This week Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live interviewed rapper Ja Rule about life after a two-year prison sentence, his new movie, “I’m in Love with a Church Girl” and his newfound faith. Much of the hip hop community has been abuzz with the news of Ja’s faith. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the full 19-minute segment.

00:50   Introduction to his new movie, “I’m in Love with a Church Girl”
02:00   Parallels between the movie’s main character and his own life
04:50   How he feels about his career right now?
05:40   Perspective on his prison experience
07:30   Talks about his new music projects
09:10   Relationship with 50 Cent and obligation to be a role model
12:10   Was he ahead of his time?
13:23   His new relationship with God
15:38   First impression of Hillsong Church (NYC)
18:20   What he teaches his sons and daughter as privileged children

When a young brother at the church asked if I’d seen the interview, I quietly suspected Ja Rule’s profession might be like a long line of incredible testimonies by celebrities looking to turn over a new leaf. I confess: I’m somewhat jaded by awards shows and interviews featuring artists whose work glamorizes sin while they claim to know God. From Al Green’s on-again-off-again relationship with R&B and gospel to Kanye West’s “I’m a Christian,” I find it difficult not to be skeptical.

But as I watched Hill’s interview with Ja Rule, I found a number of things working in my heart that it’s better to confess than suppress. I kept blinking at some logs and thought I’d share a few.

1. I realized I didn’t know and wasn’t interested to know Ja Rule. More than likely I heard his music and with mild disdain or self-righteousness turned it off and blamed him for destroying the community.

2. I never prayed for Ja. His conversion has nothing to do with my petitions for I never petitioned for his conversion. I’m aware of how often I’ve used my lungs to complain about and criticize secular hip hop and how little I’ve used my lungs to cry to God for the men and women involved in it.

3. I was struck by the surprising reversals and cunning providence of God. Ja said when he was poor he was sure he would go to jail; then when he was successful he was sure he would never go to jail. In His rich mercy, God spared him jail when he had nothing to lose and sent him to prison when he had everything to lose. The ways of God are not my ways; His thoughts are far higher than my own. “He who observes providence will have providences to observe.” (Flavel)

4. Legalistic religion “puts a black eye” on the gospel. I was surprised to learn Ja grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. I was saddened to hear, once again, how deeply bruised and resistant legalism left him. The Law kills. Yet I suspect my inner Pharisee makes himself known more often than I’m aware.

5. I’m tempted to not celebrate the work of grace in a sinner’s life. I’m tempted to doubt their testimony and conversion. I’m like those members of the early church who heard of Paul’s conversion and responded with more than a little apprehension and doubt.

6. I’m tempted to doubt the power of the gospel to save. Even though I know and I preach the ability of the gospel to save terrorists. Why would I doubt that a man like Ja Rule (which is to say, a man like every other man in sin) would not be saved when they came under the sound of the gospel?

7. I’m tempted to judge the methods of other churches and to doubt God’s use of them. I hear “Hillsong” and I squint that suspicious disapproving squint. As if God’s hand is shortened that He can’t reach people in a service unlike the service I think is “right” or at least “more faithful.” By the way, I know nothing about Hillsong. There’s that Pharisee again.

8. I might even be mildly disappointed with God for using Hillsong rather than a “solid church.” I’ve got my own Jonah thing going on.

9. Sometimes it takes radical difference to awaken people to the power of the gospel.

10. The authenticity of the church continues to be a significant stumbling block for some outside the church. Does the church really mean “come as you are”?

11. I sometimes underestimate the ability of multi-ethnic churches to reach people steeped in mono-ethnic subcultures. There’s a little homogeneous unit principle assumption sneaking around in my thoughts, especially when it comes to cats steeped in hip hop culture. I would never have put Ja in a Hillsong church. But God did. And praise be to God that’s where He chose to work!

So Ja Rule exposed me. And I’m glad. Now I’m happy for him and I’m praying for Him. I’m praying for Hillsong and the preaching of God’s word there and the fellowship of God’s people. May they be used of the Lord to bring many sons to glory through the preaching of the cross of Christ.

