That Saved A Wretch Like Me…

{By Michael Vuke}

photo credit: liber via photopin cc

photo credit: liber via photopin cc

Not too long ago, I wrote a somewhat controversial post entitled “Jesus Loves Me?” In it, I talked about how I didn’t really like the children’s song Jesus Loves Me because of how one line in it promoted a fallacious way of knowing God.  In it, I said, “What could I possibly have against Jesus Loves Me? Next thing you know I’ll be blasting “Jesus Loves the Little Children” or “Amazing Grace”!

Well strap in, because guess what?

I really don’t like some of the theology of Amazing Grace.

Before we get started, let’s set some framework for this concept and discussion. The last post was derailed because some of my ideas were taken out of context and taken too far. There are two extremes on this topic that tend to be taken, and I want to avoid both of them. While I will address both inaccurate views, I will be focusing on the one that I believe is the most prevalent in the American church today/have experienced the most. I’m not ignoring or advocating the opposite extreme, but I’m not focusing on it.

Since that is now out of the way, let’s get started.

Amazing grace/how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost/but now I’m found/was blind but now I see.

This hymn has been around for centuries and has impacted countless lives. The message of truth that it shares is phenomenal and truly life changing. I love a lot about this hymn. However, whether it was the intention of the author or not, some of this song promotes a very unhealthy theology.

“How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

This line is inherently problematic. You see, we are no longer wretches! This line contradicts the very essence of what Christ did on the cross and in the tomb. We WERE wretched sinners, lost and dying, with no hope of salvation. We WERE ugly, unclean, and filthy in rags1….

But we are no longer that wretch. The moment that we accept Jesus’ sacrifice and start living for him, God takes our filthy rags and replaces them with pure, perfect, clean garments2. He cleans us, lifts us up out of the pit3, and adopts us as his own.

All too often, we get caught in this idea that we are a lowly not worthy of the slightest kindness from God, and “Oh Lord, thank you so much for bearing with me, for I am such a wretched sinner. I am a vile being who does not deserve your magnificent love and grace.”

That is a lie.

Yes, we do not deserve God’s grace and love, but he gave it to us anyways.

Yes, it is only by God’s overwhelming forgiveness that we can be cleaned of our filth, but if you have been saved, you have been cleaned!4

We are no longer under condemnation5–we are no longer wallowing in our mistakes and rebellion. To continue in viewing yourself as a lowly filthy sinner is to deny what God did through Jesus. If you persist in bemoaning your lot as a wretch after being shown amazing grace is to tell God that he does not know what he is talking about when he says that we are clean, washed whiter than snow.

Who knows better: you or God? If he says that we are clean, than we are clean, restored, holy, and loved.
Before I close, I do want to touch on the opposite fallacious view point. Some Christians recognize that we have been cleaned and are no longer wretched. But sometimes this gets taken too far. While we are pure and clean and loved and forgiven, we still are dependent upon god and his sacrifice and forgiveness. It is not through our own righteousness that we are clean.

We are clean all the way through, but it is a given cleanness. We did not earn or even deserve it, but it was given all the same.

The appropriate view of ourselves is that we were a wretch, but through God’s grace and love and not anything we did we were redeemed and are now clean.

To acknowledge this is at the same time both incredibly humbling and uplifting.

It is humbling because we are completely and utterly dependent upon god for our holiness and cleanness. There is nothing we can do of our own to change the state of our cleanness.

It is uplifting because the God that created the universe—who spoke all of reality into existence with a word—this all powerful, all knowing being saw you. He saw you in all of your wretchedness, and he loved you. He loved you so much that he, in his perfect cleanness, stepped down into the filthy squalor we lived in, got his hands dirty, and lifted us out of it. He knelt down and cleaned us. He removed us from the filth we lived in, and then removed our filth from us! We are now his children, and he loves us passionately.

Will you accept this? Did his amazing grace open your eyes yet leave you a wretch, or have you been adopted into his perfect cleanness?

