The Pursuit of God

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Hymns That Lead Us Astray: There is Power in the Blood

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The Church has a long and rich musical history.  Over the centuries, Christians have produced countless hymns which discuss many aspects of our relationship with God.  And while many songs are fun to sing, we rarely stop to appreciate the enormous impact our music has on our theology.  Whatever you keep rehearsing is what you end up accepting as solid truth.  And since prayer and worship are the two main ways that we communicate with God, it is critical for the maturing Christian to start giving serious thought as to the language he uses when doing these things.  In this post, we’re going to take a critical look at an old classic: There’s Power in the Blood.  Dating back to 1899, this hymn promotes theology about sin and salvation that is, well, totally wrong.  But when wrong is also biblical, things get confusing.

BIBLICAL vs. RIGHT

The Bible is a mix of good and bad theology.  You need to understand this so you can stop hearing the term “biblical” as a synonym for “good.”  To say that something is “biblical” simply means it is referred to in the Bible.  Well, worshiping false gods is “biblical,” as is raping women, bashing infants on rocks, and rejecting the Divinity of Christ.  We can point to many passages of Scripture which describe all of these things, but the fact that someone says or does something in the Bible, doesn’t make that something good or right.  Christ is God Almighty, not just a human, and yet many of the New Testament writers refer to Him as being merely human.  The New Testament writers also say a lot of things about how God views us and what He expects from us.  James and John teach that God expects moral perfection from us.  Paul says that God loves ethnic Jews more than Gentiles.  Peter says that Yahweh outranks Christ.  Are any of these claims correct?  You need to ask God Himself to show you.  Don’t just believe what some so-called scholar says.  Don’t put your trust in irrelevant titles like apostle, pastor, or prophet. Any fool can claim to be spiritually wise—that doesn’t make them so.  Truth comes from God, and until you’re seeking His input in your life, you’re not going to learn anything.

THE HYMN

Now then, we’re about to slash an old Christian standard.  We’re about to tell you that that famous hymn There’s Power in the Blood is leading you massively astray on important theological issues, therefore you’re not doing yourself any favors by singing it.  Is there any truth to what we’re going to say?  You need God to show you.  Ask Him to help you discern if what we’re about to say is true or a bunch of baloney.  You can’t learn anything until you’re seeking God directly in the privacy of your own soul.

[Verse 1] Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

Right away this hymn raises a question which Christians have fiercely debated for centuries: is it possible to become sinless?  According to these lyrics, yes it is.  This hymn tells you that the Blood of Jesus can unleash some kind of power in your life that can totally release you from the burden of sin and give you victory over all evil.  In other words, you’ll stop being depraved.

Well, this verse is full of malarkey. In the first place, notice this irreverent bit about Jesus’ Blood being the thing that has power, not Jesus Himself.  Anytime we’re being directed to grab at some attribute of God instead of going to God directly, we’re being led down a wrong road.  There’s a big difference between cherishing your father’s company, and only wanting your father around because you know he’s got a wallet stuffed with cash. When we stand around extolling the great power of Jesus’ Blood, we’re talking as if His Blood is the only reason we’re interested in Him.  This is hardly an honoring way to treat our glorious Lord.

Do you want your friend to invite you to lunch just so you can pay her way or because she is eager to commune with you?  Here’s a useful question to ponder: what does Jesus mean to you personally?  Is He just your free ticket to Heaven?  Is He just the Guy with the potent Blood?  Is He just your demon slayer?  Is He just your hookup to healing and goodies and a sweeter situation on earth?  What if Jesus were to announce that He had no intention of making your life some blessed experience?  What if He said that He wasn’t going to fix your problems or throw demons off of you?  If Jesus isn’t going to give you perpetual presents, then what’s left?  Is the fact that He’s your Creator enough for you to be genuinely interested in wanting to know Him better, or are you only in this relationship to receive downloads of power?

