We’re getting a bit practical here, I hope. It is one thing to read and agree theologically that through faith in Christ we become slaves (douloi) of Christ Jesus, just as Paul identifies himself in Romans 1:1. But how do we come to experience that relationship with Christ in the way we are intended to experience it ourselves? How do we connect with this reality that is true whether we “feel” it or not? How do we bring truth and experience into spiritual and practical unison? That is our quest.
We started, in the post What, So What, Now What by taking from Paul’s greeting in Romans 1:7, the admonition to secure in our thinking, by faith, God’s revealed heart position toward us. We are “loved by God and called to be saints,” and we need to embrace that God’s declared, practiced, realized approach to those He calls to faith in Jesus Christ is love. Period. Let’s get our heads into the game and stop doubting that we are loved, stop acting as if we have the power to convince God to unlove us, and get on with living as those so loved by God that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. What more proof could we possibly need?
We gathered from the next phrase in Paul’s greeting in verse seven that we are ever needy and God is forever a ready and adequate provider. There are always spiritual blessings awaiting us and it behooves us to claim them. We have not arrived. We are not home yet. While we remain in the world, we will have need of spiritual blessings from God, of God, and we are at our best when we acknowledge our need and accept the provisions God offers. Will that require humility and the release of self-reliance? Yes. But it will be good for us; best for us, in fact. Scripture commands in love that we “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” No more keeping God at arms length until we’re so deep in a crisis we are finally convinced we can’t save ourselves. When we want to know what it means to be a doulos (slave) of Christ Jesus, we will come to rely on Him constantly, consistently, and passionately.
Here’s the next clue for how we can connect at a real, personal level with the work of God in our lives. There’s love. There’s humility. Now, there is thanksgiving. Paul writes of the Romans,
Romans 1:8 (ESV) First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you . . . .” Wow! Paul makes giving thanks to God a primary practice. He has not met these people face to face. He knows them only through the reports of others and through his prayers for them, but what he doesn’t know doesn’t stop him from thanking God for what he does know! If we would realize the full glory of being slaves of Christ Jesus, then let us learn to give thanks for what we know to be the true work of God, even if it exceeds our personal experience. Let us learn to see the hand of God at work in our lives and in the lives of others and be thankful that in the sovereign will and merciful providence of God He continues His good and wise work among us.
Let’s make a regular habit of thanksgiving. Of course, I don’t mean let’s fix a big turkey dinner every week. I mean let’s develop a mindset of careful examination and diligent consideration of the grace and mercy and presence and power of God in the situations and circumstances of life. I don’t think it is a “mean spirit” that prevents most of us from being genuinely thankful all the time. There are two conditions that probably hinder us the most. First, I think we just don’t see what we’re not looking for. Second, I think many people today want many things (some good and some not), yet they have not learned to be thankful yet for what they actually have.
When Paul gives thanks for the Romans, he highlights their faith. He doesn’t elevate their worldly goods or lack thereof. He doesn’t exalt their social station or lament their lack of status. He rejoices in what they have of greatest value: saving faith in Jesus Christ. Let me ask you, are you ever simply thankful for faith? Do you ever just thank God that He gave you what you needed to know Him, believe in Him, trust Him, follow Him, serve Him, enjoy Him? You didn’t come by that disposition naturally, you know. That you have any interest in God and the things of God is entirely the working of God in your life. Perhaps, from a practical standpoint, you have come to think that since faith is something you have to practice, to implement, that it is an effort on your part that derives from your own will. Maybe that’s why you don’t really give God thanks for personal faith, because you think, in practical terms, that faith is something you are giving God rather than something God is continually giving you?
Remember Ephesians 2:8-9,
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Faith is the gift of God. You possess it because He gives it to you. So, give thanks to God not only for faith but for all that comes with faith: salvation from sin and guilt and the fear of death; grace, mercy, justification; love, sanctification, hope; heaven and hupomone (patient endurance, spiritual stamina). Paul writes in the opening of Ephesians that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, so we already have a list of infinitely precious gifts for which to be thankful.
One Christmas, as our family got larger and we decided we would not attempt to buy gifts for everyone anymore but would draw names and focus our gift-giving on just one person, I drew my sister-in-law’s name. It had been a hard year for her and I felt compelled to make the Christmas gift event as special for her as I could. So I got a big box and wrapped it. Then I got two dozen other gifts, some more costly than others, some simply intriguing Dollar Store finds, and I wrapped them all individually, not duplicating the wrapping. Then I wrapped some of them in other boxes and wrapped those boxes. For all appearances, I gave you just one box, but she wound up opening dozens of boxes, each find leading others. Faith is like that. Once you begin giving thanks for it it will lead you to thankfulness for other things, and ultimately to thankfulness for Christ Himself!
So I offer you thanksgiving as the next clue for experiencing the reality of our relationship with Jesus as douloi. There are two more to go.