“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…!” so goes the classic Christian hymn composed by John Newton in 1772. This timeless song resonates with the present ‘wretched’ state of every human being at the sight of God. What inspired John Newton to pen down this song, that has remained alive and sung in so many languages decades later?
The amazing story
John Newton was born in 1725 in London to a Puritan mother who died two weeks before his seventh birthday, and a stern sea-captain father who took him to sea at age 11. After many voyages and a reckless youth of drinking, Newton was forced to join the British navy. After attempting to desert, he received eight dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of a common seaman.
While later serving on the Pegasus, an enslaved person ship, Newton did not get along with the crew who left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, an enslaver. After a while, a sea captain, at the instruction of John’s father, went out to look for him. His mission was a success and John was rescued from the African coast. However, during their voyage back to England, they were caught amidst a great storm.
The story is told that the storm swept some of his men overboard and left others on the verge of drowning. With both hands fastened onto the wheel of the boat, Newton cried out to God saying, “Lord, have mercy on us.” After eleven hours of steering, the remaining crew found safety when the storm calmed. It is aboard this ship that Newton surpassed his earlier immorality and impiety, blaspheming to a degree that shocked even the older men and narrowly escaped death by drowning as he fell overboard during a party. All the while he reviewed his life: his former professions of religion, the extraordinary twists of past events, the warnings and deliverances he had met with, his licentious conversation, and his mockery of the Gospels.
At first, Newton was convinced that he had sinned too much to have any hope for God’s forgiveness. Yet when the storm did not recede and he felt he would soon meet his God, he, at last, clung to Scriptures that taught God’s grace towards sinners, and he breathed his first weak prayer in years. As he was later to recall it, this was “the hour he first believed.” After this incident, Newton mustered enough faith and knelt between the palm trees and the sea, and rededicated his life to God.
After this episode, Newton never went back on his faith. He developed a consistent habit of prayer, and his watchword became humility: “What a poor creature I am in myself, incapable of standing a single hour without continual fresh supplies of strength and grace from the fountainhead.”
When he returned to England, John was ordained as a church minister and helped William Wilberforce in the fight for the abolition of slave trade. If it were not for the grace of God, how else could a slave trader turn around and fight the same trade that his family lived on?
Who then is worthy of God’s grace?
The Lexico defines grace as ‘(in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.’ From John’s story, we can agree that he was the least to deserve God’s forgiveness and so are you and me. Reflectively look at yourself, and you will realize that you equally didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness for your sins. Sin is the only rift between man and God, and is the cause of the chaos in the world we live in today.
We are all born in sin. As soon as we come into this world, we begin our treacherous journey to destruction. It takes God’s intervention to move from this pathway to the one that leads to life. That means, getting to know God, who then reveals to us our depravity sending us to a moment of remorseful confession of our sins and relinquishing our will and life to God completely. This is how God demonstrates his grace towards us, that regardless of our rebelliousness (sin) towards him or the number of sinful acts we have committed, He forgives us unconditionally. What manner of love that God has lavished upon us!
Experiencing the amazing grace of God
Our sinful state can be termed as “Disgrace” which the lexico defines as ‘Loss of reputation or respect as the result of a dishonorable action’ and in singular ‘A person or thing regarded as shameful and unacceptable. In Zechariah 3, Joshua the priest’s sin is described as ‘filthy clothes’ which the LORD removes and clothes him anew. This is the way God takes us our disgrace.
This amazing grace of God is demonstrated through Christ Jesus, who left his heavenly glory, lived a life like us here on earth, and took on our sins with him to the cross at Calvary. He paid a debt he did not owe; he took our place that we may be free. The only thing we can do in response to this love is to confess our sins and believe in our hearts that Jesus is the son of God. Besides this, is to live in obedience to His word as we eagerly await His second coming.
When you think of how hopeless we are without God; how much burden of sin we have to bear each passing day; and how much suffering this world throws at us – then you appreciate the gracious nature of our God. He not only takes away our sins but gives us the grace to endure our pilgrimage with joy. We are assured of the hope of eternity with Him.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Back against the wall
The first time I ever heard of “back against the wall” was from the Made a Way song by Travis Greene. Until recently, I decided to google it up and found that it means ‘to have very serious problems that limit the ways in which you can act’. This is a common phrase among athletes. Normally, it depicts the experience of extreme exhaustion due to depleted glycogen reserves in the liver and muscles – hitting the wall.
Many believers feel similar spiritually, especially after praying for deliverance from besetting sins – sexual sin being the major one. Sometimes one may feel like a drunk man, having consumed illicit brew after a long day’s work, can barely get home because he makes three steps ahead and makes two backward if not five. Do not give up yet, even when doing so seems to be the best discovery of your time. Let us see why.
Purity is a requirement by God in the life of a believer. Right from the Old Testament, God required his people to be holy, set apart for himself (Lev. 11:44-45). The New Testament echoes this as the distinguishing hallmark of those who are God’s covenant people (1 pet. 2:9-11). As Paul exhorted Timothy, purity is a non-negotiable requirement of those who would serve God as vessels of noble purposes (2 Tim. 2:20-22). Ultimately, heaven is described as a holy city, in which there will be no room for impurity of any kind (Rev.21:27). It is particularly interesting to observe in Rev. 22:14-15 that among others, the ‘dogs’, sorcerers, murderers and idolaters will be locked out of heaven!
