Two hundred years ago John Newton had plumbed the depths of depravity, living as the slave of a prostitute. Into that situation God came with his love and mercy. His grace was applied to the heart of a wretched sinner, and John Newton was marvelously saved.

Some years later he wrote:

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.

These are hard words for men to sing with any conviction these days. Moving in an aura of respectability, comparing themselves with many who are less fortunate, basking in the sophistication of this day of scientific achievement, and feeling very secure in a time of unprecedented affluence, many are inclined to think they are doing God a favor if they condescend to have their names placed on a church roll.

A friend of mine recently asked a businessman if he was saved. He admitted he was not. When asked how he could be saved, by grace or by works, he replied, “By grace.” “How do you get grace?” my friend asked. “By working for it,” was the reply.

How typical of the thinking of most of us! We talk about God’s grace, but down deep in our hearts we feel that we earn and merit salvation by being and doing good. We feel that we must have some part in our redemption from sin—provided, of course, we are even willing to admit we are sinners.

Grace cannot be earned. It is God’s free mercy conferred on unworthy sinners because of faith in what God’s Son has done for us. We need an abrupt awakening to the fact that there is nothing we can do to merit God’s grace. All we can do is accept it as his gift of love, and on the basis of Christ’s atoning work.

Basic to the whole problem of recognizing God’s grace for what it is is the necessity of recognizing ...

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