The Apostle Paul would have liked MercyMe’s latest effort, Welcome to the New. And if that sounds presumptuous to you, allow let me explain. The eighth studio album from this veteran Christian band maintains a laser-like focus on one overarching theological theme: our new identity in Christ.
That’s where Paul comes in.
Over and over in his letters, but especially in the New Testament books of Romans, Ephesians and Galatians, Paul emphasizes that salvation is a gift we receive from God when we place our faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. Christ’s righteousness—His right standing before God the Father because He lived a sinless life—is credited as a gift to those of us who believe in Him. It’s not a wage that we earn; it’s a gift we receive. In Ephesians 2, for instance, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Sometimes as we make our way through the Christian life, however, we can slowly slide back into believing that salvation is something we have to earn, that our own right standing before God has become our responsibility to maintain. Paul rebuked the Galatian church for falling into exactly this spiritual error. And it’s an error that can drain the Christian life of joy because we find ourselves misguidedly striving for something that we never can reach.
That may seem like some pretty high spiritual hurdles for something as mundane as an album review. But it’s exactly the kind of theology that’s quite literally crammed into MercyMe’s latest effort. The band reminds us (by way of an engaging and listenable blend of rock, pop, gospel, blues, folk and EDM) that the gift of salvation is one that saves, frees and transforms us as we cling to the good news that Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.
This theme shows up immediately on album opener “Welcome to the New.” “Got to live right just to stay in line,” lead singer Bart Millard sings. “You’ve heard it all at least a million times/And, like me, you believed it/They said it wasn’t works/But trying harder wouldn’t hurt/ … You broke your back, kept all the rules/Jumped through the hoops/To make God approve of you.” The song contrasts that striving for salvation with receiving the grace that’s offered in Christ: “But now here you are/Eyes open wide/It’s like you’re seeing grace/In a brand new light/For the first time/ … A new point of view/And now it all makes sense/Why it’s called the Good News.” The song goes on to proclaim that Jesus’ “purchase” of us on the cross is what transforms us: “Look at you/All shiny and new/Look at you/You got the proof of purchase/You were purchased/’Cause you’re worth it.”
That focus—remembering and clinging to what’s true and new about us because of Jesus—then floods every subsequent track on the album. “Gotta Let It Go” reminds us that because of our status as forgiven, we don’t have to let past mistakes define our identity. “Brand new/Is that person in the mirror looking back at you/It’s true/But you can’t see it ’cause you’re stuck on what you’ve been through/You got that white-knuckle, red-faced/Kung fu grip on all your chains/But that’s not who you are.” Then the song asks, “If God can take your sin and free you/ … Why are you holding on?/I’m here to let you know/You gotta let it go.”
Similar salvation-minded stuff infuses “Greater,” while “Shake” righteously—and riotously—insists that the only right response to such a gift is to celebrate (“You gotta shake, shake, shake/Like you’re changed, changed, changed/Brand new looks so good on you”). “Finish What He Started” paraphrases Philippians 1:6 with, “The work He started in you now/He’s faithful to complete it/… He’ll finish what He started.” And “Flawless” reflects on the totality of God’s forgiveness.
“Burn Baby Burn” exhorts Christians to let their lights shine in front of those who don’t believe, talking us through the fact that we should strive for good works “not so we can earn our place” but “’cause we’ve been saved by grace.” “Wishful Thinking” plumbs God’s unconditional love for us. And closing track “Dear Younger Me” recapitulates the entire album’s message of grace and redemption: “You are holy/You are righteous/You are one of the redeemed/Set apart, a brand new heart/You are free indeed.” Millard recently told Fox News that the song is also about being a survivor of domestic abuse, a theme hinted at in the lines, “Dear younger me, It’s not your fault.”
MercyMe’s music brims with spiritual vitality and theological potency as it reminds us that the Good News of the Gospel really is good. In Christ, we are forgiven, freed and redeemed. And then we’re invited to live a life that reflects just how radical, countercultural and outrageous His gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation really is.
Sometimes in the day-to-day grind I (and I’m sure you, too) can lose sight of just how amazing that gift is. I can get bogged down with worry and frustrated with my own struggles with sin. Sometimes I spend a great deal of effort trying to save myself instead of humbly receiving the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers.
For me, then (and you, too!), Welcome to the New offers a refreshing, important reminder that I’m not the Good News. The Gospel isn’t “try harder.” Instead, it’s much closer to “try again,” and this time with His strength instead of mine. Or, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Welcome to the New indeed.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.