Jul 30

Amazing Grace

Amid all the new songs and choruses we sing in church, from time to time a gem appears. These are not new songs as such, but rather old hymns, which have been re-imagined and dusted off for the modern world. A change of tune, a new chorus or bridge and ancient words find new meaning for the 21st century. In recent years ‘Amazing Grace’ has been one of these songs and it has taken on new life with the addition of a new chorus. We now sing “Amazing grace – my chains are gone.” However, sometimes we sing those familiar words without pausing to think what they really mean. I always remember the definition of ‘Grace’ by the mnemonic “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” In other words, we get all the benefits of God’s forgiveness and mercy because Christ paid the price. However, even when we break the word Grace down like that, we can still miss the enormity of what it really is.

Many people believe that the Christian faith is this: God is sitting in heaven watching us. If we do good things, God is pleased. If we do wrong (sin), then God is displeased. One day, when we die, we will go to be judged by God. If the good things we have done in life outweigh the bad things, then God will let us into heaven. If not, then we are bound for the other place!

The trouble is, that not only is this NOT what the Bible teaches. Actually, it is the opposite! This belief in reward for good behaviour is really pagan and the antithesis of the Gospel of grace that the Bible shows us. Many pagan cultures believed that the gods were angry and we needed to placate them with our offerings and behaviour. However, Jesus showed us another way.

The truth is that no matter how good we are, we can never be good enough for God. All of us fall short of God’s standard – All of us. What is more, the wages of that falling short are death – for all of us. However hard we try, we still cannot make the mark or reach the standard God would require. Many Christians believe that they are good enough for God because of the lifestyle they lead: they don’t smoke, they don’t get drunk, they don’t sleep around, they go to church. But the standards Jesus set was much, much higher than this. He said that if you looked at woman with a lustful thought, you were guilty of adultery in your heart. If you got angry with someone, you were equally guilty of murder… and the wages of sin are death.

Grace tells us that God does not judge us by our lifestyle and behaviour. He looks at Jesus’ instead, and judges US by HIS life. Jesus lived the perfect life without sin. He took the punishment and death we deserve, and gave us his perfect record. We get life, not because we are good enough but because he is good enough. We do not deserve it, but we get it as a free gift… completely… freely… without strings. On your worst day, when you are getting it all wrong, God still looks at us and sees Jesus’ record if we are clothed in Christ.

During the first century AD, the church in the Roman province of Galatia did not get this. They were taught by false teachers that unless they lived a certain lifestyle and followed a certain set of rules, then God wouldn’t accept them. These rules included keeping to a certain diet, wearing certain clothes, living a particular way and, most of all (for the men) being circumcised. The Apostle Paul was so appalled by this pagan heresy that he wrote them a long letter, which today we call the book of Galatians. In it he asked them how they could be so foolish as to be led astray by a false gospel, which really was no gospel at all. Then, as the letter unfolds, he outlines the truth about the Amazing Grace which God has on offer.

From September onwards we will be looking afresh at this letter, and I’m sure we will sing ‘Amazing Grace’ quite a lot as we consider the depth and the height and the breadth of God’s love for us shown in Jesus and demonstrated at the cross. I hope you can join us on Sunday mornings for our 10.30am service as we explore just what is so amazing about grace.