 

1Isaiah 64:6

2Luke 15:22

3Psalm 40:2

4John 8:34-36

5Romans 8:21

6Ephesians 2:8-9

Comments

  1. Almost in agreement… because of our original sin, we, in our human nature, are all born as sinners, otherwise why would God send His son to die for our sins, and why would we need to have faith in Jesus? Why would we need to confess with our mouth and in hearts to God that Jesus is our savior, acknowledge the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? None of that would matter if Jesus death and resurrection saved us all (against our will) in that one moment in a way that could not be undone by us refusing it or turning away from Him after coming to faith.

    WE ARE sinners every darn day we walk this earth, WE SIN, so of course since God can not abide in the presence of SIN, we are always going to be, in our human nature, those poor miserable sinners, those wretches… but we are in our souls, pure again, every time we repent of our sins and God forgives us. I may be a “saved by grace” person, but the minute I sin, and do NOT confess it and do NOT repent those sins, and every day that I choose to hang onto those sins and do not repent and CHANGE MY WAYS, I sure the heck CAN be sent straight to hell if I drop dead. That is why I believe that daily confession, and for some of us, more frequent confessions (lol) is necessary.

    Despite our Baptisms, our confirmations, or frequent communions and our rock solid FAITH in God and Jesus Christ, we do not have a one-way ticket to Heaven. We can have that faith and do all the “right” things by God, and can still end up blowing God off in a second if we choose to. YOU CAN lose your faith, do not be deceived. Satan would LOVE for us Christians to think once we have been saved we have nothing to fear of losing our place in Heaven. We always have the free will to throw our faith away, or as most Christians who have become too comfortable in their “saved status” do, ignore it and it withers, becomes weak, shallow, and uncertain, creating a foothold for satan to manipulate us into false teachings or spiritual laziness.

    I believe that hymn was written the way it was to reflect what a new, born again, or just old-fashioned saved person feels like when they realize, or reflect back on (as I do when I sing it) all that God has done for them. It is RIGHT that we keep a VERY humble and grateful heart, and that is what that hymn is expressing. Only by recognizing just how wretched we ARE in our humanness, in our unforgiven state, can we fully appreciate just what a wonderful and divine gift our salvation, through Christ, IS! We need the CONTRASTS. Just as surely as we need the Law WITH the Gospel. How one dimensional would the Easter story be if all we discussed from now on, was the Resurrection? If we do not relive those days of Christ’s life and tortured death on the cross, the glorious victory over sin, death, and the devil after His resurrection would be what? Certainly not all that God would want us to hold sacred and close to our hearts. To recount and confess our sinfulness is a daily attitude adjustment I think most Christians need. Don’t sugarcoat the daily battle between satan and God in your lives! Spiritual laziness and being too comfortable in your saved skin is a very unwise and dangerous attitude to have.

    TOO many people today want to grab onto all the glory in knowing their sins are forgiven that they take the focus off just how undeserved they are to be forgiven in the first place. I say a little MORE humility is needed in the world, not less. To feel too safe about your salvation is a slippery slope that satan loves to use to get Christians to stop being diligent about admitting those sins that creep into our lives one way or another, then eventually take hold of us in ways we sometimes aren’t aware of. They start cracking that glossy finish we’ve painted over our sinful natures that remain underneath.

    NEVER, in my opinion, should anyone rest on their laurels and think, I AM a pure and perfect person in God’s sight… not till you walk through those pearly gates would I ever dare to make such a claim. The Gospel is true and full of God’s promises to us, but we have that free will to throw it all away. And IN FACT WE DO, Every day we do, one sin at a time. It’s because of that sinful nature we will always have until we die, that I feel it is vital that we never lose sight of our humanness, our sinfulness and our daily need for reflection, humility and repentance.
    Once repented do I feel a sense of peace and happiness and God’s grace blessing me with His favor? YES!
    Should I revel in God’s forgiveness and gladly rejoice in His love for me? YES!
    But do I rest on that? Never.

    There, did I appropriately beat that poor dead horse to death enough?
    Then I did my usual overstated best. Thank you for your patience.

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  1. […] For a more directly spiritual application of these thoughts, check out this article I wrote for Inside-Out.  […]

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