The Bible makes this astounding proclamation: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus, the sinless one, willingly gave Himself over to be tortured—not for anything He had done, but to save those least deserving. We are not merely misguided subjects; we are rebels and traitors against the King. Yet God adopts us as His children and happily gives us a seat at His table.
If this seems less than amazing, less than wonderful, then we really don’t grasp the meaning of grace.
People in hundreds of languages sing “Amazing Grace.” Agnostics, skeptics, and hardened criminals have shed tears upon hearing the song.
Nothing is as stunning or as hope-giving as God’s grace. And nothing more glorious. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Grace is but Glory begun, and Glory is but Grace perfected.” But grace also confounds and even offends our human pride and independence. (How dare anyone suggest I don’t deserve grace—and how dare they show grace to those I know don’t deserve it?)
During a British conference on comparative religions, scholars debated what belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith. Incarnation? Resurrection? The debate went on until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“That’s easy,” Lewis replied. “It’s grace.”
Our pride insists we must work our way to God. Only the Christian faith presents God’s grace as unconditional. Other religions insist we must do good to earn God’s favor—and if we stop, we lose it. Paul wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:2).
The Bible shows we’re unworthy of God’s grace and can’t earn it. What we cannot earn we cannot lose. We can’t stop deserving His grace since we never deserved it in the first place.
Harry Ironside wrote, “Grace is the very opposite of merit…Grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite.”
It should shock us that Jesus went through Hell on the cross so we’ll never get what we deserve. We’ve grown too accustomed to grace—we need to be astounded by it. God promises nothing will ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). Incredible…but it’s a blood-bought promise we can count on.
Grace never ignores the awful reality of our sin. In fact, it emphasizes it. Paul said if men were good enough, then “Christ died for nothing.” Benjamin Warfield said, “Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.” If we don’t see the reality of how ill-deserving we are, God’s grace won’t seem amazing. If we minimize our unworthiness, we minimize God’s grace.
Some people worry that because they’ve failed God so often, they’re unworthy of His grace. But it’s that very unworthiness that motivated John Newton, the English slave trader whom God wondrously converted, to compose the classic hymn. And because every Christian heart is touched by grace, “Amazing Grace” still moves us to heart-felt gratitude today:
“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.”
A.W. Tozer said, “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving…to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
The problem of how to reconcile evil people with a God who hates evil is the greatest problem of history. It calls for the greatest solution ever devised, one so radical as to be nearly unthinkable, and to offend the sensibilities of countless people throughout history—the cross.
As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “The ultimate test of our spirituality is the measure of our amazement at the grace of God.”
How long has it been since you’ve allowed yourself to be fully awestruck by the magnificent miracle of God’s grace?For more on this topic, see Randy’s book The Grace and Truth Paradox, and his devotional Beautiful and Scandalous.