- Amazing Grace
- Ephesians 2
- Lyndol Loyd August 16, 2020
Today, we are wrapping up our summer series, “Then Sings My Soul,” where we have been looking at some of the best known and most well-loved hymns of the church. As we finish up, I want to tell you a story about a guy named John.
John was born in 1725. John was a mess. He worked on a ship, and he was hated by all of his shipmates. He was incredibly wild. He was a raging drunk, and he was violent. His nickname, believe it or not, was “The Great Blasphemer.”
The phrase, “cursed like a sailor” was probably inspired by John. In fact, his captain said, and I quote, “Not only did he use the worst language I’ve ever heard, but he created new words that exceeded the limits of verbal debauchery.” That’s taking it to a whole other level.
The shipmates hated John so much that once when he fell overboard, they did not throw him a life preserver. He was so arrogant and so rebellious; one time, his captain couldn’t take anymore and had “The Great Blasphemer” stripped down naked and flogged in front of 350 men.
John was so furious that he decided he would murder the captain and then take his own life. Before he could execute his plan, a big storm blew up, hitting the ship, everyone thought they were going to die, and sure enough, his best friend, who was right by him, got blown off the ship, never to be seen again.
John thought his life was over and found himself in the moment of his greatest trial and his deepest fear, crying out to God, the God that he blasphemed, he called on and said, “Lord, have mercy on us all.” And when he survived that brutal storm, suddenly he realized, in the moment of his greatest desperation, he actually called on the God that he had been hating.
John wondered, “Maybe there something there.” John Newton started reading scripture and was transformed by the grace of God. He put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics in 1772, to the hymn that we now know as “Amazing Grace”. When you sing this song, I want you to feel the weight of the story of a man who was known as “The Great Blasphemer,” who experienced the amazing grace of God and wrote these words:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
was blind but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed
In many ways, Paul writes a description of what happened to John Newton that caused him to write the most dearly loved song in the world, in Ephesians 2.
If you read through Ephesians 2, you’ll notice that Paul breaks a lot of grammatical rules. He gets excited and will start a sentence but he won’t finish it. He’ll have run-on sentences. He’s so passionate that he can’t even get out a complete thought. He’s just putting his thoughts down on paper as fast as he can.
I want to give you three key phrases to summarize Ephesians 2. So if you’re taking notes, you can jot this down.
If you’re a follower of Christ, you are not what you once were. Paul says, “You were.” Then he shows us the theme of “but God.” You were one thing, but God intervened. God intervened by grace.
Let’s start with the “you were” in Ephesians 2:1. Paul says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” In other words, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been transformed, you are not now what you once were. Now you’re forgiven, now you’re new, but you were dead in your sins.
In V.3, he says, “All of us who lived among them at one time were gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts….” What’s he talking about in this verse? He’s not talking about our skin, but this is our sinful nature. Our nature that is apart from God. You are living for the desires of your flesh. You are following its desires and thoughts.
“…Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” If you are without Christ, you are dead in your sins, and the Bible teaches that we’re actually deserving of wrath. We’ve been called enemies of God because of our sin nature.
I understand this is not a popular thought. In culture today, there’d be a lot of people who’d push back and say, “You have no right to call me a sinner. I’m not a bad person, I have a good heart, I’m not nearly as bad as everybody else, I am not a bad person.”
I’m just going to go ahead and say it, “You’re a bad person, and so am I.” I’ve lied before. I’ve done some things that I am not proud of. Even if I confessed to nothing else, that would be more than enough to indict me as a sinner.
We’ve been born, and by nature, we’re actually sinners. Because we are the sons and the daughters of sinners, all the way back to Adam and Eve when they sinned in the garden. We inherit a sin nature. By nature, we are not good, we are deserving wrath.
Why am I hitting on this? We need to understand that guilt, acknowledging what we’ve done wrong, is often the starting point for grace. In other words, if we don’t see ourselves as a sinner, we’ll never see our need for a Savior.
The good news about Jesus is that He did not come for the righteous. Jesus said He came for the sinners. He didn’t come for those who were healthy and had it all together, but He came for the sick. So if you want to sit back and say you’re better than everybody, just polish your halo all day long, because Jesus came for those of us who are broken, hurting, and need a spiritual cleansing and healing. He came to set sinners free.
2. But God
That’s why the apostle Paul says, “You were,” and then he says, “But God.”
Think about Paul, what did Paul do? Paul may not have cussed like a sailor, but he did take the lives of Christians. That’s right. The guy who wrote almost two-thirds of the New Testament, before he was a follower of Jesus, hated Christians so much that he literally took their lives.
