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Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Sunday's sermon was about grace. Included, then, in Sunday's singing was ... you guessed it ... Amazing Grace. In that famous hymn we sing the line, "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." Do you ever stop and think, "Huh?!" In what sense does grace teach you fear? Doesn't grace relieve your fears? (Isn't that the next line?) I mean, how does that make any sense?

We all know that we are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9). Good stuff. That is the core of the Gospel. We are saved by grace apart from works. Good news! So grace should ease fear, not teach it. I think in our time with the prevalence of the "grace talk" we've missed an essential element of the Gospel -- the bad news part. That part comes from a recognition of our sin and the subsequent certainty of judgment. So if we recognize our sin, it is a matter of God's grace that we do and it is to our benefit that we do.

Don't take my word for it. Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt 10:28) Apparently there is something to fear -- Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Apparently Jesus thought it was a good idea. David prayed, "Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name." (Psa 86:11) Apparently David thought it was a good idea. So did John Newton.

John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, was a ship captain and slave trader. He was as salty a sailor as you could imagine. Then, one day, he found himself in a violent storm at sea. Fearing for his life, he recalled Bible verses his mother had taught him in his youth. He remembered that God would demand justice, that he would face God's wrath. He called to mind the warning in Proverbs,
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon Me, but I will not answer; they will seek Me diligently but will not find Me." (Prov 1:26-28)
Why does God say this? "Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord." (Prov 1:29)

Newton saw himself as vile -- loving sin -- and deserving of judgment. And he found himself afraid. Newton saw that fear both as imposed by God and as an act of grace from God. God, as an act of grace, reminded Newton of his sin condition and coming destruction. Newton experienced Jesus's words, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me." (John 6:44-45)

We're not real keen on fear these days. Even as believers, commanded to fear God, we're pretty sure fear is not a good thing. I think we do so to our own detriment.

Jesus was eating with Simon, a Pharisee (yes, Jesus even ate with Pharisees), when a woman who was a sinner came in and wiped His feet with tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-38). Simon ws horrified. "If He knew who she was, He'd never let her touch Him." (Luke 7:39). Jesus explained to him via parable and then direct statement, "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." (Luke 7:40-47) It is in the "forgiven much" that we acquire a greater love for Christ. It is in a greater recognition of our need that we acquire a greater appreciation for His satisfying our need. It is, in fact, when we face a greater recognition of our fearful sins that we gain a greater grasp of how amazing God's grace is.

1 comment:

David said...

Whenever I hear that verse of the hymn, it reminds me of the order of salvation. We don't know how bad we are until God gives us the grace to fear our destination. If we don't fear hell, why turn to God? I imagine for most people, the fear of eternal damnation is the first reason for turning to Christ. Loving and serving Him come after we've matured. Grace shows us our potential damnation and grace shows us our final salvation. Without that initial fear (bad news), we have no reason to turn to Christ (good news). It also helps us to remember our fear, lest we fail back to our old ways.