CCM Song Critique: "When I'm With You" by Citizen Way

Today we are starting a new series written by our friend Jorge Rodriguez who has a great blog called Faithful Stewardship. Jorge has been working on a series of song reviews where he carefully examines the content of the latest Contemporary Christian Music songs; he looks at the lyrics themselves-not the sincerity or intentions of the composer-and compares them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in God's Word: 

Today we’ll be taking a look at “When I’m With You” by Citizen Way which currently sits at #19 on the20theCountdownMagazine.

Sidenote: Can we please just stop co-opting secular love songs? Can we please stop “dating God?"  The world woos their lovers by proclaiming how great a person they become “when their with that other person." The unspoken flip side of the coin is “I’m lost without you” sort of thing. Which, of course, is an exaggerated emotional sentiment intended to woo. It is not our job to woo God. We cannot, by our words or deeds, curry favor with God. We’ll get into that more in our discussion, but for now I’m just generally quite frustrated with the “Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend” trope in CCM. *sigh*

Okay, so let’s talk about today’s song. There are a couple of nuggets in the song that bear some truth, and at least it names Jesus (which make it a bit more direct that much of what is playing on CCM radio), but there is some confused theology in the song and I think the core of the song is the confused theology, not the nuggets of truth. The song doesn’t stand on its own, and since it falls in the “dating God” vein, it falls in the “Disapprove” category for us.

Lyrics (via KLove)

These are the things that I need to pray
Because I can’t find peace any other way
I’m a mess underneath and I’m just too scared to show it

Everything’s not fine
And I’m not okay
But it’s nice to know
I can come this way

When I’m with You
I feel the real me finally breaking through
It’s all because of You, Jesus
Anytime, anywhere, any heartache
I’m never too much for You to take
There’s only love
There’s only grace
When I’m with You

Nobody knows me like You do
No need for walls, You see right through
Every hurt, every scar, every secret… You just love me

I’m breathing in
I’m innocent
It’s like my heart’s on fire again
I’m not afraid
I’m not ashamed
I’m safe when I am with You

So I’m here just as I am
Bruised or broken
I don’t have to pretend

Publishing: Calhoun Tunes / Fair Trade Music Publishing (ASCAP) (admin. by Music Services, Inc.); Mr. Blue Sky / Fair Trade Tunes (SESAC) (admin. by Music Services, Inc.); and 2 Hour Songs / Centric Songs (admin. by Centricity Music Publishing). All rights reserved.
Writer(s): Ben Calhoun; Josh Calhoun; Seth Mosely


This song is completely bent in on itself. The target audience appears to be the singer. The secondary audience is anyone who wants to be like the singer. Jesus gets a by-name honorable mention. I know that’s a hard introduction to this discussion, but I’ll explain what I mean here. We’re starting with what is wrong with this song, but later I will point out the truth nuggets I mentioned earlier.

The intro to the song tells us that these are the things the singer needs to pray… why? because he wants to feel better. This isn’t about bringing glory to God or proclaiming the cross, this is about making me feel better, making me feel at peace. What’s worse? This “prayer” we’re about to be shown is the only way the artist finds peace. I have a big problem with that… because he’s finding peace in the prayer he’s about to pray… not in what Christ has done on the cross for us, or what Christ has proclaimed to us in His Word.

When we hit the chorus, the opening line is When I’m with You, which jumps straight to… I’m not sure what, really. Let me explain, when we talk about being with someone having an impact, by default we are suggesting that the opposite happens whenever we are NOT with that person. So what are we contrasting here, theologically? Unbeliever versus Believer? Unregenerate versus Regenerate? Natural Child of darkness versus Adopted Child of Light? Or is this more reflective of the emotional yo-yo that is part and parcel of seeker-mergent evangelicalism where you have to do something to “feel the Presence of God” in your life again after having grown cold or worn-out (or burned out from all of your zeal-driven works). So, pausing those questions for a moment, let’s see what is happening when the singer is with Jesus… I feel the real me finally breaking through. Okay, now I’m confused. Is this the “real me” that is a mess underneath or the me that is at peace because I have been forgiven? How does one “be with Jesus” without repentance? Yeah, this is seeker sensitive theology, the notion that church is a place where unbelievers born in sin are encouraged to come to church to get a taste of the Presence of God so that they might at last open up their sinful hearts to God so that He can then forgive them of their sin and make them new creatures. That’s not the role of the church, and that is not how the Bible describes regenerating faith. You don’t convince a dead man to consider what it might be like to be made alive in Christ. You preach God’s Word and God the Holy Spirit breaths life to dead bones.

