This Thursday we will most likely be celebrating Thanksgiving with family or friends – or both. There are many takes on this holiday. Some come from the perspective of the Pilgrims who came to North America, while others speak of blessings that we have in our lives. For many years I was part of a tradition where after the Thanksgiving meal we would go around the table and say something we were thankful for in our lives. What I endeavor to do today is to look at Thanksgiving from an Evangelical Perspective, i.e. from the perspective of the Gospel.
Let’s begin with a look at where we are first. What I mean by this is the fact that according to the Scriptures we live in a fallen, Genesis three world. Our very first relatives, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God and rebel. That plunged the world into sin and the subsequent mess caused by death’s unwelcome entrance into God’s creation. If that is not enough, there is also the fact of spiritual death that happened as well. The Bible is clear that we all are dead in trespasses and sins. Here is the stark reality of where every single human being stands before God. We are sinful, spiritually dead, and seriously in danger when we die and stand before God on the day of judgment.
I realize at this point, if you are still with me, that you may be thinking, “THIS is a Thanksgiving article?” It is, but first we have to grasp why we should be thankful. Knowing the truth, even when it is difficult truth to swallow, is key to truly being thankful.
“But God,” is where Paul takes us after learning the difficult truth of our state before God prior to the Gospel. Ephesians 2:4-5 reminds us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” In a moment of glorious, blindingly brilliant mercy and love, grace steps into our lives. In that wonderful moment God makes someone who is dead in sin, alive in Christ. Let this be a Thanksgiving passage for all of us. Let’s look at what we have to be thankful for, regardless of our current circumstances.
God does this, “being rich in mercy.” Let’s consider that for a moment. God is rich in, “not giving us what we truly deserve.” Consider this past year and take a moment to remind yourself how often you’ve sinned. Even more consider, using the 10 commandments, how much you had sinned prior to His grace saved you. I’ve done this and the 10 commandments alone have yielded knowledge of 10’s of thousands of sins, committed in my actions, thoughts, and attitudes. Yet the reality is that God did not ever break into my life and truly give me what my sins deserved. This “rich in mercy” God lavished the wealth of His forbearance and kindness on me year after year before I was saved, and He continues to pour it out on me even after I’ve been saved. Oh, how thankful I am for the mercy of God!
God also does this, “because of His great love with which He loved us.” God loves you. He loved you before you ever gave a thought of loving Him. He loved and loves you even when you do not love Him. And let us be reminded that love is a selfless action where one chooses to give to another, regardless of whether they ever get anything back. Love is giving what is truly the best to the one loved. Romans 5:8 reminds us that, “. . . God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When did Jesus die? He died physically outside Jerusalem around year 33 AD, but we should remember that He was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God’s love has been an eternal reality, something we can be confident of beyond the reach of time itself. This love was never dependent on us doing something to deserve it. Contrary to that, His love was given in spite of what we have done. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God’s love is a “great” love. God is the One who has “mega-loved” us. The word for love is the Greek word, “megas” from which we get our term, mega. So, remember this Thanksgiving, you’ve been mega-loved this past year. More than this, there has never been any moment in history, and even outside of history where you were not “mega-loved” by God. We should remind ourselves of this as we gather with loved ones this year at Thanksgiving. Go ahead and add it to your prayer around the table. “Thank you, God, for mega-loving us this year, just like you have mega-loved us from before time began, and, just like You will mega-love us forever and ever!
God loved us, “even when we were dead in our transgressions.” Here is another word, “transgressions.” What does it mean? The word means to do something wrong, to willfully disobey someone, and it carries the reality of guilt and consequence. Here is where Thanksgiving “gospel-style” gets REAL! We were sinners who deserved punishment – period. We chose to disobey because we wanted our own way instead of God’s way. This has led to guilt. There was not going to be a plea deal. There was not going to be a technicality. There was not even going to be a pardon from the governor or the president. We were going to be punished, eternally. This is where I am so thankful that this passage began with the phrase, “But God.” This act of mercy. This act of mega-love. This happened when I was a guilty sinner who deserved punishment in the most “slam-dunk” case of all history. It is the same for all of us. To understand where this put us, we also need to understand that this word is the opposite of the word “justify,” which means to declare that someone is righteous or right. We were not right with God, and because of our transgressions, there was no way that we could ever be declared righteous on the basis of our own works or supposed goodness. To say we were doomed is the understatement of all eternity. But . . . even when we were in that state before God, He made us alive together with Christ – by grace we have been saved.
I know it is terrible English – but it is wonderful gospel to say – this is where the Gospel gets even “REAL-ER!” With no hope of ever being declared righteous before God – and – knowing that such a fate means we would be damned immediately on the last day – God chose instead to make us alive together with Christ! That meant that the sin price would have to be paid by another. That meant that we would have to be declared righteous with someone else’s righteousness. And . . . that is exactly what God did. Here is a glorious truth for which we need to be thankful every day of our lives. Even in that horrific state God chose to make us alive, to give us His grace, and to declare us righteous. He provided for this by having Jesus take up our sin, pay the full price for it, and die. He then resurrected Him from the dead. Now, we can be declared righteous, not with our own righteousness, but with one God gives us. He gives us a righteousness by grace through faith, and it will stand forever before Him.
I know that this is a theological article. I also know that our minds will be filled with many messages over the next several days. Thanksgiving preparations, Macy’s Day Parade, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, college football, pro football, basketball tournaments, kids’ presentations, and a host of other things will vie for our attention. But I want to encourage you to take some time and walk through an “evangelical perspective of Thanksgiving.” Do it personally and do it with your family and friends. There are many smaller things for which we should be thankful. We should consider our blessings. But what greater blessing is there than being a recipient of mercy, mega-love, life, and grace? I’ll finish the article with a simple quote from the apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Happy Thanksgiving precious saints of God!