Victorious Gratitude

Thanksgiving, Victory

I hope every one of us feels that we have a great deal to be thankful for in our lives.  We live in a great country and in a wonderful part of that country.  We have wonderful families and we have been blessed greatly.  But let’s be honest, does the word “victory” come to your mind as you think about being thankful?  Think about these facts,

We are on the brink of war with Iraq

The hunt for Osama bin Laden continues

The economy is uncertain with businesses closing and jobs disappearing quickly

Stock market investments have become losses rather than gains

Christians are being attacked for their lack of “toleration” (Christian beliefs are no longer “tolerated” by many of those who cry for tolerance)

The State of Illinois is in a budget crunch that will undoubtedly mean less money for schools and local needs rather than more.

The moral and ethical climate in which we live seems to erode with every passing day.

We have much to be thankful for but “victory” does not seem to be one of our reasons for gratitude.  Yet, as we are going to see this morning, victory should be one of our chief reasons for gratitude during this Thanksgiving season.

I take you this morning to a couple of verses I’m sure you have heard many times.  They are part of the great “resurrection chapter”; 1 Corinthians 15.  In this chapter Paul talks about the resurrection of Jesus and what it means to you and me.  It’s the two verses at the end of this lengthy discourse that interests me this morning.

57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

I’m intrigued by these words.  In a time when defeat seems all around us, the apostle Paul reminds us that we should be grateful for the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ.  This morning we look briefly at where that victory resides.

Before we look at the nature of our victory however, I must give an important reminder.  The victories of which we speak are because of the work of Christ and not because of our efforts or merit.  The blessings and victory we talk about this morning are those that only a Christian can claim.  They are ours because of what Christ has done on our behalf.

VICTORY OVER DEATH

In the context of 1 Corinthians 15 Paul argues that we have an assurance of eternal life because of the resurrection of Jesus.  Because He lives, we too can live.  Because Christ paid the penalty for our sin we no longer have to face God’s wrath.  Perhaps this simply sounds like mumbo jumbo to you.  But it is truth of the most profound nature.

How many people answer the simple question, “When you die, will you go to Heaven?” with the words, “I hope so.”?  Some people tell you that they believe they are going to Heaven because they have tried to live a good life.  But, the haunting question remains, “Who defines, “good” and do I measure up?”

The Bible teaches us that God defines good and evil. He is the judge and sets the standard.  His stand is simple: we are to obey, honor and respect Him in everything that we do.  The Bible also tells us without any hesitation that we do NOT measure up.  We fall short and as a result, in our own strength we are in deep trouble.  We are like a student who’s grades are so bad that even if we got a perfect score on the final exam we couldn’t pass.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true.  We try to be good people but a good portion of our lives is spent without any regard to God at all.  We are trying to build a kingdom to ourselves.  We want to advance our cause, our wants, and our desires.  By God’s standard, this is a failing grade.

This is why the gospel message is so staggering, “God loved the world and gave us”. . . He sent us His son, Jesus.  He sent Him to bear our penalty, to endure our punishment, to face the wrath that we deserved.  He sent Jesus to die in our place.  Why?  So that whoever would believe in, trust in, rely on, this Savior, would not perish but would have everlasting life.

Instead of getting what we deserve, we are given eternal life.  Those who trust in Christ experience victory over the grave.  Death loses its sting.  Dying is no longer the end; it is simply a transfer point.

Now I know that you know these things.  But do you understand what these truths mean?

1.  It means through faith in Christ I no longer have to fret about the seeming meaninglessness of life.  We are living now to live again.

2.  I no longer have to wonder about God.  He is revealed to me in Jesus.

3.  I no longer have to wonder how God feels about me . . . I have seen His love at the cross.

4.  I don’t have to carry the burden of guilt, regret and remorse for the past.  Though I will try to make amends where possible, I have been remarkably forgiven.  The weight has been taken off of my back and I can live with a new sense of freedom and life.

5.  I don’t have to worry about death.  Though I may not be eager to face this transition point in life (it is different and that makes it an anxious time) when that time comes I can rejoice that I stand not in my own merit, but I stand in His victory and I do so by His grace.  Heaven is a certainty for the one who trusts Jesus.

If you grasp what I’m saying . . . .gratitude will not only be something you have no trouble feeling . . . it will be something that is your constant companion in life.

VICTORY OVER DEFEATED LIVES

But the Bible also talks about another victory.  In 1 John 5:4 we read,

“for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4, NIV)

Paul tells us,

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV)

These are great verses but they seem somewhat detached from our experience don’t they?  We are better able to identify with Paul when he said, “the good that I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want to do, that I do.”

We know we have an addiction to sin.   We know we struggle.  But the Bible tells us that we can know this victory.  The Bible tells us that we will overcome.  And we will overcome not just when we get to Heaven . . . we can know God’s transforming and liberating power in lives right now!  He has given us His Holy Spirit . . . He has infused us with His power.

It could be that you may feel completely hopeless today.  You have succumbed the same sin over and over again.  You feel like there is no way out from the things that enslave you.  But you are wrong.  Jesus not only understands our weakness because He was tempted in every way that we have been . . . He also understands how to defeat those temptations.  He was tempted but He did not give in.  He has overcome and is willing to help us overcome as well.

