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The Christian’s Thankful Heart (Col. 1:12-14)

It is like passing through heaven’s gate to hear the blessings for which we are to ask our Father. Each blessing is like a diamond of such splendor that it is difficult to move forward to the next. Each of our Savior’s graces is united to the others, depends upon the others, grows in luster as the one before is better understood. This side of heaven, we cannot take it all in, or see the glory of the whole for the glory of the parts or understand the glory of the parts because we see but dimly the whole splendor of his grace and love. But let us keep walking through the gate, higher up and further in, as has been said by others. The Spirit has been showing us the way that we walk worthy of our Lord. He has called us to a fruitful life in the growing knowledge of God. He has pointed us to God’s strength, for these are not blessings we obtain by our strength and volition but by the strength of God in us through Christ (Eph. 1:3,19 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 2:20). Our Father strengthens us so that we can endure life’s hardships patiently without becoming angry or discouraged. He strengthens us so that we rejoice in our trials and hardships, for in our weakness, our fellowship with him is sweeter and our dependence upon him firmer. I hope we can see by these truths that our whole faith is one colossal wonder – from God’s choosing us in Christ before the world began, to the wonder of his love outpoured at Calvary, to his ongoing work in each of us as we strive to please our Lord in all things. Our great God and Savior has done great things for us, and we must give him thanks.

Thankfulness is bound to joy. Despite many hardships and persecutions, the early believers were known for their joy (Acts 5:41; 8:8,39; 13:52; 15:3). Joy is fueled by thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a heart touched and humbled by the Lord’s grace to us. As we remember how we are forgiven and loved, accepted in the beloved, that “when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” conviction of unworthiness deepens thankfulness, and thus joy. Modern men are not thankful. They have believed Satan’s lie that they are unfallen and little gods walking the earth. Their joys and loves are all skewed toward sin and self. Even believers forget what Christ has done for them and all the reasons they have to be thankful, and thus lose their joy in the garbage dump of self-obsession or consumerism. How can we be truly thankful in these times? Remember the grace of God that sent his Son to be our substitute and bear our curse. Think often upon the Son of God who plunged into the pit of hell to rescue us from sin. Honestly lament our sinfulness and how we have received God’s grace in vain, yet he has not put us away in wrath but recovered us again and again. These are the graces that melt granite hearts with thanksgiving. Since we cannot please the Lord Jesus or walk worthy of him without a thankful heart, this is not to make too much of a thankful, grateful spirit. The grave danger is to make too little of thankfulness. The grace and love poured out at Calvary kindles a fire of thanksgiving in the believing heart.

For the Father’s Gracious Bestowal of Fitness (v. 12)

He Has Made Us Fit for Heaven

The Spirit would have us pause here at the threshold of thanksgiving before moving into the body of the letter. He gives us three reasons for thankfulness. The apostle is still praying, for the line between theology and doxology, doctrine and praise, is very thin, if it exists at all. The first grace he mentions is that the Father has made us fit for heaven. This one truth has already generated two Reformations in the history of the church to point – under Augustine and then under Luther and Calvin. In the first Reformation in the times of Augustine, the gospel had been obscured by Pelagius and his many followers. He denied man’s fall and sinfulness. Therefore, he killed thanksgiving and grace with the knife of pride and human worth. Augustine came forward armed with 1 Corinthians 4:7 and Paul’s letter to the Romans: “What do we have, that we have not received? And if we have received it, why do we boast, as if we had not received it?” Received what? God’s grace gains heaven for us, not our merit. God’s work, not ours, qualifies us for heaven.

The fallen heart wants credit, some part in obtaining heaven, some work to do. And thus, over the centuries, the gospel was buried under a host of hellish works of penance, so that God’s grace was almost completely obscured by Satan and thanksgiving was killed again, or almost. There was no singing, little joy in Christ, and less understanding of his person and work. It required the rediscovery of “the just shall live by faith” to rescue sinners from the beast of Roman Catholicism. Why faith? God saves us. We do not save ourselves. We do not merit the merit of Christ by our works. We can do nothing to make ourselves fit or worthy or qualified to go to heaven. Hear this clearly. There is nothing you or I can do to gain heaven. There is nothing you can say to God from your works or experiences when you stand before him that will move him to allow you to enter. Even our faith does not save us. It is too puny and is often so marked by worldly desires that if judged by its own quality and worth, the gate of heaven would clang in our face. No, we are not fit for heaven by anything we think, do, or feel. God himself, our blessed Father, by the work of Jesus Christ, has made us fit for heaven.

