Use Thankfulness as a Weapon Against Sin

No one ever tells us that two of our children look like us. In fact, it would be rather strange if they did. Two of our five children do not share our genetics. We adopted them ten years ago from Uganda. People who look at our family can easily tell which of our kids were adopted.

Nonetheless, if you observed our family over time, you would notice a deep family resemblance among all of our children. After more than ten years as full members of the McCall family, our son and daughter from Uganda have taken on our family’s values, traditions, beliefs, customs, and priorities just like their siblings. How many Ugandan boys do you know who love Johnny Cash and the Atlanta Braves? How many Ugandan girls have you met whose favorite thing to do is play with her little white cousins from Kentucky?

Something similar happens when a person gets adopted into the family of God. Paul mentions adoption at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians (1:5), and then he details the miraculous transition that occurs when sinners go from being “children of wrath” to “alive together with Christ” (2:1-10). After being saved by grace through faith in Christ, the adopted child of God enters a new family, the church, and begins to learn the habits, customs, and values of that new family.

As new “beloved children,” we are now called to imitate God, our adoptive Father (5:1). In short, we are to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (4:17)—the ways of our old family—and are to now “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” (5:2). We have a new forever home where we will encounter eternal love and merciful provision. It doesn’t happen overnight, but by God’s grace, our lives will begin to resemble the family we’ve joined.

Paul specifically targets purity in Ephesians. God, our Father, intends to make us “holy and blameless” (1:4). Practically, this means that “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among [us]” (5:3). Because our God is pure and holy, we are to be pure and holy. Even our speech must reflect the righteous character of the God we serve (5:4). To continue in sexual immorality, impurity, and greed is to prove that we have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ (5:5).

These admonitions seem particularly relevant in light of recent news regarding the late Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. Investigations into his life and ministry have revealed credible allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse. As the church mourns and prays for those hurt by him, we must simultaneously reckon with the sad truth that such reports are hardly anomalies. We’ve seen this too many times.

These tragic reports ought to also serve as warnings. If Ravi Zacharias can fall, so can I and so can you. Temptation surrounds us. Paul does not only warn against adultery in Ephesians 5:3, he warns against “all impurity.” Just like Jesus, Paul understands that sexual sin occurs in the heart, long before it manifests itself in one’s actions. As Jesus taught us, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).

So how do we guard against such sin? How do we live according to the values of our new family in the midst of a culture that champions opposite values? How do we ensure that investigative reports aren’t needed after we are dead and gone? Paul’s answer may surprise you.

“But instead let there be thanksgiving” (5:4). Paul here turns to thankfulness as the antidote to sexual sin and greed. He weaponizes thanksgiving as a strategy to defeat the temptations that have destroyed so many lives and ruined so many reputations.

You may be wondering how thanksgiving is supposed to accomplish this. Think about it. Sexual sin and greed are birthed out of a worldview of lack. To covet what is not rightfully mine is to believe the lie that God has not given me enough. I am susceptible to temptation when I believe that I deserve more than I currently have.

Thanksgiving, however, arises from a worldview of fullness. It is to acknowledge the truth that God has given me everything I need in Christ and more. When I am thankful, my focus zeros in on God’s provision. Thankful people aren’t greedy people. Thankful people aren’t sexually immoral people. Thankful people understand that God has given me more than I could ever deserve. Thankfulness is an essential characteristic of God’s family.

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