In a recent daily devotion, I read about a hard-drinking, mean-spirited man. When his young granddaughter died in an accident, this man chewed out the pastor at her memorial service and told him the only place that little girl was going was six feet underground.
Later, when the man was diagnosed with throat cancer, the pastor visited him regularly. When the man finally lost his voice, he wrote a note telling the pastor he’d confessed his sins and placed his faith in Jesus, saying the Lord was right to take away the voice that had been used for such vile and hurtful speech; and he thanked the Lord for the opportunity to repent.
Shortly thereafter he passed away, and the pastor read his note at the memorial service. There were some attending who wondered if this 11th-hour confession could really wipe away a lifetime of sin.
Sadly, a large part of humanity, including many Christians, doubt God’s absolute promise of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” They think it depends on them.
This type of thinking doesn’t inspire confidence in the 11th hour; and self-confidence can collapse into fear and doubt and manifest itself in criticism and bullying in those hours between zero and 10.
This is where grace comes in. We do nothing to deserve it; can do nothing to earn it. It’s not contingent on looks, personality, race, intellect, social status or good deeds, because it’s not about us; it’s all about Jesus and what he did for every member of the human race.
John Newton understood grace. Author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” his tombstone reads: John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”
At the age of 82, he said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” (“Amazing Grace, The Story of John Newton, Author of America’s Favorite Hymn,” by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson).
The Apostle Paul witnessed grace firsthand when he held the coats of those stoning Stephen for his testimony of Jesus Christ. As he stood there watching, Stephen prayed his final prayer, and it wasn’t “Lord, strike down these sinners who refuse to believe in you”; it was simply, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge … ” (Acts 7: 60). But, incredibly, this had no impact on him. Acts 8:3 says, “But [Paul] was burning with hate against the church, going into every house and taking men and women and putting them in prison.”
I like the Bible in Basic English’s version because “burning with hate” describes today’s pervasive anti-Christian sentiment to a T. Christians are labeled as being close-minded and full of hate. But aren’t those who perpetuate this thinking producing the very same acts of intolerance and irrational hatred toward Christians? Mass ’steria! If they were truly loving and inclusive, they wouldn’t have anything negative to say about anything or anyone.
Paul finally saw the light and considered himself the vilest of sinners saved by grace. He was a home wrecker and murderer of Christians, but God opened his eyes to the truth. He couldn’t alter his former life; but he wanted a future with Jesus Christ leading the way, and God used him as a witness to the Gentiles “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins … ” (Acts 26:18)
We can’t change our past, but it can be a horrible warning to others of what not to do, or a blessed example from those who raised us. We don’t need to worry about the future. God’s already got that covered. Today is ours, but in order for it to be effective, we need to take our grubby little paws off of it and turn it over to Christ. Then, and only then, will today be “make a difference” day.
Hymn writer Julia H. Johnston wrote: “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt … freely bestowed on all who believe … ”
Anyone who has experienced this amazing gift knows it applies to them as well. It’s not the size of the sin in the sinner; it’s the all-encompassing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As the old church sign says, “You’re not too good to stay out; and you’re not too bad to come in.”
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.