If you have been following Justin Bieber as of late, you know that he has recently begun professing a faith in Christ. That’s right, Bieber is a Belieber (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Then, last week Bieber posted this photo with Sean Combs and Kanye West “giving thanks to Jesus.”
At first glance, I am skeptical. I think very cynical thoughts: “Really? I mean, if Jesus’ words about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom, surely P-Diddy who is the richest rapper to date with $735 million, fits this category. And Yeezy is the Donald Trump (in both wealth and personality) of rap culture.” That’s to say nothing of Justin Beiber himself.
Why don’t I trust that this photo is an authentic expression of gratitude for Christ? Why am I cynical about Justin Bieber’s faith in Jesus? Why am I (and I think many Christians) so uncomfortable with Bieber becoming a Christian? I want to suggest a few reasons…
Christians prefer things to be black and white
Bieber’s faith is a little fuzzy. A visit to Hillsong here. Some statements about Jesus there. One interview where he expresses faith. A few pictures indicating faith. Then, on the same album, he has a vague expression of the gospel along with a song talking about sharing a bed with someone. Justin’s faith is anything but black and white.
When we are skeptical of Justin Bieber, we don’t fully appreciate what the Christian life is. If anything, it is a process. The experience of discipleship is furnished with ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and a long, slow, rocky trajectory toward Christ-likeness. Paul encourages the Philippians in their process saying “He who began a good work in you will continue it until you are perfect on the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6). He assumes in that passage that they are not yet behaving perfectly, but at the same time having their sanctification worked out by God (Philippians 2:12-13).
Why is it not enough to say that Bieber is a true believer and still very much in process. So, he may say or do some questionable things in his life AND we can still affirm His faith in Christ. Let the one who doesn’t ever say or do things that are out of line with Christ cast the first stone at Bieber.
But, I think there are more reasons why we are afraid of Justin’s faith.
We are afraid the message of Jesus will get watered down
We live in a time when the gospel is being watered-down all the time. Rob Bell rejects the reality of Hell while Joel Osteen preaches a prosperity gospel (as an aside, he also won’t preach Hell out of fear of being spiritual buzz-kill). This is just the tip of the iceberg in contemporary theology. What makes these heretical voices so dangerous is their audience. Bell, Osteen and Bieber (sorry to lump you in with these guys, Justin) each have a broad hearing; people listen to them. So, the potential to spread a watered-down or even heretical theology is greater than an unknown schlub like me (thanks for reading this blog, by the way).
But, Justin Bieber is different than Bell, Osteen and others who “water down the message” in one critical way: Justin Bieber is not a pastor or recognized Christian voice. He did not gain his platform through having something meaningful to say about the Christian faith. He is not theologically trained nor does he claim to be an expert on Jesus or the Bible. He is not even someone who is asking to be heralded as a spiritual guide. As immature and unkempt as it might be, he is simply sharing what Christ has done for him on a personal level, not trying to shepherd or teach people. Like the blind man healed by Jesus, Bieber is saying “all I know is that I was blind and now I see…” (John 9:25). What’s wrong with that? Is it that he didn’t include the five points of Calvinism? Is it that he didn’t provide a Scriptural reference for his statements?
As I search my own heart, I realize that my dismissal of Bieber’s faith is a way of comparing myself to him. That type of comparison is just garden-variety pride. It’s a way of saying “you don’t measure up… to me.” Even if I know him personally (which I do not), I still don’t have the right to play the self-righteous comparison game. Comparing ourselves to someone else from a high theological and/or spiritual perch is setting us up for a great fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). When I compare myself with another in the household of faith, Paul says I am without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12). We should only compare ourselves to Christ, not Justin Bieber. And, in that comparison, I am the one who does not measure up. Thank you, Jesus Christ, who makes me perfect in His sight by His death and resurrection.
There is one more reason that Justin Bieber’s faith makes Christians uncomfortable.
We don’t want to see another celebrity fall
We know it too well. A celebrity comes to faith very publically. The Christian community lauds this person as an icon of the faith. Often, this is accompanied by the church tour where the celebrity goes to big churches to share their testimony. Then, just as public as their conversion, they fall into a scandal. We feel duped. Was their faith just a lie?
Justin Bieber may fall. He may get involved in a scandal. He may very well be dealing with some dark sin. And, guess what? The gospel says I might too. What Justin Bieber’s faith exposes are the places in my heart that still do not fully embrace the gospel.
If the gospel is true, I cannot put my faith in the integrity of any human’s testimony. In fact, the very essence of that testimony is not that the person is sinless, but is considered sinless ONLY because of the blood of Jesus Christ. So, it is in spite of sin… and scandal… and public failure… that Christ has saved me. Not because I was worthy, but Christ chose to demonstrate his own love and grace toward me (Ephesians 2:4-9).
What do we do with Justin Bieber?
I’m cheering for Justin Bieber. I think his faith in Jesus is the real deal. But, time will tell if the soil of his heart is the kind which will nurture a long-term growth (Luke 8:5-15). I am praying for him. Because he has an opportunity due to his large following, but even more because he is a human being made in the image of God who is desperately in need of God’s grace (as am I).
The reason why Justin Bieber’s faith makes me uncomfortable is because the gospel is uncomfortable. The gospel is that a perfect God chooses to love and live inside of messed up people… like me.