In talking with a friend recently, I was reminded of a reality that does not strike me often enough. Though this truth crosses my mind almost daily, even such frequency fails to unfold its full and total greatness.
There but for the grace of God, go I.
No, this is not Scripture. Rather, it is said to be a quote from John Bradford.
When others sin, godly men see what they themselves were before conversion; or what they would have been– but for the restraints of God’s grace.
Bradford, an eminent servant of Christ, seeing a criminal led to execution said, “There goes John Bradford–but for the grace of God!”
—William Plumer, “Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness,” 1853.
Yet, though this specific phrase may not be found in the pages of our Bible, is not the truth, the principle, of it written throughout?
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17)
I was not always a new creation in Christ. Though for quite some time I claimed to be, the fruit of my life revealed the false nature of that profession. When I see so many professing Christians claiming the name of Christ, yet living in bondage to this world’s system, I cannot help but praise and thank my God. After all, if not for His gracious and merciful salvation, I too still would be trapped and traveling the condemned road of a false convert.
How many of us, grieved by the sin of lost family or friends—sin that clearly entangles them, and prevents the scales from being lifted from their eyes—cannot look back at our own life and say, “There but for the grace of God, go I”?
So when we reach a point of frustration in our witnessing or in our prayer, should we not remember that such were some of us…and yet God saved us anyway? Should we not remember that, were we not justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God, we, too would be unworthy to inherit the kingdom of God?
Should we not have ever before us the stark, pride-diminishing reality that we, of ourselves, are nothing more than wretched sinners? It is only by the perfect work and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ that we can even stand before God with hope and a promise of eternal life! It is not by our own work or merit or goodness that we were washed, but by the blood of Christ.
So then, since such were some of us, so should we go to those who still remain in this state of bondage to sin. Since we have been given so great a salvation, since we have been made a new creation, let us go to those who are still old, stagnant, rotting and dead. Let us bring the news of Life with joy and with humble acknowledgment that every witnessing scenario upon which we embark could just as easily have been reversed. The lost person before us could be bursting with the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, sharing with us. We could just as easily be rotting and dead in our sins, seemingly apathetic to the message. But for the grace of God. Indeed. Amazing grace may just be the sweetest sound.