In the Disney movie The Emperor’s New Groove, the arrogant Emperor Kuzco gets magically transformed into a llama after a failed assassination attempt orchestrated by his administrator Yzma and her right-hand man Kronk.
As Yzma and Kronk search for the emperor-turned-llama to finish him off, there’s a funny scene where they visit the home of Pacha, a llama-herder who helps Kuzco. In order to distract the villains, Pacha’s family locks Yzma and Kronk in a dark room. As Yzma gets frustrated she yells …
Yzma: Alright, I’ve had enough of this! Tell us where the talking llama is, and we’ll burn your house to the ground!
Kronk: Uh, don’t you mean “or”?
Yzma: [sighs in exasperation] Tell us where the talking llama is, OR we’ll burn your house to the ground!
Chaca (Pacha’s daughter): Well, which is it? That seems like a pretty crucial conjunction.
A Pretty Crucial Conjunction
A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects two words, phrases, or sentences (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). Like Chaca points out, conjunctions can be pretty crucial.
There’s probably no more crucial conjunction in the Bible than the first word of Ephesians 2:4-5 where the darkness of our sin meets the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved …”
For many believers, that simple phrase “But God” summarizes so well the profound transformation they’ve experienced in their life through Jesus Christ. “But God” is the heart cry for all who were lost in their sin, but now stand forgiven and reconciled to the Father.
The darkness and depravity of our lives before Jesus is described in verses 1-3:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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.
But then in verses 4-10, seemingly out of nowhere the overwhelming grace, hope, and love of Jesus floods into the picture as God’s sovereign election prompts this great pivot point in the personal history of every believer.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
For those who believe, we were once dead but God has now made us alive. We deserved nothing but wrath from God, yet he extended us grace.
“But God” means God gets the credit and the glory for the good work of salvation in my life. It means if it wasn’t for God, I would still be stuck in sin, living life for myself, and separated from God.
But God intervened. He changed my story. He flipped the script. And he did it in a way that leaves me without anything to brag about in myself.
I was dead in sin. He made me alive.
I was blinded by my sin. He gave me eyes to see.
I was lost in darkness. He found me and brought me to the light.
“But God” is a simple proclamation of praise and thanksgiving for the work God has done in me. A work I never would have chosen myself and a work I never would have been able to do myself.