If you’ve been in church for any length of time, chances are you have heard at least parts of the classic hymn Amazing Grace. For that matter, this song has been so embedded in our culture, you’re probably familiar with it even if you haven’t been in church that long. Either way, it is a wonderful piece filled with the timeless truth about the God Who saves.
Written by ex-slave trader and formerly boisterous rebel John Newton, the song speaks of how God both rescues and redeems undeserving sinners. Pick any verse and you will receive truth with which to nourish your soul. But today I want us to briefly consider the importance verse 2 has for our understanding of the Gospel. In case you’re not familiar with it, it goes like this…
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.
First, we need to understand what grace is in biblical terms. Put simply, it is underserved favor or a gift freely given. So that is the way in which we must look at grace in this verse…undeserved and freely given.
But notice the two-fold function of God’s grace: it both causes and relieves our fears. So what in the world does Newton mean by that? In our culture, “God loves” is popular… “God will hold you accountable for your sin” is not. But in the Gospel, we see these two concepts joined together…it’s not either/or it is both/and.
God’s grace is two-fold: it causes and relieves our fears.
So let’s consider the first part. Here, Newton says that it is an act of God’s grace when we realize the eternally damning nature of our sin. But most people in the world do not have the cognitive realization of how dangerous a position their sin puts them in before God’s holiness. That’s why it is a grace from God for us to have our eyes opened to the reality of our sin (granted, it may be painful, but it is vitally necessary). I heard an old pastor once say that before a person can be saved, they must first recognize that they’re lost. I would agree.
But that’s only the first function of God’s grace. Once we realize the helpless predicament our sin has put us in, it is also His grace which then causes us to look up and behold the Lamb that endured God’s just wrath so that we wouldn’t have to. Jesus stood in our place for our sin. We were already guilty with no hope in and of ourselves to earn back a right standing before God. We were headed for hell. But then Jesus, completely of His own initiative, steps in and absorbs God’s judgment in our place so that we would receive a right standing before God again. God’s acceptance and love for us is not based on our performance, but on the performance of Jesus in our place. It was God’s grace that taught your heart to fear and it was His grace that your fears were relieved.
Which then leads to the powerful conclusion at the end of verse 2… When we realize both of these truths, inevitably His grace will become more and more precious to us, from the hour we first believed to our last hour in this world.
I hope this Easter you will stand amazed, as did John Newton, at God’s grace.
Grace and Peace,