“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (CSB)
Lest we think our radical transition from death to a stunning new life was our doing, Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace. Period. End of story. Christianity excludes all forms of boasting because it is God who saves. It’s not in any way dependent on something we have done. Our works are powerless to save us. After all, what could we really do for an infinite, perfect, and holy God? What could we offer to make him change his mind about us? It’s only by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf that we are made right with God. What separates biblical Christianity from every other religion is that it’s not about what we do. It’s about what God did for us. We were dead but God made us alive through Christ. That’s amazing grace. That’s good news.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.” (Psalm 130:3 ESV)
We naturally overestimate our own goodness. We minimize our sins and instinctively magnify the sins of others. We arrogantly claim in both word and deed that we know better than God. Worse, we scoff at the notion that a loving God would call us to live in ways that are at odds with what we want and how we feel. Were it not for the indescribable mercy of God, we would all be doomed. Yet there is hope.
“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV emphasis mine)
When you owe a debt that can’t be paid and you receive forgiveness, the natural response is humility, reverence, and awe. You don’t look for loopholes. You don’t pretend you know better. You don’t take advantage of the situation. You seek to do the will of the one you have offended. You follow him even when it doesn’t make sense or it goes against what you feel. Forgiveness fuels a life of holiness. It leads us to say, “yes” when we want to say, “but.”
“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.
Where was God when…? Why did God allow…? What was God doing…? These are natural questions in the face of hardship or tragedy. None of them are new. People have been asking them from the beginning of time. Most of the time there are no easy or emotionally satisfying answers. Yet one thing is undeniable even in the midst of difficulties – God is completely and totally sovereign.
Yes, that raises even more questions. But in the midst of asking them, we must not sacrifice the beautiful truth that God is sovereign over everything. To do so takes us to a place much worse than our circumstances. It forces us to wrestle with this question: If God isn’t sovereign over everything, how do we know we can we trust him with anything? Thankfully, God is sovereign over everything. That’s why we can face anything and trust him with everything.
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.
I’m a planner. I like to sit down, figure out the best way to do something, and then do it. For some things that works just fine. Especially if it’s something that I know how to do. Planning brings a level of certainty to the situation and it makes me more comfortable. As humans, we are wired for predictability (even if the only thing predictable is that we like the unpredictable). But life isn’t always predictable. There are times where we know we need to so something but we aren’t sure how to do it. We don’t know the best way forward. We aren’t even sure that it will all work out. We just know that we need to do it.
That’s where faith comes into the picture. Faith requires us to take the next step even when we don’t have all the answers. It’s a scary place to be and maybe that’s where God wants us. It means we have no choice but to rely on him.
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.