“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (CSB)
Paul doesn’t mince words when describing our spiritual condition before Christ. You were dead. I was dead. We weren’t in need of a pick me up. We weren’t sick. We weren’t on life support. We were unable to do anything to change our condition. We couldn’t even want to be alive again because we didn’t know we were dead. We can push back and self-justify all we want. But the objective evidence from our lives was clear. We were spiritually dead and without hope apart from a supernatural intervention.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
Grace. One word sums up the message of salvation. One word addresses our deepest need. One word shatters every categorical distinction.
Grace is for those who think they are beyond the reach of grace.
Grace is for those who think they don’t need any grace.
Grace is for those who think they are unlovable.
Grace is for those who think they are inherently lovable.
Grace is for those who think grace is only what “the other people” need.
Grace is for those who think they have grace figured out.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the first part of Ephesians 2. It’s a succinct description of our life before Christ (verses 1-3), God’s miraculous intervention to change us (verses 4-7), and the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone (verses 8-9). The section ends (verse 10) by noting that we have all been uniquely created by God to carry out the good works that he has planned for us. From there, Paul moves into a discussion about the one new family of God brought about through the work of Christ. I think his transition to talking about the church is particularly interesting in light of what he has just said in verse 10.
Although the good works God has planned for us impact every area of our lives, they are especially important in the context of the local church. It’s there that we can use our gifts to encourage and push one another into greater love for God and greater love for one another. It’s there that we tear down the walls of hostility toward those who are different. It’s there that our good works come together and enable us to grow into the fullness of what God has for us.
But is an interesting conjunction. It seems like the most common use of the word in day to day conversation is to make an excuse (I would have exercised but i was too tired). It’s used to talk about what wasn’t done or why it can’t be done. Listen to the conversations around you and chances are you’ll hear the word used this way. However, there is one use of ‘but’ which stands above the rest. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes the dire state Christians were in prior to their salvation. He notes that we were dead in our sins, without hope, and destined for destruction both now and in eternity. It is here that we find the incredible words, “But God…” In the midst of a sobering description of our spiritual lostness, these two words provide a sharp contrast. They break through the darkness like a blinding light. We were dead “but God…” We had sinned “but God…” himself stepped into our world and changed it forever.
Because of his abundant mercy and because of his great love, God made us alive with Christ. He breathed life into our spiritually dead bodies. What’s more, he raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places. All this was accomplished to show the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness toward us. When we were left without an excuse before God, he intervened on our behalf. What’s more, the Holy Spirit took the very word we use to preface our excuses and inspired Paul to use it in announcing the glorious message of God’s mercy toward us in Christ. This incredible ‘but’ brings us hope. It gives us purpose. It beckons us to lay aside our old way of living in favor of the new life which God prepared for us long ago. Thank God for the greatest ‘but’ in history.