He Has Made Us Fit by His Grace

Thus, the first reason we are to give thanks is that God our Father has “made us fit.” The word means to “make sufficient.” This is a qualification we do not earn and to which we do not contribute. His fitting or qualifying is his work of redemption that he does through his Son. His fitting us for heaven is a once-for-all qualifying that made the thief on the cross worthy for heaven while he hung next to our Savior. It is a bestowal of fitness, a gift of righteousness, the giving of all the worth we need to be received into heaven. This fitting is the finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary imputed to us. He was condemned in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. He shed his blood and voluntarily laid down his life to be the propitiation or satisfaction for our sins. Raised from the dead, he now intercedes from heaven to apply his finished work to each of his sheep so that none of them is lost. However holy we may become in life by the renewing work of the Spirit, or however much we may struggle with besetting sins, in Jesus Christ we remain forever fitted or qualified for heaven. Our inheritance is absolutely secure. When we look away from ourselves – our own works and worth – and cast ourselves upon Jesus Christ, we are qualified. God qualifies us. He makes us worthy for heaven.

There is an initial blessing that we should mention at this point – assurance of salvation. Do I have to be assured I am saved to go to heaven? No, for it is not my assurance that saves me, but Christ. However, no believer wants to live without assurance of salvation. How do we get assurance? This line is a good place to start. Assurance is not a second blessing or deeper religious feeling. Assurance is the combination of clear views of what God has done for us in Christ and resting and receiving upon Christ. What has God our Father done for us? He has made us fit. He has taken away our sins, given us righteousness, cleansed our filth, and declared us forgiven. He has done this. Here, then, is our assurance of salvation – not more experiences, yet another baptism or two, mission trips, or shiny, happy lives. Assurance is what God has done for us. He has done it by his Son. Receive and rest upon his Son for salvation. Believe that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator of salvation and that you are safe in him. Commit yourself to him. This is your assurance. Jesus Christ is your assurance. He is the Beloved sent by the Father to make you qualified for heaven.

He Qualifies Us to Partake of an Inheritance

This phrase “partakers of the inheritance” is worthy of our careful consideration. In making us fit for heaven, this includes our adoption to be his children. This adoption, as Paul teaches elsewhere, is not something we earn or work ourselves into over time. It is a free gift. He “predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). He ordained that we would be his children and chose us in Christ to that end. Our adoption is an immediate bestowal of grace that makes us part of God’s family, with a right to all the privileges and blessings of having him for our Father. Adoption is inseparable from the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness within us that we are God’s children (Gal. 4:5-6). And with our adoption comes an inheritance. It is in Christ that the inheritance is ours (Eph. 1:11). An inheritance has a legal claim and right attached to it. It is not based upon worth but birth. In our case, our inheritance is not secured by our works but by our new birth and adoption, which are by God’s grace. As for the inheritance itself, it is in heaven. It is God himself, which is the reason that the Holy Spirit is given to us as an “earnest” or “down-payment” of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14). Why is the Holy Spirit God’s earnest money for “the redemption of the purchased possession?” Because God is our inheritance, our portion, and reward. As he once said about the Levites in Deuteronomy 10:9: “Wherefore Levi has no part or inheritance with his brethren: the Lord is his inheritance.” All believers now stand in this same position – the Lord is our inheritance.

This is revealed to us in the present context almost offhand, but it is critical for our right praying and right understanding of the gospel. Heaven is not something we earn. God’s favor is not something we earn. It is true that we are in a relationship with him by faith through Christ, and our sinfulness brings disruption to our enjoyment of God’s grace. Our sins, however, do not make us lose our inheritance or our adoption. God does not dangle our inheritance before us, constantly threaten to take it away if we displease him or leave us in doubt whether or not there is an inheritance. This often occurs in human families, and the manipulation is maddening for those giving the inheritance and those hoping to receive one. Our heavenly Father is unlike this in every way. He wants us to know that a great reward is coming – a new heaven and earth, sinless, conscious, perfected, incorruptible existence with saints and angels, no more tears or death, body and soul unified and fully functioning, unbreakable inner peace with God himself, and above all life in his presence “which is fullness of joy.” We must think often of our secured inheritance for which we are made fit or qualified by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Heavenly mindedness breeds thankfulness, which feeds joy and peace. And since our inheritance makes us thankful, it also feeds joyful obedience, humility, peace in difficult earthly circumstances, and hope.

