The concert crowd was hushed as he spoke. Lecrae, the face of Christian Hip-Hop, was on stage confessing to the audience that he struggled with pride. He wanted to honor God with his music and his platform, he said, but he needed God’s help to navigate his skyrocketing career in a godly way. He humbly asked us to pray for him.
Who has ever heard of a rap star confessing and repenting of pride? Let alone from the stage at a concert! What kind of person does that?
A person who knows both the importance of God’s call on his life, and the idols in his own heart—who understands that repentance is the path to fullness.
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As broken images of God, even our most noble efforts to steward our creative gifts are easily tainted by sin.
If we are naïve or complacent about sin, it will easily lure us away with its subtle tricks. We will tiptoe away from integrity for the sake of money or acceptance. We will leave our families behind, trying to become “somebody” in this world, forgetting that we already are.
We will refuse to push our creative craft to the next level because we are afraid of failure, missing opportunities God has prepared for us.
Like Lecrae, we must take sin seriously enough—and be humble enough—to regularly confess and repent of our idolatrous desires. As we do, we open the door for God to do his healing work, forming us into the people he intends us to be.
We might think that as we journey on with God, drawing closer to Jesus, we will need to repent less and less often. In fact, the opposite is true: the further along God brings us, the more clearly we can see how far we are from His perfection—how desperately we have needed Him all along. By the end of our journey, we will be repenting more, not less.
Although we may get tired of bringing the same old sins and struggles to God, God delights in our repentance! David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes:
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:16-17, NIV)
Our constant dependence on God in the face of our own brokenness both humbles and heals us.
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Since that concert many years ago when he confessed his pride, Lecrae has made some surprising, career-altering changes that I believe are the fruit of his heart being set free from pride.
First, rather than clinging to being the most popular artist in the siloed world of Christian Hip-Hop, Lecrae followed the Spirit’s leading to become a missionary to the wider world of mainstream Hip-Hop—a world where he was a nobody. Lecrae, whose previous album had sold over 100,000 copies, was now spending his time and money recording “mixtapes,” free albums that new rappers give away to get their names out there. Lecrae humbled himself in the hopes of reaching people outside the church with the message of Jesus.
The reward for this bold step of faithfulness? Many Christians labeled Lecrae a sellout, saying he had become too “worldly” and was spending time with the wrong people. But Lecrae pressed on, becoming salt and light (largely behind the scenes) in the world of mainstream Hip-Hop. This was the career move of a man no longer held hostage by people’s approval, free to follow God even in the face of harsh criticism.
“You live for their acceptance,
You die from their rejection.”
(Lecrae, “Free From It All”)
Secondly, Lecrae boldly spoke out against racism in the wake of numerous high-profile killings of African-Americans. The more he spoke up, the more he was judged, hated on, and boycotted by many white Christian fans who told him to stop talking about race and stick to “the gospel.” But Lecrae pressed on in faithfulness to God and the Scriptures.
“Aw man, now they actin’ like I’m suddenly political,
Told me shut my mouth and get my checks from Evangelicals…
I will not oblige to your colonized way of faith,
My Messiah died for the world, not just U.S.A.”
Here was a man who, like Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, courageously followed God into speaking truth to power at the cost of his own reputation. Lecrae has grown more and more into the fullness of who God had made him to be—the fruit, I believe, of his lifestyle of confession and repentance, both on and off the stage.
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As a writer, I constantly find my good motives intertwined with idols in my heart. Did I write this article to bless you, the reader? Yes! Did I write it hoping it would be shared around social media, making me feel important? Yes. Did I write out of a desire to grow in confession and repentance myself? Yes. Did I choose this topic because it felt safe enough to write about? Yes. Do I feel a bit too proud of myself for being humble enough to share these mixed motives? Yes.
I am such a tangled mess of godly hopes and selfish ambitions, faith and fear! But I take heart: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)
Like Lecrae, may we journey on with Jesus, ready to continually repent along the way. As we do, may we remember that God did not invite us to join Him because we were so put together. We may protest with Simon Peter, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus responds, “Don’t be afraid. Follow Me.”
God already knows, at each step of our journey, who we have been, who we are, and who we will become in His hands. He invites us to a lifestyle of confession because it is the path to fullness of life. Let us approach His throne with confidence, as people fully known and fully loved, even as we are being fully healed.
The featured image is by the brilliant photographer Aaron Burden and is used with his permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Michael Stalcup is, before anything else, an adopted child of God. He continually marvels at God’s grace in his life and the good works that God has prepared and surprised him with. Currently, he serves overseas as a missionary in Bangkok, Thailand and writes poetry in his free time—neither of which he could have imagined himself doing years ago. Michael lives with his wife Christie and their three young “third-culture” kids who will take a bowl of egg noodles over a sandwich any day. He is currently working on his first book of poetry and hopes to play his part in gathering and supporting other artist Christians in Bangkok and beyond. Soli Deo Gloria.