A man I work with recently asked if I had received an email from another coworker. I told him no, I had not. He said this, “I’m not calling you a liar, but …”
I cut him off and said, “Yes, you are! You cannot say you are not calling me a liar, and then proceed to challenge the truthfulness of what I just said. The word ‘but’ negates everything that came before it.” I offered to let him view my email account just so he could see that I was not lying. He declined and left my office.
The word “but” is an amazing word. We use it all the time to say contradictory things.
In fact, almost any time you hear someone say “I’m not ________, but …” you can almost guarantee that whatever follows the “but” will be the exact opposite of what preceded it.
The phrase “I’m not a racist, but …” will always be followed with a racist statement.
The phrase “I don’t hate gays, but …” will always be followed with a homophobic statement.
The phrase “I know God loves everybody, but …” will always be followed by a statement that maybe God doesn’t love everybody.
The phrase “I hope this doesn’t come across as heartless, but … ” will always be followed by a statement that is heartless.
One phrase I hear a lot from people is this one:
“I believe in grace, but …”
Such a statement will always be followed by a statement which shows the person does not believe the first thing about grace.
Grace has no but!
Pastors and Christian Bible teachers are notorious for giving confusing messages about grace. We preach that God loves people unconditionally, that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, that we can come to God just as we are, and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. This is well and good.
Then we often follow up this teaching with the impression that maybe there are conditions to God’s infinite love, that maybe Jesus will forsake us, and that God doesn’t want us exactly as we are, and that there are some things that will separate us from the love of God.
I call this adding “buts” to grace.
This occurs whenever we say something like,
“Grace is free, but…”
“God forgives all our sins, but…”
“God loves you unconditionally, but…”
“God will never leave you nor forsake you, but…”
“Eternal life is by faith alone, but…”
These “buts” completely negate whatever came before it.
So stop adding buts to your theology.
Grace has no but, and neither does love, mercy, and forgiveness.
Those who add buts to grace do not know God or His grace. There are no conditions or limits to grace. Grace is infinite and free. Period.
Yuri Wijting says
I once had a discussion and it went ok so now that I have Jesus what do I do. I responded with nothing! There’s nothing for you to do but allow for transformation to happen in its own way. That thought was completely unacceptable. I know certain baptists and what have you will emphasize that you must now make sure you don’t lose it.
Stephen Butler says
As a baptist, I concur with your assessment of us. We never say that works are necessary for salvation, but a lot of us backend the works after salvation. Salvation by grace-proving it by our works. If we fail too often, we prove that we are invalid. So, we negate the free gift with our human effort to please God in holiness. We are incapable as humans to live it completely. That’s why we rest in His unchanging grace! Grace is free. Completely unmerited. That’s why we have trouble accepting it.
Jeremy Myers says
Yuri, I love that. I might start using it!
And Stephen, you are right on the money there as well. Backloading works onto the offer of eternal life is not logically different than frontloading works. In both cases, works are necessary to receive final salvation in heaven. Excellent point.
Yuri Wijting says
Hi Stephen, as you know there’s many stripes of baptist from free-will to John Piper. But it’s not only in baptist circles but also in orthodox churches like Eastern and Catholic . In a Catholic situation, missing mass is mortal sin which means you’re in danger of hell or purgatory, depending on how many sins you’ve accumulated. So if you miss mass, you have to hope that you don’t die during the week and face hell or purgatory. In a Protestant setting, I’ve lost count of how many times I rededicated and rededicated my life swearing that this time I was gonna walk the straight and narrow. I think that such a constant back and forth drives a person insane. In the end, I realized that one has to trust God to be faithful regardless of how many white slips of reconfirming one’s life to Christ or masses you’ve taken. I’m of the opinion that you have to let go of the idea that you in some way can “guarantee” your own salvation.
Matthew Richardson says
I do not see works as a requirement for salvation but as evidence of transformation. We do works not as a duty but out of a desire to help those in need.
I totally agree, Matthew, and wish I knew enough Greek to discern the “works” of the Law that Paul rejected as being necessary for salvation and the “works” of the Spirt (which I prefer to call the good and Godly deeds), that John claimed were essential for kingdom living.
