“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.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-7 (CSB)
Made alive, raised up, seated with Christ – when God intervened into our spiritually dead existence, he didn’t just nudge us over the line. He gave us a vibrant new life. The old is exchanged for the new. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection make this reality so certain that Paul can speak as if these truths have already happened in full. Even though our present experience does not match what he describes, sin is on its death bed. One day it will be no more. And for all eternity we will worship the creator for the incomprehensible way in which he displayed his grace, mercy, and kindness to us.
Tranquility. Peace. Perfection. Lies. Blame. Chaos. Jealousy. Murder. Wickedness. Destruction. Drunkenness. Arrogance. More lies. Homosexuality. Supernatural destruction. Incest. More lies. Sibling rivalry. Deception. More deception. Rape. More sibling rivalry. False accusations. Unjust punishment. Famine. Migration.
It’s a plot line so twisted not even Hollywood could touch it. But it’s not the product of a director or screen writer. It’s the story that unfolds in the first book of the Bible. Yet even in the midst of this depravity, hope shines through. Redemption is needed. Redemption will be offered. God will intervene. And through his gracious election of one man, salvation will be available for all who believe.
Why does the trinity matter? What does it have to do with anything? Every Christian has asked questions like that at some point. And while “everything” would be an appropriate answer, here is a more specific one.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 (ESV)
Father, Son, and Spirit each play a distinct yet inseparable role in our salvation. The Father sent the Son to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins and raised him from the dead to give us he hope of eternal life. The Son, together with the Father, sent the Spirit to seal our salvation and to enable us to walk in newness of life. Only a God who eternally exists as three in one can save in this way.
The lights, the decorations, the smells, the food – Christmas looks and sounds like the most wonderful time of year. It’s portrayed as a season that represents all that’s good and right in the world. It’s seen as a time when humanity is capable of unusual kindness and goodwill. Yet none of that captures the reason Christmas exists.
The eternal, second person of the Trinity did not take on flesh because of all that is right in the world. He did it because there was no other way for God to save his people from their sins. He did it because of all that’s wrong with the world. He did it because we were powerless and without hope. And so in a small town, in unsanitary conditions, a baby named Jesus was born to teenage parents. God himself had come to save his people from their sins. He had come to give us hope that one day, all the good that we long for at Christmas will fully and completely come true.
“Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power” (Psalm 106:8 ESV).
Israel had a tendency to forget. God would intervene in a remarkable way and in a short while it was as if nothing had happened. We too have a tendency to forget. We forget all the little ways God has been faithful to us. We forget the big ways he has been faithful to us. We forget that it was not because of anything we did that he saved us but for the glory of his name and the display of his saving power through sinners like us. We forget but he remembers because, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8 ESV).
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.