Two hundred years ago John Newton had plumbed the depths of depravity, living as the slave of a prostitute. Into that situation God came with his love and mercy. His grace was applied to the heart of a wretched sinner, and John Newton was marvelously saved.

Some years later he wrote:

Amazing grace—how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

These are hard words for men to sing with any conviction these days. Moving in an aura of respectability, comparing themselves with many who are less fortunate, basking in the sophistication of this day of scientific achievement, and feeling very secure in a time of unprecedented affluence, many are inclined to think they are doing God a favor if they condescend to have their names placed on a church roll.

A friend of mine recently asked a businessman if he was saved. He admitted he was not. When asked how he could be saved, by grace or by works, he replied, “By grace.” “How do you get grace?” my friend asked. “By working for it,” was the reply.

How typical of the thinking of most of us! We talk about God’s grace, but down deep in our hearts we feel that we earn and merit salvation by being and doing good. We feel that we must have some part in our redemption from sin—provided, of course, we are even willing to admit we are sinners.

Grace cannot be earned. It is God’s free mercy conferred on unworthy sinners because of faith in what God’s Son has done for us. We need an abrupt awakening to the fact that there is nothing we can do to merit God’s grace. All we can do is accept it as his gift of love, and on the basis of Christ’s atoning work.

Basic to the whole problem of recognizing God’s grace for what it is is the necessity of recognizing sin for what it is. We are only too anxious and willing to gloss over the nature of sin that it is an offense against a holy God, an offense whose solution could be found only in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

I recently read and pondered the first chapter of First John for hours. This was done from two perspectives: first, the authenticity of the message, and secondly, the marvel of God’s grace.

John begins by saying simply, “Christ was alive when the world began, yet I myself have seen Him with my own eyes and listened to Him speak. I have touched Him with my own hands. He is God’s Message of life. This One Who is Life from God has been shown to us and we guarantee that we have seen Him; I am speaking of Christ, Who is eternal Life. He was with the Father and then was shown to us. Again I say, we are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may share the fellowship and the joys we have with the Father and with Jesus Christ His Son” (vss. 1–3, Living Letters).

Here is the basis of assurance, that the one in whom we believe has been clearly revealed as the divine Son of God and that John and others who wrote about him had personal contact with him.

Later in this chapter John faces the fact of sin in our hearts and outlines God’s plan of salvation. We see that it is all by grace.

Today we hear little about the necessity of confessing sins. Oh, there are prepared confessions that we glibly recite in a worship service, after which the minister states that our sins have been absolved. But this is neither confession of sin nor forgiveness of sin at a personal level, which involves a confrontation of the sin in our hearts and faith in the cleansing and forgiving power of Jesus Christ.

First of all, are we fooling ourselves and saying we have no sin? Many have done so, refusing to face up to the truth. Whether we care to admit it or not, we are rotten sinners, and the best things we do are as “filthy rags” in God’s sight.

John states the alternative to self-delusion: “But if we confess our sins to Him, He can be depended on to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins” (vs. 9). Verse 8 tells us the nature of the divine detergent: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from every sin.”

Where, then, is there any place for human pride, boasting, or endeavor? It simply does not exist. Our salvation depends solely on the grace of God and is received by faith, and in no other way.

Only too often we regard sin as a trivial matter, something to be glossed over or ignored or, at worst, as a weakness. I know no better way to become aware of the enormity and consequences of sin than to realize that the price of redemption was nothing less than the death and resurrection of God’s Son.

Furthermore, God’s forgiveness in Christ is a matter of grace, not divine leniency. And this grace involves a forgiveness beyond the full comprehension of man, a forgiveness that makes us as though we had never sinned. That is grace.

Even though we Christians may fail miserably by falling again into sin, the grace of God is seen in our Lord’s advocacy in our behalf. That, too, is grace.

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Not only is the penalty for sin taken by our Saviour; in God’s view, the sins are blotted out forever. That too is grace.

God’s forgiveness and cleansing carries with it no condition other than the requirement that we believe and accept what Christ has done on our behalf. That too is grace.

I write as one who has experienced the grace of God in marvelous ways. I have willfully sinned only to turn to him in sorrowful confession and then to realize that I was forgiven, that all was well, because of the efficacy of my Lord’s atonement. That is a conscious experiencing of God’s grace and of the release and comfort it gives to sinsick souls.

Why have songs of praise and thanksgiving for the grace of God become passe in many churches? Is it because we no longer understand the meaning of grace? In our sophisticated and self-sufficient age, are Christians oblivious to what God has done for them? Why do we no longer sing, “Jesus Paid It All, All to Him I Owe?,” or “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus?”

Corny? Theologically unacceptable? No longer relevant for our generation? No indeed.

Why fall for Satan’s lies? Let’s face up to it: But for the grace of God, all of us are lost and undone. Without his grace, none of us can hope to spend eternity with him.

It is amazing grace. Thank God for it.


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