February 2014: Amazing Grace

 Amaze:  To be filled with great surprise or sudden wonder.  To be astonished.

So . . . what’s so amazing about amazing grace?  Is grace—God’s grace—really that astonishing and wonderful?  Or are those simply well-known words to a song?  Throughout the entire realm of “Christendom” there probably aren’t many people who haven’t  heard all or part of the famous song, “Amazing Grace,” written by a former slave trader, John Newton, in 1779.  Most of us have sung or heard the song so often that we no longer consider God’s grace as amazing and wonderful.  Just as a lot of people don’t really know the definition of “amazing” as I wrote it above, I almost would be willing to bet that a vast number of people don’t really know the definition of “grace,” either.

Many people who are believers in the Bible and Jesus talk and sing about grace, but many don’t know what it really means.  How about you?  Give me a definition of grace.  Yep.  Right now.  What is grace?  I think probably a definition that many of you might come up with is a little acronym often learned in church or church school:  GRACE = God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense.  While that simple little definition is true, there is more—much more!—to grace.  Grace is a many-faceted attribute of God.  It’s more many-sided than an exquisite cut diamond. Let’s examine what God’s grace really is all about.

How Sweet the Sound

In both the Old Testament and New Testament portions of the Bible, the English word “grace” comes from a word in the Hebrew language and a word in the Greek language—the original languages in which the Bible was written.  The word grace and its derivative words occur almost 200 times throughout the entire Bible.

In the Hebrew language, grace is defined as “the unearned love and favor of God toward us.” It means “the incredibly extravagant generosity of God in our lives.”  In the Greek language, grace is defined as a “free gift from God to all humankind.” It also includes the concepts of “God’s aggressive forgiveness toward us and the abundant freedom He grants us.”  If you put those two definitions together and “amplify” them, grace means that God loves all humanity so much that He lavishes upon us his extravagant, unearned and undeserved favor simply as a free gift, including total forgiveness and authentic spiritual freedom in and through Jesus.

God’s grace also carries the meaning of God’s decency towards us, his thoughtfulness towards us, and his eternal goodwill toward all humanity.  So . . . God’s grace really is amazing grace, isn’t it!?  And to think God loves us so much that He lavishes it upon us freely and eternally.  It’s not merely a one-time event when God once gave us his grace.  It’s an ongoing, eternal “pouring out” of grace through all the coming eons of time, and—after time ends—in the eternal state of being.  As the well-known Energizer Bunny television commercial informs us over and over, grace just keeps flowing and flowing to us forever.

Here’s how an old song puts it:

“Love and grace like mighty rivers
flow unceasing from above.
And heaven’s peace 
and perfect justice
kiss a guilty world with love!”

That Saved a Wretch Like Me

Many people don’t like the word “saved” very much when they read about it or hear it spoken in terms of their spiritual condition.  They feel it’s pretty presumptuous of God or Bible-believers to think that anyone might need “saved.”  “Saved from what?” many ask?  “Why do I need saved?” they question.  The Bible teaches Jesus came to “save” people from their sin-full condition.  Everyone sins:  you, me, everyone.

 What is sin?  I know the theological, biblical definition of sin.  But, the most “workable” definition I use is:  we sin when we make conscious choices and decisions to live self-centered, self-absorbed lives instead of God-filled, God-centered lives.  How about you?  Have you ever made such choices or decisions?  Even once?  If you have, you’re a sinner.  And Jesus came to save you from that sinful condition.  That’s what it means to be saved.

When Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, He saved you from the penalty of sin.  When God’s power raised Him from the dead and brought Him back to life 72 hours later, He saved you from the power of sin.  When Jesus returns to earth as He promised, He will save you from the presence of sin.  That’s the complete “package deal” of what it means to be saved.

But John Newton’s song goes on to state God “. . . saved a wretch like me.”  Wow!  Even more people recoil at that word wretch in John Newton’s song.  It’s not a word we use much these days.  In fact, it’s kind of a distasteful word.  What does the word mean?    “A person in miserable distress or misfortune.” You may be thinking:  “That’s not me.  I’m not miserable, I’m not in distress, I’m not unfortunate.”  Good for you.  But here’s the deal:  you were once a lost and blind wretch.  Any human without a vital, thriving, personal relationship with God through Jesus is a wretch. But you are no longer a lost and blind wretch.  Why?

Because God has replaced your old, lost and blind wretchedness with Jesus’ righteousness.  God no longer sees you as a wretch, but as a well-loved son or daughter “clothed” with Jesus’ righteousness.  What does lost and blind mean?  What does that have to do with me?  Good questions.  The Bible teaches that because of sin, all humanity was once lost.  Not lost in the sense that you lose some money, but lost in the sense of being separated or estranged from God because of our sin.

