"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me". One of our favourite hymns which is not only sung in churches up and down the country but also in secular settings, appearing in the charts from time to time. Yet what is this "Grace" that we sing about? I believe Grace to be one of the most difficult concepts for us to grasp in an age that values individualism, self-sufficiency and empowerment so highly.
The hymn was written in at the turn of the 18th century by John Newton. He was a converted slave trader who was so amazed that, after the way he had messed up his life, he could still be forgiven and restored by the Grace of Jesus. Newton knew he was not good enough for God, but slowly he came to understand that being good enough was not the point. He was saved by God's Grace, the free unmerited forgiveness that is available to each one of us as we put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is this concept of free grace so difficult for us all to take on board? We live in a culture that worships our own achievements.
We are encouraged to take responsibility for our own lives, to seek our own way to the top and, in some areas of sporting, business and political life, to strive to be successful whatever it takes.
Now to some extent this is fine. Yes, we should be confident, and "stand tall" in whatever is our calling in life. But Christians belong to a saviour whose priorities were the opposite to these accepted norms. "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, ..." writes the apostle Paul.
Jesus did not grasp His "rights" as we are encouraged to do. No, he was obedient to his Heavenly Father, even to death on the cross.
And it is only at the cross that God's Grace is made possible for us. If we think we have something to contribute to our own salvation, then there is no salvation for us. If we think we are not good enough for God, as Newton did, then that is a great start, and we must accept that this is indeed the position we are in, because none of us is good enough for God. God in His Grace can then come to us in free forgiveness and new birth. As Newton put it "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me".