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44 thoughts on “Ja Rule Exposes My Sinful Heart”

  1. Allen says:

    Good morning Pastor,

    I think I agree with your reasoning but disagree with your conclusion as far as Mr. Atkins is concerned. I remain a skeptic about Mr. Atkins (Ja Rule) I agree with the premise of being skeptical about artists, actors, ect. However, from what I gathered from Ja Rule’s interview was him being drawn to particular style rather being convicted by the substance of the gospel. I am not one that requires that someone articulate the gospel perfectly but there are certain “points” that he never articulated at all.

    I think my major concern with his profession would be his promotion of his new song “fresh out the pen”. It can be found on youtube. My conscious would not and could not allow me to post the link, but pastor man, IT IS THE SAME TYPE OF MUSIC HE MADE BEFORE HE WENT TO PRISON!!!! Same offensive, crude language, same sodomite references that tells what his enemies can do, same boastful, proud, vulgarity. NOTHING HAS CHANGED. He also promoted the song Everything….. Which is worse. No, it is not my intention to throw stones at the brother; I’m just fruit checking. I’m saddened that nothing has changed.

    Excuse me if my emotion appears to make me less rational. Let me reiterate, I agree with your premise. I too, am very quick to dismiss what I classify as spurious claims from “Hollywood types”. I am also glad that I am not the final judge and have found the Lord’s words to Peter most comforting for me…….. “What’s that to you; you follow me”. That helps my smug attitude.

    So I appreciate your post. However, as far as Mr. Atkins is concerned, sadly and unfortunately I remain a skeptic.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Dear Allen,

      Good morning to you, brother. I pray you’re well and excelling in every virtue that is in Christ. I pray you’re abounding in the grace and hope we have in Jesus, a grace and hope that assuredly brings us to the very throne of grace and into His eternal kingdom.

      I appreciate your honesty in your comment. I do really enjoy honest reactions and feedback to posts. We don’t benefit if we don’t speak forthrightly, do we?

      Let me ask you two questions, if I might though. First, if Ja Rule is making baby steps in a new found relationship with God, what might we expect that to look like? Second, what response to those baby steps would Jesus require of us older, more mature Christians who watch his life from a distance?

      Those are a couple things I had to think through when watching the video. I’d be curious about how you’re processing those questions.

      Praying that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus, when you shall behold Him and be like Him (Phil. 1:6; 1 John 3:2-3). Your brother,

      T-

      1. Allen says:

        Good morning Pastor,

        What might we expect from a new convert making baby steps in a new found relationship with God to look like? I don’t want to respond by proof-texting. Neither do I want to respond by making my experience or observations the universal rule. However, I will say from what I’ve gathered in the scriptures and from my own personal experience I would expect baby steps to be marked repentance, contrition and zeal. Even if they fall back into worldliness; the initial response seems to always contain at least those three. Mr. Atkins (Ja Rule) stated that he had no regrets in regards to his rivalry with 50 Cent. That’s a pretty incredible statement. I’ve heard the diss tracks they sent back and forth to each other. To not have any regret over those words and actions and confess Christ is hard swallow. Once again from what I have consistently gathered and my own experience I would expect a zeal from baby Christian; a zeal that is usually unrealistic but nevertheless a zeal for God. The fact that Mr. Atkins stated that he was intrigued because he didn’t have to start making gospel songs was hurting. Not because I’m interested in more gospel rap but I usually see newborn Christians wanting to do too much for our Lord not newborn and intrigued because they don’t have to change.

        What might Jesus require of us older, more mature Christians who watch his life from a distance? Patience. Prayerfulness. Continue watching. Laying hands on no man suddenly while not calling unclean what the Lord calls clean. Personally, I would be patient, prayerful and continue watching. I have to reiterate, I in no way think my opinion is the final rule. The gospel net might be bigger or smaller than what I think. I’m interested in knowing what you think. Could you endorse him as a fellow Christian? If so or if not what would be your reasons?

        Lastly, allow me to swerve off topic for a moment. I attended T4G in 2010. I heard a preacher once say Paul went to Arabia with Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah on his mind and came back with Romans, Ephesians and Colossians in his heart. I went to Louisville with Macarthur & Sproul on my mind but came back with a stack of Dever, Anyabwile and Piper books in my car. I appreciate your work and labor. First Baptist might be your base of ministry but it is definitely not your sphere and I’m proud to count myself as fruit of your labors.

