The Story Behind O Come, All You Unfaithful

We’ve been really encouraged by the response to O Come, All You Unfaithful, the opening track on our new Christmas album, Heaven Has Come. A number of people have said the song has made them freshly aware of how good the gospel really is. Amen.

I had the joy of writing the song with Lisa Clow, although I really only helped her refine and finish a song she wrote a few Christmases ago. She brought what she had written to the Sovereign Grace songwriters retreat this past January. I’ll let Lisa tell you in her own words how it came about:

I was struggling. It had been a long year and a half. Finances were stressful, I miscarried twins, and on top of it I was battling a deep relational bitterness. My church was having their annual service where they kick off the Christmas season with carols and special songs and I, for once, was not singing. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to sing, but what they didn’t know is that I was too overcome with shame to stand on stage before my church.

That Sunday morning, I stood at my seat as they began to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the first line of the song just clobbered me. It hit me like a giant wave of guilt. 

O come all you faithful, joyful and triumphant!

I remember hearing those words and thinking, “I have been so unfaithful. My joy has dwindled, and I am a triumphant…failure.” And I didn’t sing the rest of the service.

I drove home, my mind still churning, “Is that really who is invited to come to Jesus? The faithful? The joyful? The triumphant? If so, then I am hopeless.”

Thankfully, later that afternoon the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’s invitation in Matthew 11:28,

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Rest found in his life, his death, and his resurrection, not my own.

That evening, I had a strong conviction to write a song for myself and for the weary, the broken, and the ashamed.

(You can watch Lisa share this story live here.)

The Original

Here’s what she wrote that night:

O come all ye unfaithful, weary and heavy laden
Fly to the King of Angels, forgiveness is your haven

Christ was born, Christ was born, Christ was born for you

O come all ye destitute, broken and ruined by sin
Behold God in fierce pursuit, chasing and hemming you in
Christ was torn, Christ was torn, Christ was torn for you

We adore you, bow before you
Come and undo our hearts today

O come all ye triumphant, raise up your flags white with blood
Mercy flows in abundance, bought by the King of Love
Christ is Lord, Christ is Lord, Christ is Lord, it’s true

When I saw the title of her song and read the lyrics, I asked Lisa if I could work with her on it. Ever since my daughter, Brittany, wrote Glory in the Darkest Place a few years ago, I’ve been looking for Christmas songs that speak to those who find it difficult to enter in to the joy of the season due to feelings of unworthiness, need, shame, or suffering. And while I love “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” I thought the twist on that title would catch people’s attention and perhaps expose our futile attempts to come to God on the basis of what we have done rather than trusting in what Jesus has done for us.

The Process

I was moved by the thoughtfulness and beauty of Lisa’s lyrics. But I wondered if they could be more accessible. She had also written the song in 4/4, like the original carol, and it seemed to me 6/8 would fit the lyrics better and make it clear we weren’t simply trying to revise the traditional song.

So we worked on it, trying to capture in simple phrases the kind of person who might not realize that Christ was born for them. Unfaithful. Broken. Weary. Ashamed. We went back and forth on using the word, “vile,” but thought it might be distracting to people. So we ended up using “guilty.” Although before a perfectly holy God, every one of us fits into that vile category (Is. 64:6; Rom. 3:9-19). One phrase seemed to sum up the song, and I’m affected every time we sing it: “Come, though you have nothing, come, He is the offering.”

We thought the song needed a bridge and almost included a previously written chorus from one of the other writers at the retreat. But it was too wordy, so we didn’t use it. We ended up with a simple statement of the gospel, which is the reason Jesus being born is such good news.

He’s the Lamb who was given, slain for our pardon
His promise is peace for those who believe

The Video

As we played the song for more people we sensed God might use it to impact a wider audience. So we enlisted the help of Lance Cashwell, who now works with Farmore, to direct a music video for us. Providentially, I had met Lance when he attended a Worship Matters Intensive in 2019.

At first we thought we’d just record Lisa singing the song. But then Jon Althoff, one of our songwriters and a pastor of Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, TN, had an idea. What if we invited people into the studio to listen to the song and captured their responses on video as they listened?

So that’s what we did. The video we recorded is made up almost exclusively of people from my church who are processing the song, most of them for the first time, as it relates to their own experiences. A stillborn child. A strained marriage. Feelings of shame. Legalism. Loss. Loneliness. Or simply having a heart that weeps with those who weep.

We think seeing their responses as Lisa sings communicates even more clearly that Jesus wasn’t born for people who have it all together. He was born for those who have nothing.

So wherever you find yourself at the end of this unusually trying and tumultuous year, remember that a Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord (Lk. 2:11). And he was born to save us from our sins. All of them.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, ESV)

So come.

You can find the chord chart, lead sheet, piano/vocal score, and other resources for O Come, All You Unfaithful at our website.

NOTE: We’re received a number of questions about the song which I answered in this post.

25 Responses to The Story Behind O Come, All You Unfaithful

  1. Josh Miles December 18, 2020 at 1:49 PM #

    It’s such a gift, this song. Great work, y’all!

    • Jerry Benson December 25, 2022 at 5:17 PM #

      Don’t forget this song is the lead song for a new album which song title you borrowed from a timeless 250 year old favorite “Oh come all ye faithful.”

