20 September 2017

How amazing is grace?

Does anyone remember any No.1 hits from 1972? In U.K., Ireland, Australia, Canada and South Africa the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards were top of the hit parade with ‘Amazing grace’. Many will know it was written by John Newton. Not so many know it was published in 1779, having been written in 1773 to illustrate a sermon preached on New Year’s Day. How many times it has been played and sung since, no-one knows. Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it’s performed about 10 million times annually.

Is it the tune that’s the fascination, or is there more to this title ‘Amazing Grace’? Is grace simply something we take for granted?

Why the need for grace?

There’s much talk about grace, but the problem is for many that we don’t understand what sin is. We talk glibly about it, sometimes with the understanding that it’s us missing the mark and not being good enough.

The big issue about sin is how God views it. We’re inclined to shrug our shoulders and say, “Ah well, that’s just the way I am,” and excuse ourselves. Dan Allender, a well-known counsellor in America, should make us stop and think. He wrote “The fury of God is against sin. He despises sin and cannot bear it in his presence. Make no mistake. God is ruthless and brutal about sin… God has purposed to destroy the Evil One and eventually every manifestation of evil, including every sinner who is not wrapped in the arms of his beloved Jesus.”

Sin is an offence to God, and every one of us bear a guilt inherited as the result of the rebellion in the garden of Eden, a guilt that we cannot deal with ourselves, a guilt that creates so much trouble in the world, a guilt that will ultimately lead to our separation from God for ever in hell. It’s easy to blame our backgrounds, the society in which we live, our families – the list can go on and on but none of them will excuse our inability to live up to the standards God sets. My friend Scotty Smith puts it this way, “I’ve been spiritually lame from birth – completely crippled – not merely walking with a cane and a limp, but immobile and helpless, with zero resources to change my condition. Silver and gold, self-help and self-righteousness, religion and non-religion, a pantheon of idols and a plethora of attempts couldn’t alter my condition one bit.”

Grace, which is way beyond amazing. Knowing what we’re like, as Paul tells us in Romans 5:6, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly,” ramming it home again in verse 8, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Your immediate comment may be, “What’s new?” It’s the powerlessness that Paul mentions that gives the way beyond amazing dimension to grace. Deep down in all of us we like to think that we’re not really that bad. Some of us grew up hearing great stories of how wild men were brought to know Jesus, and we seem to have created a two tier work on Calvary, where in some way Christ had to suffer more for some than for others.

What is grace?

Put simply, grace is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Tonight a friend was talking to me about the rich, young ruler, who came to Jesus and went away sad. What was at least one of the problems that young fellow faced? He thought that he could make himself acceptable to God by the way he lived.

All of us suffer to a greater or lesser degree from the same problem. It’s only when we see that grace is God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves that we really come to appreciate it. The rich young ruler’s nature, which is part of all of us, baulks at this. We don’t like facing up to its implications. We like to think that, while we’re not everything we’d like to be, there is some way we contribute to making ourselves acceptable to God.

When we get that notion out of our heads, then grace becomes amazing as we see we rely totally and completely on what God has provided for us through the work of Christ on the cross. This is a core element of Christianity many have never been told about and consequently have struggled in their lives as they try to keep up to the standards the Lord has set for them.

If we read the first two verses of Romans 12 we see a man, who at a time had been consumed with living up to a set of regulations. Writing of us offering ourselves as living sacrifices, he makes it clear that it is because of God’s mercy that this can happen. Getting that balance in our lives is the most liberating thing that can happen to us.

Take the words of Ernest Williamson, a resident in Knockan Lodge in Finvoy, who quoted to me:

“Grace there is my every debt to pay, Blood to wash my every sin away, Power to keep me day by day In Christ for me”

The Risk of Grace

“The risk of grace is that we turn our lives over to God. Abandoned. Surrendered. We no longer have to defend ourselves because we are convinced that He loves us so much, but we no longer try to run our own lives. He is our Lord, our master, and the one we follow. We don’t know where He will lead, but we are willing to go there because we are convinced that life in Him is truly the Grand Adventure. We don’t know what He will ask us to do, but we’re willing to do it because we’re sure He knows best. We respond to Him like a loved child responds to his mother [or his Granny I would add]. We may not understand everything, and we may ask a million questions, but when we don’t get answers, we still trust our Heavenly Father because He has proven Himself to us. . . The deeper we press into the price Christ paid to rescue us, the more we’ll be amazed by His love, and we’ll delight in honoring Him all day, every day.” (Tim Clinton & Josh Straub, God Attachment)

Go again and again to the cross and see the Saviour dying there for us. Then I believe ‘Amazing grace’ will become a living reality in our lives, rather than a tune that tugs the heartstrings when we sing it, but doesn’t have a great impact on our lives day by day.

Noel Agnew