MESSAGE: “There But for the Grace of God Go I”
This is a phrase that most of us will have heard several times at least in our life-time. We see someone in a bad or difﬁcult situation, and say basically, yeah that could be me, except for God’s intervention in my life.
It was apparently said by a John Bradford in 1500’s England, as he watched a group of prisoners be led away for execution. Bradford lived during the time of the reign of Henry the VIII of England, became a protestant convert from Catholicism, and began preaching and teaching not only around the country, but also as chaplain to Edward the VI. When Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and who was Catholic like her Spanish mother, ascended the throne and tried to reverse the movement of the Reformation, John Bradford was arrested on a trumped up charge, tried and burned at the stake. His was one life given up for his faith, a man martyred for what he believed. And he left these words for posterity, for us to ponder today, 500 years later.
What kind of faith inﬂuenced John Bradford to go to the burning stake? It is reported that even while waiting for his death by ﬁre, he asked those around him for forgiveness had he hurt them in any way, and offered forgiveness to anyone who felt they may have wronged him, so they could live on with a clean conscience.
Where did this kind of faith come from? Why did he believe? Why do any of us believe actually? And what did he mean by saying “there but for the Grace of God goes John Bradford”?
What is faith? What is Grace? Why do we even believe?
1John 4: 10 says “…not that WE loved God, but HE loved US, and sent His Son as an atoning sacriﬁce for our sins. Verse 19 says “We love because he ﬁrst loved us”
So from this we understand that we actually did not take the initial step into belief, but rather God did, by sending His Son. But how did we get to that place of belief?
In Matt. 9:9-13 Jesus called Matthew. He was a tax collector and NOBODY liked him! He was scum to most people. But Jesus CALLED him to come to him and follow him. And Matthew actually dropped everything and did. When questioned about his decision to call such a one as Matthew, Jesus replied “I came to call sinners, not righteous ones”
John 1:23 says “I am the Voice of the One calling in the desert…”
By these examples we realize that it is God who ﬁrst did the work, and He calls EVERYONE- all humans are living in darkness and the “wilderness” or “desert”; that is, in lives without God. So God’s voice goes out to all the world, he calls everyone, not just a select few.
You may ask, how will all humans know there is a God? Those who have not heard sermons or missionaries, or who live in paganism etc. God has His ways!
Psalm 19:1-4 is a familiar passage, but very important. Though humans in their scientiﬁc pursuits come to various conclusions, the words of David are “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
David is reminding us here that every person in the world has access to the message that there is a God. We just have to look around us, lift up our eyes, and think.
John 10:3 says he CALLS His sheep by name. Not only does he call everyone, but he knows the name of each person.
God’s voice is ALWAYS calling, and, He is always LISTENING. Isaiah 65: 24 says “Before they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will hear”. He is calling EVERYONE. In 1 Peter 2, the apostle is saying that the message went out to all, but not everyone accepted it. The ones who chose to obey were “called out of the darkness, into His wonderful light”
So we see by this that WE did not take the ﬁrst step to belief, GOD did. It makes us realize that we are so hopeless, so in darkness, that we absolutely need God to take that ﬁrst step to call us
out from that wilderness.
So this is where GRACE comes in. Grace is the offering of a gift to someone who is not worthy of it, with no strings attached.
GRACE is demonstrated by the sacriﬁce of a loving God to rescue us from darkness. This act of Grace led the Son of God to the cross to actually die for us, even calling us by name, that we may come out of the darkness into His wonderful light. For this place we enter into is not a place of moaning and groaning and pain, but rather a place of love and joy. God is love, and wants us to live in His love today and always. Contrary what so many may think, belief in Christ is not a burden, but rather true freedom. Things can get clouded by religion, which can unfortunately sometimes act as a screen hiding the real message of God. That message which is : come to me and I will give you rest.
John Bradford heard the voice of God calling Him, and he answered “Here I am God, send me”. When he said “there but for the Grace of God goes John Bradford” he was saying “if God had not called me, giving me the opportunity to hear and answer His call, the propensity for great evil that is in me could have led me to the place these criminals are today. So he thanked God for that Grace, but also acknowledged that it was not his work, but God’s work, that had put him in a different place than those criminals that day.
So God calls us by name. He then makes it possible for us to hear His voice. He offers us his love in action, an act of grace.
