The Grace of God — Morning Devotions – Hope 103.2

The Grace of God — Morning Devotions

Don’t let bad choices be a constant in your life. But also trust that no matter how hard you fall, God’s grace for you knows no limits.

Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions

By Chris WittsMonday 19 Oct 2020Morning Devotions with Chris Witts

I was listening to an interview the other day on radio with a well-known personality. And she said something very interesting: “There but for the grace of God go I”. I’ve heard that phrase many times before, so it’s not new—but it caught my attention. What does it mean?

It goes back to the 1500s and the Reverend John Bradford, a reformer and martyr. Bradford was in the Tower of London for alleged crimes against Mary Tudor for his Protestant faith. Whilst confined to the Tower of London, it was known he would not be released. During his time in prison, he continued to write religious works and preach to all who would listen. At one point, he was put in a cell with three other reformers, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley (who had ordained him), and Hugh Latimer. Their time was spent in careful study of the New Testament.

Bradford was burned at the stake on 1 July 1555. Before that, it was said that when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, he exclaimed, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” He knew that the same sinful thoughts were in his own heart, and he, too, was a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.

If Not for God’s Grace

The phrase has often been used since those early days. The grammar is correct but old-fashioned. A simple, modern way of saying the same thing would be, If not for God’s grace, that’s where I’d be too. It has a wonderful meaning, as I want to share with you here. It can also mean I am more fortunate than the other guy.

There is a story told about St Francis of Assisi. He was visiting a village near Assisi, and was confronted by the townsfolk asking him to condemn their parish priest who was a known drunkard. Very angrily they told Francis that this priest was a cause of grave scandal and a terrible example to their children who deserved nothing less than the rejection by—and a public rebuke from—the holy man of Assisi.

While the townspeople were making their case against the parish priest, he happened to come stumbling down the street, already hopelessly drunk. See? Do you see what an embarrassment and disgrace this man is to the church and to the holy priesthood? Please, testify against him.

Francis was loath to say or do anything against priests. To his mind, no matter how bad a priest might be, he was still worthy of reverence and respect. As he wrote in his testament, “I refuse to consider their sins, because I can see the Son of God in them and they are better than I.” Francis said, according to the story, There, but for the grace of God, go I.

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Oh Lord I’d Be Lost

Keith Urban’s song “But For The Grace Of God” also has some great thoughts:

I can hear the neighbours
They’re arguin’ again
And there hasn’t been peace on our street
Since who knows when;
I don’t mean to listen in
But the shoutin’ is so loud
I turn up the radio to drown it out
And silently I say a little prayer.

But for the grace of God go I
I must’ve been born a lucky guy
Heaven only knows how I’ve been blessed
With the gift of your love
And I look around and all I see
Is your happiness embracing me
Oh Lord I’d be lost
But for the grace of God.

I can see that old man
He’s walking past our door
And I’ve been told that he’s rich
But he seems so poor
‘Cause no one comes to call on him
And his phone it never rings.
He wanders through his empty home,
Surrounded by his things
And silently I say a little prayer, yes I do.

But for the grace of God go I,
I must’ve been born a lucky guy.
Heaven only knows how I’ve been blessed
With the gift of your love.
And I look around and all I see,
Is your happiness embracing me.
Oh Lord I’d be lost
But for the grace of God

I look around and all I see
Is your happiness embracing me.
Oh Lord I’d be lost
But for the grace of God
Oh Lord I’d be lost.

Dr Dwight L. Moody was a famous preacher who lived a little over 150 years ago. He was also the founder of the Moody Institute, a Christian college in Chicago. One day as Dr Moody was walking home from classes with one of his students, they came upon a drunk, passed out in a pool of his own vomit on the sidewalk.

Feeling superior and wanting to somehow impress his professor, the student asked Dr Moody, “How could anyone stoop so low?” Dr Moody looked at the drunk and then at his student. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” Moody replied.

That could easily have been him. That could easily have been you. So often we fail to realise we are two or three bad choices away from losing our happy families, our happy jobs—our happy lives. Just two or three bad choices.

You Never Have to Lose Everything

Most times, you can come back from one bad choice and not lose everything. It’s a sobering thought, and should prevent us from judging others who may have made an unwise decision—it could easily have been me in a moment of weakness or temptation. We need to listen carefully to the Apostle Paul’s warning: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 – NIV).

God’s grace is amazing. His forgiveness knows no bounds. You never have to lose everything. Whether you make one or one million bad choices, God will always take you back. He will always forgive you because Jesus suffered your punishment in your place on the cross. So if you mess up, admit it. Don’t let one bad choice lead to another and then another. But also trust that no matter how hard you fall, no matter how low you sink, God’s grace for you knows no limits. Turn to him and find full and free forgiveness.

This phrase is meant to be a way of expressing humble gratitude to God for the way in which God’s grace has been at work in our lives. It’s a way of recognising that we’re not where we are because of our own wisdom or excellence or righteousness, but because of God’s grace. But often the phrase is used as much as a judgemental comment about the other person as it is a testimony to God’s grace.

Instead of comparing ourselves to someone else, we are best served by reciting the old slave prayer used by Dr Martin Luther King at the end of his sermons: “O God, I ain’t what I ought to be, and I ain’t what I’m gonna be, but by your Grace, I ain’t what I used to be.” Thanks to the grace of God.