You see, there’s a big difference between cherishing God and just trying to use Him.  If we’re honest, some of us are only valuing our Creators for the blessings They can give us.  When They withhold these blessings, we start throwing bratty fits and threatening to cut Them off because we’re not really committed to the actual relationship.  Instead, we’re like the man who marries a woman just to get free sex and a housekeeper, but he really has no interest in cherishing her as a person.  So where are you really at with Jesus?  Ask Him to show you, and if it’s not a pretty picture, then ask Him to help you improve your treatment of Him.   This is the wonderful thing about our Gods: They are so willing to meet us where we are at.  But first, we need to be honest.

In the first verse of this hymn, we’re told that Jesus’ Blood has the power to free us from sin.  Well, that certainly sounds nice, but does Jesus really extend such an offer to us?  No, He doesn’t.  Our Gods have intentionally locked our souls in earthsuits which delight in doing things which They say are wrong.  They intentionally designed us to be self-absorbed, carnal little things, and They have no intention of suddenly releasing us from this tiresome situation.  You see, sin and evil were Their idea.  In the Church, we pretend that God has nothing do with evil, but this is utterly absurd when God Himself says that He does.

“I form the light and create darkness; I cause well-being and create evil; I am the Lord who does all these.” (Isa. 45:7)

Dig into the original language of this verse and you’ll discover that when Yahweh refers to light and dark, He’s using those terms figuratively.  “Light” refers to all the things that we humans view as good—health, happiness, well-being, etc..  “Darkness” refers to all the things that we humans view as bad—sickness, sorrow, disaster, destruction, etc..  And yes, God does say that He creates evil—but this is such a shocking idea to Christians who want to downplay God’s sovereignty that you’ll find many English translations of the Bible fiddling with the language here to downplay what God is actually saying.  Just as we change Revelation 3:16 to make Jesus say He will “spit” Christians out when He really used the term “vomit,” we keep revising and updating and altering our translations to try and avoid truths about our Gods that we don’t want to be true (see Creating a Different God: How the Bible is Being Changed to Lead You Astray).  Well, fiddling with words in a book doesn’t change who our Gods are.  They are the Creators and Sustainers of all things, not just some things, and that means that sin and evil exist by Their choice.

Jesus is never going to give you the option of being sinless.  As long as you are in this world, you are going to be saddled with a burden of depravity that is impossible to escape from.  You only think this is a terrible thing when you are viewing your personal comfort as being of ultimate importance in life.  But if you were to make growing closer to your Gods your top priority and if you were to gain a better understanding of how your bond with Them is forged, then you would suddenly realize that it’s a very good thing that Jesus is refusing to free you from the burden of sin.

Sin basically comes down to the concept of you wanting to do things that God says are wrong.  This results in a conflict of wills: you want one thing, He wants another.  Well, this is fabulous, for where there is a disagreement of wills, there is an opportunity to practice submission.  You see, submission doesn’t come up until there is a disagreement, because as long as everyone is approving of the program, no one has to yield to anyone else.  Well, Jesus is not your buddy or your friend, He is God Almighty.  He infinitely outranks you, and you’re not going to get anywhere with Him until you accept and respect this fact.

Submission is a soul attitude which is critical for succeeding with your Gods, but until you clash with Them on some issue, submission will never come up.  This is what makes the whole sin issue such a fabulous thing, because by instilling in us a strong attraction to evil, our Gods create a context in which we can choose to submit to Them.  When God tells you not to do something that you really want to do, it irritates you.  You want to blow Him off.  But He says that He outranks you, thus what He says goes.  Here is where your soul has a choice to make: you will either submit to God’s Authority and say, “Fine.  You win.  You’re the Boss.  I don’t like Your orders, but I’ve decided that pleasing You is more important than pleasing myself.”  Or you’ll say, “Stuff it and go away.  I’m doing things my way.”  If you were really freed from the burden of sin and never tempted to disobey God, this kind of conversation would never occur.  You’d be skipping along in your perfect little life, utterly self-absorbed and not giving a hoot that God outranks you.  How is this pleasing to Jesus?

