Words of (great) grace: “but God…”

Profound words are often not multisyllabic, impressive words.

Profound words are often simple words interjected at significant moments.  They are words like, “I love you,” “I will help,” “I’m coming,” “Yes,” or “No,” and “I am with you.”

The profundity of the words is that they are helpful and gracious words interjected at a moment of need.  In light of that, there may be no more profound words ever spoken than, “But God…”  Those words are recorded a handful of times in Scripture and invariably they address a great need with the overwhelming sufficiency of God’s grace.

When God saw the wicked rebellion of mankind and responded with a worldwide flood, His grace was demonstrated to one family when it says, “But God remembered Noah…and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided” (Gen. 8:1).  While protected from the rain and flood in the ark, Noah might have been tempted to wonder, “will we get out of this ship alive and will we ever safely set foot on dry ground again?”  God’s grace said, “yes.”

After his father Jacob died and his brothers expressed fear that Joseph would seek retribution for their treachery against him, he responded, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).  In the midst of unjust suffering, Joseph could affirm that he was still the recipient of God’s intervening grace.

After the psalmist Asaph recounted the prosperity of the wicked and his suffering at their hands, he also affirms, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).  He may suffer harm physically, but God is still ministering His grace spiritually to sustain and keep him eternally.  God’s grace is a sustaining grace.

In a great declaration of the salvation that comes through Christ, the apostle Paul reminds his readers that in contrast to man who will not die for righteous men, never mind sinners, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  In a similar passage, after reminding the Ephesians of the sinful state into which they were born, he interjects the (eternally) hopeful statement, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…” (Eph. 2:4-5).  We were sinners — all of us.  But God injected Himself and His grace into our lives.  Undeserving of His actions, He nonetheless acted for us.  That is grace — giving a gift when rejection and condemnation are merited.

That is the power of the words of grace, “but God…”

God acts graciously on our behalf because of who He is, not because we have compelled His grace.  He acts for us because He is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4).  He doesn’t just have a little mercy; He is rich in mercy.  He is overflowing with mercy.  He is no miser with mercy; He is lavish in mercy.  From our perspective we might even (wrongly) say that He is wasteful with mercy.  His mercy is eternal, unending, and limitless.  And He gives it joyfully.

God is merciful in particular ways to particular people because of His love — He is rich in mercy “because of His great love with which He loved us” (Eph. 2:4).  God, unmoved by our “goodness” and “righteousness,” is compelled to work for us by the magnanimous nature of His infinite, sacrificial love.  His love does not emanate from our worthiness, but from His greatness, alone.

Specifically, God’s love emanates from the greatness of His grace.  God is rich in mercy and great in love to such a degree that despite our deadness in sin, He makes us alive with Christ, because, “by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5).  His mercy and love overflow into and cooperate with His grace to save us from His wrath.  Grace not only means we are spared from what we deserve (eternal condemnation), but we also receive what we do not deserve — being raised to life, positioned with the favor of Christ in the Heavenlies, and eternal recipients of His gracious riches (Eph. 2:5-7).

Grace from God means that we are inherently inadequate and undeserving of anything good, kind, or benevolent, but that God has lavished us with everything good, kind, and benevolent that is at His disposal.

That grace is introduced to us with simple, yet eternally profound words like, “But God…”  Do not confuse the simplicity of the words with the import of the words.  God takes miserable, weak, broken, hostile sinners (who are His enemies) and shows just how great He is by making them live and then giving them all the riches and position of heaven!

John Piper has summarized the greatness of this grace well:  “God is not like an insecure bully, who likes to show off his strength by putting weaker people down.  God loves to show off his greatness by being an inexhaustible source of strength to build weak people up.  His exuberance in delighting in the welfare of his servant is the measure of the immensity of his resources — what the Bible calls, ‘the riches of his glory.’” [The Pleasures of God]

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