 God took the initiative to search for and “find” all lost humanity.  We got lost by choosing to be totally self-centered and self-absorbed, leaving God out of our lives.  As mentioned earlier, basically that’s what sin is:  we sin when we make deliberate choices and decisions to live self-centered and self-absorbed lives instead of God-filled, God-centered lives.  Just as we deliberately choose to live self-centered and self-absorbed lives, we must deliberately choose to live God-centered lives . . . beginning with inviting Jesus to take up permanent residence in our lives.

We do that when we invite Him to come in and take over our lives in his “unbodied form” of Holy Spirit.  When we invite Him into our lives, He comes in, permanently fuses and melds with our inner spirits, and then continues to live within us for all the eons of time and in eternity.  Once He comes into our lives—at our invitation!—He then begins the process of empowering us to transform our lives to become more and more God-centered . . . no longer lost and blind wretches needing salvation, but saved, righteous sons and daughters of God being progressively restored into God’s clear image in us.

And . . . God’s grace—flowing from God’s love for us—starts that transformation process.  Grace is not merely a religious word sung and talked about by those who believe in the Bible and in Jesus.  Rather, grace is a “force” or a “power” God uses to save us and then empower us to transform our lives.  Have you received God’s amazing grace and begun your brand-new life freely offered to you by God because of all Jesus has done for you?  I’m not writing about religion.  I’m writing about a relationship with God through Jesus.  Do you have a relationship with God?  If not, God’s amazing grace starts that relationship when you invite Jesus into your life and are born again.

How Grace “Works”

Okay, we’ve looked and the definition of grace.  We know it’s a Bible word, and we now have some understanding of what it really means.  But what does grace “do”?  How does grace “work”?  How does it really have an impact on our lives?  Let’s begin with God—on his throne.  If you were to ask most people what they’re envisioning when they imagine God on his throne, most people will likely respond that God’s throne is a throne of judgment.  They feel God sits on his throne somewhere off in heaven dispensing his wrath and judgment on sinful humans.  Not true!  All of God’s wrath and judgment upon sinful humans was poured out on Jesus, the God-human, 2,000 years ago, and God ain’t mad at no one no more!

God’s throne is not a throne of judgment.  The Bible teaches it is a throne of grace where we can go to ask God for help when we need it.  And . . . the Bible teaches that the foundations of God’s throne of grace are righteousness and justice.  The Bible defines justice as “God making all things right.”  The Bible teaches God is love.  Love is his core character and nature.  From his nature of love, He pours out upon us His love . . . and grace, a “component” of His love.

Envision Niagara Falls on the border of Canada and USAmerica.  The force of the water cascading over the edge of the cliffs is a picture of God’s grace.  Alive.  Unending.  If “harnessed,” able to exert power far beyond what we can imagine.  Grace doesn’t merely flow from God’s throne to each of us; it overflows!  It gushes into our lives, but it does us no good unless we receive it, unless we reach out and grasp it, unless we make God’s love and grace integral parts of our daily lives.

I urge you to give up your false belief that God is mad at you, just waiting to strike you with the lightning bolts of his wrath every time you “mess up.”  It’s not the horrors of a hellish afterlife, nor detailing God’s wrath, nor rehearsing his judgments that draw people to Him.  No!  People are drawn to God when they hear of his goodness and grace and all He has done for them through Jesus.  Learning of the love, grace, and goodness of God causes people to turn away from their sin-full condition and turn toward God.

Embrace God’s Grace!

Do you ever feel you’ve been so sin-full that you’re beyond the reach of God’s grace?  Don’t believe that lie!  The Bible clearly teaches God extends his grace to every human.  No one can ever be beyond the reach of God’s grace.  Like the love of God, grace is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell; it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.  Yes, the unlimited love of God and his unending grace shall forevermore endure—far beyond the words of popular songs we sing.  Yes, grace—overflowing from God’s heart of love—extends to every human ever born on planet earth.  No one—including you!—can ever be beyond the reach of God’s grace.

As an old, Bible-based hymn puts it:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
There on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where Jesus’ blood was spilled!
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that pardons and cleanses within!
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

We’ll continue this teaching about grace next month.

                     “Now God has us where He wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in the eons of time to come, and beyond those eons in the eternal state of being.  Saving us from sin is all his idea, and all his work.  All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.  It’s God’s gift from start to finish!  

We don’t play the major role.  If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!  No, we neither make nor save ourselves.  God does both the making and the saving.  He created us to save us by his love and grace to join him in the work he does, the good work he planned for us to do long before he ever created anything.”  –Ephesians 2: 8-10 in the New Testament (Adapted from The Message Bible)

To Think About This Month

“God’s mercy means I don’t get what I deserve.  God’s grace means I get what I don’t deserve!”

Bill Boylan
Life Enrichment Services, Inc.
Revised and Updated December 2020

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