There but for the grace of God, go I

Continuing my thoughts on the topic of grace, particularly the idea that God’s grace provides strength and power, not just favored status, I’d like to look at the common phrase, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Several websites confirm an understanding of this phrase that is more-or-less the way I have normally understood it.

For example, The Phrase Finder defines the meaning as “I too, like someone seen to have suffered misfortune, might have suffered a similar fate, but for God’s mercy.”

Adrian Room, writing in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, says that the phrase (normally uttered upon observing the disaster or disgrace that has befallen someone as a result of their actions or misdoings) “implies that most of us have committed the same follies, sins etc., but have been fortunate enough to escape the consequences.”

The Free Dictionary has an entry explaining the phrase to mean that, “I would likely have experienced or done the same bad thing if God had not been watching over me.”

Finally, here are the definitions provided by Wiktionary:

  1. A recognition that others’ misfortune could be one’s own, if it weren’t for the blessing/kindness/luck bestowed by fate or the Divine.
  2. Man’s fate is in God’s hands.
  3. More generally, our fate is not entirely in our own hands.

Each of these definitions is true. It’s not my intention to dispute these definitions, but to provide an alternative mindset for thinking about this phrase. The standard thought behind this phrase is that we are passive. I am attempting to change my thinking about the grace of God to include an active element.

“There but for the grace of God, go I,” not because I passively managed to avoid (by luck or by providence) what befell someone else, but because God granted me grace to live a different life.

I still recognize that, in my own power, I could not keep myself from the same behavior and the same results, no matter how hard I try or how much I want to. However, through God’s grace, I don’t just experience different circumstances. My life is actually different. I am a different person. “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,” his exceeding grace, which is in us (2 Cor. 9:14-15, ASV). Quoting Matthew Henry again, this grace “enables and inclines” our hearts to do what we could not (if we wanted) and would not (if we were able) do on our own.

Quote of the Day

“It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows by the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed if a person’s ambition is to avoid trouble, the recipe is simple: shed your ambitions, cut the wings of every purpose, and seek a little life with a purposes, a few relations, and a few contacts.

If you want to get through the world with the smallest trouble, reduce yourself to the smallest compass.

Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side. As soon as a person enlarges his or her life, resistances are multiplied. If you are petty and selfish and just caring about yourself, you will have no trouble; if you are interested in the agenda of Christ, your suffering will be increased on every side.”

Ellie Lefaro (Focus on the Family radio broadcast), quoting J. Henry Jowett

Her quote is apparently a paraphrase of some selections from The School of Calvary by John Henry Jowett.

Quote o’ the Day

“Evangelical churches today are often more concerned about their philosophies of ministry than about their statements of faith.” (source)

Would some take umbrage at this statement? Is a “philosophy of ministry” another way of saying, “how we go about making disciples”? Isn’t making disciples more important than reciting what you believe?

Is it possible to make disciples effectively if you don’t have a solid doctrinal foundation? If you are making disciples, are they the right kind of disciples?

If you have a suitable statement of faith, shouldn’t it be a given that you intend to be making disciples?

Quote o’ the Day

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle fields besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

-Martin Luther

(found at Douglas Wilson’s Blog and Mablog)

Obfuscatory Asseveration o’ the Day

(Don’t expect the “Obfuscatory Asseveration o’ the Day” to be a daily thing.)

“The core of the Christian message is the proclamation of a tectonic shift in cosmic reality inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This proclamation radically relativizes all the empirical givens of this world, including all human institutions.” -Peter L. Berger

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find those two sentences all that helpful in terms of helping me better understand the core of the Christian message. I think this is what happens when one spends too much time in academia.