If you are of my generation, you recall the plane crash in 1977 that claimed the lives of three of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, including founder and front man Ronnie Van Zant. At his funeral, Charlie Daniels, of some fame himself, sang the old hymn Amazing Grace:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see
It may come across as odd to the casual observer that a song of such sweeping spiritual majesty would be sung at the funeral of one of Southern Rock’s most enthusiastic partiers. But that is the exact nature of grace, and the abundance of mercies from the God who offers it to all.
Many outside Christianity watch in wonder as a bunch of messed up, error prone, wayward, half-baked, sinning scoundrels claim to know something about God and salvation and eternity. It is counter-intuitive that someone with such failings can know anything about the divine. How can people so far from mastering their lives ever hope to attain an audience with God? How can hopeless failures expect to live in hope? Why would an all-powerful, righteous God grant eternity to these hapless souls?
I’m glad you asked.
We need to move beyond the realm of human understanding and take a peek into the motives of the God who made us. And here is what He thinks on the subject:
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1Timothy 2:3-4
I have four children. My wife and I have spent most of our 36 years married trying to raise them to be solid adults, productive citizens, and good people. We feel we have succeeded to some degree, as they are all self-sufficient adults now. At no time did we ever wish failure upon them. At no time did we wish to trip them up, wreak havoc on their plans, or beat them down (although a good beating may have been called for…) We were always for them – to grow up, to succeed, to enjoy life.
You see, we got the idea from God.
The Creator of the universe is for His creation succeeding. He wants us to enjoy life, know happiness, flourish, and prosper. Mostly He wants us to know Him. And while He has turned us loose in this world to find our own way, He has made a way back to Him.
“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
Our kids haven’t always done what we wanted them to do. Sometimes they seem to have run as far away as possible. They have done what they want, made their own decisions and sometimes grieved us with their actions. But at any time, they could always call on us. We were, and are, always ready to respond to our little creations.
The problem is that humans tend to think that, if there is a God, then we must construct an elaborate structure to reach Him. We must build a system of works and rules and regulations and processes to appease Him because He is God, and we are not.
Let’s call that Religion.
But to counter that, God says He offers a free entry into His presence. His arms are open wide to receive any of His creation that wants to know Him. He has made a way to reconcile the differences in our lives with His ideals.
Let’s call that Grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
And that makes me think of Christmas.
Like most Americans we enjoy a good Christmas holiday, especially if it involves our kids all being home. We have our traditions, stockings hung by the chimney with care, big family breakfast, opening gifts, too much food & drink all day. It can be almost riotous, a continual cascade of joy and goodness. But I would never expect my kids to earn the gifts I give or to pay back the good times we share. They are freely given, without agenda, no strings attached. And as much as I want them all home for the holidays, I know that won’t always happen. Our door is open – and so are our hearts. Regardless if they dress the way we want, perform to our expectations, share our exact viewpoints. They are not only welcomed but embraced.
We got that idea from God, too.
I know there will be naysayers among the religious out there. You have to be good, to obey the rules, to perform service, live a clean life, and on and on. And that would be good, and we should certainly aspire to those things, those expressions of our faith and good intentions. But if we could do those things in our own strength, we would not need Grace. If life were that easy, we would not need an open invitation to go home and feel the warm embrace of someone who loves us unconditionally, who accepts us just as we are.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
It is because of grace that we can perform. It is grace that gives us the vision and the will to rise above our flawed flesh and reach for eternity. It is grace that leads us onward and upward. We have had the cart before the horse, thinking we needed to be perfect, or attain some mystical level of enlightenment, before God would give us audience.
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Think about that: When I am at my weakest – then He is at His strongest!
Those folks that have it all together, do everything right, always make good decisions, wear religion like a badge of honor? Let them take their case to God. As for me – as for you – let us walk in the grace He has provided.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
It is amazing.
(That famous hymn, Amazing Grace, was written by John Newton, a British slave trader who cried out to God in his time of need (he was in a violent Atlantic storm, at sea, in a sailing ship). He later became a strong voice in the abolitionist movement. Think of that – a man who dealt in the enslavement of humans was himself set free by the grace of God.)