Sadly, we think little of these incredible blessings. It is as if were already sitting in heaven but refused to look up and see the glories around us. Yes, there is much to press us down, but would our troubles discourage us as much as they do if we remembered our inheritance? You, believer, have a legal, sworn, unbreakable right to God himself, to heaven with all its joys and pleasures. You are invited to set your heart upon these blessings as already yours by legal right of adoption and the purchase of Christ’s blood. These blessings will flood our hearts with thankfulness. And this thankfulness gives glory to God and helps us walk worthy of our Savior and please him. He loves it very much when we give him the credit he deserves – his making us fit for heaven by his redeeming work and his giving us a sonship that is like his. Where is your inheritance, child of God, your highest desires? On earth? It is no wonder that we are so obsessed with our earthly lives or unsettled by the doings of wicked men. We forget that this is not our inheritance, that our Savior’s kingdom is not of this world, that it is not seen in human kingdoms and crusades but within us, in thankfulness, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. A thankful, rejoicing Christian does more true good in this world in an hour than any human government does by its multitude of bureaucrats and laws and wars and money-printing.

He Makes Us Fit with the Saints in Light

It is easy to read over the little phrase “of the saints in light,” but it binds up the whole idea and makes it a little more concrete. Have you wondered what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are doing, or the many unnamed saints who with their fathers “rejoiced to see Christ’s day” by faith? Or the millions upon millions who have now heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, believed upon his name, and have entered his glory and kingdom? They are now light dwellers. They are done with these shadow lands of sin, discouragement, and death. They are done with the lies of wicked men, their thieving and manipulations and conspiracies against God and his Christ. They are done with Satan, having overcome him by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony.” They served the Lord in their generation and are now at rest with the saints in light. God’s holy ones – made fit for heaven not by their works but by Christ’s. Now in light – around the throne of the glorious God who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see – but they see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. We are partakers with these saints in light already, by faith in Christ. Our earthly course is not yet finished, but we will walk with them in white, worthy by Christ, singing worthy is the Lamb that was slain. Still his cross is celebrated there, and we celebrate it now as our great title deed to our inheritance with them. Think upon your soon going there. Some of you are young, but in just a few hours you will be with them. Some of you are old, and in a few moments you will join them. Think on this and give thanks. Let God’s grace in this inheritance lighten your heart, give you courage to endure, love for your enemies, boldness to bear witness to Christ’s cross, and separation from the world of sin and darkness.

He Makes Us Fit So that We Will Walk Worthy

Let us now circle back to the beginning of this prayer – that we may walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing (v. 10). We love our Lord and stand in awe of his grace. Our Father’s mercy and generosity is overwhelming. What is our response to be? To walk worthy of such a gift and such a calling (Eph. 4:1). Such walking depends upon a clear understanding that we are already fitted for heaven through Jesus Christ. There is no worthy walking unless it is upon the foundation of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Once we understand that he “paid it all,” purchased heaven for us, obeyed fully so that we have all the righteousness God requires, suffered sufficiently so that there is no condemnation hanging over our heads, and has brought us near to God by his intercession, then we understand grace and can begin walking worthy – not to earn grace but to respond to grace with thankful, amazed hearts. All legitimate Christian living is an offering of thanksgiving to the Lord for his mercy (Rom. 12:1). The thought of paying Christ back is embarrassing in the extreme to the true believer. How can I give anything worthy to the One who suffered hell for me? The idea that we can merit his merit by our works is a denial of the gospel and extremely distasteful to the heart renewed by God’s grace. Instead, thankful for what the Lord has done for us, we pursue holiness not from guilty fear or absurd efforts to atone for our sins but to praise and please our Lord who has done such wondrous works of grace for us. Gratitude is thus the spark that ignites holiness and keeps it burning.

We must remain thankful. Specifically, we must give thanks unto the Father. God is not the cosmic “big guy” upstairs. This kind of thinking will never produce thankfulness. The God who made all things and who saved us from our sins by his beloved Son is our Father. Like Abraham, he lifted the knife to slay his Son for sinners. This time, there was no ram in the thicket. Jesus Christ his Son was the Lamb of God. By the obedience of Jesus Christ unto death on the cross, he has made us fit for heaven. The Father has done this for us. The Father has loved us like this. The Father has showed us this amazing grace. If you want to be thankful, you must set aside time each day and throughout the day to remember how much your Father in heaven loves you. Preach the gospel of grace to yourself throughout the day. Pray daily for a heart that is thankful for mercy. When you sin, remember his mercy in qualifying you for heaven, and give him thanks. When the Lord’s providences are hard and endurance with joy difficult, remember what he has done for you. Read the Gospels again and again. Do not forget. This is the theme for living worthy of Christ: DO NOT FORGET. Do not forget the Father’s great love, what he has done for us, the way he gave his Beloved for our salvation. Do not forget that he has adopted you. Do not forget that you have an inheritance secured for you in heaven. If you have forgotten, remember now. And give him thanks. Ask him to break your heart with adoration and help you understand the riches of his inheritance in the saints. It is secure. Soon, we shall enjoy our inheritance of all things with Jesus Christ our Lord.

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