Friday, February 21, 2014

I Like Big Buts and I Cannot Lie – or – Why Me, God?

 One of my favorite Biblical passages is Ephesians 2:1-10. Let’s first look at the first five verses:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!”

To quote (differently) an old-school rapper, “I like big buts (B-U-T-S) and I cannot lie,” but don’t trip, I’m speaking grammatically. I’ve considered making a parody of the song, but I don’t think it would go over too well. The “But,” that starts verse four is HUGE. Before it comes around, I was dead in sin, under Satan’s dominion, enslaved to sin, and under God’s wrath. BUT God made me alive by grace alone! HALLELUJAH! What a Savior!
Sometimes I wonder where I would be right now if it wasn’t for the grace of God in my heart. Considering that I had declared myself an atheist four-and-a-half months before I was saved, it’s a scary question to contemplate. God would have been perfectly just to allow me to continue in that blatant rebellion and end up cursing me to hell. It’s proof that God’s ways are higher than my ways (Isaiah 55:9); His plans are higher than my plans; His grace is amazing—I can’t get past it / I don’t know how without Him I ever lasted. It’s proof that just because someone turns their back on the faith he or she isn’t necessarily lost for good. God will save whoever He wants. It’s a comforting thought.
However, it leads to another uncomfortable thought. Why me? What was there about me that made God want me? I’m the one who’d called Him every curse word you can imagine; I’m the one who told Him to go to Hell; I’m the one who cursed Him to His face. He still chose to show me grace. Nothing about me merited salvation.
All I’d done that “deserved” salvation, was pray the sinner’s prayer every year since I was seven; by eighteen I gave up because it never changed anything. It never healed my left hand; it never helped my relationship with my parents; it never helped me make friends. Christianity was a joke to me. And then I came across one of the great apostasy passages in the Bible: John 15:6.
Jesus said, “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” I instantly recognized this as myself, especially considering the fact that I grew up in the church. I knew I wasn’t truly in Him. It was then that God snatched me out of death and gave me spiritual life. I was dead in sins like a dead branch, but God grafted me into Christ. In that moment I didn’t ask Christ to come into my life. I told Him I’m sorry for my lust, pride, and hatred, and I was ready for Him to use my story to bring Him glory. I wanted out of the spotlight; I just wanted to point to Him.
The passage continues with verses 6-10:

“Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”

I’ll keep this portion brief. It initially ties back into the statement I made prior about not praying the sinner’s prayer before being actually saved. Verse six explains that God raised me up and seated me in the heavens with Christ. I did nothing to get there myself. Dead people don’t bring themselves back to life. In the same way, in John 3 with the new birth, no one chooses to be born; the second birth is the same way. The first is of the flesh from my mother; the second is of the spirit from my Savior.
Verses 8-9 is also very clear to state that salvation is not of works. If it was, then I could be proud and I could boast. However, it wasn’t. God elected me before the foundation of the world to be saved (Ephesians 1:3-14), and He breathed spiritual life into me when I was dead in sin. I chose to believe (Ephesians 1:13), but it was only after God changed my heart. Illustration: Offer an African lion a raw steak or a salad and it will naturally choose the raw steak every time unless its nature is changed. In the same way, when offered God or sin, a person will naturally choose sin unless God has changed his or her nature. I can’t boast in my salvation, because it’s all of God.
Verse ten talks about good works that God planned for me. This is the craziest part of my salvation. Not only did God rescue me from death, but He wants to use me as well. Second Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” This is my new job as a believer in Christ, and it’s a good work. I don’t know who is elect, so I’m called to preach to as many people as possible and call them to trust Christ with their lives. God has many people in this world (Acts 18:9-10), many of whom still need to hear the good news.
What’s your “big but” story? How will God use you to bring more people to trust Christ? Go out and proclaim the message, knowing that God is faithful to use your proclamation to bring His people to Him.