But For the Grace: Age 20

I mentioned to a friend the other day that it feels, in some ways, as if I haven’t been a “teenager” since I was fourteen. That obviously is a joke, because I certainly have been living in the “teen years” for some time now – and what an adventure it has been!

When I soak in the last few words in a good book, breathe a deep sigh, and fold the book together, I can’t help but think of the transition of one year to another, particularly today.

Light A Candle

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? [1]


When Bradford looked at the criminal, he saw a lost and broken man. And he looked at his own life and the time that he had lived like that criminal. 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.

Burned At the Stake

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 [weird people] 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! [2]

So, I’m softly closing the pages of a wonderful book and gently lifting the first page of a new book, and by the grace of God it will be as the last seven years, full of even more grace and truth. I want to resolve to be overflowing with grace – so overflowing that I cannot help but share it. I want to resolve to grow in humility. I want to resolve to knowing God more. I want to resolve to spend my life sharing the gospel.

I can’t wait to read this new book.

[1] “But For the Grace,” http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001907.cfm.
[2] Ibid.

One response to “But For the Grace: Age 20”

  1. Monica Smith says:

    I really enjoyed this post,because I will be 20 by the end of this year. Also,that time in history is so inspiring and so eye-opening as to what all ‘goes’ this day and age. The way you flowed it all together was wonderful. That’s very rare. I’ve also had a burden to share ‘grace’ as you put it. Just to let you know this post touched me and Thanks.~

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