These are words often attributed to English Reformer, John Bradford, who, from his imprisonment in the Tower of London, supposedly uttered these words while watching a criminal being led to his execution: "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford." The meaning of this phrase is meant to invoke a sense of humility in that, but for the providential hand of God, we would be subject to the worst this world has to offer.

I was thinking of this phrase this morning while out walking my dog as I was contemplating my sinfulness before a holy God. I came to the realization that, but for the grace of God, I, Carl Gobelman, would be the worst of sinners.

Lest you think I was having some sort of "pity-party" before God, I wasn't. What I was doing is what I think all Christians need to do, and that is take the time to think of their sin before a holy God. I am firmly convinced that even the most pious Christian hasn't the tiniest clue regarding the depths of human depravity in their own souls. I know I sure don't! I, more often than not, find myself comparing myself to other people and trying to see how I measure up to them — I'm not as bad as this guy, but I need to catch up to that guy. How foolish! The standard for our holiness isn't other fallen creatures, but the perfect Creator!

If you really take the time to stop and think about it, what is it really that separates you from, say, Adolf Hitler? If you don't think you could have done what Hitler did, then you don't understand human depravity! "There, but for the grace of God, go I." What made Hitler evil? Was it his upbringing? His childhood? His environment? His genetics? His psychology? I'll tell you what made Hitler evil — it's the same thing that makes you and me evil — sin; and we're all born with sin. It is only God's common grace (i.e., the grace he shows toward all mankind by giving general blessing and withholding, or restraining, evil) that keeps me from being the next Hitler (or worse). "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Jesus, during his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), clarified the Law of God to his listeners. Like us, they thought they were following God's law as long as they didn't commit any overt sins (e.g., murder, adultery). Jesus clarifies that it's not enough to not have committed murder, you also have to avoid getting angry with your brother (Matthew 5:22). He further says that it's not enough to not have committed adultery, but we also have to avoid lusting in our own hearts (Matthew 5:28). I don't know about you, but if that's God's standard, then I am guilty of multiple counts of both murder and adultery.

Sometimes I like to think that while I have a problem in a certain area of sin, say anger, I'm not having problems in other areas (e.g., I'm not an alcoholic who beats my wife and kids). "There, but for the grace of God, go I." The question shouldn't be "why can't I get my anger under control," but "why don't I also have problems with alcoholism or gambling?" "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

More importantly, when I think about the fact that Jesus Christ, the very incarnate Son of God, endured not only the pain of the cross, but the very torments of hell itself, to atone for my sin, I cannot help by weep. Why am I afforded this awesome grace and not the next guy (who is probably a better person than I am)?

"There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Soli Deo Gloria!