From Sinner to Saint

November 3, 2019

I am sure most of you are familiar with the song, “I Can Only Imagine”.  It was written twenty years ago by Bart Millard for the group MercyMe, was released in 2001, and then became a hit on both Christian and mainstream radio.  The story behind the song was made into a movie of the same name in 2018.  Let me share a brief synopsis of this true story, which is a reverse of the Biblical prodigal son, for this is the tale of the Prodigal father, who indeed went from sinner to saint:

Early in Bart Millard’s life, his father, Arthur, had been physically and emotionally abusive towards his family, with Bart often being beaten severely; Arthur and his wife Adele eventually divorced, and Bart was sent to live with his mother after an especially extreme whipping. Bart kept in contact with his father, however, who was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when Bart was 15. His father began to make amends for his actions and started becoming more religiously observant, reading the Bible and going to church regularly. As Arthur progressively became more ill, his relationship with his son improved dramatically.  By the time Arthur died in 1991, when Bart was 18, the two were very close. Bart said (and I quote) "I got a front row seat to see this guy go from being a monster to falling desperately in love with Jesus. By the time he passed away when I was a freshman in college, not only was he my best friend, he was like the Godliest man I’d ever known".  After Arthur's death, Bart became obsessed with the phrase "I can only imagine" after hearing his grandmother say that she could only imagine what Arthur was seeing in heaven.  Bart found comfort in the thought and began to write it on anything he could find.

Jump forward a few year's and late one night on the band's bus, Bart found an old notebook with the phrase "I can only imagine" written in it.  He began to write a song, basing it off on his personal feelings about his father’s death. 

Once he started writing the song, he estimated that it took him only about ten minutes to write the lyrics.  He said that it was one of the few songs he had ever written where there were not any mistakes in the writing process. Bart said (and I quote) "it was just written the way it is and left at that".  I can only surmise that is because it was inspired by God, as God has since used this song to inspire countless others dealing with personal loss and grief.  The lyrics speak of our first day heaven, when we first lay our eyes upon our Lord Jesus, something the departed saints have already experienced, but we can only imagine:

“I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side.

I can only imagine what my eyes will see, when Your face is before me.

I can only imagine…

Surrounded by Your glory what will my heart feel?

Will I dance for You, Jesus, or in awe of You be still?

Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?

I can only imagine…

I can only imagine when that day comes, and I find myself standing in the Son.

I can only imagine when all I will do, is forever, forever worship You.

I can only imagine…

I can only imagine…”

Yes, we can only imagine.  But it will be glorious.  Nothing on this earth can even come close to the overwhelming rapture of seeing Jesus face to face, the one that loves us so much he left the glory of heaven to be born on this earth in human flesh in order to become the sacrifice for our sins.  For all of us by nature are like Bart’s father.  We are all sinners.  None of us are born saints deserving to enter heaven.  But all sinners, Arthur Millard, myself, and hopefully you as well, who turn to Jesus and put their faith in him for their salvation are transformed into saints. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus when he wrote, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:3-6). 

Yes because of Jesus, some day we will all be gathered together again like we are right now, but we will be in the company of those who have gone on before us, and in the company of legions of angels, standing before the throne of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We will no longer be in aging bodies that give us pain, become ill, and eventually die.  For then we will have perfect bodies that move effortlessly, voices that sing in perfect pitch, and minds that have knowledge vastly beyond even the most brilliant here on earth.  We will be free from all fear, all suffering, and all sorrow.   And our eternal reality will be far greater than all we can imagine here on earth.  Amen.


"Home" (Chris Tomlin) 

"I Can Only Imagine"  (MercyMe)