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Hymnology: Grace Alone

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9

Hymn Story

Singer/Songwriter Dustin Kensrue has one of the most unique voices in the worship music landscape. First rising to fame as the frontman & lead guitarist of the popular alternative rock band Thrice, Kensrue's singing has an edge to it that lends power and emotion to his music, a trait that came with him as he began serving as a Worship Pastor and hymn writer.

I've often said that one of the marks of a well-written hymn is its ability to be adapted to a number of different styles. Grace Alone is a great example of this. Listen to how well this song "works" in a variety of musical settings, beginning with Dustin Kensrue's band The Modern Post giving it an uptempo, alt rock vibe:

The recording by King's Kaleidoscope is quite different, beginning with a more subdued sound and slower tempo, but adding a lot of interesting elements as the song progresses. I particularly love the chromatic bass line at the beginning of the third verse (which is appropriately unsettling given the lyrics at that point of the song) giving way to the full band entering at the point where the Holy Spirit's touch awakens the sleeping spirit of the sinner. It's a very effective arrangement, and the horn section at the end is the icing on the cake!

Finally, Jonathan Ogden's rendition turns this hymn into a very introspective, prayerful ballad.

There are several other great covers of this song out there (like this one and this one). Do you have a favorite? If so, let us know!

Lyrics

I was an orphan, lost at the Fall,
Running away when I'd hear You call,
But Father, You worked Your will.
I had no righteousness of my own;
I had no right to draw near Your throne;
But Father, You loved me still.
And in love, before
You laid the world's foundation
You predestined to adopt me as Your own.
You have raised me so high above my station;
I'm a child of God by grace, and grace alone.

You left Your home to seek out the lost;
You knew the great and terrible cost,
But Jesus, Your face was set.
I worked my fingers down to the bone;
Nothing I did could ever atone,
But Jesus, You paid my debt.
By Your blood I have redemption and salvation;
Lord, You died that I might reap what You have sown,
And You rose that I might be a new creation;
I am born again by grace, and grace alone.

I was in darkness all of my life;
I never knew the day from the night,
But Spirit, You made me see.
I swore I knew the way on my own;
A head full of rocks, a heart made of stone.
But Spirit, You moved in me.
And at Your touch my sleeping spirit was awakened;
On my darkened heart the light of Christ has shown.
Called into a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
Heaven's citizen by grace, and grace alone.

So I'll stand by faith in grace, and grace alone;
I will run the race by grace, and grace alone; 
I will slay my sin by grace, and grace alone;
I will reach the end by grace, and grace alone.

Hymn Study

The story of the Gospel is a study in contrasts. Who we are & who God is. Our weakness & God's strength. Our sinfulness & Christ's righteousness.

One of the greatest contrasts in Scripture is life under the Law, and life under Grace. When God gave the Law in the Old Testament, he revealed to mankind the standard by which holiness is measured, and without which no one can see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Yet it is a standard to which no sinner can ever attain. A life lived under the Law is a life of darkness, oppression, and futility, as all our best efforts at achieving holiness are doomed to failure.

Thus the Law was God's good gift to man because it showed us our need for a Savior who could fulfill the demands of the Law on our behalf (Galatians 3:23-24). It showed us that our salvation could only be accomplished through the unmerited grace of our thrice holy God. When a sinner who has been attempting to live under the law receives God's saving grace, the transformation is dramatic! In fact, God's Word describes it repeatedly as passing from death into life.

The key passage here is Ephesians 2, which contains in verse four what are perhaps the two most important words in Scripture: "But God." Verses 1-3 tell us we were dead in our sin, and that it is in our very nature to follow the passions and desires of our flesh in disobedience to God. Then we come to the hinge point of verse 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.

This hymn, which is Trinitarian in nature (with a verse dedicated to each Person of the Trinity), captures well the lostness in which we were born, and the newness of life to which Christians have been born again. We see and sing repeatedly what life was like under the Law, followed by several "but God" statements which point us to the many ways in which the Father, Son, and Spirit have redeemed us by Grace. The contrast couldn't be more stark!

The song is absolutely saturated with Scripture as well. Here's a quick tour:

UNDER THE LAW

  • I was an orphan (John 14:18)
  • I was lost at the Fall (1 Corinthians 15:22)
  • I was running away from God's call (Acts 7:51)
  • I had no righteousness of my own (Philippians 3:9)
  • I had no right to draw near God's throne (Romans 3:23)
  • Nothing I did could ever atone (Galatians 2:21)
  • I was in darkness all of my life (Ephesians 5:8)
  • I did not know right from wrong (John 3:19)
  • I swore I knew the way on my own (Isaiah 53:6)
  • I had a head full of rocks and a heart made of stone (Ezekiel 11:19)

BUT GOD

  • The Father worked his will in my life (Philippians 2:13)
  • The Father loved me despite my sin (Romans 5:8)
  • In love, before the foundation of the world, the Father predestined to adopt me as His own so that I might be called a child of God (Ephesians 1:4)
  • Jesus left his throne in heaven, knowing what it would cost him (Philippians 2:5-8)
  • Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him there (Luke 9:51)
  • Jesus paid my debt (Colossians 2:13-14)
  • Jesus redeemed me and secured my salvation by his blood (Ephesians 1:7)
  • Jesus died that I might reap what he has sown (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • Jesus rose from the dead that I might be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • The Spirit opened my eyes so that I could see my own sin (Ephesians 1:17-18)
  • The Spirit moved in me when I was unwilling and unable to move (Ezekiel 36:27)
  • The Spirit's touch awakened my spirit by showing me the light of Christ (Ephesians 5:14)
  • The Spirit took my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)
  • The Spirit called me into a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28)

UNDER GRACE

  • I am a child of God (1 John 3:1)
  • I am born again (1 Peter 1:23)
  • I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • I stand by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • I have endurance to run the race (Hebrews 12:1-2)
  • I will slay my sin (Romans 8:13)
  • I will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6)