“By Grace Alone” – Book review

By-Grace-Alone-by-Sinclair-FergusonAfter all, if we are not amazed by God’s grace, can we really be living in it?

By its very nature, God’s grace astonishes those who taste it and amazes those who receive it.
- SINCLAIR FERGUSON, By Grace Alone

We sing “Amazing Grace.”
But do we really find grace amazing?

You may agree or disagree with what Sinclair Ferguson says,

Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ.

But we’d all agree we frequently take God’s grace for granted. We expect him to be gracious because we know it’s who he is.

And expecting it turns into thinking we deserve it which turns it away from amazing grace into “accustomed grace.”

O-How-the-Grace-of-God-Amazes-MeSo Ferguson writes another book on grace—a most excellent one. He organizes By Grace Alone around a hymn, O How the Grace of God Amazes Me,” written and published in 1946 by Emmanuel T. Sibomana, an African pastor.

Grace is not a “thing.”

It is not a substance that can be measured or a commodity to be distributed. It is “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 13:14).

In essence, it is Jesus Himself.

Seven stanzas of Sibomana’s hymn make up seven chapters in Ferguson’s book.

1. My Chains Fell Off

O how the grace of God amazes me!
It loosed me from my bond and set me free!
What made it happen so? His own will, this much I know,
Set me, as now I show, at liberty.

When we fail to see our sin, we deceive ourselves. But even when we see it, we may only resolve to do better, only to fail anew, adding more sin on top of the original. Grace comes in the form of good news: freedom from our sin nature.

2. Unconditional Love

Being aware of our sins helps us marvel at unconditional love. This chapter focuses on the story of the prodigal son and his discovery of the need of grace.

No one ever discovers the nature of God’s grace without first discovering the reason he or she needs it.

3. At God’s Expense

The two charges leveled against Jesus were blasphemy (that He had made Himself equal with God) and treason (that He had rejected lawfully constituted authority). Why were those two charges so significant? It was because these are the charges each of us faces before the judgment seat of God.

4. A Great Exchange

The great exchange is our gift. His perfection traded for my sins. It’s quite a bargain for us.

The gospel is an invitation to receive a gift. But many people hear it as a summons to do better.

Paul makes it clear that the gospel is not about something we do. It is about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

5. Guaranteed Security

Now all my heart’s desire is to abide
In Him, my Savior dear, in Him to hide.
My shield and buckler He, cov’ring and protecting me;
From Satan’s darts I’ll be safe at His side.

Verse 5 and 6 of Sibomana’s hymn (and thus Ferguson’s book) focuses on our trials of the Christian life. We need protection in dangerous territory. And we get it. Shouldn’t we be amazed? And may that amazement help us keep our joy in the trials.

Satan can attack but never ultimately destroy true Christian faith, because we are preserved by grace. Therefore, he seeks to destroy our enjoyment of the grace of God.

In this, sadly, he frequently succeeds.

6. Delivered from Evil

Satan will work however he can—through the “eye gate” and the “passion gate” to deceive us. But, ultimately,

the most sinister thoughts that Satan insinuates into our minds are not enticements to sin but suspicions about God Himself.

. . . The question of God’s nature is foundational for the Christian life. In a sense, every failure in the Christian life can be traced back to a wrong answer to this question.

How we live the Christian life is always an expression of how we think about God.

Refusing to exchange the truth about God for a lie helps us stay strong. Where can we go to find the truth? Over and over, the place to go is: Jesus.

7. True Freedom

Come now, the whole of me, eyes, ears, and voice.
Join me, creation all, with joyful noise:
Praise Him who broke the chain holding me in sin’s domain
And set me free again! Sing and rejoice!

And here the book and the hymn come full circle.

Why is grace amazing? Because it frees us. Not necessarily from the presence of sin (yet), but from the reign of sin. Sin no longer rules us. And we should find that amazing.

But when you begin to understand that in Christ you died to sin and have now been delivered from the dominion of sin; that you are no longer under its bondage; that you no longer need to be a victim of its subtle paralysis—then you find yourself saying not only “Isn’t this amazing grace?” but “What glorious freedom Jesus Christ has bought for me on the cross.”

. . . Do not misunderstand Paul. He is not saying that we will die to sin only if we believe we have died to sin. He is saying that, if you are a Christian, this is the truth about you.

You have died to sin. Therefore, count on it; live in the light of it.

* * *

Do you have a favorite book or scripture on grace?

The Lord has had me soaking in and focusing on grace for awhile now. But of all I’ve read lately on grace, this one—By Grace Alone—ranks high on my list.

Free mp3 download and sheet music (includes an 8th verse) of “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me 

My thanks to Reformation Trust
for the review copy of this book

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