A dear, sweet little (growing up girl!) friend recently sent a piece of personal art. I stood it against my desk lamp where its 6 x 8 inch blue and black and white-sparkled message shouts to me every day: “BUT GOD”
After painting this dark description of humanity . . .
“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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Paul interjects the two weighty words: “But God . . . “. We were dead to God in our transgressions and sin, energized by Satan, sin-nature-cravings captivating our desires, destined to deserving wrath, “But God . . . “.
The popular NIV translates it, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy . . . ” (Ephesians 2:4)—thus losing the impact of Paul’s sentence. The Greek begins, “de theos”–“But God”. That comes first. This is God the rescuer, God the first (and only) responder.
Before explaining what God did, Paul explains why God did it . . .
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . “ (Ephesians 2:4, ESV).
In his being, God abounds in mercy. Mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to (rightly) punish.” Look in God’s vault. No gold. But more mercy than the safe can hold.
Henry’s well supplied water for generations. It never ran dry. Not in the worst draught when even neighbors’ wells dried up. Henry often invited thirsty neighbors to come and drink. God’s love is like that.
“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– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . “ (Ephesians 2:4-6, ESV).
Now Paul tells us what God did. First and most importantly, God united us with Christ. In Ephesians 1 Paul writes of “the working of [God’s] mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come”. Here in Ephesians he proclaims that God “made us alive together with Christ and . . . raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places . . .”.
God has united us with Christ in being made alive, being raised and being seated in the heavenlies. It’s a spiritual (or, in the Spirit) union. Note how often Paul writes of that here . . .
“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–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV).
God “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenlies . . . “. The Greek, epouranios, refers to the heavenly place where God reigns. The word emphasizes not a location “out there somewhere”, but rather a realm that is pressing in on us—a reality occurring right now.
At the same time, this mystical, in-the-Spirit union points to a future fulfillment. God has made our spirit alive to himself, anticipating the day our body will be. God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”, so that now we have authority over Satan looking forward to the day when that will be complete.
I’m intrigued by the implications of our union with Christ. “Made alive” I understand. Instead of being “dead” to God in our transgressions and sins, we’re now “alive” to him. But in what sense have we been “raised” with Christ and “seated” with him in heavenly places?
Much has been written about “a theology of suffering.” Good. We need that, because Christians suffer. Much has also been written about our being “made alive” with Christ. Spiritual rebirth. Regeneration. Good, but familiar now. What, though, about our union with Christ in his ascension and session (being seated in heavenly places)? Do we have authority over the evil one we don’t use? Are dark powers not subject to us because we don’t understand our spiritual position with Christ?
But about how God did what he did there’s no wonder. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).
By grace. By God’s favor toward us which we don’t deserve. About that Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) says this:
“You were hell-deserving rebels who had no claim on anything in Me other than to be the recipients and objects of eternal wrath. I did this for you not because you were a treasure or because of anything in you; indeed it was in spite of what was in you. I did this for you solely because of what was in Me, namely, sovereign and free and gracious love for those who deserved only to be hated.”
By grace through faith. Through trusting that this gospel is true. Which means this salvation (and maybe also this faith) is God’s gift, not our doing. Not by means of our efforts, so we have nothing to brag about. We are his workmanship, newly created (out of “death”) by him.
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BUT GOD changes everything. His gracious intervention is huge. This text calls us to ponder what God has done. Skim? No! Read prayerfully. Slowly. Thoughtfully. Letting the saving, transforming words take our breath away. Sink into the depressing darkness of 2:1-3. Then let the next two words hit you the way this art-piece does me on my desk: BUT GOD . . .