"Amazing grace - how sweet the sound - that saved a wretch like me!"
Those opening words of John Newton’s hymn are widely known outside Christian circles. Grace is one of the most important concepts of the Christian faith but it can be one we struggle both to understand and explain. Here’s how some have interpreted it:
J Gresham Machen said, “The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.”
B.B. Warfield said, “Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.”
John Stott said, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”
Jerry Bridges said, “[Grace] is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.”
Paul Zahl said, “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.”
Perhaps by the end of this reflection you’ll identify more closely with one of these definitions or you’ll have come up with one of your own.
Grace seems to cost God everything and cost us nothing. God’s radical grace is never about earning righteousness; it’s about an activity of God’s inclusive love. The inconvenient thing about grace is that it requires a response.
Blinded by Your Grace Part 2 by Stormzy reached number one in the UK charts. While much of his music reflects tough gang life, his album Gang Signs and Prayer also reveals something of his beliefs: one song references his mother praying for him, and he dedicates two songs to God’s grace: Blinded by Your Grace Parts 1 and 2.
In Blinded by Your Grace Part 2, Stormzy sings:
You saved this kid and I’m not your first It’s not about blood and it’s not about birth But oh my god what a God I serve.
And the chorus goes:
Lord I’ve been broken Although I’m not worthy You fixed me, I’m blinded By your grace You came and saved me.
What is Stormzy saying when he says he has been saved by grace? He seems to be acknowledging that God loves us no matter who we are, where we’re from or what we’ve done.
Going back to John Newton, he described the mystery of grace as amazing because it is a free gift from God. Like Stormzy, Newton is saying that God doesn’t love us for what we do; God loves us because we are God’s children. Nothing we do will ever make God love us more and nothing we do will ever make God love us less. God’s love is constant.
Being a Methodist, I have to include something about what John Wesley had to say about grace. One aspect Wesley talked about was ‘prevenient grace’, the idea of God’s love acting in us before we are aware of God’s existence. I certainly see signs of prevenient grace acting in others.