So, now: a problem. we all know people who have heard the message, who have had many, even years of opportunities to answer God’s call, but who have rejected that call. What about them? I had a long telephone conversation this week with someone who is really struggling with some issues. It is creating serious unhappiness in her life. I reminded her that Christ did come so we would never be alone, that He would always be with us, never leave us or forsake us, that He is our one true Friend. We just need to surrender and answer that call. But she said, I tried Christianity and it just doesn’t work for me. So, has she really heard the call? Did she ever answer the call? Why has she decided that Jesus is not for her?
Why is it some people hear and respond to the call, and others do not? How is it we can even hear the call? The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent into the world when He left it, is not inactive and waiting for Halloween to be freed for action. The Holy Spirit is always there, whispering and nudging us to open our hearts to His call. We need to come to that place of surrender first. Some of us ﬁnd that easy to do, others take longer. Paul tells us to count all trials and problems as blessings, because they lead us to surrender, as otherwise we may never get there, and we would be lost. Sometimes we even have to hit bottom before we surrender and give in to His eternal love. God is interested in an eternity WITH us, not without us, so he will allow whatever is necessary in our lives, up to a point (as he said He would never allow anything that we cannot bear) for that to happen.
So when we hear that call and answer it, we actually haven’t seen anything with our eyes or experienced anything that we can touch. We accept Christ by Faith. We heard, we went for it, without knowing the future.
What is Faith?
I heard a radio interview the other day, with an American country singer who had made some big changes in her life. When she was asked by the interviewer how she had had the faith to make the decision, she said “Faith is trust based on experience”. Think about that. Sounds quite good right? Sounds correct. Nice. Faith is Trust based on experience.
So I then compared that with what the Bible tells us Faith is.
There’s a very well-known verse, though I don’t know if we really understand it, being human and such…
Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see”.
Paul reminded the recipients of this letter of many historical acts of faith. Such as:
-Moses leading the Israelite people across the Red Sea. They had no real idea what they were doing. There was a Sea in front of them for goodness sake! But God had told Moses to lead the people to the Red Sea and they would cross over on dry land. So off they went.
Another example is:
-Abraham taking Isaac up to the mountain to sacriﬁce him. WHAT?? How can a parent even think to do that?? But Abraham did it. He had faith that no matter what happened, it would be okay because God was in charge.
Then again, there’s:
-Daniel who went into the den of lions. He may well have thought “this is it, I am going to be eaten by lions.” Wow. But in he went, having faith that again, whatever happened would be the best thing, because God was in charge and God is Love.
-Shadrach Meshack and Abednego. who went into the ﬁrey furnace. They did not “know” the outcome of their obedience, they simply had faith in God.
As it turns out, ALL of those acts involved doing something without knowing the why or the wherefore, or the outcome at all.
None of those persons, Moses, Abraham, Daniel or the 3 boys in the furnace, had any previous experience whatsoever before they launched themselves into obeying the call of God. Daniel had never before been in a lion’s den and come out unscathed. Human knowledge would tell him actually that lions, especially hungry lions, would just eat him
So it seems Biblical faith is not the same as “trust based on experience” at all. Trust based on experience is more like knowledge, not faith. Almost the opposite of faith really.
So how do we live an everyday life of faith?
Paul says, what we do is “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. He encourages the recipients of the letter to think about all these examples, especially the example of Christ Himself, in order to remain strong and not give up or lose heart. Because, he says in Heb 12:18-19, we don’t have a physical thing to touch or go to, like a mountain or loud sounds or voices telling us to be afraid, (like pagans do) which actually lead to a place of punishment and darkness, but rather we have come to, in Heb 12: 22-24 “ Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the ﬁrstborn, whose names are written in heaven; you have come to God”
Romans 10:17 says “faith comes from hearing the message, and the messages is heard through the words of Christ”. So we can encourage the growth of our faith, by reading, and hearing in our spirits, the words of Christ. Words such as, I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes unto the Father except by Me.
Faith reminds me that I am not in charge, but rather God is, and it is His will that no one should
perish, but all should have eternal life.
So I can pray that those who have not yet answered the call, will one day actually HEAR that call and will be unable to resist the whispering of the Holy Spirit, and enter into the place of love and peace that we are all really desiring.
We can all echo the words of John Bradford, who 500 years ago recognized that without God’s loving intervention in our lives, we are all lost forever in the wilderness.
Now may the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace at all times, and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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