Do you feel you can’t get a handle on the hatred that fills your heart? God can teach you how to forgive and how to love.

Do you feel you cannot resist the lust that stokes the fires of passion in you?  Jesus can help you see people as people and not just objects to satisfy our desires.

Do you find yourself filled with anxiety about every turn along life’s way?  You can know the peace that surpasses comprehension.

Do you find yourself in the grip of some addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating)?  You can be set free from these things by the power of God’s Spirit.

Are you filled with jealousy?  God can teach you to trust.

Are you a person who cuts others down with your words?  God can teach you to be kind and tender hearted.

Whatever the problem . . . God has made victory available.  Nothing is hopeless . . . NOTHING.  Jesus has the power, and He has made it available to us.  I suspect most us feel that we have such a long way to go.  We do.  But I hope that you can see progress.  I hope this Thanksgiving you can look back to a year ago and see that God is at work in your life.

It’s just like a war.  You don’t win the war all at once.  You win the war one hill at a time.  We aren’t going to wake up one morning and be perfect (unless you died in your sleep).  But we should be making progress.  Some days we may even lose some ground . . . but we will keep moving forward.  He has promised to transform us.

VICTORY OVER MEANINGLESSNESS

Jump back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 where we read these words, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  It’s the last 12 words that thrill my soul, “you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

I spend a great deal of time with people who are dying (obviously we are all dying).  I visit with many who know that they are reaching the end of their journey.  Basically there seems to be three kinds of people.

First, there are those who reach the end of their life and lose all sense of fight.  They become depressed.  They are reaching the end of life and ask, “Is this all there is?”  They believe that death is the end.  When we die, there is no more.  And these people are terribly disappointed.  They look at life and realize that it is merely a treadmill going nowhere.  It is meaningless.

Second, there are those who believe that we only have this life so they want to “eat, drink and be merry”.  They indulge fully and at the end of life they will resist death until the very last moment.  Deep down, they believe life is meaningless like the first group of people.  But instead of resignation, these people choose rebellion.

Do you remember the book of Ecclesiastes? In this book Solomon looks for meaning in life.  He seeks meaning through riches, power, pleasure, knowledge and he finds it all meaningless.  That’s what life is when you have no relationship with God.  It is a mad dash . . . . to nowhere.

The third group of people however see the situation differently.  They believe there is life beyond the grave.  They live their lives with a greater purpose in life.  They see life as filled with meaning.  These people are called Christians.  A Christian believes that this life is only the title page to the real story of life.  They believe they are eternal beings who are loved by a God who created the world, and each of us for a purpose.  Life is not meaningless, life is packed with significance.  Our choices have eternal consequences.  These people reach the end of their lives and are filled with hope and peace.  Death is not the end . . . it is a doorway to the beginning.

CONCLUSIONS

There several conclusions I can draw on this Thanksgiving Sunday.  First, we have every reason to give thanks.  We are forgiven, we have been granted eternal life through Christ, we have been given the power to overcome the things that haunt our lives and we have found meaning and significance in our living.  Is there any greater blessing in life?

Second, Paul tells us we should “stand firm” and let “nothing move us”.  Not only does this mean that we should stand firm against the devil, false teachers and corrupt worldviews of our society.  It also means that we need to stand firm when we are attacked by,

  • Ridicule
  • Discouragement
  • Job Stress
  • Health Concerns
  • A change of plans
  • Depression

In the midst of these tough times and in the face of these powerful attackers we must remember whom we belong to.  We must keep focused on the victory that is ours in Christ.

Finally, Paul tells us to “abound in the work of the Lord.”  In other words invest your time, energy, resources, enthusiasm in something of eternal significance.  Devote yourselves to the things that last.

“Abounding in the work of the Lord” can mean many things.  Certainly it involves worship and service through the church.  But it includes other things as well.  We abound in the work of the Lord when we,

Give of ourselves in a ministry of compassion

Tell others about the gospel when it would be easier to keep quiet

Give a sacrificial gift to a ministry or to meet a need

Remember the needs of others before the Father in prayer

Give ourselves to the study of God’s Word

Transport someone to an appointment

Include the person who is alone

Sit with the one who grieves

We should be thankful because we have been granted new life.  We have been given the assurance of Heaven through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.  We are empowered and used by His Spirit to lead others to His love.  In a world of superficiality we are involved in something real.  In a short-sighted world we have an eternal perspective.  It a lost and dying world, we have blessed with eternal life and a joy for living that the world cannot duplicate.  Let us not live beneath the privilege that is ours.

We should be grateful for the material things we have been given.  We should be grateful for our families, for our country and our community, for the storms God has brought us through, and the wonderful answers to prayer we have seen.  We should be grateful for our church and the unique fellowship we have known.  It’s good, it’s right, and it’s appropriate to be grateful for all these things.  But if our gratitude stops here, we have neglected to give thanks for the greatest blessing of all . . . the victory that is ours.

We have been blessed with everlasting life, spiritual power, and an eternal purpose.  We have what the world longs to find. We have the message the world is dying to hear. And we have these blessings not because of our efforts, our goodness, intelligence or personality.  We have these things because of the unmerited mercy and grace of God that is given to us through Jesus.

Thanks be to God . . . who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ!

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Scripture:

1 Corinthians 15:57-58