Witness the transformation of Justin Bieber in this episode of More To THE STORY WITH LUCAS KITCHEN, and find out what the change means for this hip-hop and pop mega-star.
LUCAS OC: Justin Beiber has become an enigma, very difficult to classify. We’re going to talk about it right after this.
In the late 90s and early 00s, a mother in Stratford, Ontario, was praying. What was she praying for? she
SHAWN VO: [she]…prayed that God would use her son as a modern Prophet Samuel, a voice to his generation. A youth pastor, perhaps? Or even a singer on a Christian label…
LUCAS OC: At least that’s the story, according to a 2009 article in the New York Times. Why would the NY Times be reporting on an Ontario mother’s two-decades-old prayers? Because she was the mother of Justin Bieber.
SHAWN VO: As a kid, Justin attended a Catholic school and earned a 4.0 GPA. He started getting notoriety, however, on youtube as his mom would post videos of him singing and showing off his myriad musical talents. A record executive discovered him on youtube and contacted his mom, trying to convince her to let him sign Justin to a recording deal. Justin was only 13 at the time.
LUCAS OC: Justin Timberlake was interested in signing him as well but dropped the idea because he was concerned that people would be confused that there was another Justin… Sad news, I guess, when JT found out that there were other Justins in the world.
SHAWN VO: The Bieber brand of Justin was signed at 13, began working with Usher, and his first release was certified platinum within a few months. His fame and success have grown ever since. It seemed his mother’s prayers would remain unanswered, however, as he didn’t take the path of a youth minister, prophet, or Christian singer, to be sure.
LUCAS OC: With success came trouble. In his late teens and early twenties, he was arrested for various issues, including drugs, driving under the influence, and various forms of disorderly conduct. Once he urinated into a restaurant mop bucket and weirdly cussed out Bill Clinton, who wasn’t present or president at the time. I thought this might be another one of those Clinton conspiracy theories, but no, he really did that. At another time, his home was raided by the FBI after he egged a neighbor's house. Also, fact, not a Clinton conspiracy theory. He was a criminal but like a criminal on the 1960s batman show, where the so-called evil schemes were just a little too silly to be taken seriously by anyone except a pair of spandex-wearing conspiracy theorists. The trouble Justin was causing got so bad a petition was signed by 270,000 Americans, which attempted to return Justin to Canada. They have a no-return policy, apparently.
SHAWN VO: Justin has had a sorted past, and it cost him a tremendous price. But something started to change for him around 2014. That something was seeded by his mother years earlier.
SHAWN VO: Justin had been raised by a devout evangelical mom who prayed for him and did her best to bring him up in the faith. When Justin was young, his mother used to put him to sleep by playing recorded sermons from Churchhome Pastor Judah Smith.
SHAWN VO: As a megastar teenage Justin and Pastor Judah connected. On meeting, Justin reportedly said, “Your sermons used to put me to sleep.” The two struck up a friendship, but at the time, Justin was still in the midst of a wild and destructive life.
Apple Music video clip 1:41 - 2:00
LUCAS OC: Pastor Judah lived on the other side of the country from Justin, so he contacted then pastor of Hillsong NYC, Carl Lentz, telling him that Justin could use some support. He was in trouble, and his life was a mess.
SHAWN VO: Carl Lentz got to know Justin and began evangelizing him. Late one night in Lentz’s apartment, Justin believed in Jesus for salvation and consequently decided to change his life. Justin’s first words after a teary-eyed prayer were to Lentz. He said, “Baptize me.” Lentz started trying to find a date to dunk him at the church in front of the mega-church crowd, but Justin clarified that he wanted to be baptized right away.
LUCAS OC: The first location they tried was a swimming pool, but somehow word got out that Justin would be there, and it was swamped with spectators. So they tried another pool, and it was closed. Finally, they went to the private residence of an NBA player, who was a friend. Being over seven feet tall, The NBA star had a truly massive bathtub in his home. They baptized Justin in it.
SHAWN VO: Since then, things have been different for Justin, and people have noticed. Justin is now a member of churchhome where Judah Smith is pastor. Though he did a relatively private baptism around 2014, he and his wife Hailey underwent a public baptism in august of 2020. He shared pictures of the occasion on Instagram and said that it was:
SHAWN VO: “The moment @haileybieber my wife and I got baptized together! This was one of most special moments of my life. Confessing our love and trust in Jesus publicly with our friends and family.”
LUCAS OC: Justin has gone from being a self-centered Bieber to a Christ-centered believer. He is still a massively successful recording and touring artist, but notes of his faith now sing through the music and messaging that he produces. He’s known to share Bible verses in the middle of gigs, pray during shows, and on occasion to invite pastor Judah Smith on stage to share a message.
SHAWN VO: In an interview for his 2020 album “Changes” Justin talked about his faith with Zane Lowe in an apple music interview. Note that Zane Lowe is known to make occasional anti-religious comments. That doesn’t stop Justin from openly talking about Jesus with him.
Apple Music video clip 1:00 - 1:31
LUCAS OC: The theologian in me would want to help Justin clarify some of what he’s saying here, but I’m convinced that fundamentally Justin understands he’s saved by grace and that it’s accomplished through faith apart from works. Maybe the best way to clarify his salvation position is to cite the belief statement of the church he endorses and occasionally has even served as a worship singer.
SHAWN VO: Churchhome is a charismatic-leaning congregation with a belief statement that specifically says,
SHAWN VO: “We are saved by grace. We believe that we receive salvation, the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to God, by grace through faith in Jesus.” -Churchhome Website
SHAWN VO: Justin has not only believed in Jesus for salvation, but in the past half-decade, he’s cleaned up his life, gotten married, and become comfortable sharing his faith in some of the biggest venues in the world. Just in case you might think he only shares his belief for the sake of public appearance, not so.
