I’ve been sitting in a meeting room at a hotel near Disney Land all day doing continuing education for my day job. One of the things the instructor told us is, when speaking with employees, never use the word, “But”. His reasoning is that managers and administrators should be using the old, “compliment sandwich”. We should be opening with things they are doing right, then telling them what they need to correct and close with another compliment. He said that if we use the word, “But”, the employee will forget about the praises and prepare themselves for the correction.
While this is fine as a management style, God doesn’t work on our playing field. Remember, Isaiah 55:8-9 says, 8 “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’” You see, we can’t even fathom what God is thinking, or how He works. God often tells us the horrible state we are in, then negates it with the statement, “But God.”
We see this phrase, “But God”, sixty-four times in the Bible. We see in Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah…” and in Genesis 21:12, “But God told Abraham…”. We see it in Psalm 73:26 where it says, “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” In fact, we see this phrase used over and over throughout the Old and New Testaments telling us of times throughout the course of history when God stepped in.
The passage that I would like to focus on today is found in the first few verses of the second chapter of Ephesians. Verses 1 through 3 talks about how we were once dead because of our disobedience and sin. It says we used to live in sin like the rest of the world does, and that we obeyed the devil who is the “commander of the powers in the unseen world.” Don’t forget what we talked about a couple of weeks ago regarding this word, “power”. The word used here is that word, Exousia, which means, “the ability or strength with which one is endued, which he either possesses or exercises.” So, Satan’s power is just the power that God is allowing him to have, for now, none the less, the world follows him whether they realize it or not. Why is this? It tells us in Ephesians 2:2 because “He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” You see, if a person doesn’t know God, if they haven’t accepted what Jesus did for them on the cross, the Devil is “the spirit at work in their heart.” Remember also that Satan comes to them as an angel of light. He fools them just like he did to Eve in the garden, playing on their pride. Remember what he said to eve? In Genesis 3:5 Satan told Eve, “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” He played on her pride and told her that if she goes against God’s word, she will be like God…that’s how he works.
Paul ends those first three verses by saying in verse 3, “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature, we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” Doesn’t that sound like the world today? Aren’t they always saying, “Do whatever feels right to you” and “Do whatever makes you happy”? That’s Satan working within them!
And, here comes the “But”. The next two verses say, “4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” So, we used to follow the Devil and live for ourselves, “But God is so rich in mercy”. Isn’t that beautiful? Romans 5:10 tells us, “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” Do you see that? He restored our friendship, while we were His enemies…that’s mercy.
Why does He have this great mercy toward us? Look at the end of verse 4, because “he loved us so much” He loves us, even though we are totally unlovable. He loves us in spite of ourselves. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Zephaniah 3:17, it says, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Do you see that? “He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” God sings over us, that’s how much He loves us.
So, God had such great mercy on us because He loved us so much that, even though we were spiritually dead because of our sin, He gave us new life…wow! I heard a pastor once say that God doesn’t give us second chances, He gives us New Beginnings, isn’t that beautiful? That’s what this is a picture of. He doesn’t say that we were dead in our sin, so He gave us a do-over, it says that He gave us a New Life. This isn’t a mulligan, this is wiping the slate clean and starting anew.
And, how did He accomplish this? By raising Christ from the grave! Remember what Paul said just a little earlier, that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is in us. You see, everyone else that people worship died and is still in the grave, but Christ is the only one who overcame the grave. He is the only one who ever defeated death, and that’s because He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last!
I love the parenthetical at the end of this verse, “It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” That sums it all up, if it wasn’t for the grace of God, we would all be on our way to hell. Many ask how a loving God could ever send anyone to hell, but the truth is, He doesn’t. He made the way so easy that even a child could understand, but remember, Satan plays on our pride and that’s what sends people to hell.
We don’t need to be standing on a street corner shouting, “repent”, we need to be telling everyone we meet about the overwhelming love of God.