Surprised By Grace - Part 1

Theme: Recovering the Amazing Nature of Grace

This week’s lessons show us how grace came unexpectedly to Adam and Eve when they sinned, and that this same grace is given through Jesus Christ to all who will come to him for salvation.

Scripture: Genesis 3:21

Here is a trivia question you can ask your friends at your next dinner party: Of all the songs that have ever been written, which song has been recorded most—by the largest number of different vocal artists? The answer is Amazing Grace, the classic Christian hymn written in 1779 by the former slave trader turned preacher, John Newton.

Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—
That saved a wretch like me! I
I once was lost but now am found—
Was blind, but now I see.

Amazing grace really is amazing. It is the most amazing thing in this vast universe, more amazing even than neutrons and neutrinos, quarks and quasars, and black holes, each with its own baffling wonders and surprises. But like all familiar things, grace has lost its ability to enthrall most people. Instead, as theologian J.I. Packer has said, amazing grace has become “boring grace" for many persons.

If you are one for whom grace has become boring or even someone who has never even thought much about it, I hope this series will be an eye-opener. More than that, I hope it will help you find the amazing, saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. If you have found it already, I hope it will help you come to know and appreciate the grace of God more fully. In these devotionals I want to look at what God tells us about grace in the Bible and show how grace is what you and I need, more than anything we can possibly imagine—more than a good job, many friends, a nice house, excellent health, self-esteem, someone to love, or whatever. Grace is present in Jesus Christ for all who will have it, because the God of grace is, well, a gracious God.

I am a preacher. So whenever I come to a tremendous word like this, one of the things I do is look in hymnbooks to see what has been written about it by Christians who have gone before me. When I did that for grace, I was surprised by the many words for grace and the many varieties of grace that were listed.

The hymnbook we use in our church is called the Trinity Hymnal. It lists hymns dealing with grace under the following headings: converting grace, the covenant of grace, efficacious grace, the fullness of grace, magnified grace, refreshing grace, regenerating grace, sanctifying grace, saving grace, and sovereign grace. It also has combined listings, such as the love and grace of God, the love and grace of Christ, the love and grace of the Holy Spirit, and salvation by grace.

Moreover, there are descriptive phrases used in the hymns themselves, such as: abounding grace, abundant grace, amazing grace (the title of John Newton's hymn), boundless grace, fountain of grace, God of grace, indelible grace, marvelous grace, matchless grace, overflowing grace, pardoning grace, plenteous grace, unfailing grace, unmeasurable grace, wonderful grace, wondrous grace, the word of grace, grace all sufficient, and grace alone.

Did you know that Francis Scott Key, the author of the national anthem of the United States, also wrote an important hymn about grace?

Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,
Roused thee from thy fatal ease,
Praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,
Praise the grace that whispered peace.
My favorite hymn, at least as far as the words go, was written by Samuel Davies, a former president of Princeton University.
Great God of wonders! All thy ways
Are worthy of thyself—divine:
And the bright glories of thy grace
Among thine other wonders shine;
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

In addition, theologians speak of common grace, electing grace, irresistible grace, persevering grace, prevenient grace, pursuing grace, and saving grace. Yet even with these terms, I have not exhausted the Christian terminology.

Study Questions:

  1. Review the words to Newton’s hymn, “Amazing Grace.” What expressions do you notice that help to explain why it is such a well-loved hymn?
  2. Why do you think that for many people, grace is not seen as amazing, but “boring,” according to J. I. Packer?

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Thinking and Acting Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Thinking and Acting Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.