Last post, we started a series on grace and discipleship by learning that discipleship begins with having your life interrupted by God’s grace. I illustrated the point by telling the story of John Newton, the author of the Hymn “Amazing Grace”. Newton was a slave ship captain who found himself crying out to God in the middle of a particularly harsh storm. He became a Christian and later a pastor. This post, I want to tell you of one of his students.
In the film, Amazing Grace, we follow the life of William Wilberforce, a young man who had been taught the Christian faith as a child by John Newton, eventually after a season of wandering away from faith, he recovered it in a powerful way. He worked within the halls of government to bring about first the abolition of the slave trade and eventually the abolition of all slavery in the British Empire. It took 46 years to accomplish it, but without the bloodshed of civil war or revolution, Wilberforce led his country to abolition of slavery years before it happened here.
For those of us who sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that all ministry is based on church work or mission work, Wilberforce stands as an example of what one Christian can do if he completely and utterly lives out his or her faith in whatever arena he or she has been found.
But of course that doesn’t happen overnight, now, does it? How does someone go from young rich boy to a man who fights for justice in a seemingly lost cause for 46 years?
What brings such resolve, dedication, courage and conviction?
As we will see, from start to finish, it is grace. Grace is what changes us.
“I think God found me.” Wilberforce says. An echo of his teacher’s great lyric, “I once was lost but now am found.”
For those of us who have ever been lost, there is very little better than being found, I’d think.
Have you ever been in a place where you were so far off the track that you couldn’t find your way? When Beth and I were in Santa Fe, New Mexico a couple of weeks ago we heard the story of two snowboarders who spent three nights in a snow cave waiting to be rescued after descending down the wrong drainage and getting caught out in a snowstorm.
They spoke of the overwhelming relief to have a helicopter touch down and find them. It is amazing thing indeed, to be found.
And in the good news of Christ, we learn that in the deepest sense of it, in Jesus, grace finds us.
God’s love and mercy and kindness and goodness come seeking after us. We don’t have to change or tidy up, or get smarter or make amends for God’s grace to come to us. God’s grace just keeps showing up. Like Jesus addressing a tiny tax collector who had climbed a tree to get above the crowd, we are called to come down and have dinner with him. We are invited into a friendship with God, long before we are worthy of it.
God’s grace is offered to us just as we are, wherever we are.
Before I go on, I want to linger here. If you don’t catch this point, you’ll never understand the very heart of God. God’s grace is his merciful, reaching out to humanity in our fallenness, our frailty, our sin, right in the middle of our most lost-ness.
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul writes in Romans 5. He came into this world to seek and save the lost, Jesus said. To heal those who are sick, to forgive those who had failed. To release those who were in prisons of their own making. To give new life to those who were dead in their sins. This is the God who Jesus revealed, this the most amazing good news that we can imagine, this is the truth we must trust.
In Jesus… Grace is offered to you just as you are…
AND, because of his great love for you, because his will for you is to become like Jesus in every way, because he wants for you life, and joy, and peace, because his work is not only to save but to sanctify, not only to set us free but to use us in his freeing work…
Grace is offered to you just as you are…
But, will not leave you just as you were.