        On November 16th our church will be hosting our first Bible Conference and we are passing out over 200 of your books that we order from Christian Books Distributor. If you knew the history of this small, Baptist Church you would agree this nothing short of miracle. Please keep us in prayer.

        Your thankful, younger (lol) brother
        Gerard Allen

        1. Thabiti says:

          Dear brother,

          Thanks for taking the time to reflect and comment again. And for sending me such warm encouragement. I am praying for you and the church, its conference, and it’s unity in the Spirit as you labor for our Lord! It’s heartening to hear the Lord turns the water of your ministry into wine for other brothers and sisters in the faith. The encouragement means more than you know!

          You asked me a couple of good questions: Could you endorse him as a fellow Christian? If so or if not what would be your reasons?

          Well, since Ja didn’t specifically state that he was a Christian but that he was “accepting God into his life” and making baby steps, I wouldn’t want to get a head of him. I think that’s a real problem in evangelism and in a church culture that idolizes celebrity converts. So, no, I wouldn’t call him a Christian until he professed that himself. I wouldn’t doubt it either, because we know God is mighty to save. From a distance, I’d try to be prayerful and not do anything publicly that would be a stumbling stone. If I knew him, I’d try to pour into his life the word of God and hopefully patiently help him clarify the kinds of things you all have mentioned in the thread (repentance, faith, obedience, etc).

          I’ve had the privilege of pastoring a couple of recent converts saved while working in the music industry, a couple of them major performers. In my experience, whether they’re relatively unknown or whether they’re pretty popular artists, figuring out how to think about their careers and their futures is a MAJOR discipleship issue. It’s rarely an open-and-shut issue for them, in part because they love their craft and in part because it’s how they feed their family. And they often face INCREDIBLE pressure from Christians who fail to realize that these are people who need to have their minds renewed and that such renewal takes a long time and is lifelong. Those experiences have made me a little more sensitive to the struggle of artists, when my instinct is to demand some pretty mature behavior and radical decision-making probably well beyond their understanding of what’s happened to them.

          Posting this with my prayers for you and the church!
          T-

          1. Brian says:

            This conversation/gossip of another that ends up as flattery and self-endorsing to the other, is why people do not “come as they are.” He is a person, created in His image and likeness, and not a topic.

            1. BRIAN says:

              You know, I’m sorry for that statement. You were having a personal conversation, albeit its on the web. For me to read it and then react angrily with judgment is just gossip and slanderous. Please forgive me, I’m learning how to deal with alot of hurt I have as someone whose Christianity falls outside the norm. Sometimes it takes the perspective of someone of that culture or genre to critique that culture accurately for the trustworthiness of their account. Perhaps thats why we have Luke.

            2. Allen says:

              God Bless, man

            3. Allen says:

              Brian,

              God Bless man!!!!! 3rd John 2

    2. Matt says:

      Allen,

      Well said, you took the words out of my mouth. All the time I while listening to the huff post video I was wondering “where is the power of God in Salvation and where is there a broken contrite heart over sin?”

      With that being said, perhaps he is a babe in Christ and immature as I was after conversion ie.it’s all about me and dripping semi pelagianism.

      Either way, may God be glorified as we trust he will bring to spiritual maturity via sanctification those whom he has predestined.

      1. Thabiti says:

        Hi Matt,

        May God be glorified indeed!

        For me, the Ja Rule sitting on that couch was miles apart from the braggadocious, thug rapper image we might expect to see. I can’t help but think of the demon-possessed man that Jesus healed, who later sat with Jesus in a peaceful, sober-minded way. That man didn’t give lots of testimony to past sins, repentance, and the like. I suppose he could have, and I hope Ja can. But the contrast was so sharp everyone knew a change had occurred. As you said, I’m hoping we allow him the same amount of immaturity (or more) that we all had when we first believed. I’m guessing you probably had never heard the term “semi-Pelagianism” when you first believed and it would have been a real crime against you in your infant faith for someone to have that expectation of you, or even the expectation that you always evidence a broken and contrite heart over your sins in public discussions.

        I’m praying Ja will have a local church context where he can grow, receive teaching and encouragement, and really flower as a believer. I’m also praying that neither the super-high expectations of us professional Christians or the too-quick-to-exploit celebrityism of those who’d want to put him on stage doesn’t stunt his growth. He’s a man surrounded by dangers, some from the world and some from Christians. But if he’s the Lord’s servant, the Lord will make him stand to His own Master. Praying that’s the case!

