“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”
(Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)
I hate to point out the obvious, and I want to avoid any semblance of “potty humor,” but the truth remains:
Everybody’s Got A But.
No, for those of you snickering at your computer, that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s “but” with one “t” not two. The “but” to which I refer is the juxtaposition of two opposing and conflicting statements (i.e. “We should see other people, but we can still be friends”) which compose the greater truth (“It’s over”).
I came upon this revelation as I was studying the lives of the Old Testament Kings. Consider this with me for a moment. King David: he is described as having a heart after God’s own heart, but he had Uriah killed to cover his own sin with Bathsheba. Solomon built the temple dedicated to the glory of God, was endowed with great wisdom, wealth, and honor, but he turned his heart from the Lord and clung to his 700 wives and 300 concubines (yikes!).
After the division of the Kingdom of Israel, we read that some of the kings of Judah were evil kings while others brought reform and sought the Lord. Yet even those good kings had buts. Asa (2 Chron 15) renewed the covenant with the Lord, and the Lord gave Judah rest, but the high places were not taken out of Israel. Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 17-20) was a good king who sought the Lord, but he made alliances with Ahab and Ahaziah (wicked kings from the northern tribes) and the high places were not removed, nor did the people set their hearts upon the God of their fathers. Joash (2 Chron 23-24) was a king who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord while Jehoiada was priest, but after the priest’s death, Joash abandoned the house of the Lord and had the priest’s son stoned to death. The stories go on and on. Everybody’s got a but.
We’ve even got them today. We put our best foot forward, we have a outward appearance that we work hard to show to the world around us, but we know that we are sinners. Paul recognizes this in Romans 7, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me… I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out… I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Jesus put it more succinctly, when encouraging faithfulness in his disciples, he called them to pray that we not enter temptation, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Everybody’s got a but.
If I may be so bold today and go one step further, let me suggest to you that this is the gospel message, and that we are saved by the “but” of God. I know that sounds shocking, and I have a hard time writing it, but I mean it with all seriousness. It is the “but” in our lives that separates us from God. We are called to righteousness, we were created to live for the glory of God. But sin keeps us down. Sin stains us and obscures the reflection of God in our lives, so that what we mirror back to God for the world to see is a cheap and broken imitation of who God really is. Sin brings captivity of the will, corruption of the heart and mind, and ultimately leads to eternal death.
Paul puts it this way,
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5).
This “but” is the gospel! This is the juxtaposition of two opposing realities. We were dead in our sin, but God is merciful and gracious! We were lost, but we are now saved!
So I say it again, everybody’s got a but. I’m just thankful that mine’s been covered by the grace of God.