John Newton said toward the end of his life, “Although my memory is fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” In Ephesians chapter 2 we see these two glorious truths arrayed side by side. Paul begins by making clear to all man’s true condition apart from Christ:
“And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (vv.1-3)
We are all tempted to think that we’ve got it handled, that we’re okay—at least, we’re not as much of a mess as the other guy. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are more righteous and less sinful than we really are, but there is no evading this. Regardless of whether our past is a bit shady or squeaky clean, this applies to ALL of us. Jeremiah 17:9 opens our hearts and lays them bare—“deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”
John Newton understood this, perhaps better than most. He had been a slave trader before Christ gloriously saved him. The wrongs for which he was responsible no doubt were enough to haunt the man for the rest of his life. But the same goes for every one of us. Our life is not spent just hoping to find our way or admitting we need a helping hand. In fact, it’s not even struggling to stay afloat—we’ve already drowned. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:1, in the clearest of terms—WE ARE DEAD in our sins. And as such, we have absolutely nothing to bring in trade for our salvation. So where is hope to be found?
Hope is found in the second part of Newton’s declaration, “...Christ is a great Savior.” It’s found in the first two words of Ephesians 2:4.
“BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (vv.4- 5, emphasis added)
Knowing this—believing this—allows us to face the reality of our sin. We must have a right view of our own sinfulness—we must see it for what it is rather than minimize, hide, or deny it. But we must also have a right view of God’s amazing mercy. I can say it no better that John Newton, slave trader turned pastor, and author of Amazing Grace, who said in a letter to a friend,
“For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts out none that come to Him, why should you fear? Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.”