        T-

  2. Linda Clayton says:

    Amen.

  3. Saiko Woods says:

    Thanks Bro for the blog. Your balance and perspective gave me some things to consider. I’d be the first to say I can be Pharisaical more than I’d like to admit, but the struggle comes with accepting EVERYBODY who professes to be a believer without examining the fruit.

    Not talking about perfection here. Just striving to keep the church pure in the midst of sin, compromise and worldliness.

    Last point. I used the Paul example in Acts 9:26-27 too to show the Apostle’s apprehension to his conversion, but if we notice it took Barnabas to attest to Paul’s changed life thus proving his conversion to be genuine. I guess my point is that I see balance in this account to show how our conversion isn’t to be an isolated incident, but others should be able to see a modicum of fruit in our lives. I pray that Ja’s conversion is genuine too, but upon looking at his current profile pic on Twitter is where my suspicion raises. Again, not expecting perfection or sinlessness at all. If I did, I need to repent!

    Hope I’m making sense here bruh! Great article man! God bless!

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hey man,

      Thanks for jumping in. I think I follow you.

      for me, I fight my inner Pharisee in part by coming back to the two questions I asked Matt:

      First, if Ja Rule is making baby steps in a new found relationship with God, what might we expect that to look like?

      Second, what response to those baby steps would Jesus require of us older, more mature Christians who watch his life from a distance?

      The Internet can’t and shouldn’t be Ja’s church. If he had said something like, “I’m attending church online,” we’d all rightly have concern about that. But there’s a flip side we need to see. Just as he can’t choose an online community to be his church, the online community can act like it’s his church by “offering” the accountability that comes with genuine discipleship in a local community. So, for me, when it comes to “fruit” and working out various things in his life, I’m learning to prayerfully trust that to his local pastor(s) and congregation.

      I think Ja is correct. We shouldn’t expect him to overnight start making Christian music or even to stop what he’s doing in secular music. If I understand the timeline correctly, this fish is fresh out of the sea, still giving off that “fishy” smell and not even cleaned yet. And he’s been swimming in some unclean waters. Washing and cleaning him is going to take some grace, gentleness, and time. His pastors need to teach with all patience, and we need to trust that God just may have some other issues He wants to work on in Ja’s life that in His sight are more important than the things we think we see. Perhaps God wants Ja to be a better father before he’s a better rapper. And maybe it’s given him a desire to be a better father that exposes blind spots in Ja the rapper?

      We don’t know, but we can and should trust the Lord and pray for this man’s life. At least that’s how I’m feeling about it.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

  4. Ola Ogbuehi says:

    Hello Thabite, I’m a UK Christian woman. I watched the interview and heard what Ja had to say and I did not find it persuasive as testimony of a Christian conversion, although there were positive elements. I’m not sure what word of God, what gospel he has heard through Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong. I truly appreciate your points and would not expect a young convert to be able to articulate deep theological explanations, but usually they can talk about having been a sinner and recognising their need for God’s forgiveness and even mention the croos of Christ at some point. None of that came through. It was just a story about a life journey with ups and downs, and maybe mellowing with the onset of middle age and some wisdom. In his dispute with 50 cent for example he could have talked about apologizing for his part and forgiving the other person. This was absent.

    I think that your post is too optimistic in reading things into this particular interview. I think that the general ‘celebrity convert’ is difficult anyway because I think churches and Christians have often been too keen to claim an important trophy and so seize the slightest inkling of such. Hillsong churches, although maybe having a different cultural profile, promulgate the prosperity gospel message and to some extent health and wealth. Some of their music is Biblical and healthy but a lot of it is style over substance.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Ola,

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. I appreciate your comments and more often than not that’s my perspective.

      But one quick friendly “push back.” I’m not presenting here a case that Ja is converted. I’m mainly trying to say something about my own heart, which far too often expresses unbelief rather than the love that “hopes all things.”

