“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.” – John Newton
Without a doubt the most popular Christian song of the past 200 years has been “Amazing Grace.” It’s been featured on 11,000 different albums, and it’s sung an estimated 10 million times every year. I love the story behind the writing of this great hymn. “Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton, who as a young man did one of the most disgraceful things a human being could do. He was a slave ship captain who kidnapped dozens, possibly even hundreds, of Africans and forced them into the slave trade in
. But several years after
becoming a Christian, he quit the slave trade as God convicted him that slavery
was a wretched sin. England
At the age of 46, as Newton reflected back on his life with a sense of guilt and shame for what he had done, he wrote these words: “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.” Hundreds of millions of people have found strength and comfort in these powerful words. Countless Christians would say, “I LOVE this song!” But honestly, there is one word in this song that most Christians these days don’t like very much. It’s right there in the opening lines: the word “wretch.”
Millions of Christians sing these words, but deep down inside they insist, “I am NOT a wretch!” After all, the word “wretch” means “a despicable person” –a scoundrel, a villain, a reprobate, a delinquent, a creep, a jerk, a good-for-nothing, a snake in the grass, a lowlife, a scumbag. Honestly, most of us don’t think of ourselves as despicable, do we? We don’t think of ourselves as scoundrels, creeps, lowlifes or scumbags.
But in Luke 7, the Bible shows us a woman whose perspective was much different from ours. If you had asked her, she would have told you: “I’m a wretch.” And she would have been right. The incident took place when Jesus was dining at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. An unnamed woman who had lived a sinful life came in, walked up to Jesus and begin anointing his feet. “As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (v. 38).
Simon said to himself, “If this man [Jesus] were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (v. 39). And remarkably, this woman would have completely agreed that she was all those things: a scoundrel, a lowlife, a scumbag… a wretch. But clearly--Jesus accepted her anyway. Simon the Pharisee had straight A’s in identifying other people’s sin. But when it came to identifying his own sin, he flunked every class. Warren Wiersbe says it this way: “Simon’s real problem was blindness…. It was easy for him to say, ‘She is a sinner!’ but impossible for him to say, ‘I am also a sinner!’”
Until we open our eyes and see that we are deeply flawed and admit that we desperately need God’s grace and healing, we will never receive it. You see, God’s mercy and forgiveness are offered only to those who come to Him humbly, in desperation and ask Him for it. “God, please have mercy on me, a sinner.” “Lord, I know I don’t deserve it, but please forgive me anyway.” God loves pouring out His amazing grace on those who pray those kinds of prayers.
God despises self-righteousness. He hates it when sinners say, “I’m so much better than THAT guy! I’m so much more moral that THAT girl! I’m so much more deserving of heaven than THOSE low lifes!” Bottom line: If you insist on buying into the lie that you are right with God because you are a “good person,” you’re never going to be right with God.
The truth is: I am a wretch, and so are you. The world tries to convince us that we are basically good, but the Bible says the exact opposite. We are all in the same boat with John Newton and the woman at Jesus’ feet. We are all scoundrels, reprobates, delinquents, snakes in the grass. More than we’d like to admit, we are in the same boat as those we would call lowlifes and scumbags, because we say and do the exact same things as them. If you keep comparing yourself to people you know who have lied more than you or gotten drunk more than you or cheated on their taxes more than you or kicked their dogs more than you, then you are going to be in for a rude awakening when you stand before God on Judgment Day.
Whether your sins are few or many, you are no more or less deserving of heaven than the next guy. None of us deserves heaven. Regardless of how many sins are on your ledger, your only chance of making it to heaven is by God’s amazing grace. And here are the “A,B,C’s” of receiving God’s grace: A = Admit that you are a sinner who desperately needs God’s grace. B = Believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. C = Choose to follow Jesus Christ and obey his commands.
John Newton and the woman at Jesus’ feet understood something that far too many of us have missed. They understood that it’s not the person who has the fewest sins who will make it to heaven but the person who humbly brings whatever sins he/she has to the feet of Jesus.
Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our online Palm Sunday worship service tomorrow at 10 a.m. on our website, www.GreaterImpact.cc, on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.