Listen to “Ultralight Beam”, the opening track on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album, and you might conclude that West has been saved. Listen to the first line of the next track, and you might change your mind.

Kanye parallels the Apostle Paul’s Damascus beam of light encounter with his own “God dream” in the opener, building the standout track on the foundation of a gospel chorus, adorning it with R&B singer Kelly Price’s desperate but hopeful lament, an elaborate vow of faithfulness by Chance the Rapper, and a prayer for those who feel they’re “too messed up” or doubt they can ever “come back home again” by gospel legend Kirk Franklin. It’s so beautiful and infectious an arrangement that there is no doubt that millions of listeners will hear, again and again, the invitation to rest in God’s love presented in the song.

The gospel of Kanye is a messy thing, its subject walking in and out of the fog of desperation and debauchery, in and out of the mercy-filled light of Christian redemption.

The rest of the musically excellent album (Kanye’s production ear is still unmatched, and he raps and sings as well as he ever has here) is good enough that many of those same listeners will also hear, again and again, all about Kanye’s obscene wealth and sexual exploits. The uncomfortably misogynistic and vulgar strains in Kanye West’s music persist beyond his spiritual moment of clarity.

The album is certainly dualistic in this way—juxtaposing a life of unchecked vice with one of conscientious restraint and humility, usually in the same song. For example, he confesses to “living without limits” before pledging to God his willingness to turn to the narrow path of fidelity to his wife and children in “FML”.

Is Kanye’s narrative one of a hopelessly conflicted backslider, someone content to serve God nominally and the world in actuality? The presence of the flesh, competing with the influence of the new man, doesn’t necessarily make The Life of Pablo a spiritual journal of stalled or false-started faith. West’s most lewd and objectionable material is buttressed by some of the clearest longings for something higher, better, truer. The two-part “Father Stretch My Hands” offers a pornographic description of West’s escapade with a model and a feature from rapper Desiigner boasting of drug deals, cars, and women. But these explicit verses are practically interludes in a complex song directed entirely elsewhere. Kanye uses samples (from gospel singers, in this case) and his robotic auto-tuned voice as agents of perspective for different parts of his id, or perhaps even his true inner man. These pieces cry out for God in the beginning, middle, and end of the track:

You’re the only power, Father

I want to wake up with you in my eyes

I just want to feel liberated

Can I touch You?

How do I find you?

Who do you turn to?

How do I bind you?

No other help I know,

I stretch my hands!

What do West’s musings about his promiscuity, his father, and his God have to do with one another? They are all questions from an open, wounded spirit, a man whose Yes and Amen are ultimately found in Christ.

Kanye has always done self-awareness with the best of them, even admitting both that he “invented Kanye” and that he “thought he was Kanye” on the tongue-in-cheek “I Love Kanye”. This bent to transparency, combined with his refusal to depart from hip hop’s “ignorant” content altogether, make him a more honest confessor than most believers. Even moments of unapologetic debauchery are not as they seem. The most jarring example comes in consecutive songs following “Lowlights” (a single mother’s testimony about the Lord, her strength). The first of these songs, “Highlights”, is a lushly produced club anthem revolving around Kanye’s success. The second, “Freestyle 4”, is the most chilling Kanye track since his nightmarish Yeezus album. Classic horror strings frame the disgusting, lustful ravings of an indulgent monster, clearly the other side of the coin to the shiny deceit of the endless libertine highlights a person with West’s stature has access to.

After “Freestyle 4” dismisses the fleeting benefits of fame and fortune, the album pivots to the disappointments of monogamy and family life. West invites a reductive dualistic interpretation with his abrupt aesthetic and moral turns throughout the album, along with the album’s cover art (a model’s behind and a family wedding picture wrapped in a repeating “WHICH/ONE” marquee). But the music itself never boils down to a will he/won’t he choice between the straight and narrow path or the crooked way. West has learned that matrimony and fatherhood aren’t the all-satisfying alternative to hedonism, while still wanting very much to fulfill his role as a husband and dad.

“Wolves” closes the album arc, and it’s not close to a triumph of moral uprightness for an old-fashioned husband and wife. Instead, it dares present Kanye and wife Kim Kardashian, with all of their well-documented baggage, as candidates for the ultimate sainthood enjoyed by Joseph and the Virgin Mary:

I said baby, ‘What if you was clubbin’

Thuggin’, hustlin’ before you met your husband?’

Then I said, ‘What if Mary was in the club

When she met Joseph around hella thugs?’

As scandalous as Kanye’s self-deifying analogies have been in the past, this suggestion of a radical redemption for celebrity sinners—whose sin we know better than our neighbors’—is bold enough to make God’s grace feel scandalizing again.

Had “Ultralight Beam” and not the more subtly redemptive “Wolves” remained at the end of The Life of Pablo as originally planned, maybe a more generous reading of the album’s testimony would be in fashion. Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst”, complete with a sinner’s prayer, served as a more conventional climax at the tail end of good kid, M.A.A.D. City, a more straight forward denunciation of any sinful lapses coming before it. Aside from the fact that Kanye—a professing Christian his entire career—probably considers his spiritual rebirth to have occurred much earlier than a finale placement would suggest chronologically, the gospel’s promise is not reserved for those at the end of their story. The Apostle Paul teaches believers to look back to the cross and back to their baptism as evidence of their old man’s death, not simply forward to a time when their repentance is more lasting.

The Life of Pablo does not biographize a simple hypocrite, interested in God’s grace but content being filled by his worldly appetites. Rather, it gives us a sinner, ever hungry for more of God’s grace as he plumbs the darkest depths of his heart. In other words, The Life of Pablo parallels every believer’s post-conversion walk, filled with temptation and distraction and glorious reminders of God’s identity-defining mercy along the way.