Everyone knows the famous hymn by John Newton, “Amazing Grace.” It’s been around since it was first published in 1779. A web search on the song says, “Amazing Grace is the most popular of the Christian hymns. Many people know this and it is commonly sung in churches or congregations.” There are more than 7,000 cover versions of the song! It’s still being performed today by popular artists of every music genre: Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Judy Collins, Carrie Underwood. Cher also “covered” the song! Wikipedia says the song is sung 10 millions times every year! It begins, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

Do I really consider myself to be a “wretch?” According to one of my lexicons (dictionaries) for biblical words, to be a wretch is to be “of very poor quality or condition; perhaps inciting pity.” Poor quality? Me? We moved into a new house about four years ago and this past week I just got around to unpacking my office stuff. I hung up my diplomas on the “I love me” wall. My bachelor’s of theology degree has a gold sticker on it that says, “Summa cum laud.” My Master’s of theology degree has a gold sticker that says “with honors.” They both look pretty good right next to my oversized Doctor of Ministry Degree. I’m a pretty good guy! I don’t like the idea of identifying with being of “poor quality.” I think I’ve done pretty well in life. I own my home and my car and have few debts and have a satisfactory retirement in my old age. I’m pretty well off! I don’t need anything.

But it’s that kind of thinking that makes God want to spit me out of his mouth. Well, that’s what he told the members of the church at Laodicea in the third chapter of the book of Revelation. In verse 17, God tells them he wants to “spew” them out of his mouth because “…you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” God doesn’t see my diplomas or my gold stickers. God sees my heart. He knows behind all the good works in my life lies a deceitful, glory seeking, pitiful man. Thus he tells Isaiah that all your “good works is as filthy rags.” In Isaiah 64:6 we read, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”

The Greek word for “repentance” literally means “to change one’s mind.” I believe repentance means to change the way we think about ourselves. We must see ourselves as God sees us, as we really are. None of our gold stickers will save us. You have your own “gold stickers” don’t you? They are just filthy rags! When the disciples encountered the Galileans who perished when the tower fell on them, they assumed it was the result of some great sin in the Galileans’ lives that they were not guilty of. Jesus says in Luke 13:5, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus came to save the sick, not the healthy. He came to save the “wretched” not the glorious. It’s the ones who recognize and acknowledge their “wretchedness” that God saves. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 137:7-8, “He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, Seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best.” Paul knew that he was a wretch. He wrestled with sin in his life and seemed to lose that battle more often than he won it. Finally, he exclaims In Romans 7:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He answered his own question in the following verse, Jesus! “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”