Have you ever wondered what “Amazing Grace” actually means?
Any survey taken of favorite hymns will find the hymn “Amazing Grace” near the very top. The music and the words resonate powerfully with many people. But have you ever wondered why the grace is “amazing”? We first need to rightly understand what grace is. Grace is undeserved, unearned favor. It is receiving something good that you don’t deserve.
When my children were little, we had a children’s book in our home called “Pig Will & Pig Won’t,” by Richard Scarry. I used this story as an illustration to explain grace to my children. The book tells the story of two pigs, Pig Will and Pig Won’t. Whenever Pig Will & Pig Won’t were asked to do something by their parents, Pig Will said, “I will” and Pig Won’t shouted “I won’t!” Well one day, Mother Pig was preparing for Pig Will’s birthday party. She asked the boys to go outside to play but they needed to be sure to wear their raincoats, hats, and boots because it was damp outside and she didn’t want them to get sick and miss the party. Pig Will said, “I will” and Pig Won’t said “I won’t!” Because of his disobedience, Pig Won’t ended up getting sick and had to stay in bed the next day and miss the party. He could hear everyone having fun in the other room but he couldn’t join them. But then even though he didn’t deserve it, one of the guests at the party brought Pig Won’t a piece of birthday cake to go with his cough medicine. There is the illustration of grace. Although Pig Won’t did not deserve a piece of cake because of his disobedience, and although he had done nothing to earn a piece of cake, he was graciously given a piece of cake. He was shown grace. He received something good that he did not deserve. Grace is undeserved, unearned favor.
God’s grace is amazing grace, because as the hymn writer states, “it saved a wretch like me.” We are undeserving of God’s goodness. The Bible teaches that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created mankind, male and female, in His image. He created all things very good (Genesis 1&2). But our first parents, Adam & Eve, rebelled against God, they sinned against Him, and consequently alienated themselves from Him (Genesis 3). Their sin made them worthy of God’s judgment. The Bible states that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and that as a result of Adam’s initial sin, all of us are born sinners, alienated from God (Romans 5). The Psalmist writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). The apostle Paul makes plain that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is extremely significant because God is a holy God, He is a just God. God’s justice demands that sin be punished. Just as we expect human judges to acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty, we should expect God, the perfectly just judge to do the same. God’s perfect justice demands that sin committed against His supreme majesty be punished with the supreme penalty – eternal punishment of body and soul.
What hope do we have? In and of ourselves we stand before God as guilty sinners. We have not loved God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have acted selfishly, we have yielded to unrighteous anger, said words that hurt, yielded to envy, greed, lust and any number of sins. In and of ourselves we stand before God spiritually wretched. We have no hope of atoning for our sins.
Our hope rests with the amazing grace of God, that God who is merciful as well as just would show us undeserved favor and undeserved kindness. This is what God does for sinners in the person and work of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 8:6-8). Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, took to Himself a human nature. He was born of the virgin Mary. He grew into man and lived a perfectly righteous life. He consistently obeyed God. The Bible says that He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus Christ, who did not deserve to die, offered His life as a sacrifice for the lives of His people. On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God toward our sin. He suffered the penalty that we deserve on our behalf. God demonstrated His acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of sinners by raising Him from the dead. In the work of Jesus Christ, God meets His demands of justice. God is able to show us grace because Jesus Christ paid the penalty of our sin. This is why it can be said that in Christ, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). God’s grace is amazing because He gave His only begotten Son to suffer and die for a wretch like me. Again the Bible says, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10).
The hymn writer then goes on to rightly note that it is the amazing grace of God that opens our eyes so that we might see the depth of our sin and the beauty of the salvation offered in Jesus Christ – “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
What a glorious gospel – that God graciously grants salvation to sinners through Jesus Christ! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”(John 3:16).
Our prayer is that you might know, and be amazed by, God’s amazing grace; that God would open your eyes to the reality of your sin and the beauty of the Savior Jesus Christ; and that you would be able to truly sing this beloved hymn with thankfulness from the depths of your heart.
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.
Pastor Jim Megchelsen