How to use thankfulness to fight sin
Today is Thanksgiving Day. And what a wonderful day it is. The holiday stirs up wonderful thoughts of turkey, pumpkin pie, family gatherings, football, The Macy’s Day parade, pilgrims and — sometimes — even thankfulness. If we’re honest, we might consider that last item on the list less frequently than we want. Thanksgiving, like Christmas, is prone to having its essential meaning swallowed up in the harried busyness of all that we do on that wonderful day. It is important for us to remember that Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Paul, in Colossians 3:15-17 helps us with that:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Thanksgiving in Colossians
Thankfulness is a theme in the book of Colossians. Each of the book’s four chapters makes at least one reference to it (1:3-5; 2:6-7; 3:15-17; 4:2). Now, in Colossians three, Paul gives us three verses filled with three different references to thanksgiving. As the peace of Christ rules in our hearts we are to be thankful. As the Word of Christ dwells in us and informs our teaching and our singing we are to be thankful. Then Paul gives the blanket statement — whatever we do, we must do it all in a spirit of giving thanks to God the Father. Thankfulness is a big deal for Paul.
If you want to see how significant the theme is, you must understand the importance of what is happening in Colossians three. Paul has spent the first two chapters of Colossians instructing us in the doctrine of who Christ is and what he has done. In Colossians three he moves to teach us the ethical implications of this reality in our life. He is instructing us in how to change. In Colossians three he tells us to accomplish this in two ways.
Thanksgiving and change
First, we change by putting certain things away, or by putting sinful behaviors to death (Col. 3:5, 8). Things like sexual immorality, lying, slander and obscene talk must be put off and killed. As those who have been raised with Christ (Col. 3:1) we are given the power of Christ to put off sinful behavior. Second, we change by putting on certain behaviors (Col 3:12). The Christian life is not merely about quitting sinful behaviors but beginning righteous behaviors like being compassionate, kind and forgiving. As those whose life is hidden with Christ (Col. 3:3), we have the resources of Jesus himself to behave in a way that honors Jesus.
Colossians 3:15-17 is the end of this section on the new ways that believers are to behave in Christ and, as such, concludes Paul’s section on the put off and put on. It’s interesting that when Paul was looking for a killer ending to this section, he chose to go out with more references to thankfulness than anything else he had mentioned. I take it that if we are interested in changing in a way that honors Christ we need to learn to be thankful.
Thanksgiving and sin
In fact, thankfulness is the opposite of every sin you will ever commit. Think about it. The logic of sin is a greedy, obsessive lust for things that we want and do not have. You commit acts of sexual immorality because you want a sexual partner that God has not given you. You get sinfully angry because there is something you wanted that someone denied you and you lost your temper. Sinful sadness is another way to respond to being denied something you wanted. Worry is driven by the fretful plotting to get — or to keep — whatever it is you want.
I want, I want, I want. The logic of sin is driven by wanton lust. I must have that one thing I don’t have. When I don’t get it I get worried, angry, sad or something else. If we are going to fight sin and be profoundly different then we must do something to undercut our sinful lust to have every last thing we want.
This is where thankfulness comes in. Thankfulness destroys sin because, instead of looking around for what it does not have, thankfulness looks around and is content with everything it possesses. If sin is informed by lust, thankfulness is informed by trust. Sinful lust panics and says, “There is something good that I won’t get! I must have that thing! My life won’t be complete without that thing!” And then disorder and vile practices ensue. Thankful faith trusts and says, “God loves me. He would never withhold good things from me. Everything I have right now is everything I need right now. Whatever is not mine is not necessary.”
Thanksgiving and righteousness
If, for the rest of your life, you were only and always thankful, you would never sin again. There would be no need. You will sin again, though. When you do, a lack of gratitude will be at the heart of your turn to sinful pleasures.
This means that Thanksgiving Day gives us a wonderful opportunity to remember one of the main tools God has given us, in Christ, to defeat sin. You need to grow in the grace of gratitude. So have a feast — eat two helpings of turkey and a huge piece of pumpkin pie. Hang out with your family and pass out watching football. Just remember through it all to be thankful from the bottom of your heart for all that Christ is and all that he has done. When you do that, you’ll be doing more than having a wonderful holiday. You’ll also be pulling sin up by the roots.
Heath Lambert serves as assistant professor of biblical counseling as well as the department coordinator of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. In addition Dr. Lambert serves as Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He has authored several books including Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Zondervan), The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Crossway), and the editor (with Stuart Scott) of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (B&H). You can connect with Dr. Lambert on Twitter and Facebook.