Just imagine if you could sit down with Paul, and he tells the story of what happened to him. Imagine him sitting down and saying, “I was the guy who persecuted Christians. I hated them. I hated everything about them. I was on my way down the road when suddenly, a light came out of the sky, and then I couldn’t see. One moment, I could see, the next moment I’m totally blind. And a voice from heaven says, ‘Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me?’ I knew who it was, but said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And this voice sent me to a guy named Ananais, a man who should have hated me and should have feared me. But instead of cursing at me, this man loved me. Even though I deserved nothing but persecution back. And he laid hands on me and prayed for me, and when he did, something like scales fell from my eyes, and suddenly, I could see again. I was blind, but now, I could see. And by the grace of God, this man baptized me and spoke into my life, and told me, Paul, that I was called to go and declare the resurrection power of the man I used to persecute and hate. I was the worst of the worst. I was the most brutal of the filthy sinners…but God.”
That’s exactly how Paul described the story of his salvation in Ephesians 2:4-5. He says this, “But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
The good news for you and me is that God didn’t wait until we could try to get our acts together before he decided to show His great love for us. He didn’t wait and watch to see if we might be able to somehow muster up some strength or have more will power. God, the Father, is so merciful that He decided to send us Jesus Christ, His one and only Son, even when we had no idea who God was. God sent His Son when we didn’t care.
In Wesleyan circles, we refer to this as prevenient grace. John Wesley, the Father of the Methodist movement, described this advance grace in this way:
“Prevenient grace does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in any wise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done or anything he is. It does not depend upon his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God. They are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it. Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. This is his grace free in all that is no way depending on power or merit in man, but on God alone, who freely gave us his own Son, and with him freely give us all things.”
3. By Grace
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have 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.”
One time, Jesus came across a woman who’d been caught in adultery, and the law said to stone her. All of the religious, hypocritical, men said, “Put her to death.” But Jesus knelt down and started writing something in the sand. We’re not sure exactly what he wrote, but many believe perhaps he wrote the sins of the men who were saying to stone her because one by one, from the oldest to the youngest, they started to leave town.
Then Jesus knelt down before this broken and sinful woman and said, “Where are your accusers?” She looked up through her tears and said, “There are none.” And Jesus, by grace, said to her, “Go your way, be free, and sin no more. You were, but God, by grace.”
Jesus told about a father who had two sons. One of the sons said, “Dad, I want all of your stuff. I don’t care about you, I want what’s mine.” The son went out and did what some of you have done, and what I did, he lived sinfully, a brutally broken life. One day he came to his senses and realized that even his father’s servants have more than he had. He decided to go back to his father’s house and throw himself on his mercy.
But he had no idea that his father had been waiting a long time, praying and hoping that his son would return one day. When the father saw his son a long way off, the father ran to his son. He took his robe and covered the filth of his son with his very clean robe. He said, “My son was dead, but is alive again. He was lost, but he is found.” By grace, the father said, “Kill the fattened calf. Let us throw a party because my son is not what he once was.”
Jesus hung between two criminals, two thieves, on the cross. One hurled insults at Him and said, “You saved others, save us and save yourself.” But the other one, who was very, very guilty, looked on and said of Jesus, “This man has done nothing wrong.”
Jesus looked at this man, who could never do a good work, couldn’t join a church, couldn’t give an offering, couldn’t be baptized, couldn’t help a little woman cross the road, he looked at a man who could never do any type of religious work, who was completely guilty, and by grace, Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise. You were, but God, by grace.”
For me, the “You were” was that I was going through life trying to be a good person. I thought that was how a person got to Heaven. Somewhere along the way, I had bought into the wrong idea that as long as I had done more good than bad at the end of my life that meant that I was good with God and that my ticket was punched. Then I had my eyes opened as I began to understand what the Bible says in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” The reality is, I can never be good enough. I realized that I had a big problem.
“But God” was when I figured out that if it was possible for me to be good enough to earn my way to Heaven, then Jesus’ death on the cross wouldn’t have been necessary. I began to understand that God loved me so much and was willing to provide a way for me to be made right with God.
“By Grace” was that it was God’s free gift to me. God had been pursuing me all along. God had convicted me of my sin. Jesus had made it possible for me to be made right with God, and God continues to be in the process of helping me become more and more like Jesus as I learn to lay down who I am and take up who He is.
If you’ve never had a “But God” moment, maybe today is your day.
Know that in one moment, one prayer, one Savior can change everything. When you call on the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus, He hears your prayers; He forgives your sins, you’re made right with God, not by your good works, but by His grace.
Those who say, “I need His grace, I turn from my sins,” when you call out to Jesus, you don’t become a better version of you, you become new. The old has gone, the new has come.
Simply pray, “Heavenly Father, I trust you to forgive me, to change me, to make me new. Jesus, be first in my life, my Lord, my Savior, save me, by your grace. Fill me with your spirit so I can follow you and live for you for the rest of my life. My life is not my own. I give it to you. In Jesus’ name I pray.”
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Then when we first begun.