derek webb. i've liked the song "wedding dress" since the first time i heard it. to me it meant many things, but i never quite grasped what exactly was his intention or message. then, a few years ago, i stumbled upon a youtube video of derek introducing the song, and he explained that he had written it in response to the craze over the book "the prayer of jabez." he was responding to the church being soured by the american consumerist mentality of entitlement and comfort. it was about idols, and materialism, or ... something like that. honestly, it kind of cheapened the song for me. i had found it really profound, as a confession of my sin and a cry for grace to come. but now it seemed a little hollow--almost political, perhaps only a commentary on the modern american church. such a commentary is certainly not a useless exercise for a songwriter, but it was not what the song had meant to me previously.

but then, as echoes of our lunchtime conversation bounced around in my head, i heard something new in the lyrics. i heard justification, by grace alone.

if you could love me as a wife
for my wedding gift your life
should that be all i'll ever need, 
or is there more i'm looking for? 

God makes me His, and that is all i need to be perfect. it's not Jesus, plus ______. it's only Jesus. i don't need to jump through rings of fire or sing pitch-perfect church choir solos or even be baptized or be nice or pay my bills on time to be perfect. i am His, because He said so, and so i am perfect.

'cause i am a whore, i do confess
i put you on just like a wedding dress 
and i run down the aisle, i run down the aisle
i'm a prodigal with no way home,
i put you on just like a band of gold
and i run down the aisle, i run down the aisle
to you

you see? i'm a whore. i'm a sinner. but God says i'm His. and so i am. that's how the whore puts on the wedding dress, and how the debt-ridden prodigal takes the golden ring. it's grace from start to finish; no more, no less.

what is beautiful to me about this picture of justification is our response: i run down the aisle. i can feel the urgency: this is too good to be true, let me seal the deal before He realizes what He's getting. the runaway son can turn around and come home, because he is accepted in spite of his former rebellion. the promiscuous woman can march down the aisle and take the vows, because she is loved and desired as a wife in spite of her 'tainted' life.

bottom line: come, ye sinners. 

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.