Tag Archives: hymn

Thanks be to God: Lyrics, video, and theology


I wrote a worship song and recorded it in a jam session here on YouTube.

Lyrics:

Took the lead to map my own course
until I got lost
Sold my soul and bought a kingdom
was it worth the cost?

Broke and broken
Chasing the wind
Please show me the Way

Chorus:

Thanks be to God!
Thanks be to God!
We were against him
but he was for us.

Thanks be to God!
Thanks be to God!
When we were done for
he did it for us.

Tried to root out lust and anger
they sprung up like weeds
Kept competing with my neighbor
what was wrong with me?

Sin enslaved me
Death destroyed me
Set this rebel free

Chorus

Covered up my shame by hiding
in the dark alone
Tried to numb my pain but my heart
toughened to a stone

Fear degraded
Separated
Change me with your love

Chorus

Thought I had my act together
‘til I fell apart
I determined to do better
still I missed the mark

Law was heavy
Curse was deadly
Bring me back to life

Chorus

Bridge:

Part 1:
Thanks be to God!
Thanks be to God!
Thanks be to God!
Thanks be to God!

Part 2:
Perfect to save
Lamb that was slain
Up from the grave
Conquering king

Both parts together

Chorus

Theology behind the song:

I wrote this song to process the incredible truths I learned from Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. A key theme Rutledge emphasizes throughout her book is our need for God’s apocalyptic deliverance. She says that in the late Old Testament period, the prophets articulated a growing awareness of humanity’s inability to keep the law and the insufficiency of repentance. Instead, they felt a desperate need for deliverance that comes from beyond ourselves: an apocalyptic intervention. This song is intended to highlight our desperate need for God to intervene.

I organized the verse progression roughly around potential phases of Christian life. First we don’t want Christ’s lordship (verse 1). Then we accept it but struggle with our sin in our own strength (verse 2). We may give up, feel shame, and try to protect ourselves (verse 3). Or we may begin to trust in our own legalistic righteousness and feel proud (verse 4). Each verse ends with a call for help, much like the Psalms cry out for God to deliver them. The structure of this song, with the trouble of the singer, the cry for help, and the praise given to God for deliverance, fits the genre of the thanksgiving Psalm.

Verse one highlights our human desire for power and control over our lives, the kingdom of self. We are tempted to gain the world but lose our souls (Mark 8:36), just as Jesus was tempted to worship Satan to gain dominion of all the world’s kingdoms without the cross (Luke 4:5-8). Judas is an example of someone who sold his soul for monetary gain, only to realize the reward was not worth the cost (Matthew 27:3). We discover our leadership is inadequate, but then we have no resources to save our lost souls. We need Jesus, who is the Way (John 14:6).

Verse two describes how our sinful nature is not something we can overcome through making good choices, because as Rutledge mentions, Sin and Death are also Powers enslaving us. In Romans 7, Paul describes sin as “sprung” (Romans 7:9) and “What is wrong with me?” echoes his frustration in the same passage (7:24). I chose lust, anger, and envy/pride because these are common besetting sins even for Christians. Paul describes how Jesus sets us free to be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:16).

Verse three focuses on broken relationships. It evokes how original sin separated Adam and Eve from each other and from God. Their nakedness symbolized their shame, which they attempted to deal with by hiding (Genesis 3:7-11). The result of broken relationships means fear and distrust. The Bible frequently mentions disobedience using the metaphor of hard hearts, and in Ezekiel 36:26-27 God promises to give his people new hearts that will obey his commands. I mixed this idea of hard hearts symbolizing disobedience with hard hearts symbolizing fear and emotional coldness. Disobedience, at its root, is an inability to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). So a lack of feeling can be linked to the biblical concept of hard hearts. I think sin and its consequence of broken relationships often connects to the emotional fallenness I see in today’s world. Though I am not in any way saying, for instance, that those who suffer depression as punishment for sin, I do think it is important to speak to the emotional pain that affects so many people and say this is not how God intended for us to live, but is a result of the Fall and Jesus will eventually restore us psychologically as well, even if it is not fully complete until the new creation.

Verse four describes the futility of trying to earn our own righteous standing before God through our works. Paul says that no one is made righteous according to their obedience to the law (Romans 3:10, 20). In her exposition of Romans, Rutledge describes how we are enslaved to the powers of sin and death, which have turned the law, intended for good, into a lethal club. She also describes the godlessness of the cross; that Jesus was in some sense separated from God because he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and took the curse of the law upon himself (Galatians 3:13). In Romans 7, Paul depicts the resulting struggle the law evokes inside himself against the power of his sinful nature. He ends with describing how his body is subject to death (Romans 7:24), which I echoed in this verse’s cry for resurrection.

The chorus echoes Paul’s cry after his long exposition that points to the fact that we are delivered only through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25). It refers to how God saved us when we were still his enemies (Romans 5:10) and if he is for us nothing can condemn us (Romans 8:31). It also refers explicitly to Christ’s work in finishing the work of our salvation (John 19:30, Ephesian 2:4-10).

The bridge combines the themes of Christus Victor and substitutionary atonement. As Rutledge argues, the way in which Jesus set us free from the Powers was by becoming the sacrifice for our sins. I deliberately combined the victim lamb with the victorious king to keep the strength within the context of suffering, avoiding the triumphalist view but still emphasizing spiritual warfare.