LUCAS OC: My favorite story of Justin sharing his faith comes from a surprising source. Yoshi Barrigas. If you’ve been following the Chosen, a multi-season show about the life and work of Jesus, you’ll recognize him as the actor who plays Philip. In an interview with CBN News, he shares an interesting and surprising experience. The story he tells in this video took place before Yoshi was a recognizable actor, and at that time, he says he would not have considered playing a part in a faith-based project. Notice what changed his mind.
SHAWN VO: His music is released through a secular label, and even his latest releases have an explicit language warning. The lyrics of his most recent work make it clear that he’s still a working professional in hip-hop and pop industry, where vulgarity is expected, but his work has begun to lean toward more Godly subjects.
LUCAS OC: A great example of this is his extended play (EP) record he released which is a Christian record with profanity. The album is called Freedom. It has lyrics like
[Music Video Clips]
Children, you are forgiven (Yeah)
Ain't nothin' you could do for you to change that
And everythin' you did, He erased that
Yeah, He took it all and threw it in the wasteland
All She Wrote
We can't save ourselves, we need a savior
I keep failin' myself, I need somethin' new
So I lay my life down, I give it all to you
Where you go I follow
On the third day, yeah, You rose up
And You beat death once and for all
There’s nobody like you Jesus
SHAWN VO: Justin’s EP “Freedom” was released by Def Jam Records, a label known for artists like Jay-Z, DMX, Public Enemy, and Beastie Boys. Needless to say, they are not known for producing Christian or even religious-friendly material.
LUCAS OC: What’s fascinating about this very Christian EP, which climbed to the top of some of the Christian charts, is that it also has an explicit language warning. Though, in this case, the content is not perverse, but some of the words used to communicate his message are in the language of the streets rather than the pews.
LUCAS OC: I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I threw on my headphones and listened, for the first time, to “Freedom” while I laid in bed. I was mesmerized! Transported. It was an experience. Eyes open staring at the ceiling, I was thinking, “What am I listening to here?” Even Christian artists aren’t nearly as bold. In the same song that bears an explicit language, it had a prayer, literally a prayer prayed by Justin on the mic for all of his listeners. Other songs had preaching interludes, where pastor Judah Smith came on the recording. The lyrics speak unabashedly about Christ, and not just a little. It’s not a secular album that happens to talk about Jesus with mysterious allusions. It’s an album about the Christian faith, specifically Justin’s and his featured guests. The record ends with a reading of Psalm 139. It isn’t like the ambiguous work of a Christian artists who are trying to be a commercial success. It’s the honest and raw work of a secular artist who has truly found Jesus, and has almost ensured the record has no market niche, with language too corse for Christians, but too much talk about Jesus to be a secular hit. The entire project is an amazingly forthright expression of his moral failures and his unapologetic faith in Christ. If course language is a turn off for you, then I understand if this record isn’t for you, but it’s amazing what Justin has produced here. I see blossoming, an answer to his mom’s prayers for him to be a youth pastor, an unconventional one, for sure, but he’s sharing his faith in an authentic way
LUCAS OC: I’m amazed by the transformation of Justin Bieber, and I think there’s a lesson in it for us.
LUCAS OC: I hear people complaining about how awful the world has become, how hostile Hollywood is to the faith, how horrid the times and conditions are in the world where we live. When I see stories like Justin Bieber’s, it gives me pause. Out of the dirt of secular society, sometimes the seed of God’s word takes root in unexpected places and blossoms into what we see in Justin. A gospel-sharing phenomenon, whose sometimes foul language is often used to glorify Christ. He’s a tool God is using to bring his message to places otherwise untouchable. It’s a reminder of what the prophet Daniel said:
LUCAS OC: He changes the times and seasons; he removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. Daniel 2:21
LUCAS OC: If God can depose kings and raise up kings for his purposes, can’t he raise up pop stars too? Justin Bieber isn’t perfect, and he doesn’t claim to be, but it seems to me that God is using him in an industry that is hostile to Christianity and needs the gospel. To those of us who have traded in hope for despair about how society is headed to hell, How dare we think that our communities, schools, and neighborhoods are too far gone? How dare we think God doesn’t have a plan to raise up voices for our generation? If he can raise up a Justin Bieber to give the gospel to people who otherwise wouldn’t listen, he can do amazing things in our cities, country, and world. Millions of Beliebers are more open to becoming believers because of Bieber.
LUCAS OC: God is still in control. He can do great things in your corner of the world too.
LUCAS OC: Don’t miss a special extended version of this episode on podcast, with a few deleted scenes we had to cut for time. You can get that at free grace.in. You can also catch up on some of our other content, such as our kids program, our daily devotionals, Bible Study, and much more. All at freegrace.in.
Thanks for watching. We’ll be back with you soon.
YouTube screen shot: https://miro.medium.com/max/4800/1*aYFF1II-CUHAPoypOUfVvQ.png
An interview with Justin Bieber’s Mom when he was young: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-cHkegGezc
Justin and Usher Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOI4OF7iIr4
Justin B-Roll: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdx7gN1UyX0
Jay-Z photo: Photo by Mike Barry
DMX Jay-Z, and Ja Rule: Photo by Irv Gotti
DMX: Photo by Mika Väisänen
Flav: Photo by Alterna2
Beastie Boys: Photo by Masao Nakagami
Justin Timberlake: Photo by Gage Skidmore
Bieber In White: Photo by Lou Stejskal
Other Media Used Under Royalty-Free License From Envato Elements
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