Let’s get review some scripture passages, for their greater contexts I strongly urge you to read Romans and Ephesians in full.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) | By Grace Through Faith

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Romans 3:9-31 (ESV) | No One Is Righteous

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 10:5-17 (ESV) | The Message of Salvation to All

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For“everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

The heart that believes the Word of Christ and the mouth that Confesses the Word of Christ has already been made alive with Christ by the Grace of God, who has granted saving faith to the hearer of the Word of Christ. And having been brought to life in Christ, we have this Promise from Him that He will never leave us.

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is where we find Peace, in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, in the Promises made to us from our Resurrected and Returning Savior, Jesus Christ our LORD. Placing your faith in your prayer is missing the point, and focusing on your own works. Our faith is not in our prayers, it is in the One to whom we pray. The prayer of faith isn’t measured by zeal or feeling, but by the Truth of God’s Word… the Person and Work of Christ Jesus.

As for the truth nuggets in the song, the idea that we are a total mess, that we’re not okay, is mostly true. The Truth is that we are much worse than these words convey. That wouldn’t be a ding on this song on its own, it is a short song after all. The problem here is that while the artist is right that we aren’t expected to clean ourselves up prior to coming to God (I can come this way) there is no mention of repentance nor forgiveness, even. It’s as though it just not an issue. Going back to the the real me finally breaking through we don’t have mention of being made a new creation, or of dealing at all with our sin or our sinful natures. That’s why these are mere nuggets of truth. Later in the chorus, the singer declares that with Jesus there’s only Love and Grace. Well, that’s not the whole story. There’s also Justice, Wrath, and Forgiveness by the Blood of Jesus shed on the Cross. It’s all there, together, in unity. It is dangerous to try to present the Gospel apart from the Law (and yes, equally so to present Law without Gospel).

I find the bridge particularly grating. It’s designed to serve as an anthem for all of those in the audience who want to be like the sinner… it’s completely focused on the self

I’m breathing in
I’m innocent
It’s like my heart’s on fire again
I’m not afraid
I’m not ashamed
I’m safe when I am with You

It’s all about “I” in this portion. We aren’t innocent in our own right, we’ve been declared righteous according to Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sin. Christ died for our sin, so that in Him we might be declared righteous in God’s sight. If the song gave Jesus more than a mere honorable mention, I wouldn’t have such a problem with this phrasing… but given the whole of the lyric I have a problem with this phrasing. Without repentance and the atonement, the song paints grace and love as a mere wiping away of the sin and the law just because we’re so cute and cuddly to God. That presents a false gospel.


Best construction on this song is the idea that we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. While that’s true, it’s not all of the truth. You see, it’s not simply that we don’t have to be perfect, it’s that we cannot be perfect, or even good. We are dead in sins and trespasses… horribly unrighteous, not even seeking after God. At its worst, this song seems to suggest that the point of the Gospel is that it’s okay to be horribly broken and sinful, since God loves you anyway, and as long as you admit that you are a mess, God declares you innocent… just like that. No need to confess sins, acknowledge the cross, be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection… see where I’m going? In ignoring the Law, we get a diluted gospel. When you have a diluted gospel, you wind up with a navel-gazing spirituality in constant search of a feeling of peace and right-standing with God… a spirituality of the emotions. God hasn’t promised to be found in your emotions, He is found in His Word, both Law and Gospel rightly preached.

In closing, I’d like to share the confession we pray each Sunday morning at church.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.  (from Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service, Setting One)

What is truly comforting, is knowing that this prayer is in keeping with the Scriptures and that we serve a God who is Faithful and Just to forgives our sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness, for His Glory and His Praise.

Romans 16:24-27 (ESV) | Doxology

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge Rodriguez