John Bradford was an English, Protestant reformer who was burned at the stake by command of Mary Tudor at the age of 45. After being raised in an established family, studying and working his way up to paymaster of the English army, he entered law school and there met a Christian. John was converted and left law school to study theology. At the age of forty he was ordained a priest and worked as a roving chaplain, and during his service in the Church he was known for regularly affirming his dependence on the grace of God and not his own morality for salvation. When he would see criminals being led away to their death, he would say:
“There but for the grace of God go I.”
– John Bradford
We are quite versed in the art of self-deception, believing that we are not truly wicked at the core. We believe that our human nature is neutral and that God only needs to help us out in those areas where we struggle. But Scripture teaches us that we are depraved, that our very nature as human beings is wicked. We are under the curse, we are enemies of God, and apart from Him we can go nothing good, and we would never seek God. But we are quick to observe one another’s sins, hold grudges, and walk with condemnation. We forget that our very faith and salvation is a gift. Paul addresses this heart sternly:
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself,that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
– Rom 2.1-4
It is the kindness of God alone that leads us to repentance. We cannot and we never will come to repentance on our own accord.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
– John 6.44
Therefore, we must be diligent to remember that everything we have is a gift from God. Even our faith. Even our repentance. And when we see someone in sin or suffering the consequences of sin, let us practice humility. Let us preach the Gospel to such a one, let us hold a brother accountable, but let us turn back to God in praise and with guarded hearts to petition God to keep us from sin. Because it is the grace of God alone that draws us and keeps us from sin. But for the grace of God, there go you and I, too.
“Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”
– Matt 6.9-13