The True Reason to Give Thanks
Preached at Main Street Church on November 25th, 2018
The ultimate reason to give thanks to God is for the freedom to love and enjoy Him.
The letter to the Romans was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in Corinth
- It is the longest of Paul’s letters, and the most theologically organized
- Written to the Roman church, primarily non-jew Christians, with some Jewish believers
- Paul’s main goal was to show these believers that it is the gospel that unites them, it is the gospel that commissions them, and ultimately, it is the gospel that reveals the glory of God to them.
- Rom. 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believers, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,”
- Chapter 8 marks the center of this letter, and is something of a culmination of the truth about the good news of Jesus that Paul had put forth in the first 7 chapters, and it says this:
Romans 8:1-4: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
I want to talk to you this morning about the true reason to give thanks.
Earlier this week, millions of people gathered around feasting tables with family and friends and took part in the tradition of saying what they were thankful for. This is a wonderful thing to do, but I suspect that sadly, a large number of people are giving thanks for the wrong reason. But God’s word tells us the true reason to give thanks.
- The Bible is full of commands and encouragement to give thanks to God.
- Psalm 30:4 “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.”
- Psalm 44:8 “We will give thanks to your name forever.”
- Psalm 75:1 “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.”
- Psalm 106:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
- Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31 “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”
- What stands out about these texts and others like them is that the primary concern is not about whether or not you have anything to be thankful for, it is about the fact that you always have someone to be thankful to.
- The question we should be asking is not ultimately “what are you thankful for,” but “who are you thankful to?” And, “why?”
- Why are you thankful for that meal, that family, that job, etc.
- These four verses in Romans 8 tell us the true reason to give thanks to God
- If you know the true reason to give thanks to God, your gratitude and your thankfulness will increase infinitely.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- On the basis of the gospel—the good news of how Jesus sets us free through his life, death, burial, and resurrection—there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
- In Greek there are four different verbs for ‘condemn,’ and the verb used here, and also in verse 3 is the strongest form of the word.
- It means “to pass sentence upon for a crime”
- In its use here it implies not just the declaration of judgment, but the execution of that judgment as well
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
- That is, the Holy Spirit, who gives life, has set us free from sin and death.
- The way the Holy Spirit has set us free is in Christ—that is, by applying the accomplishments of Jesus to us.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.
- What is the law? The 10 Commandments, and the rest of the OT law.
- Matthew 22:36, “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
- What is the problem with these laws? In v. 3 here, Paul is saying that the law is lacking something, that it is insufficient. What is it unable to do?
- While the law can tell you to love God, it cannot actually make you love God
- So the law is powerless to set you free, instead it enslaves you
- The law was ‘weakened by the flesh,’—that is, us, in our own strength, we are incapable of loving God as he ought to be loved.
- Even though God gave his people his law, they continued to sin.
- Outside of Christ, we are all guilty of committing the greatest sin: failure to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
- The law could not actually change our hearts to cause us to love God, but God made a way so that we could be set free to actually love God from our hearts.
By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
- God sent Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin
- The reason Jesus was an acceptable sacrifice to God for our sin is because Jesus never sinned.
- In fact, Jesus was the only one who ever kept God’s law perfectly, including, loving God with all his heart, soul, and mind.
- And God poured out his wrath on Jesus on the cross, condemning him, in the likeness of sinful flesh—here’s why…
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,
- Jesus took your condemnation in order to give you his righteousness.
- God has justified us in Christ, so that we are free to love and enjoy him
- V. 2 says “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” So the death and resurrection doesn’t just mean we are free from the guilt of sin and the penalty of death, it means we are actually free to keep God’s commands out of love instead of out of fear.
- In Ezekiel 36 God speaks to his people and promises them that one day they will actually be free, and this is what it will look like “25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
- So freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that we don’t obey God’s rules, it means we obey them because we are free to.
- Imagine that for my wife’s birthday I buy her favorite chocolate and some flowers
- I arrive at my home to pick her up for an evening out together and when I come into the house she sees me and says, “you shouldn’t have!”
- And I say, “Well, since I am your husband, I have to. It’s the rules. So I will force myself to spend this time with you tonight since thats what married people do.”
- Do I seem like someone who is loving out of freedom, or out of obligation?
- Does that demonstrate how much she is worth?
- Now imagine the same scenario
- When I arrive she sees me and says, “you shouldn’t have!”
- And I say, “There is no one I love more than you, and there is no one on the planet I would rather spend every moment with.”
God Did What the Law Could Not Do
How Does This Relate to Thanksgiving?
- The law couldn’t make anyone actually love God. They were enslaved to sin. -which means, loving everything else more than God
- No matter how hard they tried to follow God’s laws and keep all the rules and love him with all their heart, soul, and mind they couldn’t do it.