Jesus wants submission from you, He doesn’t want to just stand there watching you coast along like some independent being.  So Jesus is going to constantly set up situations in which you loathe what He’s telling you to do, and then you’ll be stuck having to choose between submitting to Him or defying Him.  The more you practice submission, the more bonded you will become to Jesus, and the more you’ll begin to cherish Him the way Jesus wants to be cherished.  He is your Lord, God, and Master—not just some vending machine of blessings and power.  Jesus wants you to learn to view His approval and pleasure as the greatest rewards—not just obsess over having a conflict free life.  So Jesus is all for you remaining sinful and depraved, but this hymn we’re examining isn’t going to teach you to appreciate Jesus’ motivations for keeping you stuck in sin.  Instead, these lyrics are encouraging you to pine after something that Jesus doesn’t want to give you—something which would make it impossible for you to develop the kind of bond that Jesus wants to have with you (see The Great Gift of Sin: Why Our Depravity Gives Us Hope).

[Chorus] There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb.
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

After the first verse, we now understand the kind of power that is being referred to here.  But once again, it’s inappropriate to praise Jesus’ Blood as the element that has power instead of focusing on Jesus Himself.  Jesus is God Almighty: He doesn’t have a physical body, veins, DNA or platelets.  The fact that He chose to walk around on earth in a physical earthsuit for a few decades does not turn Him into a physical being.  Jesus is and always has been a non-human Being, and He doesn’t need the aid of physical props to relate to us.  He doesn’t ever literally sprinkle Blood on anyone, and at some point we need to recognize how metaphorical such language is and stop talking about Jesus’ Blood like it’s a literal thing.  Jesus is real—the physical blood that drained from His physical earthsuit nearly 2,000 years ago is utterly nonexistent at this point.  So no, Jesus really doesn’t have Blood.  There is no vat of holy Blood that He’s drawing from in Heaven and flinging down onto our heads.  He doesn’t literally bathe us, wash us, or cover us in actual Blood at any point in our relationships with Him.

[Verse 2] Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful power in the blood. [Repeat Chorus]

Here the problematic theology continues as we’re being told that staying in a good place with Jesus requires getting cleansed in His potent Blood.  Well, no, this is completely wrong.  It is soul attitudes we should be focusing on, not Blood.  Spiritual rebellion is a soul attitude, and we correct it by repenting, which means changing our soul attitude from rebellion to submission.

Even if there was a vat of Jesus’ Blood somewhere that you could physically dive into, that would not do bumpkus to make Jesus pleased with you.  Jesus demands submission from you, and submission is a soul choice, not a dunking activity.  It is when we submit to Jesus as the Supreme Authority in our life and sincerely desire to please Him that He is pleased with us.  But is this what we’re being taught in this hymn?  Are Jesus’ feelings even being discussed in these lyrics?  No, and this is really rather obnoxious if you think about it.  How is it honoring to Jesus for us to stand around describing Him as some Source of potent Blood which we can benefit from whenever it suits us?  These lyrics totally ignore the fact that Jesus decides who He chooses to accept, help, and affect with His power.  Jesus isn’t just our Servant who we can get to perform services for us with a snap of our fingers.  Where is the respect for Jesus Himself in the midst of all this lusting after the power of His Blood?

[Verse 3] Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow;
There’s wonderful power in the blood. [Repeat Chorus]

In the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t actually talk about washing the stain of sin away.  But He doesn’t have to, for such imagery was established by Yahweh in the Old Testament.  When we talk about Jesus’ Blood washing away the stain of sin, we’re pulling imagery from Isaiah 1 in which Yahweh said:

“Come, let us discuss this,” says Yahweh. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isa. 1:18-20)

What’s so fascinating about this chapter is that Yahweh says these words after telling the Jews to stop bringing atonement sacrifices to Him.

“I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires this from you—this trampling of My courts? Stop bringing useless offerings. Your incense is detestable to Me!” (Isa. 1:11-13)

Now wait a second—it was Yahweh who came up with the sacrificial system in the first place.  He was the One making such a big deal about sacrifices back in the days of Moses when He was first introducing His Old Covenant Laws.  Here in Isaiah’s time, the Jews are bringing Yahweh a ton of sacrifices, so what’s His beef?  Why would the God who demands sacrifices be ordering His people to stop doing what He told them to do?  Why is Yahweh calling the offerings of these people detestable?  It’s because of soul attitude.  You see, these people were offering sacrifices, alright, but the whole time they were going through the religious motions, they were inwardly despising God.  Yahweh describes the internal attitude of these people at the start of this chapter:

