But By the Grace of God

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”  This is a common phrase that you might use to express the role of God’s grace in your life.  Generally, you would say this to acknowledge how some tragedy that has happened to another person might have happened to you.  It means that without God’s favor, you know that you could have met the same tragic fate.

This phrase is usually considered to be derived from a quote by John Bradford.  Bradford was a sixteenth century English reformer and priest in the Church of England who was imprisoned in the Tower of London when Mary Tudor, a Catholic, became queen of England.  One day when he witnessed a group of prisoners being led away to execution, and he said, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”  This saying has survived in our common language in its variance, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  (John Bradford was later condemned to death and burned at the stake.)

The original thought behind this phrase does not have its origin in John Bradford, but in the Paul’s words written in the Bible.  Notice 1Corinthians 15:9-10:

“For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

Paul wrote this as he recorded a list of witnesses to the Lord’s resurrection with himself being “last of all, as it were to one untimely born” (1Cor. 15:8).  Paul fully acknowledged the role of God’s grace in his life and work.  He knew that he was unfit to serve as an apostle of Christ but for the grace of God.  All of his labors would have been fruitless and impossible without God’s grace, and so he gave all the glory to God for his work.

These thoughts are further expressed by Paul in 1Timothy 1:12-17:

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”

In this passage, we see that God’s abundant grace toward Paul was not only for his sake, but also for the sake of every sinner.  If Christ’s grace, mercy, and perfect patience were sufficient to save Paul, the foremost of sinners, then they are sufficient to save all sinners as well.

Christians, let us also consider our own lives in the likeness of Paul with a view to the grace of God.  By the grace of God, we are what we are, and we are people saved from our sins by the blood of Christ.  By the grace of God alone, we have been redeemed and sanctified so that we could be made fit for God’s service.  Without His wonderful grace, our righteousness would be as filthy rags and our works would be in vain.  Furthermore, God’s grace toward us is not for our sake alone.  In us, God demonstrates His perfect patience and reveals to lost sinners that they also can be saved by His grace and mercy.  Therefore, we should never make a pretense of sinless perfection to others, but instead we should give the glory to God for His abundant grace that makes us what we are – forgiven, redeemed, and saved from the punishment that was due to us for sins.  Take no glory for yourself, but glorify and praise God for His wonderful grace and mercy!

Stacey E. Durham


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