We as Christians cannot help but discuss the issue of God’s grace in its many forms in the midst of life’s circumstances. We see the specifics of common grace day after day as the sun shines on the just as well as the unjust and in the reality that so many of us, believers and unbelievers, were not affected by killer cyclones or multiple tornados like others were. The fact that your town was not swallowed up by the earth last night is owing to God’s grace.

Those who know Christ are often moved to reflect upon special grace in that we who are saved know that and understand why we are saved. We understand, unlike those who are not saved, not only why we have life in Christ but why we have anything. We have eyes to see common grace, God’s glory in creation, our need for a Savior, and the impetus behind what we are and what we have. We indeed can see that God’s mercies are new every morning.

Depending upon our vocation, some of us see people die more than others do. We have noticed that there is a difference between the way believers and unbelievers die. We have the privilege from time to time to observe what we might call dying grace. Some can almost see Christ as it were standing at the gate of heaven. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His satins.

Of course, grace is so misunderstood in our world, both in and outside of the church. How many times have we seen the over usage and indeed misusage of that great hymn of the faith by John Newton: “Amazing Grace?” The hymn is used in countless television programs, for example, regardless of the circumstance, theology, or eternal destiny of those being eulogized. The truth of the matter is not that it’s overused, but that it’s overused so badly because it’s so misunderstood in biblical terms.

At the same time, we might add that in our self-centered, self-righteous, and therapeutic culture, the aforementioned misunderstanding takes on new implications. On the one hand grace is often equated with merit and the vast majority of persons who speak of grace think they can not only earn it but somehow deserve it. Even in conservative Christian circles, the notion that all men deserve a chance to receive Christ is the norm rather than the exception.

On the other hand, because of such notions, grace is seen as something not so amazing but rather mundane or at the very least something that is taken for granted. The only antidote for such thinking, of course, is a fresh dose of biblical teaching concerning man’s sinfulness and God’s prerogative in salvation.

A few years ago, I read a little book by Michael Horton entitled, Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Who does what in Salvation?” I mention the book for two reasons. First, it expresses the heart of what we as human beings so desperately need: we need a fresh understanding of just how amazing the grace of God in Christ Jesus truly is. Second, Horton offers an antidote to the self-help culture in which we find ourselves by presenting God’s grace in popular terms. He centers much of his discussion around the topics of “Rebels without a Cause,” “Grace before Time,” “Mission Accomplished,” “Intoxicating Grace,” and “No Lost Causes.”

To explain briefly, we are “rebels without a cause” in the sense that we are merely rebels against God and we have no reason to be such other than the fact that we are born dead in sin. In Adam, we all die. In Adam, we all sinned. We sin against a gracious God every day. We are sinners by nature and by choice and we cannot do anything but sin unless God changes our hearts. There is nothing anyone who is not saved can do to please God, not even believe (Rom. 8:8).

Of course, faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). That’s what Horton means when he talks about “Grace before Time.” Before the foundation of the world, God chose to redeem a people for Himself out of every people group on earth (Eph. 1:3f). No one who was chosen by God deserved to be given saving grace. Then again, that’s what grace is: God giving a man something he does not deserve or earn.

It was Christ who made God’s grace in salvation possible in terms of people actually being saved. Guilty sinners could never do anything to save themselves and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Christ, who had no sin of His own, died as a substitute for guilty sinners by virtue of their sin being credited to His account. He suffered the wrath of God in the place of deserving sinners. He averted God’s wrath from His chosen ones and took their sin away. And, because He had no sin of His own, death could not hold Him, He was raised up, and those who believe on Him have life by virtue of His righteousness credited to their accounts. That’s the great salvation transaction. That’s the only way a guilty sinner can be made right with Holy God: the righteousness of Christ imputed to him. Christ paid the price for His own. Those who don’t belong to Christ are paying for their sins in an eternal Hell.

The Scripture is clear that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).” If man is dead in sin, hates God, cannot please God, is unwilling to receive the things of the Spirit of God, and is unable to understand the things of God, who can he be saved? Christ Himself said that with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:25). This helpless man is saved by “intoxicating grace.” God begins to show a man his sinfulness and his need for a Savior, by grace. He brings that man from spiritual death to spiritual life, by grace. He opens his eyes to see (Jn. 3:1f). He gives a man a new nature, a new will, a new heart, a new desire, a new sight. He gives him the gifts of repentance and faith. God lovingly and graciously gives a man what he cannot get for himself and once he has it, he willingly flies to Christ in repentance and faith.

The good news is that once a man has been truly graced by God, he has that grace forever. There are “no lost causes.” If a man could lose his salvation by sinning or by walking away, that would mean that salvation was not by grace but by works, either initially or continually. No, salvation is by grace. A man who has saving grace will walk in good works. But, he is not saved nor is he kept saved by those works. He is kept in a state of grace, not by his works, but by grace. God is the One who will keep us to the end (1 Pet. 1:5). That’s grace.

Not a few years before Horton, in 1738, the Anglican/Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley, penned the wonderful hymn “And Can it Be.” The words demonstrate that Wesley understood something of the amazing quality of the grace of God in salvation. Each time I sing the hymn I am brought to tears as I am reminded of who did what in salvation and just how amazing God’s grace to me truly is. A hymn like this not only highlights biblical doctrine, but brings the doctrine to the heart, as it were. See for yourself:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I can’t say it better than that. My prayer is that in some small way I can help to spur you to think on these things and that in so thinking, God will allow each one of us to put amazing back into grace.

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