The pious Martyr Bradford, when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, exclaimed, “there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” He knew that the same evil principles were in his own heart which had brought the criminal to that shameful end. 
I’m not sure how many times I uttered the phrase, “there, but for the grace of God go I”. Drug addicts, alcoholics, deadbeats, sloths, jailbirds…I’ve had lots of things go wrong in my life and I’ve had every opportunity and excuse to be any one or combination of these. So I clung to my faith and believed with all sincerity that it was being under the protection go God’s umbrella that kept me from doing so.
I believed that even though things beyond my control had gone wrong it was God’s continual favor for my faithfulness that kept me from choosing to do those things. Every one of us was capable of those and even more terrible things, right? Every one of us has only evil in our hearts apart from God’s guiding us to do good, right?
Not only did I believe ardently that Jesus was saving my from hell, I believed he was my salvation from myself; from my destructive, sinful, self. It was a malady I was born with and one I would take to my grave and only Jesus could keep me from being my worst self. Even so I knew I wasn’t good.
“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;” Romans 3:10.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. Mark 10:18
No, I wasn’t good. I was just less bad. Even if I never actually did anything particularly sinful I thought about it. My thinking was sinful so I was a sinner.
I was reminded this week of the futility of this thinking:
I love Luther not because of what he is in himself, but what he is in Christ. Like me, Luther has no righteousness of his own. None. He is a beggar, just like me, sitting at the table of Christ Jesus. I love Luther because he sang to me that Christ alone our shame He bore. Christ alone our sin He carried. I love Luther because he showed us that it is not our righteousness that saves. For we have none. What saves is Christ’s righteousness in us. I am a sinner. In Christ, I am a saint. This sainthood is not ours but Christ Jesus’ in us. 
This thinking is not, as is the implication, humble. This thought is actually either arrogant or fatalistic. Or both. How can we be so arrogant to think that we were worth saving from ourselves but that poor fellow marching along in chains being led to his execution wasn’t? When we say such a thing we are expressing the belief that it is not our own decisions that have kept us from peril, but God Almighty, himself. Are we so arrogant to think we are somehow so special that God preserves us? Are we so fatalistic as to think that our future is not in our own hands but the whim of a God?
I cannot stress enough what a relief it was to come to the realization that this simply not true. There is no one continually monitoring my every thought. There is no one watching my every move. While I still realize that sometimes thoughts materialize, they don’t always. They don’t even usually. They are just that; thoughts. How liberating to realize I wasn’t born a….sinner. There wasn’t something wrong with me that needed to be fixed just because I think things.
Dr. Martin Luther King, in his famous I Had a Dream speech, said:
I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I, too, have a dream: That there will be a day when people will not be judged by the mark of this beast we call God, but by the content of their character.
For we are not so special that any gods guides us not to do the horrors of other men. We are not destined nor predestined to commit atrocities without a deity. We are not saved by the grace of God from ourselves.
We are saved from self-destruction by our own consciences and our ability to empathize. It is when our own consciences have been seared and when our empathy has withered that we do harm to others and ourselves.
 The Treatise on Prayer, pg. 60