By James Estep
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Penned in 1772 by John Newton, the message of “Amazing Grace” resounds into the 21st century. The tune as originally written is a favorite of many believers. In 2007 Christian musician Chris Tomlin updated the words to say, “my chains are gone, I’ve been set free” . . . but the message remained the same. Grace is amazing! My home church for a while described itself as “An Amazing Grace Place,” which represented them well. But why is grace so amazing? Paul explained why in Ephesians 2:1-10.
‘YOU WERE DEAD’ (EPHESIANS 2:1-3)
Grace is amazing because of whom it is for. Paul spent three verses describing the spiritual status of humanity without Christ. It is not a complimentary portrait, but rather one that makes us “by nature children of wrath” (2:3; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995) . . . worldly, disobedient, lustful, desiring of the flesh. Not to be insensitive, but dead things don’t do a whole lot, except decay.
AMC’s The Walking Dead was filmed only a few miles from the congregation I served in Georgia, so it was common to see zombies walking the streets of Senoia or having lunch between scenes. Paul’s portrait of our spiritual status in Ephesians 2 is that of spiritual zombies, animated corpses who don’t realize they are dead inside.
We cannot save ourselves; we are dead, incapable of doing anything. Therefore, grace is amazing, because it saved us “even when we were dead in our transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5).
When I go into a bookstore and see the “religion” section, it is usually near the “self-help” section. Our salvation is not self-help; nor does it require a motivational speaker or life coach—our salvation is out of our reach, unattainable by anyone. We must realize we are surrounded by lost people, and that we at one time “formerly walked according to the course of this world,” no better than them (Ephesians 2:2).
‘GOD . . . MADE US ALIVE . . . WITH CHRIST’ (EPHESIANS 2:4-9)
Grace is amazing because of what it does. We were spiritually dead . . . but now we are alive! We were objects of God’s wrath, but now we are raised up and seated with Christ. How? Prepositions are important. It is not by faith, not by works, not by anything we did or can do. It is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
The late Dr. Jack Cottrell relayed a statement made by a student, “Grace is favor bestowed when wrath is owed.” This means we are not saved by our résumé or our titles or our bank account. We are not saved by all the times we volunteered for VBS, served at church camp, or attended elders’ meetings. We are not saved “as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9). That is mercy compounded by grace. God is “rich in mercy,” meaning he does not give us wrath, which we deserve; no, he bestows grace, his undeserved favor, on us. But why does God make us alive in Christ?
‘WE ARE . . . CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS FOR GOOD WORKS’ (EPHESIANS 2:10)
Grace is amazing because of why it was done. We are not saved by good works but for good works. We are made alive again to serve God. Paul also wrote, “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10). Because we are freed from sin, we should do good!
Grace not only transforms us, but it also transforms the world through us as we do the good works God wants us to do. We live out the grace we have experienced in how we relate to one another. As God’s people, we minister to all who are in need, even to those the world has discarded or marginalized. We do so because we were all dead in our sins; we can all be made alive through Christ, and we are then all created in Christ Jesus to serve!
What does it mean to be a grace-filled church? A grace-filled leader? We need to bear in mind the grace we have received as we lead others to Christ, as we build community in the church, as we witness for Christ to the lost in our community, and let grace permeate our lives, relationships, and our commitments. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” That is the message of grace, the motivation for our ministry, and the hope we have for eternity. Grace is amazing!