Hymms and songs can often communicate clearly and powerfully our Christian beliefs and experience.

There is an example of a hymn that is well known to many of us. The pastor who wrote this historic hymn was once a slave-ship captain. While he was a pastor he became blind. The old church building where he once pastored goes unnoticed by many people who walk and travel the busy streets of London today. Yet a powerful message rang forth from that place.  The man who once pastored in this simple and largely unadorned building was John Newton. He wrote what is arguably the most famous Christian hymn, one that is still sung around the world.

The hymn begins with these words, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me . . .” Even as I write this, those words grip me to the point of tears. While a hymn is not a doctrinal authority, it can surely communicate truth and portray Christian experience. What Newton communicated in that hymn about his salvation has been the experience of millions of other people throughout history. I can think of no better starting point to understand salvation than this “Amazing Grace.”

God offers us salvation as an act of His grace. By grace, He freely bestows His blessing, favor, and forgiveness upon us when it is undeserved. A human being brings no righteousness, merit, nor good works to God that can earn salvation. It is a gift. (Rom. 6:23) By grace, He gives us something completely new when we receive salvation, and there are at least four important new changes that flow from His grace.

First, we are made new creatures by God (born again) a work wrought by the Holy Spirit. Second, we have a new standing before God because we are forgiven and acquitted of our due penalty.  That is to say, He grants us justification (Eph. 2:1-9; Rom. 5:1; BF&M 2000, Article IV) Third, we have a new relationship with God. Salvation restores and redeems us to God Himself from our separated condition and we become united with Christ. Fourth, we have a new eternal destiny. Forgiveness and redemption must be eternal, or they are a mere shadow of that which is most important. The Gospel, however, is a “forever” message of salvation.

Jesus Christ is the means that God provides for our salvation. (Rom. 8:32-34; Matt. 18:11; John 3:16-17) Jesus alone can pay the penalty for our sins (John 1:29), take our guilt, and our rightful judgment upon Himself. He alone is capable of giving life beyond death, eternal life.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25; I Cor. 15:20-22).  We believe that only Jesus can give salvation and that He offers this salvation freely to everyone who will accept Him as Savior and Lord. He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6) In Acts 4:12, “. . . there is salvation in no one else . . .” Our confession is that, “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” (BF&M 2000, Article IV)

Faith is our response to God to receive His offer of salvation. (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 1:16) It is an act of both belief and trust. Saving faith is accompanied by repentance, a genuine remorse and turning from sin.  Jesus said, “. . .Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15) and Acts 20:21 echoes “. . .repentence toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Southern Baptists lost one of the most influential and inspiring Christians of our time last year when Charles Colson died. In his 1976 autobiography, Born Again, he tells his life story and describes his salvation. “Born Again” is an expression popularized by the great Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham to refer to one’s salvation. Colson says his life was changed forever when he was “born again.”

For him and for us, salvation is the most important experience of our lives.  From the joy and gratefulness that flows from that experience, we can sing, often with tears in our eyes,  “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”