- Even if they could have kept all the rules, they weren’t really free, because they were not free to love God from their hearts, they needed to be set free in order to have the freedom to love God live a life that demonstrated that love for God.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
- That is, we don’t try to love God by just working really hard at it (the flesh)
- We love God by the power of the Spirit
- Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
The Goodness of Freedom in Christ
- What makes our freedom in Christ so wonderful is not ultimately that it rescues us from Hell
- What makes it so wonderful is that it sets us free to truly love God from our hearts
- The greatest gift God could ever give you (for you to be thankful for), is the freedom to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- Because you will never find anything better than Jesus
- What Paul is saying here is that Jesus died in your place to justify you, to enable you to love God, and since you could never do that in your own power, he sent his Spirit to help you do what your flesh could never do.
The True Reason to Give Thanks
The only legitimate reason to thank God for anything that is not God, is if that thing causes me to know, and love, and enjoy God more.
- Anything else is idolatry
- Here’s why the way we celebrate thanksgiving is appropriate:
- The wonderful smells from a thanksgiving meal that fill a home are given to us by God so that we might know something of how wonderful He is.
- The delightful taste of the mouthwatering food given to us by God is so that we might know something of how delightful He is.
- You should not be thankful for your material blessings if they lead you away from Christ. They have become a curse to you.
- If your health causes you to search for joy outside of Jesus, and a sudden sickness refocuses you and causes you to be dependent on Him for your joy, then you ought to be thankful to God for afflicting you for His glory.
- Every blessing that God gives you is not so you will find joy in that blessing, but so that it will point you to the one who can truly give you eternal joy.
- Romans 2:4 tells us that “God’s kindness is meant to lead (us) to repentance.”
- Acts 17:27 – God intentionally puts people in specific times and places “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
- According to Romans 1, failure to see God’s as the ultimate source of joy and reason to give thanks is the consummation of rebellion and offense to God.
- Romans 1:19-21 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
- Sitting around a table and saying that we are thankful for turkey or football or family means absolutely nothing if our thanks is based on the joy that the blessing gives us and not the joy that we find in the blesser.
- If your foundations for giving thanks is based on finding your joy in gifts, and not finding your joy in the giver, you are guilty of idolatry.
Illustration: My greatest earthly blessing is my wife – I am thankful for her – Why?
- About three weeks ago, on Brittany’s due date with our second son I called 9-1-1 because she was experiencing stroke like symptoms
- We were rushed to the Emergency Room in an ambulance where they worked to diagnose what was going on, and their fear was the potential that at any moment there might be a blood clot in her brain that could be fatal
- I watched them wheel my wife into the room where they would perform a CT scan of her brain. And I stood outside the door and waited and I prayed.
- Just a few days before all this I had stood before a congregation and told them that the greatest tragedy that could happen in their life was not for them to get sick, or to lose their job, or to go to prison, or for a loved one to die, but that the greatest tragedy that could happen in their life would be for them to seek their joy in anything that was not God.
- As I waited and prayed, worst case scenarios of losing my wife raced through my head, and God brought this passage of Scripture, Romans 8, to my mind.
- For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. –Meaning: God has set me free, in Christ, from trying to find joy in anything that is not him, even the best things, like my wife.
- I was faced with this question: If my greatest earthly blessing—my wife—were taken from me, would I still give thanks to God? Would I still have a reason to be thankful?
- Psalm 106:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
- My wife will not endure forever. My children, my job, my health; all of it will fade and none of it can bring me true joy.
- My thankfulness to God is based on the fact that even if every thing is taken away from me, God has set me free to find my ultimate joy in Him, and His love endures forever.
- Our thankfulness to God is based on the fact that he has set us free to find our joy in Him instead of looking for it in all kinds of things that can never really give us true joy.
The New Covenant Instituted in Jesus’ Blood
- At Thanksgiving we sit around tables with a meal, and say what we are thankful for. This is a good practice. In fact, Jesus did this very thing, and he sets the ultimate example for us, of what to be thankful for.
- Jesus gathered around a feasting table with all of his disciples, and…
- Luke 22:17- “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
- To whom was Jesus giving thanks? And, why?
- Jesus was thanking God for doing—through him—what the law could not do; He was thanking God for setting his disciples free to love Him.
The Freedom that Christ Gives Us
- The freedom that Christ gives us is the freedom to find out satisfaction in him
- It is the freedom to love him from our hearts
- It is the freedom to find our highest happiness in him, and not follow all sorts of rules and regulations out of fear, but because his spirit is at work in us.
- God has done what the law could not do.
- The true reason to give thanks to God is for the freedom to love and enjoy Him.