"The Ultimate Reason for Thanks"
(Delivered Thanksgiving Sunday, November 19, 2000 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
" Thankfulness" is basic to Christian faith. An attitude of thanksgiving toward God isn't just a "nice" thing to have. It's a fundamental characteristic of godliness. An attitude of thanksgiving toward God is so essential to godliness, in fact, that the refusal to give thanks to God is the main characteristic of its opposite -- ungodliness.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he began by describing the character and nature of ungodly men and women. The first chapter of Romans presents us with the fact that, in their falleness, ungodly people do not like to "retain God in their knowledge" (Rom. 1:28). He explains that, as a result of their attitude toward God, God "gave them over" to descend into increasingly deeper levels of ungodliness. Paul described such people as "being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Rom. 1:29-32).
And how did such a dreadful decline begin? What was the initial step in the slide down the slippery-slope of ungodliness? Paul tells us, in verse 21; "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful ..." Though they knew about God, such men and women refused to glorify Him for who He is; and chose to withhold from Him the thanks that is due Him. According to the Bible, that was the first step in the slide downward.
Now to be honest, all of us -- at some time or another -- fail to give God the thanks that he deserves. It might be because we forget to do so; or it might be because we weren't paying attention to what He did for us. Such failures on our part can be chalked up to the liabilities of our frail humanness. But when we're talking about the spirit of unthankfulness Paul described, we're not talking about a mere forgetfulness or a failure to pay attention. We're talking about an attitude of rebelliousness against God -- an attitude of knowing the truth about God, but sinfully refusing to give glory to Him through our thanks. Such an attitude of willful unthankfulness toward God is something that the Bible associates with "evil". Jesus, for example taught us to be kind to our enemies; and that in doing so, we would be like our heavenly Father; "For He is kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35). When Paul warned Timothy that, in the last days, "perilous times will come", he included "unthankfulness" as one of the things that would characterize the terrible evil of those days (2 Tim. 3:1-2).
By contrast, a sincere attitude of thankfulness to God is an expression of genuine godliness. Just think of what happens when we give sincere thanks to God. When we give thanks to Him, we're recognizing the fact that He is there, and that He is good and merciful. When we give thanks to Him, we're humbly acknowledging our dependence on Him as our Creator and Provider. When we give thanks to Him, we're admitting that He is sovereign, wise, loving, powerful, and a keeper of His promises. Understood in those terms, a man or woman can't be in rebellion against God and genuinely thankful to Him at the same time.
Giving thanks to God, then, is the simplest way -- and perhaps the purest way -- of rendering worship and praise to Him, The Bible often associates thankfulness toward God with praise to Him for who He is and what He does. It tells us, "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His holy name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations" (Psalm 100:4-5). It says, "It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night ..." (Psalm 92:1-2). It urges us, by Christ, to "continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15).
And so, it should come as no surprise that the Bible urges us to cultivate a continual attitude of thanks toward God for all things and in all circumstances. It urges us to be "giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20). It commands us, "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:18). There is much that goes wrong in us spiritually when we withhold the thanks from God that He is due; and likewise, there is much good that happens within us when we give thanks to Him faithfully and sincerely.
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Those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, and have been saved by God's wonderful grace, have the greatest of all reasons to thank God. No matter what else may happen to us, our salvation is certain because of God's grace toward us through Christ; and so, we really, truly owe an unending debt of thanks to God.
This brings us to Paul's letter to the Colossians. Paul began his letter to the believers in Colosse by telling them how he had committed himself to pray for them. And as we might expect, one of the things he prayed for regularly was that they would become increasingly characterized by a spirit of thankfulness to God for their salvation. He prayed that they'd be ...
... giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:12-14).
These three verses in Paul's wonderful letter to the Colossians encourage us to cultivate an unending attitude of thankfulness to God for our salvation. Our salvation in Christ has a future aspect (that is, with respect to our future enjoyment of the heavenly inheritance we have in Christ), a present aspect (that is, with respect to the way God is continually transforming us into the image of His Son, Jesus), and a past aspect (that is, with respect to the fact that God has forgiven all our sins in Christ, and has redeemed us from the curse of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross). We see all three aspects of salvation in these three verses; and Paul prays that his readers would become thankful to God for them all.
It's my hope that, as we look at these three verses together, we too will grow in our thanks to God for what He has done for us; and that as we do, we'll grow in the joy of our salvation as well.
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First of all, notice that Paul encourages us to thank God for ...
1. OUR INHERITANCE FOR THE FUTURE (v. 12).
He prays that the Colossian believers would be, "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light" (v. 12).
An inheritance is a remarkable thing. It's something that someone can legitimately say that they "own" in the present; but at the same time, it's something that they don't fully "possess" until some future date when it's finally given to them. For those of us who have been saved by faith in Christ, we too have an "inheritance" -- a glorious inheritance that we will not fully "possess" until the time when it's given to us in heaven; but one that, nevertheless, we completely "own" in the present, and can legitimately say is ours right now. And our anticipation of that inheritance is to be a cause of great joy. Peter wrote about our inheritance; and said,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice ... (1 Peter 1:3-6).
