It often amazes and confuses me that the song Amazing Grace and opposed to the true message of this grace of which we sing.
There are two main misunderstandings about grace that we will look at today. The first is in thinking of grace as our pass to continue to sin, expecting God to just give us grace to cover whatever we choose to do. This one is common to nonbelievers or to those who are merely religious. The second misunderstanding about grace is common to a lot of professing believers who tend to see grace’s role in our salvation, but not to see it in our ongoing sanctification, thinking that they must work to earn God’s favor, even after salvation.
These ways of misconstruing grace are not new in our culture for, as we will see, Paul had to lay out teaching on these concepts back when the church was in its infancy. This is because mis-seeing grace is a function of our human nature, and how we are hardwired. The first error comes from our desire to have things our way, and be justified, even affirmed in our choices, and the second error comes from the human natural bent to feeling like we have to do something to appease God and earn our salvation.
Paul addresses the first error when he writes in Romans 6:1-2a, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” He reinforces this later in the chapter when he says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (v.15). Grace was never meant to be a stack of “get out of jail free cards” that we pull out whenever we want to do something contrary to God’s holy will for our lives. Those who believe so have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning and cost of grace, treating grace with extreme ignorance, if not contempt.
Our Scriptures were not originally written with chapters and verses, and while that addition has proven helpful for study, it can be sometimes unfortunate in cutting off the flow of thought as the writers develop an argument. If we look back in chapter 5 we see that Paul set up his two declarations about sin and grace by saying, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here he clearly links sin with death (and says so again later, in 6:23), and grace with righteousness.
We weren’t saved, given grace, so that we may sin freely, whereas before there was a death penalty for that sin. As Paul says in these chapters, we were saved to no longer be a slave to sin. By grace we were set free to be live increasingly holy lives, like our Savior. People who have been truly redeemed have new natures—natures that are no longer comfortable with sin, because the indwelling Spirit will convict us as He works to sanctify us. If we remain comfortable with sin, are eager to sin, are looking for excuses to sin, or are justifying ongoing sin in our lives, these are reasons to question if we have, indeed, been saved, because these are signs that we may not possess that new nature, or at least that it’s on life-support and needs resuscitation. At the very least it shows a definite lack of understanding of what salvation means, and what it cost God to give us grace. Grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap! It cost Jesus His life and much suffering for us to be saved.
The second error is at the heart of virtually every false religion in the history of mankind. Humans have this inner need to feel they are earning the favor of their deity. There are any number of ways we have devised to do that, but all of them boil down to how we have defined who this deity is, and what we think will appease his wrath. Somehow; we instinctively know that we don’t measure up to the standards of any deity, so interpret all hardship to punishment, and seek to get out from under the thumb of an angry god.
Even Christians, who know we are saved by grace have to fight to revert to this kind of appeasement and “earning it” mentality when it comes to our sanctification and ongoing relationship with the Lord, after our day of salvation. Paul has to address this, too, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal.3:3). In fact, throughout his letters Paul reinforces the need to rely on grace for our sanctification. This kind of grace is not passive, but is responsive to the Spirit, as we obey the movings of the Holy Spirit on the new nature we’ve been given—one that desires to please the One who has given us such amazing grace, so undeserved, so costly, so abounding.
It is easy to go into almost a neutral mode when singing this very familiar song, but let the lyrics wash over you afresh. Ask the Lord to open your eyes in new ways to what His grace has done for you, and what it means for you every day of your life. We can be certain that His grace will be the topic of our praise when we’ve been there 10,000 years. In fact, it may well be even more so, because then we will finally understand the full impact His grace has had on our lives.