My Thoughts on Jesus, Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns
The first thing I want to make clear is that I love Casting Crowns. I am a big fan and I love their thought-provoking lyrics and found most of their songs easy to love, even from the first hearing. However, Jesus, Friend of Sinners, I think, crosses a line that their other songs haven’t and I would like to address those concerns here. Almost certainly, I will be in the minority but I must challenge you that our music must be in line with our doctrine and in the words of one great Christian intellectual, I repeat, “Let my people think.”
Before I go into the negative, let me begin with what is right with the song and why so many already enjoy and celebrate its message. First, the title; Jesus is indeed the friend of sinners. A cursory look at the Gospels will demonstrate this as Jesus spent time with the outcasts of his day: tax collectors, prostitutes, those with incurable diseases, etc. One can even point to a hymn that also extols our Lord for this quality, entitled Jesus, What a Friend of Sinners. I think it would be difficult to find a believer disagreeing on this point.
Another good point from the song is the idea that we were all outcasts. How easy it would be to overlook today’s outcasts and too often perhaps the Church does that. Identifying with sinners is certainly a way to develop Jesus’ heart for them and remind ourselves that we were all hopeless sinners before we met Christ. One of my favorite metaphors about sharing the Gospel is this: “It’s one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Where I begin to diverge with what is perhaps the common positive opinion about this song is the idea that the biggest obstacles to people coming to Christ are Christians. Here is line after line of condemnation of the believer:
“We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing.”
“The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me.”
“A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided.”
“Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers”
“Made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands”
“Nobody knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded”
“What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines and loved like You did?”
If you count the chorus once, a full 25% of the song takes the church to task for being Pharisaical, hypocrites who prevent people from coming to Jesus by their relentless, unmerciful, ungracious, self-righteous judgment. An attempt is made to soften the blow or justify the ironic pointed finger by the writer and singers by couching the condemnation of the Christian in terms of “we,” “ours,” “me,” etc.
There are a few lines in the song that deserve further scrutiny on their own. Take, for example, “The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me.” I’m not sure how any evangelical Christian is comfortable with this sentiment. The Gospel that Jesus preached included the message that the world wasn’t headed for Him but for Hell. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus warns, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Perhaps the songwriters and performers here aren’t suggesting universalism but the plain sense of this line seems to indicate that they are.
There definitely is a problem in the Church with those who judge others harshly, especially condemning sinners without Christ who sin in ways that aren’t a temptation to them. However, I think this song overstates and magnifies the problem rather than dealing with it in typical Casting Crowns’ fashion. They are right to say that the saint of God needs to take the plank out of his own eye (see Mt. 7:1-5). Yet that is not to the neglect of seeking to take the speck out of another’s; it is a prerequisite not an alternative. I think it is also important to see that Jesus references brethren in His comments regarding judging one another in Matthew 7. While we can apply this passage to other situations, it is in the context of one’s relationships with brethren that Jesus taught it.
We have to make clear that the world around us needs to see sin as sin. A person doesn’t reach for the cure until he knows he has a medical problem needing prompt, perhaps even life-saving, treatment. The Church is called to be salt and light and Jesus stated that the Gospel would be offensive. It is offensive to convey to those who think that they are good, wonderful people that they are instead, miserable, filthy sinners headed to Hell, just like we were. Will some people bristle at this and reject both message and messenger? Of course. Yet that is the beginning of the Gospel: the bad news that our sin makes us deserving of God’s just wrath on our sin. The balance needs to be maintained between the extremes of seeming to say that God has paid for sins through Jesus and everyone is going to Heaven and the other extreme that seems to indicate that there are those who are beyond salvation because of certain sins that have been committed and cheering their descent into Hell. I would say that the overwhelming majority of born again Christians are concerned about the lost and would not celebrate their going to a Christ-less eternity.
“Jesus, friend of sinners, the one who's writing in the sand made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands,” is a claim that is so obviously distorted that I’m left to wonder why more haven’t caught it. The key word to zero in on is “righteous.” The Apostle John makes clear that the ones who brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus were the scribes and the Pharisees (Jn. 8:3). In the song, Casting Crowns labels those who brought her to Jesus, accused her and were ready to stone her at Jesus’ word as righteous! Then they extrapolate that we, like the righteous of Jesus’ day, are ready to throw stones at today’s sinners. Beyond the fact that there is a big difference between executing someone and calling names, there is the obvious fact that the Pharisees were not followers of Jesus. These were the ones that Jesus called “hypocrites (Lk. 11:44)” who followed their father the Devil (Jn. 8:44), that go about making others twice the child of Hell that they are (Mt. 23:15); neither letting people into Heaven nor going in themselves. These are the ones that opposed Jesus, said He did His healing by the power of the Devil (Mt. 12:24), planned to have Him killed, set up an illegal court proceeding and sentenced a righteous man to death, delivering Him to the Romans for His execution. Does that even begin to sound like the “righteous” people of Jesus’ day to you?
Casting Crowns takes one of the arguments of the unrepentant of the world and gives it validity in the song. “Nobody knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded.” The “nobody” referenced here seems to indicate unbelievers in the United States. Certainly, our fellow human beings around the world where the Gospel hasn’t gone are not accusing us of such. The average person that we rub shoulders with most certainly knows we believe in Jesus as the way to Heaven, that He died on the cross for our sins, that He rose from the dead and that He is returning. He or she most certainly knows that we believe in the Trinity, a literal Heaven and Hell and on and on. This line is one of the biggest libels against Christians by those who set themselves as enemies to Christ and the Gospel and it is scandalous that a Christian group would give it any kind of legitimacy. How many times have you heard unbelievers scoff that Christianity is a religion of “don’ts?” The reason that is done is to shut us down and it is a blatant distortion of all we stand for and they know it.
Casually listening to this song for the first time on the radio, the line that got my immediate attention in a negative way was this one: “What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines and loved like You did?” How offensive this is to those on the front line of the pro-life cause! Pro-life protestors are speaking prophetically, warning women, politicians and even the country as a whole that this is not mere tissue but a developing human being made in God’s image. While the pro-choice think that what they do is not wrong and blissfully go on their way killing children in the womb and advocating that killing, pro-life protestors and pro-life groups are speaking the truth that to do so is sin. As a country, we would not be where we are in regards to abortion without them and if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned it will be because of their diligent efforts. Did you know that counseling happens at those protest sites? Mothers are sometimes convinced to have their children, they are directed to crisis-pregnancy centers, prayed for, witnessed to and some are even converted right there on the protest lines or in the clinics? Some would charge that what they do is not out of love but I would strongly disagree. Imagine the abuse they go through in order to convey a better way. They don’t say, “You’re going to Hell for murdering your baby” but plead with women to save their children and direct them to the life-changing Gospel. That is not to deny that there are extremists that do awful things in the name of Christ and under the pro-life banner but don’t condemn a whole group doing a very great and loving thing for a minority doing an evil thing in God’s name.
Naturally, everyone will have their opinion in regards to the song and what I have written here. I suspect that many will not agree with me and that is okay. I don’t expect to change minds; only God can do that. However, if we are to be about the business of the Gospel, we must communicate the bad news first, that human beings are sinners deserving God’s just wrath on their sin, that they are headed to Hell and that they can do nothing to save themselves. After that, we can deliver the Good news that Jesus, friend of sinners, laid down His life, took our sins upon Himself, died to appease God’s wrath on those sins and rose victorious. It is through this Jesus and only Him that we must plead for mercy and thus have the promise of eternal life in and through Him. That is the Gospel the friend of sinners gave us to pass on.