The first night of the Republican National Convention featured a quiet, solemn tribute to the loved ones lost at Ground Zero, September 11, 2001. Afterward, the audience joined in singing "Amazing Grace" with Daniel Rodriguez, the New York Police Department's celebrated singing cop, who is now retired from the force. As the people sang that hymn of old, I couldn't help but wonder how many in that audience really knew God's amazing grace.
No utterance in all of human language is more beautiful or profound in meaning than the word, grace! D. Martin Lloyd-Jones echoed these sentiments when he wrote, "There is no more wonderful word than 'grace.' It means unmerited favor or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving .... It is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite, and it is given to us while we are 'without hope and without God in the world.'" Indeed, grace expresses the primary means of our access to God. It comes before faith or works. For the Scriptures say, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:8-10).
How are we to do justice to such a lofty concept as grace? I fear most of us have too high an opinion of ourselves to even understand grace, much less to really appreciate it. We sing, "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." But do we really see ourselves as wretches? Do we really believe we are lost and blind? I think most of us think of ourselves as quite worthy. As D. James Kennedy has written, "The problem today is not getting people 'saved,' but getting them to realize they are 'lost.'" Amazing grace is no longer amazing.
In The Grace of Giving, the late Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution: Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded man who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled 70 miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor. "No, Peter," General Washington said, "I cannot grant you the life of your friend." "My friend," exclaimed the old preacher, "he's the bitterest enemy I have." "What?" exclaimed Washington. "You've walked 70 miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a completely different light. I'll grant your pardon." And that's exactly what Washington did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata -- no longer an enemy, but a friend.
That's an excellent illustration of grace. Before any person can be in right relationship with God, it must first be realized that all by nature are the bitter enemies of God. One may not perceive of his/her life in this light, but it is true, nonetheless. "For the mindset of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable to do so" (Rom. 8:7). The rightful due of all people, no matter their station or achievements in life, is a full outpouring of God's just wrath and condemnation. Grace, however, is God reaching out to us in our desperate and destitute sinful condition. Grace searches us out, finds us, secures our pardon by the mercies of God in Christ, and then makes our hearts friendly to God and His purposes. It is wholly outside of human merit. It is not something we do, but something God does in us.
One reason many in America fail to experience this unique spiritual phenomenon is because they think God grades their lives on a curve. Not so! This God, who has revealed Himself in the pages of Holy Writ, says to break one of His commandments is just as devastating spiritually as to break them all (Ja. 2:10). One sin separated Adam and Eve from God and resulted in their being cast from the Garden of Eden. One transgression of God's law separates us from Him and makes us fit for hell. This means the person without grace who is an upstanding pillar in the community is just as bound for perdition as the city's lowest crack whore.
If we should ever ponder the seriousness of our sin in God's sight, we need only look to the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the central symbol of the Christian faith. It depicts the lengths to which God would have to go to redeem us. Sin must be severely punished. No punishment would be sufficient to clear our sin debt; no possibility of forgiveness could be offered, outside of the Cross. Christ's violent and bloody death is what it would take to reconcile us to God. At the Cross, Christ becomes our sin-bearer and the justice of God is satisfied.
I remember as a teenage boy, when these truths originally dawned upon me as I read the Scriptures in the solitude of my bedroom. I had always been a good boy. I was a relatively good student. I obeyed my parents. I had a reputation for being an honest and sensitive child. But I wept as I discovered the depth of my spiritual impoverishment and my utter need for a Savior. I recognized there was no hope for me spiritually, no place for me in the Kingdom, not even a possibility of my wanting to serve God, without humbling myself and like a beggar begging for bread seeking to be made anew, solely by the power of God's marvelous grace in the person of Jesus Christ.
The singing of "Amazing Grace" at the Republican National Convention was a reminder to me of our nation's need of God's grace! If America is to experience a new birth of freedom, it will not be through the political process, as important as that process is. It will come only as the experience of grace sweeps our land.
At another time in our nation's history when America was deeply divided and facing its greatest challenges, President Abraham Lincoln admonished:
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers and power as no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness."
General Douglas MacArthur once made a very astute observation. "History," he said, "fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has either been a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster."
This is exactly where we are today -- desperately in need of a national spiritual renewal. May God hasten the day when once again we recognize our need of His "redeeming and preserving grace". May we turn from our wickedness, trust Christ, walk righteously, and with the purest of hearts sing: "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."
Have you come to know God's amazing grace?