But God . . . !

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling

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.

Ephesians 2:4-5

Throughout the past two weeks, we've been hearing the bad news of our condition outside of Christ. We were in bondage to sin, Satan, and the God-opposing power of the world. As we learned yesterday, we stood as guilty before God's righteous judgment. To sum up the first three verses of Ephesians 2, we were dead.

"But God…" That's how Ephesians 2:4 begins when translated literally. The NIV, trying to translate the Greek into intelligible English, reads, "But because of his great love for us, God…" That's an acceptable rendering, but it misses the bluntness of the beginning of verse 4: "But God." We were dead, "but God." We were stuck in sin, "but God." We were in bondage to Satan, "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 a beloved 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 larger 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." (Little did I imagine that, years later, I'd have the privilege of joining Earl Palmer as we co-taught a retreat at Laity Lodge, and that I'd consider him a friend.)

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 of meaning, but God. We felt unlovable, 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!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways have you experienced the "But God" nature of God's grace? Where do you need God's grace today?

PRAYER: Gracious God, Earl was right. Your grace can be summarized in two simple words, "But God." We were indeed 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 I share it with others in word and deed. To you be all the glory! Amen.

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