God's Amazing Grace For The Undeserving
We live in a city and culture where nothing comes for free. We’re taught that you get what you deserve, what you work hard for, what you put effort into. In fact, we’re suspicious whenever anyone offers us anything, especially if it’s for free. If a stranger knocked on your door and offered you $50 for nothing, would you take it? Apart from the ‘stranger-danger’ factor, most of us would be suspicious – why is he offering me $50 for nothing? What does he want? What strings are attached to it? What do I have to do? After all, nothing comes for free.
And sometimes we think that God operates on the principle of our performance. Getting right with God or securing God’s approval depends on our work and our effort. Let me say to you that the Bible never teaches that. You cannot earn your way into his family and you cannot work your way into his good books. God doesn’t work on a performance scale where he judges you on the basis of whether your good works in life outweighs your bad works. God actually works on the principle of grace i.e. he gives us what we don’t deserve. It’s just a question of whether we think we need what he offers. Even the best of us need his grace. Romans 3:23-24 reminds us that, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Amazing Grace is probably the world’s most well-known hymn. What most people don’t realize is that its author was truly someone undeserving of grace. If there was a man who was morally bankrupt it would have been John Newton. He commanded an English slave ship in 1750 and traded in human flesh. We are appalled today at the illegal trafficking of women and children that runs across parts of Europe and Asia. Yet, in 1750, trading men, women and children was legitimized by the West because of their view of colored people as sub-human. John Newton was involved in such activities.
Dr. Ralph Wilson writes that, ‘ships would make the first leg of their voyage from England nearly empty until they would anchor off the African coast. There tribal chiefs would deliver to the Europeans stockades full of men and women, captured in raids and wars against other tribes. Buyers would select the finest specimens, which would be bartered for weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, trinkets, and cloth. Then the captives would be loaded aboard, packed for sailing. They were chained below decks to prevent suicides, laid side by side to save space, row after row, one after another, until the vessel was laden with as many as 600 units of human cargo. Captains sought a fast voyage across the Atlantic's infamous "middle passage," hoping to preserve as much as their cargo as possible, yet mortality sometimes ran 20% or higher. When an outbreak of smallpox or dysentery occurred, the stricken were cast overboard. Once they arrived in the New World, blacks were traded for sugar and molasses to manufacture rum, which the ships would carry to England for the final leg of their "triangle trade." Then off to Africa for yet another round.’1
John Newton was captain of a slave ship that contributed to the transportation of the many ships that would bring 6 million African slaves to America in the 18th century. He had a reputation for foul language and wild living. He was known by those around him as ‘the great swearer.’ One day when his ship nearly capsized in a storm he found God, or rather God found him! Is such a man deserving of God’s forgiveness? Should God save such a man? The world would say, ‘no, he has to prove himself and he has to earn his way back’. God says instead, ‘if this lost son wants to come home, I’ll welcome him with open arms, I’ll forgive him. All he has to do is to recognize that his life is a mess, and run to me for help and a fresh start.’ That’s grace to the undeserving. John eventually left his old life, and spent the next 43 years speaking only of God’s amazing grace.
At 82, he said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour". The same thoughts he echoed in the very song Amazing Grace.
May we always find our forgiveness, strength, hope and encouragement in the arms of God’s amazing grace to us in Jesus Christ.
Eugene Hor - Lead English Pastor