The wounded soldier
J.C. Ryle aptly put his classic book Holiness, “True Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare. . . . Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.” Sexual sin is a struggle, waging war against the believer, typical of 1 Peter 2:11 where the devil is characterized as a roaring lion seeking who to devour. There is a character believers like quoting, more than conquerors. We, myself included, do not think for a moment about what needs to be conquered. Among the many things, sexual sin is one of them. As we pursue, it’s a direction and commitment to the Lord that we are making and the Lord is willing and able to grant us his grace that makes us respond in holiness by saying NO to all sin and ungodliness.
Brian Hedges argues that “this reality is not an excuse for laziness, but a summon to sober-minded watchfulness. But it is also a humbling reminder that we’re still waiting for final redemption and need the help of others in the good fight of faith.”
Winning the battle
C.S. Lewis said, “The smallest, good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” Put differently, choices matter. If I consistently choose to give in, there is no way to serve my overcoming…including waiting for a holy moment to repent or indulge so that I can make a wholesome prayer.
It is possible to give up on the idea that sexual purity as young people in the 21st century is really possible! Especially in such an environment, where we are daily exposed to influences that defile the mind. Yet, Christ has called us into this holistic context, to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world. ” It means we are supposed to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). This, for sure, is a tough call! It is a call to live out the mandate to bring godliness into the world through our daily lifestyle and practices, particularly in honoring God through a firm commitment to sexual and moral purity.
Looking back at my past, I remember several people that God used to shine light to me about sexual purity. My dad was the first to share insight about sexual immorality. I also had a circle of Christian girls in high school with whom we prayed for God’s preservation in purity. We used to share white sealed envelopes as a symbolic of a promise to ‘keep it sealed’ till marriage. As a young believer, I fervently prayed and resolved to abstain from sex until I get married, so that I would glorify God and have a testimony to share with others.
The journey of pursuing sexual purity was not all smooth. I found myself emotionally entangled as a 1st year in campus. Though I was zealous and enthusiastic about my Lord who died for me, the desires of the flesh had their share on me and I fell into the snare of ungodly hugs (those that arouse sexual desires). I share this with the conviction that Biblical sexual purity begins with the state of our hearts, minds and gradually our bodies. Thank God for the godly friends that blew the trumpet warning to my ears and helped me to refocus and keep on the narrow path.
I appreciate several things from my experience. First, that my dad was courageous enough to speak such solid truth to a class 8 naïve girl. Secondly, for friendships that were an integral part of my life- not just concerning sexual purity. Also importantly, ensuring that we keep going back to God for forgiveness of our sin and refocusing of our hearts. I know now that every resolve done for God’s glory has His everlasting arms beneath it, to bring it to safe harbors.
This may not be the case for everyone else. Sexual perversions have become so prevalent and normalized everywhere else. The media advocates for this in innumerable ways, sometimes in very subtle ways like advertisements and even children cartoons. The erosion of morals and values has been a speedy process. God have mercy! The believer must have an alert spiritual antennae that Peter talks about in first Pet 5:8, to discern such sneaking. The biblical truth must be affirmed even in the darkest parts where sin flourishes.
In light of the popular culture today, the Bible calls us to rise above the waves by not conforming to the pattern of the world. And perhaps the greatest question is HOW? Over the years, Joseph has remained to be one of the exemplary references of a youngster/teenager who resolved to honor God with his sexuality even when the environment would be described to have been ‘conducive/favorable’. His father knew nothing about his whereabouts, his brothers bothered less about his well-being and having been enticed by Potiphar’s wife (sugar mummy of our times), would have sounded like a highlight. However, Joseph knew that he had a God to honor and please even in a foreign land. Gen 39:9b “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? The Psalmist also helps us to appreciate that it only in hiding God’s Word in our hearts that will keep us from sinning against God. Psalms 119:9-11.
The unchanging word of God does not lose relevance regardless of the deceptions all around us. Here are some of the deep truths about chastity from scripture :
- Sex and sexuality are gifts from God; it is He who created both man and woman (male and female) in His image and likeness. Gen 1:27. This gift was only intended to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. Gen 2:22-25. Vs.25 “and they were both naked, the man and his wife and were not ashamed.”
- Sex practiced outside this context (either fornication-sex before marriage-or adultery-sex outside marriage- or and other perversion) is detestable to God and only attracts the out-pouring of God’s wrath. Rom 1:26-32 2:5
- Sexual sin is sin committed against oneself. 1st Cor 6:18
- My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I ought to keep it pure and glorify God in it. 1st Cor 6:19-20
- Rom 12:2 “And do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In conclusion, the rewards of Chastity are worth the effort. To the Christian who keeps him/herself from being entangled in covenants that are ungodly will not be overwhelmed by its shame, guilt and consequences. To the spouses with whom trust in marriage is built and a foundation for a godly influence to the generations after. As Christ’s Ambassador, we glorify God by keeping pure. Sexual purity gives us the moral authority to witness to others and light the way for those who come behind us.
Would you like to commit yourself to honor God by staying pure? Would you like to commit in accountability with a mature friend, pointing each other back to the truth? You can sign your commitment on the link below as a reminder of your commitment to God and yourself.