Read Romans 3:21-26
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17 NLT)
I think if you were to ask people what their favorite Christian hymns are most people would have “Amazing Grace” some where on that list. I wonder how many people actually know the story behind that hymn. No doubt, some people will have seen the 2006 film that was named after the famous hymn. For those who have seen that film, which details William Wilberforce’s fight for the abolishment of slavery in Great Britain, this story is something they are already familiar with; however, even if you are familiar with the story, it is still good to hear it again.
The hymn was written by John Newton, who was a slave ship captain. He never had any religious upbringing while growing up and so, as you can imagine, he didn’t have any real religious sensibilities as a slave ship captain; however, that all changed in 1748 when is ship was nearly over come by a terrible storm off of the coast of County Donegal, Ireland. In the midst of the storm, for fear of his life, John Newton found himself doing something he had never really done before: he was praying to God for life. It was in that moment that Newton converted to being a Christian and he penned the first verse while waiting for his ship to be repaired. While Newton did not stop being a Slave Ship Captain right away, by 1754 or 1755 he had completely given up his career and began studying Christian theology.
From there, John Newton went on to be ordained in the Church of England and became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire. The rest of Amazing Grace was completed in order to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day, 1773. While this hymn didn’t take off right away, the Second Great Awakening in the United States gave birth to it’s popularity. John Newton, a former slave captain, also became an influential proponent of the abolishment of slavery. After experiencing a conversion to Christian faith, William Wilberforce sought spiritual counsel to see if he should remain in politics. Newton encouraged him to stay in politics and became an ally of Wilberforece’s in his quest to abolish slavery from Great Britain. By 1807, both Newton and Wilberforce’s dream of the downfall of the slave trade came to pass.
What’s important to note about both Newton and Wilberforce is that in both of them we see the true nature of God’s Grace. In today’s Christianity, the focus on God’s grace is how FREE it is. While it is true that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace, and while it is true that Grace is a gift from God to us, to focus solely on Grace being FREE is to miss a profoundly powerful paradox. Here’s the deal, God’s grace maybe free for us to accept; however, it comes at the highest of costs. As John Newton and William Wilberforce both came to realize, accepting God’s amazing grace meant that they were selling their souls and their lives to God. Nothing…absolutely nothing…would remain the same again.
The same is true for us, if we want God’s free and amazing Grace, we have to be willing to pay the cost. It will change who we are from the inside out. It will push us to uncomfortable places we never imagined ourselves going. It will call us to forsake our own wills for the will of God. It will compel us to stand up against oppression, against injustice, in order to fight for the “least of these” and for the souls of those who are seeking release from captivity (physical and spiritual). While this change, as in the case of Newton, might not happen overnight…it will most certainly happen! Because those who are possessed by God’s Spirit, and filled with God’s amazing grace, cannot continue living lives that are antithetical to God’s love. So, sing it! Sing Amazing Grace at the top of your lungs and be transformed by God’s amazing paradox.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Cheap grace is the enemy of the church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship”.
Lord, fill me with your costly grace and transform me in ways that produce transformative change in the world around me. Amen.