Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is one of the most popular music stars in the nation today, with multiple songs on his new album charting in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 songs. His single “Humble.” drew praise and critique from all sides of the Black community for its message as a corrective to pride and yet centering the conversation on his own desires as a Black man.
Recently Kendrick Lamar did an interview with hip-hop website DJ Booth, where he shared that one of his major messages in the new album D—. is that God is to be feared in a way that brings reverence and obedience. He shares that in his experience, many churches’ message is hope and forgiveness without talking about God’s requirement for obedience and judgment on sin.
He hopes his album will provoke thought and discussion of the idea that God is gracious and loving, but also a God of wrath and judgment who wants to use suffering to correct and discipline His children. Kendrick states in an email response to DJ Booth’s article:
“Our God is a loving God. Yes. He’s a merciful God. Yes. But he’s even more so a God of DISCIPLE [sic]. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God. And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline. Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected.”
An incomplete articulation of the faith
Kendrick Lamar’s sentiment is spot on; God is both a God of love and a God of obedience, merciful and disciplinary. Kendrick’s feelings about hearing only of God’s hope, blessing, and happiness as a child, leaving him feeling empty, are all too real for many people, including Christians.
The sort of preaching that does not speak to suffering, judgment, and consequences for sin while highlighting only God’s blessing is an incomplete teaching and sharing of Christian faith. A Christianity that pushes consequences and rewards into “the sweet by-and-by” is another incomplete articulation of the faith.
However, Kendrick’s wording is a bit misleading and his implications aren’t in line with what we see revealed in Scripture in light of Christ. Mercy itself means that God chooses not to make us suffer for every conscious choice of sin.
The idea that God would inflict harm on someone close to us for sin suggests belief in curses or divine consequences on whole households that aren’t congruent with what the Old Testament reveals (Jeremiah 31:28–30; Ezekiel 18:1–3) and Jesus teaches (Matthew 16:27).
It is reasonable based on Scripture to say that sin has consequences and that it affects a family, but its effect comes directly from its cause (Romans 6:23, 7:5, James 1:14–16), such as violence causing physical and psychological harm, not indirect through a divine judgment.
It is absolutely true that God disciplines the believer, even in light of grace (Hebrews 12:3–11). But mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12–14), and the very definition of grace through the death of Jesus Christ is that we do not get what we deserve for our sins (Ephesians 2:4–16).
Got Cheap Grace?
What Kendrick has pointed out for the church is that many people are not hearing the message of consequences for sin that leads us to repentance. We live in a society where sin is seen as tolerable, and forgiveness for sin comes without price.
In addition, suffering in Black communities is often ignored or given a bandage of hope in “our season” instead of confronted with the Gospel of Jesus. Or worse but more commonly, some Christians use “cheap grace” to justify their hypocrisy.
Jesus proclaims life in the midst of death, righteous living and resurrection as acts of resistance to worldliness and death. As a result of seeing Christians who articulate a theology of grace without repentance and that fails to address suffering of Black people, Kendrick is left to find explanation for his reality in the law of Deuteronomy instead of the grace of Christ.
Jesus called for us to be disciples, not simply to be saved. Salvation is a free gift; following Christ is costly. Hope is in Jesus our Savior to redeem us from our suffering, not in ourselves to live righteously enough to end our own suffering.
This faith is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us by grace, not by works that save us from curses. The church would be wise to hear Kendrick Lamar and others like him as they cry out for understanding and direction that addresses the suffering, immorality, and brokenness they see in the world.
Jesus does not leave us to account for our sin on our own by the power of the law. In love, He gives Christians the Holy Spirit by grace to transform us, make us holy, and empower us to live justly. However, the church must preach the Gospel of Jesus that calls us to repentance and new life, not simply blesses us with no accountability if we are to reach the Kendrick Lamars in our world.