Leonard Browning: Give thanks as God intended

As we should, this time of year we focus on being thankful.

I recently was challenged to look at our word Thanksgiving and the celebration thereof with a new focus. Within this word, the compound of thanks and giving, we associate and encourage things related to being thankful. Generally, we mean thanksgiving, reflected in our attitude.

My new focus is on the second part of the compound — giving. It has occurred to me that if we are truly thankful and want to express it, one of the best ways is through giving, not just verbalizing my gratitude but also expressing thanksgiving through my actions.

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves or gain God’s favor; the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ is a total act of grace — unmerited favor. Our role in the process of this salvation is only to believe and receive. While the Christian life is an experience of grace, the intended consequence of this reality is good works.

A close look at the life and ministry of Jesus Christ reveals a pattern in His message that no one is good enough — it’s not about being good, and no one is too bad — it’s not about how bad you have been. It’s about a right relationship with God, it’s about “who’s your daddy?”

Romans 8:15: "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" 8:16: "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God."

Galatians 4:6: "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

Abba literally means Daddy.

For those who felt they were superior in a religious sense through their good works, Jesus creatively and convincingly showed them their flaws. For many who felt like a lost cause because of their sinful condition, Jesus extended grace and mercy — love, acceptance and forgiveness.

Often, we get the cart and the horse in the wrong order. We tend to try to gain God’s favor through good works rather than doing good works because we have God’s favor through Jesus.

Religion is the act of trying to gain favor, standing or acceptance by God through our effort or good behavior. Christianity essentially is less about religion (rules, rituals and rote) and much more about relationship.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul puts it like this:

Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

For those who truly are trying to follow Christ, those who have accepted the reality that there is nothing they can do to gain God’s favor, those who have received the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ; there remains the responsibility to be God’s workmanship — His poema — God’s poem.

Each of us is a stanza in God’s poem as we do the good that God already has planned for us.

We shouldn’t do good hoping to gain God’s acceptance; rather, we do good because we are accepted by God through His son and His sacrifice for us.

This Thanksgiving season, this year and for the rest of our lives, the greatest demonstration of true thanksgiving is through our serving of one another. This is the intended consequence or natural result of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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