What I Would Say to Jerry Lee Lewis
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Elvis Presley was already a huge rock and roll star when he sauntered into the Sun Records studio in Memphis in December, 1956. Jerry Lee Lewis was gaining fast on Elvis’ popularity and Jerry Lee was there that day as well, as were Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. The four jammed together for an hour or two and after Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins left, Elvis and Jerry Lee sat next to each other at a piano for several more hours and played and sang numerous tunes together, many of which were old gospel tunes they had sung in their early years in their respective Assembly of God churches. A year or so later, prior to Elvis’ induction into the United States Army, he and Jerry Lee were again playing together and Jerry Lee asked Elvis a question which had long plagued him, ‘Can you play rock and roll music and still go to heaven? If you died, do you think you’d go to heaven or hell?’ Elvis looked startled, trapped. ‘His face turned blood red,’ remembers Jerry Lee. “Jerry Lee,” he answered, “Don’t you never ask me that. Don’t you ever ask me that again.”‘1
In an earlier recording session, caught on tape, Jerry Lee Lewis and Sam Phillips, the promoter of Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Johnny Cash, are debating the place of Christianity and rock and roll music. At one point Jerry Lee says, ‘But when it comes to worldly music rock and roll . . . anything like that, you have done brought yourself into the world, and you’re in the world, and you hadn’t come from out of the world, and you’re still a sinner . . . And brother, I mean you got to be so pure. No sin shall enter there. No sin. Cause it says no sin. It don’t just say just a little bit. It says no sin shall enter there. Brother, not one little bit. You got to walk and talk with God to go to heaven. You got to be so good.’2
Jerry Lee Lewis has lived a long life of debauchery – six wives, bankruptcy, short stints in jail for drunkenness, too much drinking, pills and needles, a woman every night in every town. He also has suffered much tragedy. His two-year-old son drowned in his backyard swimming pool. His nineteen-year-old son was killed in an automobile accident. One of his wives drowned. Another died from a prescription drug overdose. He nearly died after his stomach ruptured from too much hard living. Now, however, in his old age he is seeking peace with God. He says, ‘I sure don’t want to go to Hell. If I had my life to live over, I would change a lot of things, not for the approval of man, but for the grace of God.’3
So, what would I say to Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time? I would say, ‘Jerry Lee, the issue is not your music, any more than the issue for a business man is his work, or for an NFL football player his sport. One can be holy in any of these walks of life. The real issue for you and all of us is this – we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not righteous in yourself. You never can be. Even the fact that you have cleaned up your life and weaned yourself from drugs and alcohol addiction and are now living faithfully with your new wife, these nor any other deeds you may do or refrain from doing, will never make you right with God. Here’s the deal – you, like me and everyone else, was born with a rebellious heart. Our father Adam sinned in the garden when he ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At that point he chose to go his own way. He thought he knew best where to find truth, and all his posterity have followed him into rebellion and death. You cannot make yourself clean. You cannot be pure before God. You are right to say that you deserve hell. God must do a miracle of grace in your life. He must take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. I know you know the term ‘born again,’ but what does this really mean? It means that God must take out the rebellious heart that loves sin and hates God, and replace it with the heart of Jesus which loves God and hates sin. The true Christian has been buried with Jesus in his death and raised up with him in his resurrection so that he too can walk in newness of life. For those who are born again, everything changes. If God has wrought this change in your life, then this new life in Jesus just flows. You want to love and honour God. You want to obey him, to do what he commands. It is no burden. You delight in doing so. This is what theologians call regeneration.
‘As marvellous and wonderful as this new life in Jesus is, it gets even better. You, like all of us, have lived a wicked life. Your life is filled with guilt and you are probably ashamed of many things you have done. Your sins are many. There is no way you can ever work them off, no way you can ever have them washed away by your own efforts of cleaning up, making right all the wrongs you have done to God and others. You are guilty and God in his holiness will by no means leave you or any other guilty sinner unpunished. You are an enemy of God and he is angry with you because of your sin. The glory, however, for the Christian is that the Lord Jesus died in our place. He took the judgment you deserve for your own sin. His blood washes away the guilt and condemnation of sin. It appeases the just wrath of God, because Jesus took the wrath and condemnation for sin upon himself when he died on Calvary’s cross. He can take your sin from you as far as the east is from the west. And because Jesus was raised from the dead Paul the apostle tells us that we can be justified, declared not guilty, given the very righteousness of Christ. The only way you can ever be pure before God is to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. This is what theologians call justification.
‘And I know, from reading Bragg’s book about you, that you have many times tried to clean things up, to walk away from your sinful lifestyle, only to return to it every time. Why is that? Since you do not have the heart of Jesus, nor his righteousness, you also therefore lack the Holy Spirit. Peter said to those pierced through the heart on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). When a person is born again he receives the Holy Spirit. The Spirit takes up residence in every believer, and he aids our growth in holiness. He convicts us of sin and fills us and empowers us to walk in obedience to the commands of God. This is what theologians call sanctification.
‘You asked Elvis if he thought you two would go to heaven since you sang rock and roll music? When you receive the heart of Jesus in regeneration, when your sins are taken away in justification, and when you receive the Holy Spirit in sanctification, then the Spirit begins to show you areas of sin in your life. You become aware of sinful attitudes, speech, and actions that are displeasing to the Lord. Some of your lyrics are pretty raunchy. As a believer, you will want to change those lyrics. You will want to turn away from sexual temptation and excessive alcohol. God will work what theologians call progressive sanctification in your life. The sinful actions in your life will gradually be weakened.
‘What must you do to have Jesus? You must surrender to him. You must repent. You must believe the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. You must call upon the Lord in your day of trouble and he promises to deliver you. Do not delay. Run to Jesus now and know the glory and wonder of freedom in Christ – freedom from slavery to sin, freedom to rejoice in God above everything else, freedom to know that he loves you and will never leave you nor forsake you. There is no other Saviour than Jesus. Come to him now.’
- Rick Bragg, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, page 229.
- Ibid. page 215.
- Ibid. page 6.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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