By the grace of God
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Ephesians 1:7-8
Devotional text: John 1:16-17
“By the grace of God, I hope never to live through something like that again!”
“God help me, by the grace of God!”
“By the grace of God, I have been saved!”
These statements, or cries for God’s grace, come to us in many forms and at numerous times when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, looking to God’s grace to get us out of trouble. Wonderfully, and even inexplicably, we find that God does just that: saves us, helps us, pulls us out of deep sorrow and frustration.
The Mercer Dictionary of the Bible defines God’s grace as “the sheer, self-giving love of God toward suffering and sinful humanity … not dependent on any merit or worth of the recipient.” This is God’s love toward us. Unconditional, it is the very nature of God toward humankind.
God gives us this gift known as grace, and it is written about throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, we find this word used 129 (in the KJV) to 170 (from the Greek translation) times, according to the translation used.
In some translations, grace is used as the word gift, gratefulness and thanksgiving, as well as salvation.
In its basic meaning, it tells us we receive grace from God through Jesus Christ. In this definition, we are shown unwarranted favor with God, forgiveness of sins, transformation into new life and help in the time of need.
I find it interesting to note that this word is found in every book of the New Testament but four — Matthew, Mark, 1 John and 3 John — and it is found in all of Paul’s letters, particularly in his opening greetings and closing advice.
For Paul, living by the grace of God should be a must for all believers. Paul’s common greeting to the recipients of his letters is “Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7, et al.). His words found at the end or near the end of his letters include: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:20b, et al.).
We find, in the gospels of John and Luke, the meaning of grace as being shown through God’s love for all human beings. God’s love comes from Jesus, who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Luke 2:40 tells us, “And the child grew and became strong, and he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”
Furthermore, we find in John 1:16-17 the testimony of John the Baptist, who said, “From the fullness of his grace (Jesus), we all have received one blessing after another.”
By the coming of the Christ Jesus to earth, and through his earthly ministry, God chose to pour out his grace to us by the saving act of Jesus on the cross. We read in 2 Timothy 1:9, “Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Jesus Christ before the ages began.”
What wonderful words we read in Paul’s letter to Timothy. Salvation, new life and forgiveness of sin all were part of God’s plan for us, even before the beginning of time. Through God’s love for us, he gave his Son, Jesus, allowing his grace to move through Jesus to us. It is by his grace that we are saved, not by anything we have to work at in order to receive it. It’s a free gift when we choose to believe in his salvation (Ephesians 2:4-5).
I am reminded of the life of one of the greatest hymn writers, John Newton. Born in London in 1725, at the age of 11, he went to sea with his father, thus beginning life as a seafarer. Later, he served on ships headed to Africa for the slave trade, even becoming the master of two ships. He called himself a ruthless master, caring little for the lives in the hold of the ship.
Two times, while at sea, he became desperate for God, once as his ship was in danger of sinking and once he when he became deathly ill. Later, he would recall these times as a wake-up call from God.
He gave up the sea in 1754 and became a priest in 1764. Painfully regretting his time as a slave trader, Newton became an advocate to end the slave trade, even writing tracts explaining the harsh and inhuman conditions aboard ship. It was to his great rejoicing when the law was passed to end it in 1807, the year of his death.
Although he wrote many of the great hymns we sing today, “Amazing Grace” is one that leads us into God’s arms. He wrote three of the verses we sing today, as well as another three that we do not sing.
First appearing in Olney Hymns in 1779 under the title “Faith’s Review and Expectation,” this hymn could well be a testament to his life.
How well we know those opening words of this hymn: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
There is another verse, written by Newton, which uses some of the same thoughts he poured forth in his hymn “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” This verse again proclaims his wretchedness before he found God’s grace: “How lost was my condition, ’til Jesus made me whole, there is but one Physician, can cure a sin-sick soul.”
The truth is, God’s grace covers every aspect of our lives: from salvation, to living our lives and even unto death (see Hebrews 2:9: “by the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for every person”). Jesus came to us in grace and truth (John 1:14) offering to us the divine goodness that is at work in us by God, through the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
It is by the grace of God that lives are transformed from living under the influence of evil to becoming a person of righteousness filled with God’s grace.