There are a few hymns that I really like, and “Amazing Grace” is one of them. But somehow, like so many other familiar tunes, the weight of the words soon gets lost in our familiarity with the song. From bagpipe bands, to presidential events, to state funerals, to gospel songfests, to nearly every church in America, “Amazing Grace” has been performed so many times that we easily become numbed to its profoundly disturbing message. You know the first line by heart: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .” Hold on. Me—a wretch?!
None of us like to think about how wretched we are. We’d rather live in the self-delusion that compared to others we aren’t all that bad after all. We go to great lengths to look and feel good about ourselves. We exercise and diet to lose weight so we look good at the beach. We put makeup on in the morning so that we look good when we get to work. I ask my wife to help me pick out clothes so that I look good when I speak in church. And when someone says, “Hey, you’re lookin’ good!” we feel we have arrived.
But here’s the sobering news. If we were to look at ourselves the way God sees us even when we have it all together, we would see something totally different. He sees through all of our efforts to be “lookin’ good.” His vision probes far deeper than the all-too-cool clothes we wear, our makeup, our rippling abs and our great tan. He strips away the layers of self-delusion and penetrates deep into our hearts where each of us is a desperately lost sinner. And, no matter how good you think you are, it’s not until we know that we are like condemned criminals before Him that we can begin to understand how amazing His grace really is. When you can honestly say that His grace saved a wretch like you, you can begin to stand in amazement at the greatness of His grace. In fact, His grace is only a “sweet sound” when you know how deep it had to go to clean you up!
What is God’s amazing grace? It’s the outstretched love of Jesus whose agonizing death and victorious resurrection saves us from who we really are—not from who we think we are. Romans 5:8 says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He died the worst kind of death imaginable, because it needed to cover the wretchedness of our desperately lost souls. We weren’t lookin’ good when He died for us. If we were as cool as we think we are, He could have stayed in heaven. But like hopeless beggars trapped in the sludge of sin, we needed Him. And so He came and died in our place. Now that’s what I call amazing!
Getting over our self-deluded sense of coolness is step one toward reveling in the stunning grace of God. Every once in a long while someone will come up to me and say: “Hey, Stowell, you’re a really good man.” And while I like the sound of that, I know in my heart that I am not a good man. I’m a fallen man in desperate need of help. But by His grace I am a forgiven man. I thank God every day that there was a Really Good Man who lived on the earth 2,000 years ago who hung on a cross to save a wretch like me!