      • Bob Kauflin December 27, 2022 at 3:17 PM #

        Jerry, thanks for your comment. The album came out in 2020 and we haven’t forgotten that the song is based on “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” In fact, that was the point. We took a phrase from a well-loved and familiar carol, viewed it from an entirely different perspective, and wrote an entirely new song. As I share in this post, Lisa realized she wasn’t among the “faithful” the song seemed to invite. It was only when she realized that Jesus came not for the righteous and the healthy, but for the unrighteous and the sick, that she wrote the original poem. The song is meant to shake us out of our unspoken assumptions that it’s our faithfulness that enables us to come to Jesus. I worte more about it in this post. We still love the original carol and sing it. But we pray that this song reminds those who sing it that all of us really have nothing to come to God with to impress him, but that’s okay. Because Jesus is the offering. Hallelujah!

        • Tammy December 30, 2023 at 3:23 AM #

          Thank you for your comments. I read an article the other day from a Pastor who won’t sing this song in their congregation. I was saddened by it. I was chatting about this with two of our worship team members and we discussed this after reading both viewpoints. We came to the conclusion that the two songs (O Come all you Faithful and O Come all you Unfaithful) are are expressing two complementary truths not contradictory positions. We are happy to sing both. And like Lisa, I also feel clobbered when trying to sing Faithful. But, oh the grace that enables His faithfulness in me!

          • Bob Kauflin December 30, 2023 at 10:33 AM #

            Exactly. We are faithful and unfaithful at the same time, saints and sinners, saved and being saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2; Heb. 10:14; 1 Cor. 1:2 with 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Tim. 2:13). It all depends on how you understand the terms. Thanks for commenting, Tammy.

  2. Aaron Mayfield December 18, 2020 at 5:24 PM #

    Beautifully written, and balm for a weary soul. Thank you guys!!!

    • Bob Kauflin December 18, 2020 at 8:01 PM #

      Thanks, Aaron!

    • Sandi January 4, 2021 at 1:21 PM #

      I have an alarm set on my phone to remind me to play this song at least once a day in 2021 because I need the wonder of Christ’s coming to rescue me to profoundly impact my heart and mind far beyond the Advent season. This song’s message is powerful and its melody wonderfully haunting! Thank you!

      • Bob Kauflin January 4, 2021 at 3:12 PM #

        Sandi, thanks for your encouraging words!

  3. Rodney Frost December 18, 2020 at 7:36 PM #

    What a wonderful song. Great key and very sing-a-ble.
    The message hits deep in my heart since Jesus came to seek and save the lost…the least of these…the “invisible” of this world, not those that “have it all together”.the song is such a gift to the church!!!

    • Bob Kauflin December 18, 2020 at 8:02 PM #

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Rodney! We have a glorious Savior!

  4. Jema December 19, 2020 at 2:24 PM #

    Thank you so much.
    For more than 2 weeks, I’ve been playing this day and night. The lyrics totally describes who we are before God, and how Amazing His Grace is thru Christ.
    It redeemed all the Christmas songs I must say 😀

    • Bob Kauflin December 19, 2020 at 3:19 PM #

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Jema. May Jesus receive the glory he alone deserves!

  5. Nathan Copeland December 21, 2020 at 2:45 PM #

    Thank you, Bob. This song is such a gift.

  6. David Hyers December 21, 2020 at 9:18 PM #

    This is a really super awesome message and song and needed to be written. How can I help get it out.

    • Bob Kauflin December 21, 2020 at 11:57 PM #

      Thanks, David! Feel free to post links to the song on social media.

  7. Coni Sanders December 22, 2020 at 3:29 PM #

    What a beautiful song sung by one with an amazing voice! Thank you, Lisa and Bob, for reminding us that none of us are faithful, but that Jesus is infinitely faithful. And thank you to all who allowed yourselves to be filmed while listening to this song for the first time. It’s beautiful to watch you display emotions that we can all relate to. Glory to Jesus for being the healing balm that we all need!

  8. Margaret Oates December 23, 2020 at 1:00 PM #

    This song has travelled the world. My daughter in Taiwan sent it to us to listen to–in Canada. My husband had it played at the end of his Christmas sermon when he spoke on making Christmas personal. It was very very well received.

  9. Michael E. Peterson Jr. January 20, 2021 at 12:30 AM #

    Mr. Kauflin, this is wonderful and yes, this song was a good one to make more accessible. Thank you for doing so. I was excited to read about the Songwriter’s Retreat and also the Worship Matters Intensive. I quickly looked these up. Are there any plans to do Songwriter’s Retreat this year in 2021? Likewise, will there be another Worship Matters Intensive happening any time soon? Would love to know.

    • Bob Kauflin January 21, 2021 at 10:44 PM #

      Michael, thanks for your encouraging words! The songwriter retreats are limited in participation, but we’re hoping to start the Worship Matters Intensives back up in June. We’re still trying to figure out our way around COVID! You can get the latest information on our website.

  10. Michael Peterson January 22, 2021 at 11:03 PM #

    Thank you. Will check this out. Look forward to hearing from you soon on those hymns I sent you as well. Blessings to you, sir!

  11. Anna Maskell August 8, 2022 at 7:07 AM #

    Beautiful song

  12. Marita Ellixson November 5, 2022 at 12:30 PM #

    I am getting ready to sign this song in ASL for our Christmas service. It is beautiful and conveys such a hopeful message in these dark times.

  13. Vanessa December 15, 2023 at 12:22 PM #

    This! This is the Christmas song I have been looking for. It captures perfectly why we have joy that Christ was born.
    I have listened to it on repeat for the last few days since I first heard it. It hit me right to the core, and still does every time I listen to it. Thank you, thank you, for sharing a much needed message and reminder.

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