I’ve always been a winner.

As early as elementary school, I was part of school programs designed for the upper percentile of students. I never studied for anything, including the time I got an ACT score that earned me a free ride at most schools. My parents had more than enough money for us to live comfortably, and I got a lot of what I wanted. I’m the white son of a retired police officer from the South, and we rarely missed a Sunday church service.

All of the societal cards were stacked in my favor, no matter how wrong that may be.

One day, I stopped feeling like a winner. I don’t know when it was, and if I were a betting man I would guess it was a slow, unnoticeable process as I grew into adolescence. But at some point during or after middle school, I lost hope—hope in myself, hope in God, hope in all I’d ever known. I stopped hoping in my future, stopped hoping in my family life, stopped thinking I’d ever amount to anything.

In my mind, the joy I could find in success would never outweigh the pain of living.

So I did it. It was my sophomore year of high school, if I remember correctly. I put all my pent up failure into an attempt to suffocate myself.

The Most Interesting Boring Book of the Bible I Ever Read

No, I’m not a time-traveller. By the grace of God, mine was a pretty futile attempt. But as I’m sure you could imagine, I felt defeated. It’s one thing to feel like such a failure that you want to die—it’s a whole other thing to try to die and to fail at that, too.

Shaken up and devastated, I just wanted sleep. I remember my plan to fake sickness the next day so I could have alone time, giving me space to calm down from the emotional high the evening had been.

I tiptoed back to my bedroom so no one would know I was awake.

As if that night hadn’t been weird enough already, the next thing I did was pick up a Bible. The only reason I wanted it was because I knew it was the only thing that would make me sleepier.

I had grown up in church, and I could fake Christianity like it was nobody’s business. I didn’t really know what to do once I opened it. Sure, I could point you to the “good” passages, but I didn’t know how to use it as a guidebook to human emotion.

I had a few friends who talked a lot about Romans, so I figured I’d just read that. After a quick reading of the book, I didn’t get the hype. It just sounded like . . . the Bible. I didn’t understand why my friends were so infatuated with discussing this book. I figured I must have missed something—and I wasn’t tired enough to sleep—so I reread it. I went slower this time.

It began to sink in.

I read about my guilt before God. Romans 1 told me all of us suppress the truth and talked about how we are sinners who deny God despite seeing Him everywhere. But the story didn’t stop there: I read about how God made a plan to redeem us. Romans 5 told me this plan was the blueprint for undoing what Adam had done wrong so long ago.

Chapter 5 contains two words sweeter than the millions of others I’d read: “But God.”

”But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8 (CSB)

All my hopelessness, all my unlived potential, all my insufficiency—it wasn’t an accessory to the gospel. My failures weren’t God’s afterthought—they part of the gospel. Jesus couldn’t have died for the sick and needy if we were well and without need. There could be no grace if I hadn’t deserved condemnation.

It began to come together in the resolve of Chapter 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I still don’t know if this is when I first “got” the gospel, or if this was just a moment where God wanted to radically alter the way I understood Him. But either way, I can pinpoint it as the moment “But God” saved my life.

I climbed in bed. I didn’t feel better, but at least I didn’t feel condemned. I knew I was in Christ Jesus.

Living Your Life According to “But God”

I didn’t want to live, but God wants me to seek abundant life.
I deserved wrath, but God sends His Son so I might be seen as he is seen—righteous.
I was insufficient, but God is enough.
I could have never measured up, but God says Christ Jesus is enough.
I still get tired of facing depression, but God never tires in lavishing His grace on His children.
We once were dead, “but God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:4).

Oftentimes, it is the smallest words in Scripture that offer us rest. They are like miniature sabbaths found tucked away in Paul’s epistles, fully owning the reality of our sin and fully granting us rest in Christ. In our faithlessness, God is faithful. He is apt to save even the most regular and vile sinners.

Learn to live your life according to “But God.” It’s a paradigm-shifting phrase. It removes your insecurity and yet forces you to admit your insufficiency. Rightly understood, it’s a gospel sermon in only two words. And while you’re at it, learn to stop overlooking the small words of Scripture. Take it from me: they just might save your life.

(This post originally appeared at The Blazing Center several years ago. Reworked and republished here with their permission.)