      I think I could find a number of things to be critical of in Ja’s comments or in the description of Hillsong Church (which I don’t know). But it seems to me the better response would be to encourage him in the paths of righteousness rather than criticizing. Better for me to be a Priscilla or Aquilla, who rather than highlight Apollos’ errors took him aside and “explained the way of Christ more perfectly” to him. Also better for me to respond to this man’s personal reflections with prayer than to respond with criticisms about his church. After all, he’s telling us he’s finally found a community where he feels like he’s welcome after attending tons of churches with Christians asking, “Are you saved? Are you saved?” My guess is that if he were reading our exchanges he’d be thinking, See, that’s why I never felt welcome. They’re always judging me. God surely must not want me. That’s not a win for those of us who think we see some things more clearly and live some things more faithfully. That’s a loss.

      I’m just stepping back to take some of this in, hoping my heart is helped. As for Ja, the Lord can make him stand.

      T-

  5. Allen says:

    Good morning Pastor,

    What might we expect from a new convert making baby steps in a new found relationship with God to look like? I don’t want to respond by proof-texting. Neither do I want to respond by making my experience or observations the universal rule. However, I will say from what I’ve gathered in the scriptures and from my own personal experience I would expect baby steps to be marked repentance, contrition and zeal. Even if they fall back into worldliness; the initial response seems to always contain at least those three. Mr. Atkins (Ja Rule) stated that he had no regrets in regards to his rivalry with 50 Cent. That’s a pretty incredible statement. I’ve heard the diss tracks they sent back and forth to each other. To not have any regret over those words and actions and confess Christ is hard swallow. Once again from what I have consistently gathered and my own experience I would expect a zeal from baby Christian; a zeal that is usually unrealistic but nevertheless a zeal for God. The fact that Mr. Atkins stated that he was intrigued because he didn’t have to start making gospel songs was hurting. Not because I’m interested in more gospel rap but I usually see newborn Christians wanting to do too much for our Lord not newborn and intrigued because they don’t have to change.

    What might Jesus require of us older, more mature Christians who watch his life from a distance? Patience. Prayerfulness. Continue watching. Laying hands on no man suddenly while not calling unclean what the Lord calls clean. Personally, I would be patient, prayerful and continue watching. I have to reiterate, I in no way think my opinion is the final rule. The gospel net might be bigger or smaller than what I think. I’m interested in knowing what you think. Could you endorse him as a fellow Christian? If so or if not what would be your reasons?

    Lastly, allow me to swerve off topic for a moment. I attended T4G in 2010. I heard a preacher once say Paul went to Arabia with Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah on his mind and came back with Romans, Ephesians and Colossians in his heart. I went to Louisville with Macarthur & Sproul on my mind but came back with a stack of Dever, Anyabwile and Piper books in my car. I appreciate your work and labor. First Baptist might be your base of ministry but it is definitely not your sphere and I’m proud to count myself as fruit of your labors.

    On November 16th our church will be hosting our first Bible Conference and we are passing out over 200 of your books that we order from Christian Books Distributor. If you knew the history of this small, Baptist Church you would agree this nothing short of miracle. Please keep us in prayer.

    Your thankful, younger (lol) brother
    Gerard Allen

  6. Dominic L. Williams says:

    Well written my brother. I too saw the interview and my 1st thoughts were, “I hope this is not some publicity stunt or statement to appease his own guilt”. Then I was quickly reminded by The Spirit of where HE brought me from and also my favorite book and chap, Psalms 103, particularly ver 4. How awesome is the power of GOD when HE can reach down in the pit and rescue us while we are in our sin.
    Ja is but a babe in Christ and like many of us, he still carries the stench from his past sins.
    It will indeed take some time but I am believing the best for this brother, since Love is patient and kind 1 Cor 13:4. We as mature believers should pray in agreement for his continued spiritual growth, developing an intimate relationship with Christ and most importantly allow Christ to be LORD of every aspect of his life. He does these things along with shedding some negative habits and people that will hinder him along his journey, we will see a right harvest of fruit produced in his life.
    Just my 2 cents

  7. Jon C says:

    Hi Thabiti,

    I’m glad you posted this, and I agree with most of what you’ve said. I have those same pharisaical leanings. In regards to Ja Rule, it was a simple matter of Googling his latest music, which he mentioned in the interview (Fresh Out Da Pen #NotSafeForWork). Same ol Ja on there. That song completely undermines anything else he says about faith. But I’ll join you in prayer for him though.

    Grace to you,
    Jon

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Jon,

      Grace to you, too, brother. thanks for the comment.

