“But” is my favorite word in the Bible. Throughout Scripture we see “but God,” or “but Christ,” or “but when…” Something was lost, but now it’s found. Someone was dead, but is now alive. A person was blind, but now can see. There was no way, but God made a way.
The word “but” in Scripture often introduces the message of the gracious and compassionate intervention of God. This simple term captures the nature of our God. He redeems, resurrects, and makes all things new. All seems lost and then we hear, “but God.” He intervenes. He saves.
God’s Salvation and Purpose for Paul
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds them that he was a murderer of Christians, a man on a mission to violently wipe out the faith. He says in Galatians 1:15:
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his son to me… (Galatians 1:16a, emphasis added)
And we know everything changed for Paul. We know that Paul became a Christ-follower himself.
As is often the case with Paul, in this letter, “but when” is closely followed by “in order that.” God set Paul apart before he was born, called him by his grace, and was pleased to reveal Jesus to him “in order that [Paul] might preach him [Jesus] among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:16). The glorious and merciful “but God” phrases in Scripture are often followed by an “in order that.” God acts with intention.
If you are a Christian, you have both a “but God” moment, and you have an “in order that.” As Paul explained to the Ephesians, “but God” is the story for every believer.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6, emphasis added)
“In Order That”
You and I, and Paul, and all who have been rescued by God, have an “in order that”—a purpose in Christ. We were redeemed not just from something but to something—not just from our murderous pasts, but so that we might love, glorify, and proclaim Christ to others.
Through the inspiration of God’s Spirit, Peter puts it this way: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). And this is in order “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
While we are called to proclaim God’s excellencies right where we are, it’s possible that our “in order that” is unexpected. For Paul, his “in order that” was “that he might preach Christ to the Gentiles.” As the Jew of all Jews, this had to be surprising. The Gentiles (non-Jews) were not his people; the Gentile communities were not his home. Still, Jesus commanded him to go.
Paul obeyed and God used his life in radical, unforeseen ways. Paul planted churches throughout Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. He discipled church planters and shepherded flocks of Christ-followers near and far. He letters make up a bulk of the New Testament. His “in order that”—proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles—continues to be used by God to rescue and redeem people 2,000 years later.
Christian, where has God purposefully placed you?
As Christ followers, we must not only be thankful for our “but God” (salvation), but also ask ourselves: Where has God put me that I might proclaim his excellencies? We must be prepared to serve the Lord right where we are, or in far-out, unexpected ways among people we do not yet know. Paul exhorts us that “God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
- Soccer moms are not saved in order that they might just sit on sidelines. They are saved in order that they might proclaim Christ’s excellencies to other soccer moms, dads, and kids.
- Businessmen and women are not saved to build their own kingdoms. They are saved in order that they might proclaim Christ’s excellencies to their colleagues, that the Lord might be proclaimed and honored in their field of work.
- Suburban parents, city dwelling singles, or rural farming families are not saved so that they might pursue comfort and security. They are saved in order that their neighbors might know Christ’s excellencies.
- Students are not saved so that they can go to youth group and have fun with their friends, but in order that other students might know the excellencies of Jesus and also be called out of darkness and into marvelous light.
Proclaim his excellencies.
Before we worry that we might do it all wrong and get anxious about what those who hear our proclamation will think, let’s remember that we don’t have to be super savvy or strategic. The Lord chose us, as Paul says, before we were born (Ephesians 1:4). We were set apart by God before we ever breathed our first breath. Our “in order that” is not dependent upon our performance—it’s dependent on Christ’s. And his work is finished. We are simply called to proclaim his excellencies.
May we remember that our God is a redeemer and a reverser. Our God—who enters in and says “but” when all seems lost—is all-powerful and all good. We were dead, but he raised us to life. Knowing that, we can trust his purpose for us. As we are mindful that the Lord was pleased to reveal his Son to us, may we not forsake the calling that was ours before birth, and may we walk in order that his excellencies might be proclaimed wherever we go. As we obey, he will surely do more than we can now ask or imagine.