I was a senior in high school, working a part-time job at a sandwich and coffee shop when I first heard heard Ben Folds’ music. And not just any Ben Folds’ song, this lyric in particular:
You took a trip And climbed a tree At Robert Sledge’s party And there you stayed Until morning came And you were not the same after that You gave your life To Jesus Christ And after all your friends went home You came down You looked around And you were not the same after that You were not the same after that (“Not the Same”)
My co-worker loved this song so he turned up the volume as soon as he heard it playing, belting out the lyrics. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I enjoyed the tune and the lyrics and so we moved the album up in the rotation list at work. I bought the cd and have listened to the song countless times since then.
But I never considered the theological musings of Ben Folds much until the other day. I’ve been reading through Hidden in Christ in which Jim Smith reflects deeply on individual words from Colossians 3:1-17.
The word for the day was Once. “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived” (Col. 3:7). Paul exhorts the good Colossian folks to walk in their new identity (in Christ) no longer these ways: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
Paul is trying to convince the Colossians that because of their new identity, they no longer have to follow their old strategies and practices. They don’t have to strive for power or money, or try to assert themselves as a god. In Christ, their lives look different, not by virtue of their action, but because of Christ. The ways they once walked in were death, now they have been “raised with Christ” and their new life should reflect that.
Now, at this point it’s all well and good. Nothing particularly novel here, just classic Paul and Ben Folds maybe channeling Paul. Whoever the “you” is in the song, after you encounter Jesus, you’re not the same after that.
Again, nothing novel, unless you’re like me and keep trying to stay the same after that. The concept that my life should look different, my desires should be different–not to earn my way into heaven or turn faith into a system of moral-isms–is nothing new to me. But even though I knew this intellectually, it didn’t sink all the way in.
For a long time, I operated with solid theology in conversations and papers and sermons, but I away from those places I would walk in the ways I once did. Secretly angry with God about going into ministry, I’d think: why didn’t I just get a job in business where I could make lots of money and get regular raises, lust isn’t really all that bad, right?
I looked at the “new life in Christ” as chains, not freedom. Like Jesus’ call was cramping my style, just for kicks. But then, finally, after how ever many years of church, sermons, and seminary, it sank in. Paul’s writing to the Colossians to ditch the old–not because he’s some fun-hater with an agenda, but because in Christ they/I/we don’t need to walk in the way we once did.
Jesus’ call may–some would say necessarily–entail(s) some kind of suffering or struggle, but this isn’t the point of the call. These trials often come because our new identity–in Christ–doesn’t always jive with the once ways of the world.
It’s like I climbed the tree, came down, and I was not the same after that, with a little help from Paul, Jim, and newly discovered pop theologian, Ben Folds.