JTTH: Amazing Grace (Part Two)

Photo by Bill Fairs on Unsplash

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

This hymn’s first verse is so familiar to most Americans, yet it’s so packed with theology that if we just understand the words, it will change the way we think about the entire song.

Look at the very first line:  

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

Have you ever thought about what that means? The song says, “amazing grace,” but why? Why is grace amazing? Because it “saved a wretch,” who deserved nothing but hell and righteous wrath!

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Romans 5:6-10

Grace is defined as “the freely given, unmerited favor…of God.”[1] That alone makes God’s grace amazing, that it is freely given, prompted by no merit on the part of the recipient (Ephesians 2:4-9).

But what makes it even more amazing is that we aren’t just unmeritorious. Those who receive this grace weren’t just standing in a neutral place, as if they were unworthy of grace but also unworthy of punishment. We are all worthy of an infinite amount of righteous punishment (Romans 3:10-18)! The human race is not neutral towards God (Matthew 12:30). We’re not a clean slate. We’re a broken, filthy slate with blasphemies scratched into our surface, obscenities engraved in our very core!

We are not the “righteous man” or the “good man” mentioned in the passage above. Actually, we aren’t even slightly likeable. We are sinful beings, base in our desires and wretched in our lives, despicable in the sight of God!

I’m not trying to “lay it on thick” here. It’s just that in this age of self-esteem, when everyone seems to have a sense of entitlement simply because they’re breathing, one of the things we don’t often contemplate is our own depravity. And before we can realize how amazing God’s grace truly is, we must realize how corrupt we really are.

If you actually understand the lyrics of this song in light of Scripture, you cannot honestly and consistently sing them with an unbiblical worldview. If people paid attention to the message of this hymn, a lot of people wouldn’t sing it anymore—which might be for the better, in some cases. No longer would secular artists (not that the majority of their lyrics could be called art) sing this song to boost their ratings among evangelicals, because, if they understood the doctrines it propounds, they would avoid it like they avoid those doctrines themselves.

Another little jewel in this verse is that there is no mention of anything the Christian has done to be saved. That’s because John Newton rightly understood that there is nothing the Christian actually does of his own strength and natural will to be saved! Only the Holy Spirit’s changing of the corrupt will of man and God’s granting repentance and faith enables the believer to believe. This “amazing grace” could also be called “irresistible grace.” (That’s why Arminians singing “Amazing Grace” amazes me. They’re singing the Scriptural doctrines of grace without even realizing it!)

I once was lost but now am found

Was blind but now I see

This second part of the verse echoes the message of the first—the inability of man and the immense grace of the Lord. Before salvation, we are lost in our own darkness, stumbling around the snares and traps that are within our own hearts. We’re blinded by our own unwillingness to see, and have no guide but our own lusts and sinful desires; these guides are nothing more than “the blind leading the blind.” We can do nothing to get ourselves out of the dark wilderness that we’re in. We can’t find a way out, much less follow one, because there is none for us to find or follow. The Law condemns us to death for our transgressions of it. Our own footsteps lead us down the corridor to hell—it’s only a matter of time before we reach the end of that path and come to its destination.

Then Christ, the Light of the World, shines into our darkness and brings us out of it. He reaches down into the filthy grave that is full of rot and decay, brings out the dead soul that lies within, and breathes new life into it. A great illustration of this is found in John 11.

So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days…So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 

John 11:17, 41-44

It’s pretty clear from this passage that Lazarus did nothing to be saved. Why? Because he was dead! There was nothing he could do! Dead men don’t do anything to bring themselves back to life. They don’t even care that they’re dead. They don’t even know that they’re dead, because they’re dead.

It’s the same with the unconverted soul. Men don’t care that they’re spiritually dead because their own sinful hearts have killed their ability to care. They’re dead. They don’t care about it and can’t change it (because they won’t). Only the Person and work of Jesus Christ will save, and it’s in this glorious Person and finished work alone that men must trust if they are to be rescued from the wrath to come.

Photo by Paul Seling on Pexels.com

That’s what makes grace amazing: that it’s unmerited, undeserved, and freely given. The lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) didn’t come back to the shepherd of its own will and doing. The shepherd went after it to bring it home. The shepherd could have left the sheep outside of the fold, or punished it for leaving in the first place, but he didn’t. Instead, he went to find it. And when he had found it, he carried it home on his shoulders and rejoiced over it.  

It’s only because of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross that this grace is available to us. The shepherd in the parable didn’t have to die for his sheep, but Christ did die for His. To satisfy the justice of God so that we might be made righteous in His eyes, Christ took the full cup of wrath that we deserved and drank it down to the last drop. The Shepherd who was struck gathers His sheep to Himself, and declares that “no one will snatch them out of My hand…I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish.” (John 10:27-30)

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Luke 19:9-10

SDG <><

[1] Webster’s Dictionary

This is the seventh installment in the Journey Through the Hymns series. A new installment will be posted each Wednesday until the series’ completion.

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