Summary: John Newton believed that God’s grace taught him to fear. But we’re not supposed to be afraid of anything are we?

OPEN: Does anybody know what the date was this Last Friday? (Friday the 13th)

Both Fridays and the number 13 have both been considered “unlucky” down thru the ages.

The number 13, for example:

The Turks so disliked that number that they practically removed it from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894).

Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue.

Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor.

And according to information I had a number of years ago, some airlines refused to have a Flight 13 or even a row of seats with that number.

As for the fear of Friday old wives tales say that you should:

Never change your bed on Friday; it will bring bad dreams.

Never start a trip on Friday or you will have misfortune.

If you cut your nails on Friday, you cut them for sorrow.

Ships that set sail on a Friday will have bad luck

You put those two together - Friday and the number 13 - and you can end up with a whole bunch of people that are actually afraid of that date on the calendar. Dr. Donald Dossey, a psycho-therapist specializing in the treatment of phobias estimates that fully 8% (21 million) of the people in America are frightened of Friday 13th

APPLY: People can become afraid of the strangest things.

But the Bible tells us that God’s people should not be. We should not be a people of fear.

Fully 365 times in Scripture, God tells us “Do not fear” or “Fear not” or something similar.

365 times – that’s one time for every day of the year.

And Psalms 118:6 tells us WHY we should not fear: “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Now, because this is true, many of gotten the mistaken impression that God doesn’t endorse fear. That God would never want us to be afraid of anything. But, that’s not true.

Proverbs 9:10 says "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”

Ecclesiastes 12:13: “…Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”

And Jesus taught: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

This concept of fearing God was very real to John Newton. When he wrote his song “Amazing Grace” he included this verse:

“It was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”

ILLUS: For those of you who weren’t here a couple of weeks ago - before he became a preacher John Newton was a wicked man. If there was something evil he could do... and he could figure out a way to do it… he did it.

In fact, his wickedness was so obvious, that when his ship, the Greyhound, was caught in a terrible storm at sea, the captain seriously suggested throwing him overboard like Jonah because he believed Newton’s wickedness was the cause of all their misery.

During the 9 terrifying hours of a storm that had everyone – including Newton – praying.

John Newton said: "I concluded my sins were too great to be forgiven. I waited with fear and impatience to receive my doom."

Newton was afraid.

And he later came to believe that his fear was God’s tool to get his attention.

“It was grace that taught my heart to fear”

John Newton believed God had to bring him to his knees in FEAR before he would ever give his life to Jesus. But once he did do that - give his life to Jesus - he became a fireball.

He was determined, focused, and unstoppable.

According to one author “To London’s ‘smart society,’ John Newton was… an evangelical, but the “worst” kind: a fanatic who denounced all the self-indulgences and pleasures that society loved the most.” Focus On The Family Feb, 07 page 15, Paul McCusker

But Newton didn’t care. He didn’t care what they thought. He wasn’t in love with the world around him, he was in love with Jesus

.But he got that way because “it was grace that taught his heart to fear”


Acts chapter 9 tells us a similar story about a man named Saul (we know him as Paul)

Saul was a very righteous Pharisee who had been responsible for the death of. the first Christian martyr to die for the faith – Stephen.

Saul became fanatical in his opposition to the church. He hated the name of Jesus and he hated anyone who belonged to our Lord. By the time we get to Acts 9, Saul has obtained letters of authority from the Sanhedrin, and he’s on his way to Damascus with an armed guard, determined to arrest any Christian he can find there - and bring them back in chains.

That’s when Jesus stepped in and brought Saul to his knees.

Look with me to Acts 9:3-6

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.

"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

For 3 days, Saul sat in a house in Damascus waiting for the messenger Jesus had promised.

For 3 days he’s blind, and he sits alone in his room, fasting and praying.

Now tell me… do you think Saul was a little afraid???

You better believe it.

I suspect there were times during those 3 days that Saul (like Newton) probably thought:

“I concluded my sins were too great to be forgiven. I waited with fear and impatience to receive my doom.”

It was grace that taught Saul’s heart to fear.

When Ananias came to him and explained how much God really loved him, and Saul was baptized into Christ and accepted Jesus’ grace. From that day forward, Saul was determined, focused, and unstoppable.

Acts 9:20-23 says that “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’

Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him.”

There were people that became annoyed with him and didn’t like him.

But Saul didn’t care. He didn’t love the world… he loved Jesus.

I’ve noticed that God DOES use fear every once in a while to get people’s attention

ILLUS: During my first ministry, I encountered a man who approached me about becoming a Christian. He had not been in church much before… but he was scared of God’s judgment. He’d just seen a TV special on a man named Nostradamus who had predicted the end of the world and this young man was afraid that the world would end before he got a chance to make his life right with God.

Now Nostradamus was a false prophet. He taught many heretical things but (pause) God seems to have used that false prophet to get that young man’s attention.

ILLUS: Here at our congregation, Larry Pierce has often shared about his auto accident that brought him back to Jesus. He had been a Christian years ago but had wandered away and lived his life without God.

Then one day, he was driving a pick up truck down a road in Kentucky. He was towing another truck behind him. He came to a section of road that was had a steep 8 % grade (really steep). He wasn’t troubled by it… until his brakes went out. He ended up going down a weaving Kentucky road at speeds of at least 70 mph. Then the trees parted to show that his road was going to “T” with another highway… and on that other road there was another car traveling on an intersect course with him.

