Defeating Sin Through Thankfulness

ThankfulnessResize“Radically and basically, all sin is simply ingratitude.” I don’t know how accurate Karl Barth was with that statement, but over the years I have certainly seen a relationship between an ungrateful heart and a sinful lifestyle. Sin breeds in selfishness and self-focus. Thankfulness thrives as we look beyond ourselves, our demands, and our “rights.” One of the greatest ways, then, to defeat sin is through expressing thankfulness.

Heath Lambert helpfully brought this reality to my attention in his recent book Finally Free. Lambert is addressing specifically the sin of lust, he focuses in on Ephesians 5:3-4 and Paul’s contrast of impurity and thankfulness present there. In the passage we read:

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out-of-place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Put off impurity, in all its forms, and instead put on thanksgiving. The contrast is important. Lambert notes:

Paul wants Christians to fight for thanksgiving in their struggle for purity because a greedy heart is at the root of sexual immorality and impurity. The only time people are immoral and impure is when they are greedy for things that are immoral and impure. Take away the greedy heart that desires immorality, and those evil actions will also go away. Paul sees something unique about gratitude that has the power to destroy the greedy lust gripping the heart. We can better understand the connection between greed and gratitude when we grasp their opposite natures. (125)

As thankfulness is the opposite of greed, so focusing on the one naturally helps interrupt the other’s influence in our lives. I love how Lambert demonstrates the contrast between these two concepts. He writes:

Thankfulness is the opposite of lust because the thankful heart has stopped prowling around for everything it doesn’t have and is overwhelmed with appreciation for all the good things it already possesses. The logic of lust requires you to be discontent with what you have and pay attention to all the things you don’t have. The logic of thankfulness requires you to focus on what you have already received and to overcome with thanks. Gratitude is the opposite of greed. (126)

And what is true here of the contrast between lust and thankfulness is true of the contrast between other sins and thankfulness.

Think about worry. What does worry say? Worry says, “I need…” I need more money. I need security. I need for this situation to work out this way. I need to know what will happen tomorrow. I need to know my children will be safe. Worry needs more than God is giving at the present moment. Worry is dissatisfied with what God is doing, what God has said, with what God has promised. It needs more, more certainty, more immediacy, more satisfaction. Thankfulness robs worry of its greediness. It turns it on its head and points us to all that God has given us and reassures us of God’s continued care and provision (Rom. 8:32).

Think about anger. Anger says I didn’t get what I wanted; therefore I am going to respond with bitterness and rage. Sinful anger wells us from a heart that has warring passions. James says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2a). Anger springs from a discontent heart. Thankfulness reminds us that all we have we have received from God, and none of it we deserve. We ought to be thankful for the myriads of blessings that come from His hands. Thankfulness will rob anger of its power. A thankful heart has no room to breed bitterness.

We can defeat sin through thankfulness. I have found this effective not only in my own life but in the lives of my counselees too. I will often challenge people to make lists of all the things they have to be thankful for. Try it yourself. Set a timer for three minutes and write for the entire length of time everything you can think of for which you should be thankful to the Lord. You will find your list is rather long and contains everything from the supremely important matters of life to the little details. I can be thankful for everything from breath in my lungs and salvation for my soul, to the sweet joy of good coffee. There’s much to be thankful for. In fact, Paul reminds the Corinthians that everything they have has come from God. You will find that the opportunity to express thankfulness abounds all around you (1 Cor. 4:7). As you strive to express thankfulness consistently, you will find that your appetite for sin decreases. We can defeat sin through thankfulness.

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