Dr. James Gray was Moody Bible Institute’s third president (1904–1934). One historian noted, “His leadership during the critical and turbulent years following the death of Mr. Moody probably has resulted in him being held the most responsible more than any other man for the shape of the Institute as it is known today.” Some may not know that Gray also loved to write hymns. He penned the lyrics for the hymn, titled “Only a Sinner.” Influenced by Ephesians 2:8, the refrain reads, “Only a sinner saved by grace! Only a sinner saved by grace! This is my story, to God be the glory. I’m only a sinner saved by grace!”
In Ephesians 2:1–7, Paul was writing to the believers in Ephesus, now in modern-day Turkey. The apostle was explaining their past, present, and future position with Christ. Verses 1–3 describe our struggle with sin which ultimately leads to death and deserves God’s wrath. However, Paul appears to do a complete 180-degree switch in verses 4 and 5, beginning with the word “but.” He states that God intervened because of His enormous and unconditional love for us. The future awaiting the believer is shown in verses 6 and 7. We will be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and fully receive the Lord’s incomparable riches of grace.
In verses 8 and 9, Paul summarizes this emotional and spiritual journey: “It is by grace you have been saved.” We are not saved by ourselves. No amount of effort can achieve what God has given. That is why the gift of salvation is so precious. This has been the story of countless people who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, and it is no wonder that Dr. Gray wanted to make it the focal point of his hymn. It was the central theme not only of this song but also of his life.
>> Have you received the grace and forgiveness that comes only from Jesus? We encourage you to do so today. If you already have accepted His gift of salvation, take a minute to thank God. It is completely undeserved! And it secures your eternal future.