Who are the saints in light? A "saint" -- putting it simply -- is anyone that God has set apart for Himself as His holy possession. It's another name for anyone that is truly saved by God's grace. Paul called the Colossian believers "saints" at the beginning of his letter (1:2). And to refer to such persons as "saints in light" is to simply stress the fact that the proper state of such "set apart ones" is that of walking in God's continual favor -- living in complete purity of fellowship with God in the light of His holiness and truth. The "inheritance" of the saints in light is the glorious hope of eternal riches in heaven that belong to all who are in God's favor.
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What a wonderful thing it would be to have a share in the glorious inheritance of "the saints in light". It's the eternal reward of the saints in glory. But let's face it; you and I are sinners. How could we ever dare to claim a share in such an inheritance? If it were up to our own efforts to earn the right to the inheritance of the saints in light, we'd never be able to do so. In and of ourselves, our sins make us "inheritors" of nothing from God but His just wrath and His righteous judgment.
But notice carefully what Paul says. He thanked God, not because we've earned a share in the inheritance of the saints in light, but because God Himself has "qualified" us for it. He, by His grace through Christ, has qualified us to claim a share in the eternal inheritance that belongs to all who are in His favor.
Paul told the Ephesian believers, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Eph. 5:8). He told the Thessalonian believers, "You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5). The apostle John said, "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:5-7).
Have you placed your faith in the Savior? Then by God's grace, you have been made a "saint" -- a redeemed man or woman that He has set apart as His own possession. You can take it as a fact that you may freely lay claim to a share in the inheritance of the saints in light, because He -- by His rich grace -- has qualified you for such an inheritance. You can take Peter's words as applying to yourself, when he wrote,
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
That's true of you right now, if you are in Christ. But here's the question: How long has it been since you've thanked God for it? He has saved you specifically so that you might proclaim His praises. When was the last time you genuinely praised God and thanked Him for the future inheritance He has set on reserve for you in Christ?
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That inheritance speaks of the future aspect of our salvation. And next Paul speaks of ...
2. OUR CITIZENSHIP IN THE PRESENT (v. 13).
Paul says, "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (v. 13).
When Paul speaks of the "power" of darkness, he uses a word that literally means "authority". Every man and woman born into this world is born under the authority of the evil forces of darkness (or the "dominion of darkness", as it's translated in the NIV), and is in need of being "delivered" or "rescued" from their power.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and described the terrible condition they were in while they were under the power of that darkness -- and he told them about how they were the helpless puppets of the devil. He told them that they were "dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath ..." (Eph. 2:1-3). He told them that, "at that time, you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). He told them that they used to live like "Gentiles" (2:11) -- that is, people who were spiritual "outsiders" as far as God's blessings were concerned -- living life "in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Eph. 4:17-19). Indeed, as the Bible says, "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19).
Such people are in a desperate condition, and can do no more to rescue themselves than a dead body could raise itself up from the grave. Every one of us was born into such a situation, because of the sin of our father Adam. We were born into the tyranny of the devil and his kingdom of darkness. Our first "citizenship" is that which placed us under the rule of a wicked and ruthless despot. And every one of us would remain in that helpless condition until someone came to our rescue and "delivers" us from it. Praise be to God! "He has delivered us from the power of darkness" through Jesus Christ!
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But notice that there's more. God, in His mercy to us, has not only delivered us from the power of darkness; but He has also "conveyed us" or "transferred us" into "the kingdom of the Son of His love". The "Son of His love" is none other than Jesus Himself -- the very one of whom God the Father declared, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). And now, as Paul says, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20).
God has transferred us into a new kingdom -- the kingdom of His beloved Son; and He has given us a new citizenship in that kingdom. We were helpless, and could never have done that on our own. But praise Him; He has done it for us! He Himself has "conveyed" us into this new kingdom.
Something happened to me recently that illustrates this. I was in the car on my way to deliver something to the home of someone in our church. Now, the truth be told, I have a lousy sense of direction. This particular family in our church gave perfectly good directions to me; but I somehow managed to scramble them up and get pathetically lost. Even though I was less than a mile from their home, I couldn't find it. I drove and drove, trying to make my way to their house, until I finally gave up. I pulled into a convenience store parking lot and called them on the phone. And they came to me -- as I sat their waiting, all confused and embarrassed -- and personally "conveyed" me to their home. It was easy for them to do so, because they knew the way; but I never would have gotten there if they hadn't come and "conveyed" me to the right place.
Similarly, we are in need of being "conveyed" to the kingdom of God's Son. We've been rescued from the kingdom of darkness; but God never left it to us to find our own way to the kingdom His Son. We'd never be able to make our way there on our own strength, or wisdom, or resources. He Himself transfers us there.