      Quick question: Do you know the timing between that album and the experience he relates in this interview? I honestly don’t know. But if producing an album is anything like producing a book, you can be months down the road to something else when the book/album you produced hits the shelves. I honestly don’t know the timing, but I’d factor that into my assessment of the interview (in which he admits he’s got to think through the music thing).

      Just a thought,
      T-

      1. Jon C says:

        You may be right, and I’m willing to assume better intentions, but the fact is that he was released at the end of July and this song was released in mid-September, so there’s not a huge time gap there.

        I’m definitely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and much more the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart and life. I know from my own experience that I was a wreck for the first two years of my conversion, and anyone looking from the outside would not have believed that God was working mightily in my life to bring me out of darkness.

        His conversation here in this interview may not match with what he’s saying in his music … yet, but it’s certainly reason enough to pray for the man.

        Grace and peace,
        Jon

      2. Lewis says:

        Sir, in answer to your question as it regards the timing of things, the movie he is promoting has been finished since 2010. A friend linked me to the youtube page a couple of weeks ago and it appears it is just now coming to theaters. However if you check their youtube page you can find interviews about the movie as far back as 2010 when they started filming to confirm timing. Not trying to be mean but it would seem that he is progressing very slowly, if he is redeemed. In the eyes of our culture nothing is required to validate professions of faith as long as the person remains in the same stream of said culture.

        Like you I will be in pray for him. Also I have been blessed by some of your writings and the new on the porch series you are working on with Anthony Carter and the other gentleman I’m less familiar with (last name Love?)

  8. Tom Brainerd says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for posting this. It provides some real food for thought and prayer. It’s worth contemplating his sound bites (certainly not the whole story) in concert with, say, the first ‘third’ of Rosaria Butterfield’s book. Interesting to contemplate that for her the church was like an alien landscape and for him more familiar cityscape. Not to say that one is right and other wrong. Merely that the landscape of conversion is diverse and the Holy Spirit blows over all of it.

    Christ’s blessings on you.

    THB

  9. Pastor T,

    One of the problems with this interview we are all overlooking is the context in which it took place. The interview was not on a Christian show and Dr. Hill did not give any type of friendly theological push-back. And I would not have expected Hill to do as much. So we are really left with too many hanging chads. :)

  10. J says:

    Hello Pastor,

    I enjoyed your post very much. And I’m trying to catch up on some of your previous writings and am taking this chance to maybe have you see this for some guidance. I have a brother who is getting out of jail next week and who is a huge fan of Ja Rule, as well as some even more disturbing rap/hip hop music. Even in his troubles with the law, God has been merciful, and even my skeptical brother has been able to recognize this. His view of Christ though, and living a Christian life, is still a bit distorted. Baby steps, right? I’ve been frustrated with some conversations we’ve had where he is still so reliant on superstition and luck and theories as to how he needs to live his life (sometimes straight from the lyrics of some of these songs) and he refuses to fully acknowledge that his messes have been his own. You are right and have reminded me of the fact that baby steps are baby steps. I remain frustrated that he has zero plans to stop smoking, hanging with his friends (who are the definition of bad friends), and has no intention of not sleeping around, when he gets out next week, but I pray and pray that things turn around. He also seems to have the attitude that the worlds owes him something, owes him respect for the way he’s been treated and he has tremendous issue with authorities. I sent him some books while he was in jail, but he wasn’t reading them. Then I sent him a Trip Lee book (the reviews were good?) and he was able to relate a bit more but still felt disconnected from the words. I find many similarities with the words coming out of Ja Rule’s mouth and my brother’s mouth. And I’ve found very, very few resources for people like my brother, who have been in jail, have surrounded themselves with bad influences, and are seemingly trapped in a vicious circle. I’ve also found that my brother has an astoundingly low self-esteem and this doesn’t help matters. But anytime he’s sought help outside of our family, he’s been met with condescension or Christians who are disconnected from the realities that people like him have to face once they’ve made mistakes. And unfortunately, it just so happens that these people have all been white, so then the distortion also does not allow for the room to include books, singers and pastors that have never, ever dealt with minorities and their struggles and who are white. In this week before he gets out, I would love for him to have resources, anything, to at least help set him on a different path then when he left jail before. Or is there a Christian website that helps ex-felons by telling them more than “God loves you” and “God has a plan for you”? Does this make sense? What would you do with my brother if he were in front of you? where would you send him?

