But God… (Ephesians 2:4-5)
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—by grace you have been saved —Ephesians 2:4-5
“But God!” What infinite joys turn on this transitional phrase! Our eternal life and everlasting pleasure in God hinge on this cosmic “but” which points to his sovereign rescue of a people for his name.
Ephesians 2:1-10 forms a single sentence in the Greek text. Paul seems too thrilled to trumpet God’s glory in salvation even to consider pausing for sentence breaks. This sentence transitions radically with “but God” in verse 4. Verses 5-6 contain the central focus; namely, that God “made us alive” (v. 5) and “raised us up” (v. 6) in union with Jesus Christ.
But before landing on this glorious theme of our union with Christ crucified and risen, the Apostle reminds us who we once were (vv. 1-3). We were spiritually dead. We sat in Satan’s lap, purring as he stroked our fleshly desires. Our beliefs and affections were calibrated to the spirit of the age (cf. Titus 3:3). And we were powerless to improve our condition. We may have shown capacities to do good in comparison with others, or to perform good deeds in pursuit of self-glory. But we were incapable of doing good for God’s glory—for the display of his splendor and the eternal profit of others. We were “dead” in such sins.
And by “we” Paul means “we”—not merely “they.” “We all once lived” (v. 3) in the service of wicked desires. Thus we all deserved divine judgment as objects of God’s wrath (v. 3). To the depths of our being we were corrupted by sin and bent to choose the way of idolatrous lawlessness in rebellion against God (cf. 1 John 3:4; 5:21).
“But” invading this desperate state of moral darkness, “God” chose to love rather than to destroy. Rather than judge us as our sins deserved, God chose mercy. He chose to love us—violators of his will, enemies of his name (Romans 5:8-10).
What did God see in us that moved him to so love us? Nothing! Yes, we are made in God’s image. And so, yes, all human beings possess dignity. But God saw nothing in us deserving of release from the just condemnation of our rebel souls. “Like the rest of mankind” we were owed nothing but God’s punishment. “But God” chose to save “by grace” all who trust in the good news of Jesus crucified and risen (vv. 8-10).
Our salvation is by grace alone, in part, so that we might shine forth God’s singular, glorious worth through eternal ages (2:7). In anticipation of that day, perhaps “but God…” might serve to trigger fruitful meditation for us this week as we consider what our lives once were, and what they now have become due to the merciful intervention of Christ’s saving grace.