Amazing Grace: Past, Present, and Future

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The old hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ has remained popular among Christians for many years since it was first written. Its opening words remind us of the beginnings of salvation and aim to awaken gratitude: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”

Although the lyrics of the rest of the song do call us to consider the present and the future, the opening line seems to define the song as a backward-looking perspective on our salvation. But salvation is not only a past event. It is at work in the present and will be completed in the future.

What if we tweaked the lyrics to prompt us to consider grace in the now and the yet to come?

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saves a wretch like me!” Singing it this way reminds us that although sin remains in us, the grace of God remains at work in us too. One difficulty in Christian spirituality is the feeling of guilt and shame for present depravity. This can lead to a withdrawal from spiritual practices or an overly depressive faith. It certainly is not wrong to be painfully aware of present corruption and offenses against God – it is in fact spiritually healthy – but it is unhelpful when it overshadows grace. The spirituality modelled by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:21-8:1 has these the other way around: sin had a prominent place, but grace shines over it all and summons us to rejoice in it, much like in the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that’ll save a wretch like me!” This shifts our eyes to the future, knowing that our own efforts will not see us brought safely home to God, but the same amazing grace that has brought us safe thus far will certainly see us all the way. Grace will be what ensures our salvation is carried through to its completion.

The sweetness of salvation must be more than a fond memory. It must be the fuel of the Christian life that propels us forward in the present and all the way to the end. Singing of amazing grace in this way will train our hearts to exult in what lies over the horizon and keep pressing on forwards and upwards in the long march that is the Christian life.