Jules Badger ponders the much-loved lyrics of ‘Amazing Grace’ and reflects on her own experience of God’s extravagant gift. But she asks: Does grace have its limits?
One of our wedding songs was ‘Amazing Grace’. Some people were horrified, saying, ‘It’s a funeral song!’ We didn’t care, of course, and went ahead with it.
That the hymn is a funeral favourite was certainly not lost on me. Five years earlier, my 42-year-old terminally ill father had selected it for his own send off. But a few months before his death I’d witnessed amazing grace in action, when my unbelieving father had a radical personal encounter with Christ.
‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me … ’
Since his death, I’d become a Christian too, and so the lyrics had taken on deep personal significance for me. The binge drinking, promiscuous lifestyle I’d fallen into as I attempted to self-medicate my grief, meant I knew full well that I was a sinful wretch in need of a Saviour.
‘How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed … ’
That God could accept me, forgive me, cleanse me and love me was nothing short of mind-blowing. All I’d done was believe and receive the gift of salvation—God had done all the work!
As Ephesians 2:4–9 explains:
Because of his great love for you, God, who is rich in mercy, made you alive with Christ even when you were dead in your transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised you up with Christ and seated you with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you’ve been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
‘I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see … ’
Yes, grace covers our sin, but it also calls us forward into new life, service, holiness, wholeness and the abundant life promised in Christ. It’s not just about what Jesus did to save us—as amazing as that is. Grace is for now, for our daily lives. Asheritah Ciuciu summarises the thoroughness of the promises provided in Scripture when she says, ‘Your need for daily grace is what qualifies you for daily grace.’
Anne Lamont puts it perfectly: ‘I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.’ This is true, of course, only because grace is not actually about us, but about who God really is. As Justin Holcomb explains, ‘Grace is fundamentally a word describing God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favour.’
Grace, therefore, can and does live in our pain, suffering, trials and confusion. It’s there in our disappointments, failures and fears—beckoning to us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Grace is even in our questions about God, our wandering and unbelief. Holcomb helpfully states that, ‘grace is most needed and best understood amidst sin, suffering and brokenness’.
‘Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come … ’
Without the amazing grace of God, I would have taken my own life in 2012.
I was severely, clinically depressed and the saying, ‘but for the grace of God, there go I,’ has become more than just a cute cliché for interpreting my life.
Sometimes we can feel worthless, even knowing that God loves and accepts us. Sometimes we’re shamefully sinful, despite being saved from sin. We can be subject to horrible injustice and pain while our tormentors prosper, despite Jesus being our avenger. Our lives can feel directionless, even as we believe God has a plan.
Sometimes holiness seems utterly elusive—increasingly so, the older I get. But, let me assure you, the Holy One is not elusive! In fact, the longer I follow him the more he seems accessible despite my shortcomings and failings.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved … ’
This is grace: God giving us what we don’t deserve—himself. Access to him and his goodness, mercy, forgiveness, favour and love. He offers all this to us, again and again. He withholds nothing.
This is the shocking, scandalous, outrageous, limitless nature of grace! This is the grace I have come to believe in. The grace that won’t let me go. The grace I cannot do without.
But belief in such an expansive grace is difficult for some of us to accept because it is so incomprehensible. And so, inevitably, someone will say: ‘Hang on, that can’t be true—that’s cheap grace. Belief in that kind of grace is dangerous—irresponsible’.
That’s what prevents some Christians from experiencing the magnitude of God’s amazing grace. If grace made sense, it wouldn’t be grace. Grace breaks all the rules and defies categories and definitions. And just as well. Because when your faith is in tatters, when sin and shame overwhelm, when you’re hanging by a thread, when addiction is fierce, when darkness threatens to engulf, when God’s amazing grace is all you’ve got to cling to—it’s enough.
2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
But ‘sufficient’ is a word that can leave us cold. For something to be ‘sufficient’ these days suggests that it’s somehow ‘less than’ because we live in a world where more, stronger, extra-strength, and maximum are the measure.
But in the ancient world, if something was sufficient, it was complete. And that’s perhaps a definition that captures the heart of God’s grace more fully for the 21st century. As Holcomb so helpfully puts it: ‘We live in a world of earning, deserving and merit, and these result in judgement. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.’
So, is there such a thing as too much grace? God’s grace is immeasurable and generous and sufficient—complete. So, for his followers—filled with the Spirit—there is potential for the grace we extend to one another to at least be a dim reflection. Imagine if we’d erred on the side of extravagant grace, rather than judgement. What a world it would be!
by Jules Badger (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 27 July 2019 p20.21. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.