July 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)
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.
The good news of Jesus Christ can be captured in two small words: But God! We were stuck in sin, but God. We wondered if life was worthwhile, but God. Our lives were empty, but God. We felt unloved, but God. We experienced injustice, but God. We were belittled because of our race, but God. We were raised to think less of people who didn’t look like us, but God. No matter what you’re facing today, no matter how overwhelming it may seem, hear again the good news for you: But God!
Ephesians 2 begins with the bad news of our condition outside of Christ. We’ve seen that we were in bondage to sin, Satan, and the God-opposing power of the world. To sum up what we have learned, “As for you, you were dead . . .” (Ephesians 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. We experienced injustice, but God. We were belittled because of our race, but God. We were raised to think less of people who didn’t look like us, but God. No matter what you’re facing in your life today, no matter how overwhelming it may seen, no matter how much you have brought it on yourself, hear again the good news for you: But God!
In what ways have you experienced the “But God” nature of God’s grace?
Where do you need God’s grace today?
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.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.