BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD
Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I” customarily is attributed to John Bradford, as from his place of confinement in the Tower of London he watched some prisoners being led away to execution.
If we ponder this statement, it can be seen that the term “grace,” as used here, is not only referring to forgiveness. Reverend Bradford eventually was burned at the stake.
I think there is a deeper meaning, having to do with Divine destiny. Why would God favor John Bradford with the success he had had throughout his life, coming from a “financially stable” home. The prisoners he was observing probably came from among poor people and were caught in a crime.
- Why are some Americans troubled with overweight while millions of people in other countries are starving?
- Why does God give some people the faith to believe in Christ, but not to others?
- Why are some people born with severe handicaps, but not others.
- Why are some people very intelligent while others have limited abilities?
- Why are some people so gifted in art and music, while others are not?
- And here is an even more difficult question to answer:
- Why, as the Apostle Paul taught, choose some to be people of honor while others are not as honorable?
There is a theory that people are formed by their environment. Another theory holds that people are born to behave in a certain manner, and their environment does not affect them as much as their inherited traits.
In a democracy we like to think that all people are equal; that all should have an equal chance to improve themselves.
However, the Bible implies that God is largely responsible for our destiny. A prime example is Israel, a nation which God has chosen to be especially close to Himself. On what basis did God choose Israel? Why not one of the other nations? Why not Egypt, for example?
This is a difficult question to resolve, because of our idea of “fairness.” It may be true that the concepts of equality and the rights of people are just a few hundreds of years old. Prior to this time, people may have been more accepting of the idea of the “Divine right of kings,” so to speak, than we are today.
No doubt many people of today, even Christians, will charge God with being unfair, if something takes place of which they do not approve. We in America are a sassy generation, supposing that God has to answer to us for the decisions He makes. We really have lost the fear of God in our country.
One of our favorite Bible passages says, “You are saved by grace, through faith, and this not from yourselves.”
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
I believe that in our day the meaning of the above passage is not understood. We are apt to fasten on the thought that we do not need to behave righteously. God has given to us the gift of salvation independently of how we behave, we believe.
Actually the passage is referring to the members of the Royal Priesthood. God chose each member at the beginning of the world. God has certain “good works” that He has chosen us to do.
There is no boasting involved. God gave to His elect faith so they can believe in Christ and receive Him. As Paul told us in Romans, each member of the Royal Priesthood has been predestined to be changed into the image of Christ and to be a brother of Christ.
Even though the elect have been predestined to be in the image of Christ and to serve God as His priest, we can lose our crown of rulership by neglecting our salvation or by walking in the sins of the flesh. We can have our name blotted from the Book of Life by not choosing to live a victorious life in Christ.
Many are called to be members of the Royal Priesthood. Those who press forward in Christ pass from the ranks of the called to the ranks of the chosen. Then there are those who, after having been called and chosen, fight on until they are designated as “faithful.”
Called, chosen, and faithful. These are God’s hundredfold. They shall inherit all things.
Now, here is the question. Why are some called? Why do some have that inner faith that drives them forward until they are chosen? Why do some have that burning desire to do the will of God that they surmount every difficulty in Christ until they are counted among the faithful.
Your opinion may be that some were more diligent than others in serving Christ. I believe this is true. But why were they more diligent? That is the real question, isn’t it; and perhaps it is unanswerable at this time.
My personal opinion is that salvation is of the Lord to the extent that in the end we will discover that it is God who distributed faith according to His will. I know this sounds unfair. Nevertheless, I believe it to be the case.
Let’s see how the Apostle Paul handled this problem:
In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Romans 9:8)
It is obvious that there were children who belonged to God, and children who did not belong to God. But on what basis? Could the children of promise say concerning the natural children: “There but for the grace of God go I”?
Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
How do we justify the preferential treatment given to Jacob?
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:14,15)
How can God claim to be just, in this instance? On the basis that it is His will to act in this manner.
It is right at this point that we show our faith in God. If our heart is right, we say amen. If however our heart is not right with God, we will charge Him with being unjust. Either we honor God or else we dishonor ourselves.
It may be true that numerous American people, even some Christians, would have an idea how God should act that is not in accordance with how He does act. I think we have painted a picture of God as a kindly, affectionate, tolerant, benevolent grandfather, who observes the sins of the Christian people, smiles, and says, “Boys will be boys!”
We simply have no true concept of the Consuming Fire of Israel. God is a Spirit, not a human being. It is only because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary that God will have anything at all to do with us. We are in no condition to tell God what He can do and what He cannot do; what is fair and what is not fair; what is just and what is not just; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
On the whole we are a proud, hardhearted nation, and God is not pleased with our behavior at this time.
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:16-18)
If we read Ephesians 2:8,9 in the light of the passage above, I believe we will come closer to a true understanding of the meaning of the two verses. The faith to believe God that we have received was not because of our desire or our effort. This is a lot different from the current notion that our having fellowship with God is independent of our behavior.
God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy. God hardens whom He wants to harden. Are we, puny creatures of the dust, going to shake our fist at God and say “You cannot act this way?” For my part, I am thankful to let God be God. When I see people who just cannot bring themselves to love, fear, and obey God, I truthfully can say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:21)
That is the answer, isn’t it? God is the Potter. That is evident. Well, a potter can make anything he chooses out of the same lump of clay. It is the potter’s prerogative. He is the potter. The clay has no say in the matter.
At this point Satan steps in: “God does not have the right to treat you this way. Your will is not to be disregarded like this. You have just as much right to do whatever you want as God does.”
This is the spirit that fills America at this time—the spirit of “self-will.”
Satan has been consumed with self-will and his insides are filled with ashes.
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24)
That is a thought, isn’t it—that God has prepared some people for destruction in order to make known to the object of His mercy, the riches of His glory.
That idea may be repugnant to us—that God has prepared some people for destruction as an object lesson for those He has prepared for glory.
First of all, the person who wrote this, the Apostle Paul, is the main teacher of the New Testament. Either Paul was hearing from God, or else He wasn’t.
We know that God was with Paul in an outstanding manner, and we treat Paul’s words as the Word of God. Therefore it is God who said that He has prepared some people for glory and some for destruction.
Now who are we to say that God cannot do what He desires to do? We know that Satan continually is accusing God of unrighteousness. Do we want to be a partner of Satan and accuse God of unrighteousness? Maybe you do, but I want nothing whatever to do with Satan.
Being along in years, I have settled the issue to my own satisfaction. Let God be God. Whatever He has for me, that is what I desire. I delight to do my Father’s will. Whatever God chooses to do with someone else, that is God’s prerogative. He will do as He will do, and I give glory to Him because of His utter faithfulness.
Let us all let God be God.
(“But For the Grace of God”, 3551-1)