What is so amazing about grace? Most people would be familiar with the words from the well-known hymn Amazing grace with the text published by John Newton 1779 and later set to the recognisable melody we know today by William Walker in 1835. From testifying Newton’s own personal conversion to his local parishioners, the hymn has become a part of western culture with its popular use as a spiritual anthem in iconic times and tragedy – the anti-slavery and civil rights movements, in military services and memorial events, etc. capturing the human spirit and unity of hope in the midst of struggle. Is our sense of ‘amazing’ grace associated with just a familiar tune, or a deeper meaning that we can personally experience? I’ve turned to Christian author and journalist Philip Yancey’s, ‘What’s so amazing about grace?’ (Christian Book of the Year Award – 1998) to help explore what is so special about this grace.
If there was one unique thing about Christianity which would set it apart from other religions, what would it be? Yancey recounts an incident with C.S. Lewis in the early part of the last century. People may know C.S. Lewis as the author of the popular children’s series books ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ but he is also acclaimed for his published work on Christian apologetics. Yancey writes:
“During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith…. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”
As C.S. Lewis points out, the difference in Christianity is grace. Grace is defined as a favour done for you that wasn’t deserved. There is nothing you can do to earn or work for it. All the work is done by someone else – the effort, the time and sacrifice, and we can only receive, accept it, be grateful and thankful in return. Sometimes we are too focused on ourselves; we take for granted and forget to reflect on the things others do for us. From each breath that we take, to random acts of kindness of strangers, to the people God has placed in our lives – are we appreciative of all the God-given things around us? In praise and gratitude to the Creator who gave us life undeservedly, salvation even more so at his cost, we should say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2Corinthians 9:15)
Amazing grace is not about you, it is all about God and what He has given you! Nothing, no other possession, or belief can ever compare with that – What God would choose to humble himself and come to earth as a man to serve those in need? What God would undergo the suffering and humiliation, even till death on a cross for you? (Philippians 2:3-8) What God would forgive you and offer salvation freely by faith so you won’t have to perish? As people who have rejected and fallen away from God, and deserving to be condemned, God shows his immeasurable love, amazing grace, his unconditional compassion, to save us from when the day of judgement will come. Jesus came to redeem fallen sinners and offer a new life, not condemn (John 3:16-17) and likewise, as Christians with our hearts reborn and transformed by His love and grace (Ephesians 3:17-18), we are to show the same grace to others so they can also see God’s grace and turn to Him. (John 13:34-35). Share in God’s passion to demonstrate love, grace in action and save those who are lost!
Yancey goes on to explore the changing power of grace as the solution and only way to end the problems in the broken world we live in. In details that won’t be expanded on here, he cites various examples in history, cultures, religions, races; observed from famous writers, historical figures, personal encounters, testimonial experiences, over a diverse spectrum to comprehensively explore the human experience – struggles, conflicts, suffering, all caught in endless cycles of despair or destruction. Generations of broken families, with horrors and atrocities of wars, violence, cycles of revenge, hate, pain and unforgiveness; – conflicts in countries, between social differences, fights over ideologies, politics, intolerance over other’s beliefs and behaviours, and the list goes on where people are unable to heal from their wounds – physically, emotionally, spiritually. We see the reality of the bitterness in man, but yet turn to God and see how Jesus did not seek to retaliate but instead, suffered at the cross to ultimately give up His life for his enemies in proof of His love.
God’s answer to broken humanity in a fallen world is grace. Love instead of hate, forgiveness in place of revenge, striving to do the opposite and more. Where human laws fail to change hearts or heal, there is a human need for God’s grace to truly bring a peace that will last. Only in Jesus with his hope of eternal salvation and all-embracing forgiveness will allow the cycle of indifference and self-centredness in human nature to end. Jesus even tells us to not repay our enemies for what they deserve but do the exact opposite by forgiving and loving them (Matthew 5:43-47) Let God’s grace move and change hearts the same way he has touched yours. In the words of the hymn that describes and reminds us of the power and awesome way in which we are struck by God’s assuring love and salvation, and then to see the world around us differently with His grace-filled eyes; ‘I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see.’