Thursday, June 2, 2011

Amazing Grace Part One: Peace With God

One of the most beloved, most sung hymns of all times is "Amazing Grace." Perhaps it is the simple melody that draws people to the song, but I believe there is more to it. The story behind the song shows the depth of the lyrics. John Newton, the man who penned the humble words to the song, was an abused servant to a slave trader in the 1700s. However, in 1748, he was rescued and ultimately became the captain of his own ship, which ironically, carried on the slave trading business. As a result of his upbringing, he likewise mistreated the slaves he carried. However, one night, during a voyage home, his ship was hit by a formidable storm. In distress, Newton cried out, "God have mercy upon us," though he was not religious prior to his exclamation. However, it was in this moment, he began to realize the depth of God's mercy and grace. He later journaled that it was through the storm that God began to speak to him and began to show grace to him. While he did not immediately give up the slave trading industry, he did begin to treat them humanly. Eventually, Newton surrendered to the ministry where he began preaching and writing hymns. His life was changed because of grace.

Grace is an amazing thing. It is favor undeserved, unmerited, unwarranted. Newton did nothing of His own accord to deserve grace. He simply accepted the gift given and responded with a lifestyle of worship.

Romans 5:1 states, "Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God's glory." It is our faith in the work of Christ that gives us our right standing before God. The result is peace. Often times, Christians do not embrace what it really means to have peace with God. We still believe that God is out to get us or He is looking for us to make a mistake or that we must do something to prove our love for Him and earn His favor. The Greek term for peace indicates a state of relational harmony or reconciliation. As a violinist, the word picture that comes to mind is one of an orchestra playing in perfect tune and timing. The result is music that is stirring to the soul. So it is with our relationship with God: beyond words. Because of the work of Christ, we are able to enjoy a completely harmonious relationship with God the Father, where there is no discord.

So what happens when we go astray? How does this affect our peaceful relationship? Often times, similar to a violinist who gets distracted and loses their place in the music, we falter in our walk with God. What once was a beautiful song now sounds disjunct and out of line. Yet, because of Christ, reconciliation with God is not a work that must be accomplished over and over again. It is a state of being that has already been established when we first believed. Therefore, we can look back up at our Conductor, find our place, and keep moving forward. Yes, there may be missed opportunities and consequences we face because of our disobedient choices and God may discipline us out of love, but make no mistake, the relationship is able to continue.

This concept of being able to keep moving forward is hard to grasp. Therefore, when we "fail God" we sometimes simply give up, lose hope, and continue going down the wrong path, assuming there is no way out. The adversary want you to believe these lies. The truth though is that as a believer, the work of Christ has already made me acceptable to God no matter what! That is grace. Romans 5:2 states that through Christ we obtained access into God's grace in which we now presently stand. We have therefore entered into a new realm of living where grace rules rather than law and condemnation. Thus, we can stand and rejoice in the hope of God's glory. It is because of grace, this unmerited realm of a favorable peaceful relationship with God we have through Christ, that we may one day share in His glory and His likeness (Moo, Romans, 304).

Many times we think that we are on the journey alone and when we fall short of God's glory, we fall alone. But that is not grace. That is not the gospel. That is not Immanuel: God with us. In Immanuel is our hope. In Christ we are alive to God and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11). In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom. 6:23). In Christ, we are wise (1 Cor. 4:10). In Christ, we are able to stand firm (2 Cor. 1:21). In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christ we are children of God (Gal. 3:26). In Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).

Unfortunately, we often look at our relationship with God the same way we look at human relationships. We think that what we say or do affects how He feels about us. However, through Christ, we receive grace and our status of peace with God is unchangeable. Though we may falter and stumble, it is not going to alter how He loves us or how He desires a relationship with us. In those times of weakness, instead of giving up on the hope of glory that we already rightfully possess in Christ, we simply need to look back up to God for direction and get back in harmony with His will. When we do, Amazing Grace will never have had such sweet a sound.

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