When I was a baby, my favorite song was “Amazing Grace.” When I was old enough to talk, it became evident what about the song fascinated me. My mom tells of how she’d be singing the hymn while rocking me to sleep, and inevitably whenever she’d get to my favorite word, I’d pick up my head off her shoulder, arch my back, and proudly belt out—“wretch!”
The song has held a special place in my heart since those early days, but it wasn’t until my thirties that I came to understand what it really meant. Until that point, “amazing grace” was a concept that sounded nice but in a disconnected, surreal kind of way. The melody resonated with me personally, but the meaning behind that melody did not.
Since accepting Christ as my savior as an adult, I think I finally understand why the word “wretch” fascinated me so much as an infant. It was the cacophony of the hard, ugly “wretch” against the euphony of the light, whisperlike “amazing grace.” Saying them out loud only intensifies the differences in sound and meaning. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the word to describe the sinner is so harsh, while the word that saves the sinner is so pleasing to the ear. Like a breath of fresh air. Literally.
So while I focused on the “wretch” as a child, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to have God’s “amazing grace.” I went to church and Bible school. I attended youth retreats and tried to understand what being a Christian was all about. Except I didn’t.
Because no one explained the “grace” part to me.
I knew God sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. I just didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t see how that applied to my life—and my eternity.
I thought of Christianity in terms of what John MacArthur, author of The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, has called “legalism lite.” If I’m a good person and do good things, I’ll just kind of get into heaven by default. As long as I was “acting Christian” then I was “being a Christian,” right?
This is precisely where so many today go wrong. It wasn’t until I understood God’s “amazing grace” that I got that being a good person doesn’t get me into heaven. My good works can’t get me into heaven because I can’t get myself into heaven. I can only get into heaven through Christ.
"And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace." (Romans 11:6)
That’s not to say that I shouldn’t be a good person. If I accept Christ and God’s grace, then I will actually have Christ living inside me. And if Christ is living inside me, then I will do good things and be a good person—but not because I’m looking for the prize at the end of the race.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8–10)
If we’re walking in Christ, we are walking away from sin. However, that doesn’t mean that we become slaves to rules and doctrines either. Because once I cross the line into legalism, my eyes are no longer on Christ but are instead on myself. My focus is on how moral I am, how well I can follow the rules, and how sinful others are who aren’t as disciplined as me.
I think being a “wretch” doesn’t just mean living in sin before we accepted Christ. I think it can also mean living with pride after we’ve been saved. It can mean getting cocky and thinking that maybe we have something to do with our salvation. Like maybe our rule-following and scripture-memorizing and ministry-volunteering is somehow affecting our status with God.
As humans, we like to have control, and stepping out in faith—living in grace—means relinquishing control. That’s not something too popular in our society right now. It’s not cool or trendy like, say, controlling the universe by the magnetic power of our own thoughts is.
But it’s truth.
And truth equals freedom . . . freedom from sin, freedom from legalism, freedom from this world.
And once we’re free through Christ, we are able to see what all God has in store for us. And it is truly amazing.
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.
After growing up in a family with three girls, Paula found herself raising three boys. Admittedly still perplexed at how the male brain works, she has learned to embrace the boogers and burps that come alongside the kisses and bedtime snuggles. She feels blessed to have been able to take her full-time editor job to a part-time status after her third son was born so she could be home with her boys before and after school, as well as devote more time to helping them develop into the type of Christ-following men she knows this world needs. Paula shares her entertaining look at life with boys at www.boogersandburps.com.