by Jay Johansen | Aug 31, 2015
I heard a singer on television a few years ago singing "Amazing Grace". Except curiously, she changed one word of the lyrics. And that one word completely changed the meaning of the song.
You can listen to the song -- the original version -- on You Tube: Amazing Grace
The original lyrics go like this:
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.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
the hour I first believed.
But the singer on television changed it from "saved a wretch like me" to "saved a soul like me".
I don't know if it was the singer who decided to make this change, the producer, the director, or who. But whoever it was, why do you suppose they changed this word? I can only think of one possible reason: the singer (or whomever) doesn't think of herself as a "wretch" and doesn't want to call herself a wretch. She thinks she's basically a pretty good person.
But the whole point of Christianity is that you are not a good person. You are a wretched sinner. What you deserve from God is judgment and punishment. But instead God offers you grace! Grace here means, something good that you don't deserve. He offers total forgiveness, and an eternal life of joy and happiness.
No Bible-believing Christians thinks that the difference between himself and a non-Christian is that he is a good person while the non-Christian is an evil sinner. No, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian is forgiven and enjoys a right relationship with God, while the non-Christian is still suffering the consequences of his sin.
It's like: Suppose a violent gang went arond killing and stealing. One day they are caught by the police, arrested, and hauled before a judge. Then the judge declares that the governor has decided to be merciful and give them all a free pardon. If they will just come forward and sign the paperwork, all charges against them will be wiped off the records and they will be free. Some rush forward to take advantage of this offer, but others refuse. Perhaps they think it's a trick, or they hate "the system" too much to accept it, or whatever. The judge explains that if they don't accept the pardon, they will surely go to prison for a long time, maybe even be executed. They respond by shouting curses at the judge.
What's the difference between the two groups? Is it that the ones who accept the pardon are innocent and those who don't are guilty? No, they are all guilty. They all deserve to go to prison. The difference is that the ones who accept the pardon escape all punishments for their crimes, while the ones who refuse the pardon go to prison.
If you don't think that you are a wretch desperately in need of forgiveness, you are not ready to become a Christian.
But once you realize how bad you are, you can experience the joy and freedom of total forgiveness. God knows all about you. He knows every crime you've committed, every cruel thing you've ever done, every vulgar thought you've ever had. And he loves you anyway!
Maybe I'm wrong to say that by dropping the word "wretch" the singer signaled that she didn't understand what the song was all about. Perhaps she signaled that she didn't understand what Christianity was all about.
By the way: There is a very specific story behind Amazing Grace. It was written by John Newton sometime in the 1770s. Newton had been an atheist who owned a slave ship. He was responsible for the suffering and death of thousands of people. After he became a Christian he wrote books about the horrors of slavery and campaigned to end it. He knew full well that he had been a very evil man before he became a Christian. But he had no illusions that he was now a good man. And so he wrote Amazing Grace. God's grace is so amazing that it could save even a man like himself.
But don't fall into the trap of thinking that because you have never tortured or killed anyone, that you are better than John Newton was. Well, maybe you are better than him. But that's not good enough. You don't live up to God's standard of holiness. You still have sins in your life. I don't know you personally, so I don't know what your particular sins are. Maybe you've never killed anyone or cheated on your spouse or stolen anything ... well, at least not anything big, right? The odds are that at some point in your life you have lied to get yourself out of trouble. You've likely cheated someone somewhere along the line, spread malicious gossip, or done something sexually immoral. Jesus said that even evil thoughts make you a sinner: If you hate someone, the fact that you don't have the courage or the means to do him harm is irrelevant: you would if you could. If you look at a woman with lust, the fact that you don't have the courage or the opportunity to have an affair with her is irrelevant: you would if you could. We are all sinners, and our only hope is grace. Amazing grace.
© 2015 by Jay Johansen
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