But For the Grace

Dec 02, 2008 |Tim Sweetman

Do we reject the outcast? Or identify with them?

Joey hates life.

It's been rough. His dad drinks and hates the kids. His mom hates his dad, and she take it out on him and his siblings. So he spends his time walking the neighborhood streets. It's just his thing, he says. It sure beats hearing and dealing with the junk at his house.

So he wanders, just looking at houses and imagining that he lived there — just him, and maybe a wife and kids someday. All he wants is normal — no more drunk dads, mad moms, or any other pain in his life.

I see a lot of Joeys out on the streets. Just walking and staring straight ahead. Some act like nothing is wrong — but I've seen their eyes, and I can see the sadness, the pain, and the heartache. And I hurt for them.

Imagine with me for a moment that you are Joey. Because you were.

You may not have been walking the city streets, but if there were streets in your mind and soul and heart, you had been wandering them. All of us have been to that place. It looked like this: we were lost, wandering without real purpose or meaning in our lives. It was pretty bleak. We were going absolutely nowhere.

We ended up in trouble — deep trouble. Our wandering brought us before a judge — and we deserved death for our crimes. But thankfully, this is just our imagination — our souls, our minds. The reality for us is that we did deserve death, but in stepped a man called Jesus Christ who told that judge that he would take our place. Before we knew it, we were set free.

By God's grace we were and are no longer in that place of wandering and straying. At one point we hated life, but it all changed when that Man took our place. It was the day we got off the streets.

Now we're just the people who are out there driving past all the Joeys on the streets, watching them slowly drift to the place where we once were. And we don't do anything.

Burned Alive

There's something about seeing men in chains or behind bars that stirs you. It happened to John too. In the 1500s, John Bradford watched a criminal being led out to be executed. He turned to those around him and said, "But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford." That phrase was altered slightly to the present day saying, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

John Bradford was a very religious man, known as "Holy Bradford" by all those around him and as a zealous preacher of the gospel. Eventually, he was arrested during the reign of Mary Tudor and placed in a cell with Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. Latimer would be burned at the stake with Ridley, crying out as they were burned, "We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as, I trust, shall never be put out!"

Bradford too would ultimately go to the stake, along with a fellow 19-year-old martyr, John Leaf. He would turn to his young friend and say "Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"

Was God's grace still at work in Bradford's time of death, just as it had been when he had witnessed a guilty man's execution?

Humbly Seeing

When Bradford looked at the criminal, he saw a Joey. And he looked at his own life and the time that he had lived like Joey. What he saw there was grace. He may have been thinking of Paul's words in 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV), "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst."

We must be saying the same, and understanding as did Bradford, thankfulness stems from humbly seeing God's grace in our lives.

For me, it looks like this.

My days are filled with college classes, homework, job, eating, working out, church, and more homework. Because of the busyness of life, I rarely stop and look around me, just standing in awe at what God is doing in my life. It's easy for me to miss what has been called "evidences of grace" in my life. Pastor C.J. Mahaney points out that "most people are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God. Most people are more aware of the presence of sin than evidences of grace."

That's me.

Basically, it's completely missing what God is doing in my life. If I'm a Christian — and I am — God is working. I need to stop and take a look at what He's done and what He is doing — evidences of grace. My focus cannot be primarily on the presence of sin in my life; if it is, I may slip into depression, anxiety and fear.

I must humbly seek grace in my life.

Humbly Seeking

I'm not sure if you noticed, but this Bradford fellow was burned at the stake for preaching the gospel. I certainly haven't been bold enough to have people wanting to burn me at the stake. In fact, when I see Joeys out there in the world, I tend to avoid them. I stay away from the bad crowd or those who are different from me. Men like Bradford went to all people, just as Jesus has commanded us. He did not stop at "but for the grace of God goes John Bradford." He did all he could to take his name out of that statement and insert a new name wherever and whenever he could.

I can do nothing less.

It's not easy. I'm not Jim Elliot, writing that "he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Sometimes, I fear seeking out people with whom to share God's grace. I want to keep what I cannot keep (my life), instead of gaining eternal blessings in heaven. It is brutally clear to me how far I need to go in the area of sharing the grace that God is giving me in my life. It's easy to sit around, basking in the grace of God, and to selfishly keep it to ourselves.

I can't convince anyone to go out and start sharing the gospel. If God is truly working in your life, you will desire to be doing that. Don't stop at getting off the streets — go back to the streets to share the good news.

But For the Grace

I found this wonderful old hymn by Haldor Lillenas that so beautifully speaks of this grace. It goes like this.

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching to all the lost,
By it I have been pardoned, saved to the uttermost;
Chains have been torn asunder, giving me liberty,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

I hope that we can be people who, like Bradford, look out, and exclaim, "But for the grace of God go I," see the evidences of grace in our lives, and then go out to share this gospel, so that many more can say with us, "But for the grace of God go I."

Wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching the most defiled,
By its transforming power, making him God's dear child.
Purchasing peace and heaven for all eternity;
And the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Copyright 2008 Tim Sweetman. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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