The two most important words in all of Scripture are “But God”. These two words form the hinge on which all of human history swings. Throughout the New Testament we see authors laying out the reality of our condition. The New Testament authors tell us of our rebellious allegiances, our evil desires, and our desire to live contrary to all that God intends. Then, in key places and passages they succinctly show us the action of God in response.
Here are key examples from Paul’s letters:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5a)
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, (Titus 3:3-5)
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
These are just a few examples of how key the phrase “But God” is used. Why is this important and what does this tell us about God?
Part of understanding something more clearly is explaining precisely what is meant even when that meaning is taken for granted. These connective words in sentences carry a lot of meaning that we often take for granted or assume. Explaining carefully what it means helps avoid muddling the meaning and it also clarifies what we know. So what do we know?
“But God” communicates that God is doing, has done, or will do something in response. This may seem obvious but it is of crucial importance. There are some that believe that God is out there, and He may have created us, but He has nothing to do with us. This is often labelled deism. There are also many agnostics (those that claim they do not know if God exists) that would say the same thing. If God does exist, He has nothing to do with me.
This is simply not Christian. The Bible tells us a different story. From Genesis to Revelation we see a God who acts. God acts for His glory and our good by intervening in history to bring about His purposes. In this series of blog posts we will be looking in the Word of God to see how God has acted.
These actions are the very revelation of the character of God. By these actions we will understand more clearly the purposes of God, as well as the nature of God.
Another aspect that is communicated by the phrase “But God” is that the action God will take and its consequences are contrasted to what you would expect. But is a contrastive word and the Greek word we translate as but is in Ephesians is dey. It is chosen over another contrastive word like kai. Dey is meant to carry an even stronger contrast than kai. In the examples above Paul is strongly contrasting our state and how God responds to it. Ephesians 2 and Titus make this connection very clearly. In both Paul has labored to communicate all the ways in which we are aligned against God.
Our values, hearts, and allegiences are all aligned to this world and against God. The expected response is that we would stay in that place and thus endure the consequences of that behavior.
A modern example would be if you heard about a man losing his temper at a restaurant. He yelled at the servers, managers and anyone that would listen. He threw things on the floor. This man destroyed glasses and plates. Leaving the story there your mind is filled with natural consequences of what that man deserved.
Your may think being simply tossed out of the restaurant (literally or figuratively) would be good enough. Some may think also that criminal or civil charges could be filed. There are a whole host of “normal” or expected responses from the restaurant that would lead to “normal” and expected consequences for this ill-tempered man. If, after introducing this man and his actions, the first thing I said was “But the restaurant owner”…you would know that something unexpected (and probably gracious and kind) was about to occur.
That is what is going on here. God is doing something completely unexpected. God has done something unexpected. There is the normal consequence and response and then their is the wisdom and glory of God.
But God being rich in mercy, with the great love with which he loves us.
These actions of God bring about surprising results. God does not leave us in our current state. God acts, and acts to change what is the current status quo.
This phrase “But God” is about God acting in response to the state of this world and in a surprising way. Most importantly these actions by God, to bring us out of our current sate of rebellion, tell us something incredible about God.
In this study we will learn about our great God and His wonderful acts in history for His glory and our eternal good. We will study the big and the small.