Awhile back I was listening to The White Horse Inn, one of my favorite podcasts, when one of the hosts said something extremely helpful. He got at the essence of Christian understanding by contrasting two important conjunctions. The question was, “Are you an ‘And God’ or a ‘But God’ Christian?”
What did he mean and why is this significant?
Christians have always believed that we are saved apart from our strivings for acceptance and in spite of our inability to please God. As the Apostle Paul noted in Ephesians:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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– 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. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
This is the condition of the unbeliever, the one outside of Christ. We were doing what felt good, sounded good, and in so doing, we indulged our own sinful lusts. To make matters worse, we did so in loyal allegiance to Satan. As good (bad) soldiers, we marched to his cadence doing his will. In short, we were rebels, sinners, enemies of God (Rom. 5.5-11).
This is where the conjunctions come into play. How does God enter into this equation?
Some people may seek to minimize the level of depravity. They might diagnose the problem as a medical condition, a product of one’s environment, or simply the result of bad decisions. The result of which is that they need help getting out of the problem. This is where God is so helpful. He comes in and helps.
The progression would be, “My life was a mess in this circumstance and this situation, and as a result of this problem, and God helped me. He came into my life.”
Is this the biblical progression?
We notice in Ephesians 2 that the next word is not “and” but rather it is “but.” The differences here very significant.
Look at Ephesians 2 yourself:
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– (Ephesians 2:4,5)
What is the difference?
Simply put, if you are an “and God” Christian then you think that God saved you after you have tried and perhaps in conjunction with your trying. However, if you are a “but God” Christian then you believe that God saved you in spite of your deadness, your inability to strive. That is, God saved you by himself, without cooperation from you. And further, he saved you from yourself and your sin.
It is this understanding of utter inability and total depravity that gives way to joyful tears of understanding of such terms as “mercy,” “great love,” “alive,” and “grace.” All of these terms are underscored by our inability and God’s sovereign, conquering grace.
Some may argue if one is a Christian or not if they think in terms of “and God” vs “but God.” That is for another post. I will say that I have met many Christians who confess a biblical gospel while thinking and acting in terms of an “And God” gospel. I catch myself in this way when I take inventory of my apparent good deeds to see if they can cover my bad deeds. I also see it when I look down my theological nose at others who are not marching in step with me. Regrettably, I confuse conjunctions very easily. This should not be, it cannot be. The “But God” in Ephesians 2 is intended to be a stick in the spokes of our bicycle ride of self-esteem and merit. It reminds us of our depravity, need, and the abundance of the grace of Christ.
So, by all means, let’s get our conjunctions straight.