As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Throughout the past two weeks, we’ve been hearing the bad news of our condition outside of Christ. I’ll admit that hasn’t been much fun. We’ve seen that we were in bondage to sin, Satan, and the God-opposing power of the world. Yesterday, we learned that we were worthy of God’s righteous judgment. To sum up what we have heard, “As for you, you were dead…” (2:1).
Yet that’s not the end of the story. Rather, it’s just the beginning of the story of God’s love and grace, of God’s saving us from our deathly condition.
The next chapter of God’s story begins in Ephesians 2:4 with fantastic good news captured in two little words: “But God.” That’s how the verse begins when translated literally from the Greek. The NIV, trying to render the original language with intelligible English, reads, “But because of his great love for us, God…” That’s an acceptable translation, but it obscures the rhetorical bluntness of the beginning of verse 4 in Greek: “But God.” We were dead, “but God.” We were stuck in sin, “but God.” We were in bondage to Satan, “but God.” We were deserving of wrath, “but God.” Here’s the good news in two words: “But God!”
I can still remember the first time I heard someone explain the central importance of these two words in Ephesians 2:4. I was about twelve years old when an enthusiastic, young Bible teacher, Rev. Earl Palmer, came to my church to teach a series of summer Bible classes. He was expositing Ephesians 2, filling the blackboard with all sorts of Greek words. When he got to the beginning of verse 4, he wrote in large letters, ho de theos—BUT GOD. Then, with much excitement, Rev. Palmer talked about how these two words summarize the whole message of Scripture, the heart of the Gospel. We disobeyed, but God. We sinned, but God. We rebelled, but God. We wandered away, but God. I can still hear Rev. Palmer’s words ringing in my ears as he energetically celebrated God’s grace in the words “But God.”
Earl was absolutely right. The words “But God” do summarize the heart of the Gospel. Not surprisingly, therefore, they also summarize our experience of God in our lives. We were stuck in sin, but God. We were despairing, but God. We wondered if life was worthwhile, but God. Our lives were empty, but God. We felt unloved, but God. No matter what you’re facing in your life today, no matter how overwhelming it may seem, no matter how much you have brought in on yourself, hear again the good news for you: But God!
Something to Think About:
In what ways have you experienced the “But God” nature of God’s grace?
Where do you need God’s grace today?
Something to Do:
Write the words “But God” on a small card or a sticky note and these words in a place you can see them several times a day. Pay attention to the difference these words make in your life, your work, your relationships, your fears, your hopes.
Gracious God, indeed, it is true. Your grace can be summarized in two simple words, “But God.” We were stuck in sin, bound to evil powers, worthy of judgment, and spiritually dead… but you acted to set us free and give us life. Thank you, dear Lord, thank you.
May the good news summarized in “But God” echo in my heart today. May it shape my thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds. May I live as a reflection of your grace today in all that I do. To you be all the glory! Amen.