As soon as I cried out to him, the lowest level of despair turned to joy and hope. I was, like the psalmist says, lifted out of the miry clay I was wallowing in and set firmly upon solid rock. I was finally rescued. It was all because of grace; all because of God’s amazing favor toward an unworthy sinner like me.
In 1748 a violent storm off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, was battering a ship so severely that sinking seemed inevitable. On board, a slave trader named John Newton was not yet ready to die, so he cried out to God for mercy. God answered his prayer, and this marked the beginning of a spectacular transformation in the life of a man who had been a vile sinner up to that point. Years later, as a minister, he contemplated on this radical change as he penned the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
Like Newton, countless others confess to such a dramatic turn. The active agent in all of them is God’s grace. No man can change on his own. No one can save himself. All humanity is fallen into sin and heading for destruction. While some may not appear to sink so low in sin, the outcome is all the same. The wrath of God awaits each sinner. It is an unavoidable and unchangeable end, no matter how much we insist to think otherwise.
We are lost and in need of redemption. Only God’s grace can achieve that.
John Newton’s desperate call for God’s mercy and his story of transformation remind me of my own story. Like Newton, I had to cry out to God to save me when I was drowning. And just like him, I was heard and helped by God. “He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps” (Ps. 40:2).
The graphic and emotionally charged words of this psalm speak of my own experience as a lost sinner. They sum up God’s amazing grace that saved a hopeless wretch like me. For many years I languished in a horrible pit, one from which I could not climb from until God intervened, reached down to me, and pulled me up. I was a hopeless wretch; I just could not see it yet.
A Wretch Like Me
I grew up in 1980s communist Romania as a pastor’s son. Needless to say, this presented challenges for me on several levels. While, for the most part, my childhood was idyllic it did include a substantial dose of bullying and ridiculing because I came from a Christian family. This inevitably turned out to be a significant factor in my attempt to sever ties with my Christian heritage. However, while this amplified my full-blown rebellion, the main cause for turning away from God was forged deep inside my own fallen nature. More than anything, it was the lust for the things of the world that drove me away from God.
As a teenager, all that I found to be fun in life seemed to run contrary to the strictness and rigidity of God and Christianity. I was convinced that going my own way would be far more rewarding. But I painfully learned that drifting away from God is directly proportional to one’s misery. It would take twenty years for me to fully learn that lesson.
My parents were doing their best to bring me back to the right path, but I was determined to go a different way. My Christian background, which made me feel as an outcast before, was an embarrassing baggage to me, one that I was eager to offload. I secretly envied my secular friends who seemed to live such exciting lives. I often contemplated how much easier my life could have been if I were born in a different family. I remember dreading to be asked what my dad did for a living.