Personal question: Do you have a “but” problem? I know I do from time to time.

Far from being an insensitive inquiry regarding physical physique, this question has practical and eternal significance. As further evidence, several examples in the Bible reveal the depth and impact of a “but” problem.

  • Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me [Isaiah 29:13, emphasis added].
  • With their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain [Ezekiel 33:31, emphasis added].
  •  These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me [Matthew 15:8, emphasis added].
  •  “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house” [Luke 9:61, emphasis added].

What Is a “But” Problem

This serious diagnosis occurs when “but” is the response to anything good, uplifting, spiritually enlightening, or divinely inspired. For example, “Yes, I’ll surrender to you God, but still want to keep this friendship.” “Yes, I’ll serve you God, but not in the choir or nursery.” Or, “God, I repent of all my sin, but I still want to (fill in the blank).” It can even be, “Yes, God, I will forgive those who wronged me, but not (fill in the blank).” Maybe even, “God, I want to be a shining witness for you, but not for my mean-spirited, mouthy, neighbor.”

Imagine someone you love with all your heart saying, “I love you, but…” The reasons following the “but” don’t really matter, do they? The “but” invalidates their “I love you.” Whatever sentiments expressed prior to the “but” no longer hold value or credence. The same holds true in the spiritual realm.

How a “But” Problem Relates Spiritually

If God’s Word, the Holy Spirit’s influence, an inspiring sermon, or God’s moving in your life immediately evokes a “but” response, it invalidates whatever preceded it. Far from me being partially spiritual, my “but” places conditional circumstances to obedience, discipleship, repentance, surrender, and conformity with Christ. In reality, there should be no “but” problem for a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.

There is no negotiation in surrender. There are no conditions to repentance. There is no compromise in conforming to Christ. Whatever “but” I attach to any spiritual venture invalidates it because it inserts me and my self-will into the equation.

Affects Faith

A “but” problem reveals a lack of trust, lack of priority, lack of genuine interest. How can I approach Jesus, in light of what He sacrificed for me, with “but”? He left Heaven’s glory for me. While here on earth, He lived a sinless life as an example for me. In my place, He endured cruel mocking and brutal beatings. As my substitute, He suffered an excruciating death on Calvary. In victory, He rose from the grave thus conquering sin, the grave, and hell for me.

How in the world can I come to Him with a “but” on my lips, mistrust in my heart, and an unsurrendered will? “Follow Me.” “But Lord…” Serve Me.” “But Lord…” “Love Me.” “But Lord…” “Love people.” “But Lord…” In each scenario, we answer to His Person, but ignore His Lordship.

In a Lord-Servant relationship, there is no compromise, negotiation, or refusal. There is only “Speak, Lord, your servant hears” [1 Samuel 3:9-10] or “Here am I! Send me” [Isaiah 6:8]. There is an urgency and immediacy in following Him [Matthew 4:20-22].

If I have a “but” problem, maybe I should stop calling Him Lord and refer to Him as a buddy, pal, or bestie. I can compromise or negotiate within those relationships, not in a Lord-Servant relationship.

Affects God’s Word

A “but” problem affects how I view God’s Word. When I question, doubt, or reason away what God says, I totter on a long, slippery slope. Such hesitation and uncertainty are what introduced sin into the world.

God gave Adam explicit instructions in the Garden of Eden. Yet, along comes the serpent and implants doubt in Eve’s mind. “Did God really say…?” His suggestion led her to doubt God’s Word, misquote God’s Word, then disobey God’s Word. See the transitional ease from questioning through doubting and ending up disobeying?

If God’s Word is not absolute, sovereign, trustworthy, inerrant, infallible, and divinely inspired, then a “but” problem is probably a great strategic approach. However, if I claim it to be all those things (which it is!), a “but” problem reveals the fraud of my faith. It also exposes my disobedience when I hesitate, negotiate, or compromise with it to tailor-fit it to individual preference.

Affects the Holy Spirit

A “but” problem negatively affects my interaction with the Holy Spirit. All throughout Scripture, I am encouraged to partner with and surrender to God’s Holy Spirit. “Do not quench the Spirit” [1 Thessalonians 5:19]. “Be filled with the Spirit” [Ephesians 5:18]. “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” [John 16:13].

Should the Spirit begin to move, transform, and conform me how God wants me, a “but” problems resists His efforts. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, a “but” problem justifies or excuses it. When the Spirit reveals absolute truth, a “but” problem questions the source and begins negotiating to find possible middle ground.

The Remedy

So how do I overcome or recover from a “but” diagnosis? When I am sick, I usually take medicine that kills or counteracts whatever is causing the problem. Similarly, God reveals the prescription for such a “but” problem in Scripture—it involves killing what causes the problem.

The “but” problem is real and spiritually fatal. The antidote is God’s Word; the remedy is to kill whatever prompts a “but” response. Whatever exists in my life that initiates a “but” needs intense scrutiny and removal. In essence, I surrender to the Great Physician and embrace His transforming, healing touch.

Here’s to a healthy, “but-free” spiritual journey!

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