Two centuries after its composition, the song, “Amazing Grace”, still grips the hearts of millions across the world.
The words of the song help paint a picture of God’s Grace. The song describes and tells the tale of a man known as John Newton as he journeyed his way back into God’s arms. The words of the song describe me and you, and our desperate need for God’s grace. It’s not only a song, but also a story for all of us.
The song was sung after Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. This was at a time when equality and freedom among the colored community was being fought for in the streets of America. It was also sung after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, as well as after the 9/11 tragic occurrence.
The song acts as an ever-present reminder of the gift of redemption given to us by God. It is also an encouragement that evokes hope in times of calamity and despair.
John Newton’s Story
John Newton was raised on Christian principles at an early age, thanks to his mother. However, soon after his mother died, he was sent off to sea at the tender age of 11. It was then that he forgot what he had been taught about the Lord and sailed into a life of unbelief, rejecting God and everything He had to offer him.
A sailor and a slave trader, he was known for his blasphemous and promiscuous lifestyle. Yet, just like Apostle Paul, he too, had his Road to Damascus moment.
As they crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a ship, a severe storm that threatened to take their lives struck. A week into the storm, the crashing waves and the strong gusts of wind were no less severe. The ship was battered, splintered and wrecked, and all sign of hope was lost.
The dark grey skies and ear-splitting waves told a tale of an untimely demise.
Tied to the helm, John Newton’s life and everyone else’s on board hung in the balance as he cried out to God. Not too long after, the storm quieted and calmed, as God answered Newton’s cry for mercy. On that day, March 21, 1748, Newton marks in his diary as a day of “humiliation, prayer and praise.”
He, just like Apostle Paul, considered himself a wretch. Yet, God extended his grace to him. Even in his deepest and darkest, God’s grace, though unmerited and undeserved, just like anyone else who is saved, was granted to him. John Newton gladly accepted this Gift of Grace.
After his life-changing experience at sea, he became an evangelical Christian who fought for the emancipation of slaves. Alongside William Wilberforce, he fought for the abolishment of slave trade. Being an eyewitness of what slave trade entailed, he knew of its goings-on.
He knew that grace was extended by God to all of humanity; to the free and slaves alike; to both colored and non- colored. In the words of Pastor Joe Focht, “At the foot of the cross, the ground is level. No one is better than the other; our righteousness is as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
Deuteronomy 10:17: For the Lord, your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. (NASB)
The song was John Newton’s declaration of what God did and continued to do throughout his life. God met him where he was at despite his state and sin, and made him new again. Notably, Grace is freely given. Yet, in order to receive it, you must accept it first, through Faith in Jesus Christ.
Understanding God’s Grace
Just like Apostle Paul, God’s Grace changed John Newton from his old ways.
2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (NASB)
Yet, why is God’s Grace so powerful? Clearly, it has an effect on the people that experience it as they take on a new life and identity in Jesus Christ. According to the Late Pastor Chuck Smith, “Grace changes everything.”
Chuck Smith, in his book titled, Why Grace Changes Everything, defines Grace as something that we cannot obtain through our works. According to him, grace is when, even though we are unworthy and undeserving, God still accepts us. Grace is God opening the door to heaven, and beckoning everyone to come to Him. Grace is an open door; however, it can only be accessed through faith in Jesus Christ.
Grace was when Jesus Christ hung on the cross for an undeserving humanity so as to grant us the Gift of salvation. God’s only Son hung on the cross so that we can be granted a loving relationship with God and a chance to experience eternity in heaven with Him.
Again, we can only receive grace through belief; through faith. Again, grace is not something we can earn or work for. It is something that we must accept and believe, because the work was already done and completed on the cross. Abraham, the father of Faith, believed and was recognized as righteous in God’s eyes.
Romans 4:3: For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”(NASB)
We cannot please God if we do not have faith, as Hebrews 11:6 tells us:
And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (NASB)
There’s no amount of good that we can do to earn God’s Grace. The work was already done and completed on the cross. By refusing God’s Grace and deciding to earn it through your good works instead, is futile. Why is this so?
Why We Need God’s Grace
Jesus Christ said that He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). So, the only way to get to heaven is by believing in Him. However, if you choose another route, say, based on your good works, you won’t get there.
This is because God doesn’t measure your goodness based on the standards you’ve set for yourself. God’s standards are higher than ours, as 1 John 3:15 tells us,
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (NASB)
God equates hate with murder. God demands perfection as His standard to enter His kingdom.
Matthew 5:48: Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NASB)
So, what is God’s standard of perfection? His standard is Jesus Christ, who is God the Son. Jesus Christ knew no sin and committed no sin.
1 Peter 1:16: because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (NASB)
But wait a minute; surely, no one apart from God is perfect? Correct! If this is God’s standard of perfection, then who is going to get into heaven? Only those that accept the gift of Grace through Faith will receive eternal life.
Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NASB)
We must recognize that Grace was bought with the precious and invaluable blood of Jesus Christ. According to Pastor Joe Focht, “There is no such thing as cheap Grace. Grace is the utmost expensive thing in the world. We were paid for and bought by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
However, I must emphasize that Grace is not a license to sin.
Romans 6: 1-2: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (NASB)
As Christians, we are new creatures in Jesus Christ. By receiving His Grace, we can enter into a loving relationship with God. Such a relationship is not bound by rules or regulations but by unconditional love. By loving God, we recognize that by sinning, we grieve and hurt Him.
We will want to please God not because we have to but because we want to. That is what love does to a person and that is what God’s unconditional love can do to the heart of a sinner.
John 14:15-21: If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (NASB)
Sure, we might fall and sin from time to time. Yet, this doesn’t change God’s love for us. Whenever we fall, the Holy Spirit is there to convict us so that we will run to God for forgiveness. We must not allow the Devil’s condemnation to turn us away from the loving and all forgiving arms of God.
1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)
Essentially, by Faith, we receive God’s Grace, which is the Gift of salvation. Through Grace, we enter into and experience God’s unconditional love. What a blessing!! According to the Late Pastor Chuck Smith, to know that God loves us and that He is for us is the greatest source of security a person will ever know.
In closing, as John Newton lay on his deathbed, he made a declaration that is so often quoted, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things. One, that I am a great sinner. And, two, that Jesus Christ is a great savior.”
May we never forget that all can be redeemed by the same blood of Jesus Christ. May we never forget the great love of God that granted us a gift that we can never earn; the Gift of salvation. May we never forget or reject God’s Grace.