I like when we get to hear about opposing views - it often brings us clarity if we we were really trying to figure out the differences between one thing and another. In scripture, that "opposing view" kind of thing is often set off by the little word "but". As Paul outlines our "former condition", he undertakes to do so by painting the contrasts - seeing one against the other - to give us clarity about the magnificence of the grace of God and the presence of God's Spirit within us. He had done a pretty good job in the earlier passage of painting the pretty bleak picture of the condition of our soul apart from Christ. As he opens this passage, he wants us to understand the 'lifeless soul' we once possessed is now made alive through the grace of God. We were once "buried under a mountain of sin" - a pretty apt illustration of just how muddled our life becomes when we attempt to live it under our own power or according to our own purposes!
God has a reason for what he does, how he does it, and even the timing at which he performs it. We might not always "get" the methods he uses, though. We would like to think of a less harsh way of redeeming our souls than the death of his Son, Jesus, on a cross. We'd want to see something like waving a few twigs of this or that over a fire, maybe even taking a lock of our hair and throwing it into the flames as a symbol of us being "cleansed" or "consumed" by the fire, but the truth is that nothing short of God's plan works to redeem a soul out from under a mountain of sin! Nothing short of death brought grace. We don't get the plan, but we were part of it! God sent his Son to die - it was his purpose - not a haphazard occurrence, but a plan by which those dead in their sin might receive new life through the redeeming work of the cross.
Today we stand as living testimonies. A testimony is a factual account of something which has transpired. Grace entered into our lives through the process of faith - trusting God with our lives and saying "yes" to Jesus. Then grace began to transform our lives - not just digging us out from under that mountain of sin, but placing us high atop the mountain of grace. We get it wrong when we think we have to dig ourselves out from under that tremendous weight of sin - it is God's plan to do the work we cannot do ourselves! Grace is the "implement" by which sin is uncovered, removed, and our lives are left free of the debris which once inhabited the space of our lives we call the soul. Mind, will, emotions - all submitted to the action of having sin done away with once and for all time.
Redeemed lives are the product of his hand - pure and simple. The mess we make while trying to redeem ourselves through good actions and deeds we think will align us on the side of "good" simply mount up into mountains of wasted effort we must have removed in order to live free of their weight. To the mountains of sin we attempt to add molehills of good deeds - thinking maybe one will counteract the other. The truth is pretty plain - sin is only removed when God uses the backhoe of grace! The "digging out" task is his - not ours. We can "dig" all we want, but the mountain will remain. At best, we change the landscape a little when we engage in good actions - but the mountain remains. Nothing short of grace removes the mountain. Just sayin!