His Amazing Grace
How do you know that you really get the gospel, that you really understand and believe it? Or perhaps better said, how do you know that the gospel has really gotten you, that it has taken hold of you and begun to permanently transform you? I found myself pondering this question last week and was soon thinking about people I have known who once professed faith, but who eventually grew cold, grew distant, and fell away.
Maybe it would have been this: You know that you really get the gospel when it is God’s grace rather than God’s wrath that amazes you. I often hear people express their amazement and even their disgust at the very notion of a wrathful God. But when I hear true believers, I hear them express amazement at the reality of a gracious God. It is grace, not wrath, that baffles them. “Why? Why me? Why would God extend such grace to me?”
This is, I think, why John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” has remained such a popular and powerful hymn. Newton’s cry was “amazing grace.” Wrath did not surprise or offend him. He knew of his wretchedness, his own deep depravity. He was already convicted that he was fully deserving of God’s justice. So it was grace that shocked him. It was grace that seemed so out of place. If there was any offense to the gospel, it was that God would take the sin of a very bad man like John Newton and place it on the perfect man Jesus Christ.
You know that you really get it when the shocking thing about the gospel is not that God extends wrath to sinners, but that he extends grace. And here’s why: The basic human condition is to believe that God isn’t really all that holy and that I’m not really that bad. God is lenient toward sin, and, as it happens, I am not really all that deeply sinful anyway. So we are a good match, God and I. It takes no faith to believe that. It takes no great change of mind and heart.
But the gospel unmasks that kind of delusion. The gospel helps us see things as they really are. The gospel says that God really is far holier than I dared even imagine and that I am far more sinful than I ever could have guessed. And, right there—with the right assessment of both God and me—right there the gospel blazes forth. Right there the gospel gives hope.
Grace for the “unclean”
The Israelites’ diet scrupulously excluded any abnormal or “oddball” animals, and the same principle applied also to “clean” animals used in worship. No worshiper could bring a maimed or defective lamb to the temple, for God wanted the unblemished of the flock. From Cain onward, people had to follow God’s precise instructions or risk having their offerings rejected. God demanded perfection; God deserved the best. No Oddballs Allowed.
…Jesus’ approach to “unclean” people dismayed his countrymen, and in the end, helped to get him crucified. In essence, Jesus canceled the cherished principle of the Old Testament, No Oddballs Allowed, replacing it with a new rule of grace: “We’re all oddballs, but God loves us anyhow.”
Jesus culminated his time on earth by giving his disciples the “Great Commission,” a command to take the gospel to unclean Gentiles “in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” … Rung by rung, Jesus dismantled the ladder of hierarchy that had marked the approach to God. He invited defectives, sinners, aliens, and Gentiles—the unclean!—to God’s banquet table.
…Levitical laws guarded against contagion: contact with a sick person, a Gentile, a corpse, certain kinds of animals, or even mildew and mold would contaminate a person. Jesus reversed the process; rather than being contaminated, he made the other person whole. The naked madman did not pollute Jesus; he got healed. The pitiful woman with the flow of blood did not shame Jesus and make him unclean; she went away whole. The twelve-year-old dead girl did not contaminate Jesus; she was resurrected.
I sense in Jesus’ approach a fulfillment, not an abolition, of the Old Testament laws. God had “hallowed” creation by separating the sacred from the profane, the clean from the unclean. Jesus did not cancel out the hallowing principle, rather he changed its source. We ourselves can be agents of God’s holiness, for God now dwells within us. In the midst of an unclean world, we can stride, as Jesus did, seeking to be a source of holiness. The sick and the maimed are for us not hot spots of contamination but potential reservoirs of God’s mercy. We are called upon to extend that mercy, to be conveyors of grace, not avoiders of contagion. Like Jesus, we can help make the “unclean” clean.
Jacob had a dream of a ladder that stretched all the way to heaven. Of angels ascending and descending to and from the presence of the Lord.
God spoke and gave Jacob a promise: “Your descendants will spread over the earth in all directions and will become as numerous as the specks of dust. Your family will be a blessing to all people. Wherever you go, I will watch over you, then later I will bring you back to this land. I won’t leave you—I will do all I have promised.” (Genesis 28:13–15 CEV)
When Jacob awoke, he said, “The Lord is in this place, and I didn’t even know it.” (Genesis 28:16 CEV)
The beautiful truth we often fail to see is that the Lord is in every place. In every difficult experience. In every trying relationship. In every hard-to-understand individual. In every lonely place. In every forgotten tear. He is there, reaching out, making Himself known through His expressions of love: A hopeful thought. An encouraging dream. A motivational word. A heart-warming hug. An unexpected friendship.
In every moment that we find hope, and in each instance we feel grace, Christ is there saying, “I am with you in this place, and you are not alone.”
Like Jacob, we might have done something that causes us to fear that we’ve fallen from grace, or that a dark spot is etched on our eternal record. But if you open your heart to His Word, you’ll find that you are not far from grace. Jesus is right there, whispering to your heart that there is “a time to every purpose”—even the difficult ones. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
After all, He, whose essence is love, is the one who is present at every moment of your life. He is with you always, even to the ends of the age, promising to bring life to every perceived death and showing you the rainbow through every storm cloud.
Sometimes we receive a promise or an answer to prayer, we see a miracle or something turn out just the way we had hoped, yet we’re still not quite sure that God has it all figured out from beginning to end. … The amazing thing is, He doesn’t fault us for that. He understands that in this world we have to take things by faith rather than know them by sight. He takes us where we’re at and continually encourages us to follow, to increase our faith by keeping our eyes on Him and following Him step by step.
As we do so, we’ll discover that He does make good on His promises. We will be able to say, with Joshua, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” (Joshua 23:14 NIV)
Copyright © The Family International. All Rights Reserved.