John Newton’s popular hymn has that jarring line:
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
Few of us would call ourselves by that term. We are far too respectable. With our advanced degrees and cultured upbringing, we are anything but wretches.
However, one result of an awakened heart is to see ourselves for who we truly are. We may have lived ‘Christianly’ for years or even been very active in Christian circles. But when the Holy Spirit grips us, we see our righteousness as the filthy rags that they are.
Also, we may have studied the Bible for years and even memorised several passages. Yet the words remain dead to us. With our conversion, however, this begins to change. The numerous references to human depravity (Romans 7:18; 8:7; Ephesians 4:18; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; Titus 1:15) start to come alive. We get to know that not only are we sinners; we are actually dead and miserable.
And that is why that hymn remains powerful. For none can sing that song with meaning and conviction except the person who has been awakened to his spiritual lostness and depravity.
But thanks be to God for the remaining two lines:
I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see
Salvation is a rescue from our condemnation. The curse is taken away and a new heart is given to us. Yet we do not become transformed overnight. We remain conscious of a struggle within—a struggle that can still lead us to cry out, ‘O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me!’ And we have the certain assurance that the one who gave himself for us will ultimately deliver us from the body of death. Not only that. He will also wipe away every tear brought on by a wretched life and remove every trace of misery from our world.
We live in joyful hope of that day.