“Oh dear Lord,” he prayed. “Don’t let me kill them.”

And he did miss that car. But his vehicle launched across that other highway and barreled into a tree on the other side. He says he didn’t remember anything until he woke inside his truck. The dash was crushed up against the seat and the steering column was driven into the place where he had been seat belted in just moments before. His body was scrunched up against the driver’s side door in a section that was hardly big enough for him to breath.

He still has pictures of the crumpled truck… and he knows full well there was no way he should have walked away from that crash. Only God could have saved him in such a dramatic fashion. When he got out the hospital, he called Jim (one of our Elders) and asked what time church was. And on one of the worst Sundays of that winter, Larry came hobbling into church on his crutches, and he’s been here ever since.

Both of those men faced a fear of impending judgment, and that fear caused them to repent. The Bible tells us that there is every reason for people Outside of Jesus Christ to fear.

Hebrews 9:27 “… it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”

It’s grace that can teach our hearts to fear… and to repent.

But wait… after Paul was baptized, he doesn’t appear to be afraid of anything.

Acts 9:20 says that after he’d spend some time with the disciples in Damascus “he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”

And this preaching got him into some trouble with some of the Jews in that town.

Acts 9:23 says After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him…”

Paul learned of their plan, but he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave town. He just kept on preaching. But his followers were concerned, and so they “took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” Acts 9:25

For the rest of his life, Paul was just like John Newton… he didn’t care what the world thought about what he preached. He wasn’t afraid of what they could do to him.

BUT WHY? Just a few days before this, Paul sat in a lonely room, fasting and praying totally afraid of the judgment of God that he knew he deserved. But now he doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. – what happened?

Well, two things come to mind:

1. The fear of God gave him courage to confront any fear of men.

Oswald Chambers has noted: "The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else."

God told Israel “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” Deuteronomy 31:6

Or as Romans 8:31 says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

It’s knowing that God is “with us” that gives us our courage… and helps us overcome our fears.

ILLUS: I read the true story once about a woman who was babysitting for the 2 year old son of her preacher. The boy was sleeping in her home one night while the preacher and his wife were out of town and the boy woke up at 4:30 a.m. crying for his daddy.

“I didn’t know what to do until I remembered my tape player. I got up and plugged it in. Together we listened to one of his dad’s sermons. The little fellow knew it was his father’s voice, and went back to sleep.”

This little boy overcame his fears because he sensed his father was near, and he was safe.

Likewise – our Father can give us courage to stand up against any danger that this world may threaten us with because we know that He is a fearsome God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

2ndly – Paul was not afraid because, now he was no longer under judgment.

ILLUS: One preacher told of having a “rap session” with some high schoolers. He told them they could ask him anything they liked, and he’d try to answer them. Toward the end of that session, one girl challenge him with this comment: “The Bible says God loves everybody.

Then it says that God sends people to hell. How can a loving God do that?”

That began a debate between the girl and himself, he began to realize he was arguing with her.

So he stopped and said:

“I owe you an apology. I really should not have allowed our discussion to become so argumentative… May I share something with you?”

She said, “Yes.”

So I took her through a basic presentation of the gospel. When I got to Romans 3:23 and suggested that all of us were sinners she began to cry. It was then that this high school senior admitted she had been having an affair with a married man. The one thing she needed was forgiveness.

Then he told her about the Good News of Jesus and she said she was ready to make a decision to become a Christian.

The reason she did not believe in hell was because she knew was going there.

In her heart she knew she had sinned.

Her conscience condemned her.

But rather than face the fact of her guilt, she simply denied any future judgment or future hell.

She was under condemnation… and she knew it.

But Romans 8:1-2 says that once we become Christians, that all changes:

“Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Or John Newton wrote: “It was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved”

As it says in Ephesians 2 “It’s by grace that we are saved”

We can’t earn salvation, we can’t buy salvation, we can’t do enough good to deserve it, but God saves us because of His grace.

Well, how then do we “accept” this grace?

The Bible tells us we need to do just a few simple things:

1. We need to BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God (John 3:16)

2. We need to ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners and be willing to turn away form that sin (Acts 3:19)

3. We need to CONFESS Jesus as our Lord and Master (Romans 10:9-10)

4. We need to die to our sins and be buried in the waters of BAPTISM (Romans 6:1-5)

CLOSE: Grace CAN teach our hearts to Fear

But ultimately His grace can relieve our hearts from the fear of judgment.

Scripture says there will be a time of final judgment, but His grace can remove any fear of that judgment.

In my files I have a story about a man who was attending a Youth Ministry class at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri. He said:

When I got to class, everybody was doing their last minute studying. The teacher came in and said he would review with us for just a little bit before the test. We went through the review, most of it right on the study guide but there were some things he was reviewing that I had never heard of.

When questioned about it, he said that they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. We couldn’t really argue with that.

Finally it was time to take the test. The professor instructed them:

"Leave them the tests face down on the desk until everyone has one and I’ll tell you to start"

When we turned them over, every answer on the test was filled in!

The bottom of the last page said the following:

"This is the end of the Final Exam.

All the answers on your test are correct.

You will receive an ’A’ on the final exam.

The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you.

All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A.

You have just experienced...grace."