Stephen Butler says
Matthew, I agree. We serve and do good works out of love. We just can’t manufacture them from ourselves. We are attached to the vine. A branch can’t decide to not bear fruit. It just happens because of its connection. Same with being in Christ. We just hang there and God does the fruit through us. We are vessels and nothing more! Which is a freeing thing. It frees me from trying to prove my validity to anyone. I am in Christ, therefore I am blessed! I know you know that too Matthew. God bless!
Stephen Butler says
Jeremy, I hope you don’t think badly of me since my name has BUT in it.
There’s no buts about it!
Matthew Richardson says
Only if it’s spelled with 2 ‘t’s. 😉
John Coroy says
Behold the goodness and severity of a God…those who receive Him are under His mercy and filled with His grace, those who reject Him experience His severity. Pretty simple
I think that those who reject Him, experience the consequences of their own foolishness, yet are still loved and will be forgiven, if only they turn back. God’s severity resides in humanity alone and never in His realm.
Enrico L. Isidro says
God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humility is a condition for receiving God’s grace.
God has no conditions on grace! Otherwise it would mean, “God is gracious but…”
Kim Adams Morgan says
I really dislike the ‘but’ people (not including you in there Stephen, 😉 ). They know they are going to say something bad, so they think they are sly by negating it with the but.
I know we probably all done the but thing once or twice, but I think it’s the racist but that is hitting me hard right now. I have so many people I know who would stand up and tell you they are God-fearing people and walk in the ways of the Lord…in fact, they would shout it from the rooftops, but in the next instant have the most racist things come out of their mouth.
It just breaks my heart. They use the but. I guess they do not believe God’s grace is freely given to everyone. Maybe they think God also sees color? Maybe they believe it’s okay to ignore God’s second greatest commandment due to their ignorance and hate because that but will wipe away their sin…
Sometimes some of us just need a little reminding that we are hypocritical with our “buts”. Thanks Jeremy!
P.S. as someone who struggles with scripture location a citation would be appreciated.
I found the incident you used did not illustrate your assertion on grace that followed that well, Jeremy. (That is, the coworker seemed to me to be puzzled simply because he had mistakedly thought you had gotten the email, but you assumed he was accusing you of dishonesty.) Perhaps your history with him would have indeed revealed he thought you were lying, but you didn’t get into that.
Still, I understand your point that grace just is, without conditions. It is also transformational, if we have received it, in that it gives us victory over sin and changes us positively in other ways too. If you think my latter statement contradicts the one that preceded it, I must respectfully disagree.
Tony Cutty says
“The phrase “I’m not a racist, but …” will always be followed with a racist statement.”
With respect, I disagree. Sometimes, the phrase, “I’m not a racist….” has to be used to preface the next statement, so that the listener does not take the statement in an unintended sense. In this case, I would be saying, “This thing I am going to say next should not be interpreted in a racist sense”.
That said, I love these articles you do. The ‘Grage’ ones are revolutionary and are, I believe, exactly what the Master intended the Gospel to look like.
Emeke Odili says
Well, concerning grace, Saint James seems to be saying ‘but’ to the ‘believe God and do nothing’ concept of grace that is ubiquitous all over the place. Concerning this, in as much as we read that we are saved by grace through faith, he says in Chapter two (James 2) that we ‘re not justified by faith only, but also by works.
Saving grace is absolutely conditional. Salvation is contingent on a persons acceptance of Jesus dying on our behalf and taking God’s wrath. Without placing faith in that action of Jesus then we are found outside of God’s saving grace. God is certainly “gracious”…that is not the same thing as saving grace.
To be sure, there is nothing I or anyone else can do to gain, add to, or take away from God’s saving grace, BUT…it must be accepted. Ephesian 2:8-10 states that Grace is not a work of ourselves…BUT…we must have faith in God’s grace for salvation. If there is no action on our part then you must believe that God will save all without any conditions. If so then you would stand in opposition to much of what Paul writes, and what Jesus himself taught. Jesus started His ministry with a conditional statement to the Jew. Matthew 4:17 “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (speaking of Himself as the power of God entering into humanity = near) I agree God is gracious…BUT…His graciousness extends to our free-will choice to accept/reject Jesus. God gracious enough not to make persons who do not accept Jesus as their atoning sacrifice to spend an eternity with the One whom they do not believe. If a person does not want the life of Christ in this life, then He is not going to burden them with a relationship with Christ for eternity.