    I realize this was already long, but may I ask if you think there is anything wrong with Hillsong music? More specifically, Hillsong Chapel? I am curious as to your comments on Hillsong. (Forgive me if this is an obvious point.) I don’t listen to the sermons, and I don’t listen to Hillsong United, BUT the new-ish group Hillsong Chapel, has been tremendously helpful in my life, and I appreciate that their lyrics are mostly straight out of the Bible, so I was confused by your comment.) Thank you and God Bless.

  11. R.W. says:

    Wow, I haven’t read through the littany of reviews here, but I was so relieved and grateful for someone so recognized within the church community as a leader and role model to share such an article and transparency. I think a LOOOTTTT of us have these exact same thoughts and struggles within our own hearts and minds but never share them so openly as you have and that is great to see. Bless you Pastor T and hopefully your aunthenticy and transparency will spark all of us to do the same.

  12. alli says:

    I LOVE ja rule i used to BE ja rule. I felt the same about church folks too, feeling judged etc etc. But the thing is people act like the minute you get saved you turn into an angel. He will have struggles and tests like we do. I mean he may even be tempted to sing another secular song dont crucify him God will deal with His child His own way

  13. Darcy Lynne says:

    Thank you for this convicting and thought-provoking post. I have not watched the video yet, so I have nothing to add on Ja Rule specifically. But I will say that the post, and the discussions that followed, have given me a lot to think about. Having grown up in church, I’ve often placed unfair standards on new believers… and I’ve wrestled with the same questions brought up by other commenters. So thank you to all for being honest, as your discussion has encouraged me, and I’m sure others as well.

  14. Sean DeMars says:

    Thabiti, what’s up brother? Hope all is well, man.

    Thanks for the article. As you were listing, point by point your pharisaical sentiments, I personally resonated with each of them. As far as whether Rule is a Christian: It doesn’t change the point of your post. This post isn’t primarily about whether or not Rule is a Christian, but rather how you feel about news like this.

    Keep doing what you do, brother.

  15. Billy says:

    Interesting comments. I am learning from the thoughtfulness of people in not jumping to set conclusions and humbly admitting that God is able. It has highlighted the need for me to hold off cynical skepticism while at the same time not accepting everything just for the sake of being anti-cynical.

  16. Andrew says:

    I grew up listening to Ja Rule, so I was so excited to hear about his change in lifestyle. No joke, it was in listening to his album, Venni, Vetti, Vecci (one of my favorite rap albums of all time!) that I realized my duplicitous life: as one rapper has said, I was “torn between Saturday night and Sunday morning.” I was stuck in between my love for the decadence of hip hop with my love for God: something had to give.

    I was raised in the church, and a solid church at that. I even went to Christian school, so The Lord was building a theological foundation upon which He would build His reign in my life. So, I find it hard to sympathize or criticize someone who has recently been introduced for the first time to the gospel of Jesus Christ (assuming that Ja was introduced to THE gospel and not A Gospel, not that there is another gospel, Gal. 1)…nonetheless, Who are we to say whether or not God is cultivating the soul of Ja’s spirit, readying the soil of his heart to receive the seed of the gospel of Christ and to grow into a plant, yielding fruit unto repentance. Ultimately, salvation is entirely the enterprise of God and as such, it is freeing to know that He has chosen the people of His kingdom to participate in the harvest of His healing and that the results are guaranteed from before the foundation of the world. In agreement with pastor T, let us then pray for Ja, eagerly hoping and trusting that the God of all mercy will reveal the salvation of His Son to him. And in the knowledge that God is good, and that nothing He does is evil; let us be at peace with the final result He has chosen for Ja.