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This reminds us of the fact that God is continually working in us, to make us increasingly to be like His Son Jesus, and to make us live like citizens of His kingdom. It's a work that God Himself does. The Father is "the vinedresser" who prunes every "branch" that abides in Christ so that it would bear more fruit (John 15:1-2). He's the one who works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:28-29). He's the one who, having begun a good work in us, "will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
He has rescued us from the power of darkness, and has conveyed us into the kingdom of His Son; and He will continue to work in us and perfect us, as we grow increasingly to live like what we are -- citizens of His Son's kingdom!
What a debt of thanks we owe to Him for making us the citizens of the kingdom of His Son Jesus Christ! But how long has it been since you've actually thanked Him for it?
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Paul has spoken of the future aspect of our salvation, and the present aspect of our salvation. Now, he speaks of the past aspect of our salvation. He speaks of ...
3. OUR FORGIVENESS FOR THE PAST (v. 14).
He says that he prays the Colossians would give thanks to God for their salvation in Christ; "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins."
Our sins have placed us in a terrible condition of condemnation before God. The Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23); and because we have sinned against God, we cannot be released from our spiritual debt to Him in any way but as a result of the payment of the price for sin -- death. The death penalty for our sins must be paid.
But we have a Redeemer. Paul says that we have "redemption" through Jesus Christ; and the word he uses means a 'complete release on the bases of the payment of a price'. Jesus Himself has paid the debt of our sins for us by dying in our place on His cross. He Himself has "redeemed" us from our debt -- paying the price for our sins, and setting us free. Paul wrote that Jesus "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).
Jesus paid the price for our sins by taking our sins upon Himself when He hung on the cross for us. Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become us curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')." And the price of our redemption was His own blood. In the Book of Revelation, the saints in heaven sing praises to Jesus, saying, "You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your own blood" (Rev. 5:9). Ephesians 1:7 says, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace."
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There's a sense in which "redemption" has a distinctively God-ward focus. Jesus is our "Redeemer" because He Himself paid the price of our sins, releasing us from the debt we owe to our holy Creator. In that respect, "redemption" directly impacts God Himself in that it results in His being satisfied with the full payment of the debt we owe.
But we ourselves also experience the direct impact of Jesus' work as our Redeemer. Because of His sacrifice for us, we are released from our dreadful condition of guilt before God; and so, "redemption" means that we directly experience the joy that comes from a complete forgiveness of our sins.
Kind David wrote about that wonderful sense of forgiveness. He wrote, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Psalm 32:1-2). He praised God, saying, "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:10-12).
Have you trusted in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Do you believe that God is satisfied with His work of redemption on your behalf? Do you believe that your sins are completely forgiven and taken from you, and that you are released from the debt to God they placed you in? If so, when was the last time you opened your mouth and gave thanks to God for what Jesus has done for you?
I have known of many sincere Christians who have been genuinely saved by God's grace through faith in Christ, but who had lost a sense of the joy of their salvation. In many such cases, there's no doubt that they lost that sense of joy because they had allowed sin to take a foot-hold in their lives. They were doing something they shouldn't have been doing; and in their case, the joy of their salvation would never be fully restored until they dealt with that sin (Psalm 51:12).
But considering the fact that "thanksgiving" is such an essential element to godliness, I'd like to suggest that some Christians have lost that sense of joy over their salvation, not so much because they're doing something they shouldn't do, as because they're not doing something they should do. They've gotten out of the habit of giving genuine, sincere, heart-felt thanks to God for for what He has done for them in Christ; and they should have kept thanking Him for it all along.
Let me share a personal testimony about this. During the week that I was preparing this message, I caught myself getting down and grumpy. It seemed like everything was going wrong on that one particular day; and my attitude began to go sour. I believe that the Holy Spirit rebuked me for this, and reminded me of my own personal obligation to praise God for the very things that I was studying in this passage. And so, right then and there, I "forced" myself to pray through the realities of my salvation that are described in this passage. (And I don't know how else to put it than to say that I had to "force" myself to do it.) I thanked God for these different aspects of my salvation one by one. I thanked God that, no matter what else was happening to me right then, none of those things will ever change. And as I praised God for these things, I found my attitude begin to change, my spirits lifted, and my heart filled with sincere joy.
I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. I learned that whatever we're not in the regular habit of thanking God for, we're inclined to ignore; and whatever we ignore, we're not inclined to rejoice in. A regular, concerted effort toward giving thanks to God for the realities of our salvation in Christ, then, is the spiritual "tether-line" that binds the unchanging realities of our salvation and our wandering, sin-prone attitude together. The more we thank God for our salvation, the more we'll experience the joy of that salvation.
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Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ? Do you have the assurance of your salvation? If so, do you experience the joy of that salvation? If you've lost that sense of joy, ask yourself how long it's been since you've taken the time to genuinely thank God for what He has done for you in Christ. Paul gives us, in these three verses, plenty to thank God for in terms of our salvation -- in it's past, present and future aspects. Why not stop and thank Him for them right now?
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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