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Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound

April 18, 2024

Mary Miller

“Amazing grace (how sweet the sound)

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

was blind, but now I see.”[1] 

I listened to heavy metal singer Dan Vasc belt out “Amazing Grace”[2]  until tears streamed down my cheeks. I am neither a metal fan nor do I weep much unless touched by the Spirit. Lyrics from Dan’s albums indicate he may not even be a believer. Yet the Word of God never fails to bring transformation. Isn’t it the very nature of grace that our almighty, perfect, heavenly Father uses “wretches” like me as His hands and feet?

Grace, unmerited grace—being given what I do not deserve. I am reminded of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables[3]  who had recently been released from prison and given dinner and a room by the church bishop. His past entrapped him and he was compelled to steal the church’s silverware and plates. Caught, and when brought before the bishop by the authorities, the bishop graciously hands Jean the silver candlesticks as well. His life was forever marked by this merciful act.

I have often recoiled at the tediousness of the Old Testament rules and regulations requiring bloody sacrifices to appease the Law. Gross. Even with the preponderance of blood, it was humanly impossible to keep the law with absolute unfailing faithfulness. Our sin nature was too strong. We desperately needed a perfect sacrifice. Not even this yearly lamb could completely suffice for our sin. I’m not sure our human minds can fully comprehend the absolute holiness of God, and to the same degree He is holy, how our righteousness is called “filthy rags” in Hebrews. [4]  Even after serving God for over thirty years, I find myself asking for forgiveness daily, sometimes hourly. I sing, “Worthy is the Lamb,” with adoration and gratitude that Jesus Christ stepped in to be the spotless Lamb of God. He paid the penalty for my sin.

Peter states that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”[5] Yes, I have been created in the likeness of God, with creativity, beauty and wisdom, but sin corrupts my very nature. Humility is a prerequisite to admitting with Paul in his letter to the Romans that “in me dwells no good thing,” [6] that my righteousness is filthy. No score sheet of good deeds or acts of kindness can merit salvation or forgiveness. My acts of kindness are not an eraser wiping out my sins. In my weakness His power is made perfect.[7] 

By the grace of God we have a Savior, the spotless sacrificial lamb of God. John tells us that “the law God has given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”[8] 

I humbly receive the grace of God, forgiveness for my sin, and acknowledgement that in me dwells no good thing, [9] and that anything “good” which flows from me is solely because of His grace. I am exhorted to grow in grace and knowledge.[10]  We are encouraged to “draw near to the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in the time of need.”[11]  God’s grace is unmerited: it is undeserved, cannot be earned. It is freely given, this bridge to God.

How does God’s sweet grace inform my daily practice? My daughter recently received her learner’s permit and is my chauffeur. She is encountering drivers of all persuasions. We have had discussions on graciously allowing fast drivers to pass, patiently slowing down behind crawling cars and thinking about the other driver from a compassionate perspective, suggesting that the driver “could be your grandmother or another student driver.” As conflict has arisen in her life with schoolmates, we try to gain perspective and insightfully consider the classmate’’ family life and what may be informing what seems to be hurtful reactions. Do we see every person we encounter through the eyes of Christ—that he or she is passionately loved, just as much as I am loved?

I have been asking God to remove judgmentalism and give me His love for each individual—family, strangers on the street, obnoxious gym rats, politicians, fellow ministers. Everyone has a story. We can’t overlook that grace flows from God’s discipline, too. When He disciplines, it is an act of grace coupled with mercy, so the concept of grace doesn’t dismiss justice, but it is not for me to administer. Who am I to withhold grace and mercy when I have been forgiven and given so much? I am choosing to invest in my eternal inheritance. We are only here on this beautiful planet for a fraction of our lives; it’s the barest glimmer of the billions of years ahead of us in eternity.

Grace upon grace upon grace. [12] May I humbly act as the bishop did, giving my enemy the candlesticks as well as the silver. I open my mouth and cry out,

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun.”[13] 

[1] John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” c.1772.

[2] See the performance here.

[3] Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, first published in 1862.

[4] Isaiah 64:6 (KJV).

[5] 1 Peter 5:5 (ESV).

[6] Romans 7:18-19.

[7] 2 Corinthians 12:9.

[8] John 1:17.

[9] Romans 7:18.

[10] 2Peter 3:18.

[11] Hebrews 4:16.

[12] John 1:16.

[13] Newton, “Amazing Grace.”

The featured image, “joyful joyful,” is courtesy of Amelia Friedline and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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