Amazing Grace is an old song with a timeless meaning. It was written by John Newton, the self-proclaimed wretch who once was lost but then was found, saved by amazing grace (1725-1807).
Paul, the apostle, boldly declares that salvation, or being right with God, is by ‘grace’.
Eph 2:8-10. For it is by grace you have been saved , through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV
The word “grace”, like the word “love”, can tend to lose its sense of meaning in today’s society. It means a wide variety of things in our culture such as “beauty, charm, having attractive qualities, delay of payment or prayer of thanks over a meal.” In the Bible, “grace” refers to God’s favour, kindness and goodness towards (sinful) people. It is undeserved and unearned. It is not achieved, attained or possessed by our effort or good works.
All through history there have been many ‘redemption stories’ that show us God’s incredible grace – from God’s response to Adam and Eve’s sin to Jesus reaching out to a woman caught in the act of adultery (Jn.8:10-11).
We all desperately need God’s grace. We are sinful - if we were to record our own sins or mistakes no one could stand as innocent. We are guilty in God’s sight, fit only for condemnation and judgement. We are in a hopeless and helpless state. Gaining or earning God’s favour is beyond our power … and God is not bound to show us any favour. We can only claim his justice, which would result in condemnation. He owes us nothing. That’s where grace comes in. “Grace” is not just forgiveness but the absence of condemnation. It is God’s unmerited favour. God is not our enemy. He is for us and he wants to help.
Because salvation is a free gift of grace, there is nothing we can do to achieve it or earn it. It is all God’s work, not ours. It is purely because of God’s loving and gracious nature. Grace is God giving us himself. We are given forgiveness, significance and worth because of our relationship with God NOT because of anything we are or anything we have done. This can be pretty hard to understand let alone accept especially when we live in a world where we usually have to ‘earn’ acceptance, love and respect.Receiving Saving Grace
Grace for your forgiveness and for your freedom is available to you today – as a gift (Eph.2:8-9). In spite of the enormity of our debt and the high cost Jesus paid to buy us forgiveness and new life, the whole package is offered to us freely. It is literally a gift waiting to be opened.
God’s grace reaches out to all people. However, each person must make a choice to respond to it. How do you receive it? You receive it by ‘faith’ (Eph.2:8-10). Christian ‘faith’ is not merely belief or agreement with something. It’s not even just a one time decision. It includes commitment to and an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith is to be life-changing. It’s not just about saying the right prayer in order to go to heaven.
Bridges connect two points over a hazardous or impassable canyon or body of water. Usually, bridges are built from both ends at the same time and in a marvel of structural engineering, meet precisely in the middle. In bold contrast, the unique and extra-ordinary message of the gospel of grace is that God took on the bridge-building business all by himself. In an engineering possibility, he built the entire span from his side of the canyon to ours. This is the ‘good news’: that righteousness starts from God and comes to us, not the other way around. This is what grace is all about. Grace isn’t God meeting us halfway – if he did that, it wouldn’t be grace. Halfway is conditional; grace is unconditional. Grace is God going the whole way, all the way. Grace isn’t God’s good help for everyone who does their best: grace is God’s intervention in our helplessness (see Rom.3:23-25 in the Message Bible). Faith is our decision to walk over the bridge and enter a new relationship with Jesus Christ, trusting fully in him for our salvation and for our future.Living by Grace
Grace is not just to be received once (at salvation) but is to be a continual part of our Christian life. We are to “stand in grace” (Rom.5:2. 1 Pet.5:12), “grow in grace” (2 Pet.3:18), “become strong in grace” (2 Tim.2:1) and not “fall from grace” (Gal.5:4).
God loves us – that is a constant state of his heart towards us. Once you realise this, you long to love him in return and do those things that are pleasing to him. Because I am God’s Son and because he has loved me so freely, I want to live a life that will please him and bring him great joy (see Tit.2:11-13. Clearly, our salvation is not from works, but it is for good works. As John Stott says, “Good works are indispensable to salvation — not as its ground or means … but as its consequence and evidence.”
God's grace is extended to us not only in salvation, but it is also extended to us in everyday life. We are to live in grace and we are to give grace to others. God’s grace provides us with (1) help in time of need (Heb.4:16. 2 Cor.9:8), (2) strength in time of difficulty (2 Cor.12:9), (3) favor with people (Acts 2:49) and (4) the ability to fulfill our ministry (Eph.4:7). We are to live lives characterised by ‘grace’ - empowered by God’s grace, speaking gracious words (Eph.4:29) and living gracious lives (Col.4:6).
Grace in our lives can be measured (Jn.1:14. Acts 4:33. Rom.5:20) and we can receive more grace (1 Pet.1:2. 2 Pet.3:18). We can’t earn it or work for it, but there are principles for receiving more grace such as prayer (Heb.4:16), godly living (Gen. 6:8-9) and humility (James 4:6. 1 Pet. 5:5). God gives grace to the humble, those who have an attitude of humility. But he resists the proud (Prov.15:25; 16:18. Dan.4:37).
Humility is recognising that God and others are actually responsible for the achievements in my life. It is not putting yourself down in inferiority or rejection but rather an honest evaluation of yourself (Rom.12:3. 1 Cor.15:10).Conclusion
Grace - it’s still amazing! It’s still saving people’s lives. It’s still empowering people to live for God.Sample Discussion Questions
- Describe the first time you heard the hymn Amazing Grace. Where were you and how did it affect you?
- What do you think of when you hear the word ‘grace’? What does it mean to you?
- Describe your own salvation experience. What drew you to God and what impact did accepting his free gift of salvation have on you. Describe some of your thoughts and feelings upon receiving God’s grace into your life.
- How can we balance out ‘living by grace’ (not trying to earn God’s favour) with seeking to please and obey God? How can we avoid the extremes of ‘legalism’ (trying to earn God’s favour through self-effort or keeping man-made regulations) and ‘licentiousness’ (abusing God’s grace through continuing in sinful behaviours and attitudes)?
- Discuss the concept of grace being able to be measured. Can you recall times when God’s grace seemed large in your lives and other times when it seemed less? What were some of the factors?
- Discuss ways that we can increase God’s grace and favour in our lives.
Experiencing the Power of the Cross by Gary Kinneman (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), p.39f.