Oh sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, brood of evildoers, depraved children! They have abandoned Yahweh; they have despised the Holy One of Israel; they have turned their backs on Him! (Isa. 1:4)

Abandoned.  Despised.  Turned their backs.  These are references to rebellious soul attitudes.  And then later when Yahweh speaks of washing people’s sins away, notice how He again emphasizes soul attitude:

“Come, let us discuss this,” says Yahweh. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isa. 1:18-20)

God wants His people to repent out of their spiritual rebellion, stop despising Him, and start embracing a sincere desire to obey and please Him.  He says that only if their soul attitudes are right will He accept them and treat their past sins as non-issues.  But if their soul attitudes are rebellious and defiant, then He will be angry with them and dole out harsh discipline.  You see, it’s all about soul attitude, but we miss this when we just yank out that line about scarlet sins turning white as snow.  We miss that Yahweh is not saying that mere atonement sacrifices are going to bring about this change.  He says that the only way sins will be forgiven is if these rebels repent and return to submission.

It’s the same with us Christians today: we can’t just steal Blood from Jesus and claim to be washed clean in His sight.  Jesus says we must sufficiently submit to our Gods before we will be accepted by Them.  Jesus never taught us to view His death on a cross as being enough for us to acquire salvation.  In fact, He proves how non-powerful His Blood really is by saying that He died for the sins of the whole world while simultaneously saying that most of the world will end up eternally rejected by Him for failing to submit.  If the Blood is the thing with the power, then we should all be saved and sin should be a non-issue.  But the Blood does not have power.  The Blood was merely symbolic, and it did not in any way reduce the importance of soul attitudes.  In Isaiah 1, Yahweh angrily told defiant Jews to stop bringing Him the blood of their animal sacrifices and to repent out of their snarky rebellion.  By itself, atonement has never been enough to save anyone.  In both the Old and New Testaments, we find rebels having their atonement sacrifices rejected, while others are accepted without ever performing sacrifices.  Salvation has always been acquired through right soul attitudes, not through potent blood.  This hymn that we’ve been singing for so many years has some very lousy lyrics that are totally misleading us on some very important issues.

[Verse 4] Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood. [Repeat Chorus]

Now things get even more absurd as these lyrics suggest that we need to tap into the power of Jesus’ Blood in order to serve Him well.  What a bunch of foolishness.  Serving God well is another matter of soul attitude.  Submitting to His Authority, recognizing our total dependency on Him, waiting for Him to lead us instead of trying to lead Him, giving Him alone the glory for the good that is accomplished, embracing humility—these are all key factors in serving God well, and they are all soul attitude issues.

Now can we mature ourselves by ourselves?  Certainly not.  We need our Gods to teach us, guide us, and equip us with the wisdom and resources we need to carry out Their instructions.  But what does any of this have to do with Blood?  Nothing.  This whole obsession with Blood is both absurd and disrespectful.  Not once in this song do we talk about submitting to Jesus or cherishing Him in our lives.  No, we just go on and on about how potent His Blood is.  Well, how pleased would you be if your friend sang a song about you where she kept talking about how much money you had?  Would you walk away feeling blessed?  No, you’d end up thinking, “Wow, what an eye opener.  Here I thought she really liked me for me this whole time, but now I’m realizing she’s just attracted to my money and all the things it can buy her.”

Now the wonderful thing about Jesus is that even when we sing such lousy songs at Him, He judges us by our soul attitudes.  When He sees that you are singing this song with a sincere desire to bless Him, He is quite pleased.  This is how nice our Gods are: They look past the major flaws in the gifts we give Them, and They appreciate our intentions.  So if you’ve been singing There is Power in the Blood for years, don’t get bogged down with guilt about how bad the lyrics are.  But don’t downplay how bad they are, either.  Instead, ask Jesus to help you improve the way you treat Him in every area.  When it’s time to praise our glorious Lord through music, we should be using language that is much better than this.

FURTHER READING:
Worship Song Analysis: SAME POWER by Jeremy Camp
Worship Songs from Satan: Lord Reign in Me
Confession Worship Songs: The Heart of Worship
Jesus vs. the NT Jews: What it Means to Please God

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