    I couldn’t help thinking about Nicodemus after watching Ja’s interview. The first time we hear of Nicodemus he claims to know who Jesus is. At first glance, his profession seems to be correct: Jesus was from God and the things that he was doing demonstrated His divine prerogative. But then Jesus tells Nicodemus that he cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. Ja claims to have found God. But he cannot have found God unless he is born again. But we are remiss when we expect every single new birth to be like Paul’s. In fact, many have run the race well at first, only to be hindered down the road. There is no indication that Nicodemus left that night after his encounter with Jesus with anything more than a nagging question about spiritual rebirth. The bright spot in the story however is that Nicodemus ended up at the burial of Jesus, indicating an ongoing relationship with him subsequent to their dialogue. The very fact that Nicodemus participated in Jesus’ burial seems to indicate at the very least, a love for him if not an outright admission of his discipleship. In light of his story, Christians can be encouraged by the fact that salvation is sometimes (perhaps, most times) a lifelong process. Matthew Henry’s thoughts on Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are apropos:

    “Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Christ in secret. Disciples should openly own themselves; yet some, who in lesser trials have been fearful, in greater have been courageous. When God has work to do, he can find out such as are proper to do it. The embalming was done by Nicodemus, a secret friend to Christ, though not his constant follower. That grace which at first is like a bruised reed, may afterward resemble a strong cedar.”

  17. Jeff Guill says:

    I pray that Ja Rule does find Christ and begin to follow Him. Maybe it is my skeptical mind still not being changed, or it is my ability to search for the 2 songs that Ja referred to in this clip or maybe it’s his obvious love for Hillsong (misplaced affections that should lie on Christ), but I still remain skeptical. I hear him lifting his walk through life, his success, his acceptance in Hillsong, Hillsong’s “cool factor” and star power and not lifting Christ.

    Here are the songs that he referenced in the clip, that he released just a month ago. Listen and read with caution – these are not the words of a follower of Christ.
    http://youtu.be/Sr0r3j6-cs4
    http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Everything-lyrics-Ja-Rule/14DB4A2FCC75F1BF48257BF800104C68

  18. Paul Goodfellow says:

    Greetings from Canada Pastor Thabiti. My wife and I remember you and your family fondly from the Canadian Carey Conference. I loved this post. We all so easily have our “own Jonah thing going on”. May God have mercy upon us and continue to surprise and thrill us by His grace to others.

  19. Jen says:

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed this article. For a number of reasons. I think we are so critical of anyone in the faith. if someone was watching my husband’s and I slow, let me say that again, slow, conversion back to Christ. I am so thankful that God put patient people in our life that helped us in our journey out of hell.

    Shame on us as Christians, not to pray for this man. Give God the glory that He is working in anyone’s life, even if it doesn’t look like what we expect.

    I am prayerful that Ja has people in his life at Hillsong, speaking into his life in a real way. One day, I hope to meet Ja in heaven.

    May you be blessed.

  20. Ola Ogbuehi says:

    I really appreciate the points being made here about not pre-judging. I have no doubt that God can save a wretch like me, and that every convert has a miraculous new birth. I don’t expect flashy, showy, testimonies. I don’t have one! I just don’t think that I don’t think that this interview really illustrated the point of why we should avoid skepticism about this kind of conversions story, if anything it reinforced it. If I had listened to this interview, without the commentary I would have not seen it as speaking at all of the story of a new believer, albeit that Ja has found a church in which he feels comfortable.

    I’m sorry if that makes me a pharisee.

  21. Jonathan Walker says:

    Thabiti,

    As I went down the list of your reactions to the Ja Rule video, they were what I experiences as well. Your disappointment that it was Hillsong, even when you don’t really know a thing about it, was particularly painful! We may not have prayed for or cared about the man before, but we can do so now. Thanks for your honesty.

    Your brother,
    Jonathan

  22. James says:

    Regardless of what I think about Ja rule, the principles in your confession have exposed my own heart, thank you for the insight!!

  23. I thought this video was quite fascinating, actually. It sounds like the church being quite laid back was something that allowed him to get his guard down long enough for God to touch him. Very cool.

  24. Robert Reece says:

    Skepticism is a good thing balanced with “hope in all things”. I am not convinced with Ja’s testimony, coupled with Carl Lentz’ preaching. When I hear things like “I am not saying I am going to change” – (JA Rule) it makes me question does he understand what repentance is or what dying to self is, because Jesus said “if you don’t give up your life you will lose it” and “if you don’t hate your own father, mother, sister, etc you are not worthy of being my disciple”. And since when has the gathering of the saints become the new evangelism (rhetorical question)? What ever happened to going into the world to preach the gospel? We have now replaced gathering to hear Gods word preached which is for edification of the saints to using it as the main tool to reach the lost and in doing so you are depriving the saved of deep rich theology and doctrines of God. I do hope Ja is saved and time and fruits will tell.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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