There but for the Grace of God Go I

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The title of this article comes from a saying attributed to the sixteenth-century English Reformer John Bradford. His “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford” statement is probably a paraphrase of the apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:10.

The phrase came to my mind as I considered the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling for the right to life advocates in the NIFLA v. Becerra decision handed down on June 26, 2018. The ruling overturned California’s Reproductive FACT Act that required crisis pregnancy centers to post information about state-offered abortion services. 

While the Supreme Court based its ruling on free speech considerations, the decision was a win for the Christian view of the rights of the unborn. I found myself angered, however, as I read the response from pro-choice advocates in the news. Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, referenced a host of false claims commonly leveled at pregnancy centers when she tweeted the following regarding the SCOTUS ruling, “Anti-abortion zealots are allowed to dress up as doctors & lure women into fake clinics, then lie to them about their health options.” 

Her comments were not surprising, and they show that the difference in worldviews between pro-choice advocates and pro-life advocates could not be more polarized. The abortion issue is probably the sharpest cultural divide that exists in our society.

As I wondered once again how it is that abortion-rights advocates are unable to see how wrong they are in contending for “choice” and calling abortion “a reproductive health service,” I suddenly paused and thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Without God’s grace, none of us would have any hope.

God saved me later in life, so I lived most of my adult years as a non-believer. I was ambivalent about the abortion issue, but if pressed, I would have sided with those who see it as a “choice” issue. On this side of salvation, however, it is impossible not to see the horrible consequences of abortion on society, mothers and fathers who make that choice, and most certainly the unborn. 

Yet, I couldn’t perceive these ramifications before God redeemed me. Scripture explains why this is the case with unbelievers, as Paul writes,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived. (Eph. 2:1–3a)

We need God’s grace to see the truth.

The reality is that before God saves someone, the person is dead spiritually. While physically alive, the unredeemed are dead to truth, blind to the obvious, and deaf to the contradictions of whatever unbiblical position they hold. This reality applies to abortion rights advocates as well as every other claimed right people so stridently support that is morally contrary to God’s word.

The unbeliever cannot see, hear, or understand. The temporary ruler of this world has blinded their eyes, stopped up their ears, hardened their hearts, and prevents them from understanding (Isa. 6:10; John 12:40).

We need to pray for those who remain in darkness.

As I considered this truth, I was moved to pray for Ms. Laguens and all the others who are being deceived. Someone prayed for me when I was in the dark, and I need to do the same for those with whom I disagree who remain in darkness.

As Christians it is easy to listen to the news and look at the culture around us and lose heart. We are often tempted to respond by looking down our self-righteous noses at our opponents and congratulate ourselves on our godly position, while telling ourselves we are not looking down our self-righteous noses! 

Perhaps we do so as a defense mechanism—to avoid becoming cynical about the downward spiral we see all around us. But the proper Christian response is to pray. Prayer causes us to view the lost with compassion. When we remember that only the Spirit of God can change hearts, we redouble our efforts to pray for those who so strongly hold to positions that are harmful to our society. 

Yes, it is good to support the pro-life and abstinence efforts when and where we have the opportunity. Recently the crisis pregnancy center in our community was able, through the efforts of the local churches, to buy an ultrasound machine and provide images to expectant mothers debating the fate of their unborn child of the miracle taking place inside them. The impact this machine is having—and will continue to have—on lives is impossible to measure.

We need to recognize that it is only by God's grace we are saved.

More importantly, we need to recognize that it is only by the grace of God making us alive that we are on the side of truth. Thus, we pray for those who continue in darkness, love them as opportunity affords, and trust that God is sovereign over his creation. We have the privilege to be used by him to bring about his perfect ends.

It is by God's grace alone, through his gift of faith alone, that we are saved. When your heart breaks once again when you see, hear, or read of the apparent “losses” in the battle of worldviews, remember that there by the grace of God go you and I.

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Don Strand holds a Master of Arts in Theology, is an ordained minister, and serves his local church as elder, teacher, and worship leader.

This article was originally published on August 18, 2018.

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