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About this series
How to be a Christian Without Being Religious
Is it possible to be a Christian without being religious? More than a list of activities, behaviors, and rules, this series will show you that the Christian life is, at its core, an ongoing relationship with the living God. You will discover how to live a life of faith; how to portray Christ's love and character in your everyday activities; how to know if you are growing spiritually; and how to develop a dynamic, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.More from this series
I have a passage I’d like to read. It’s a very familiar passage but one that I think we skip over. It’s out of Luke chapter 17 beginning at verse 11 it says, “As Jesus continued toward Jerusalem He reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. And as He entered a village, there the ten lepers stood at a distance and they were crying out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ He looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went their leprosy disappeared.
“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus shouting, ‘Praise God! I am healed!’ He fell on His face, down on the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done. This man was a Samaritan.” The author adds that. They were the mixed breed, they were the despised, they were the group that a good Jew would walk fifty miles out of his way to not even go through their land.
And then Jesus asked three questions in this brief, little story. Question number one, the facts: “Didn’t I heal ten men?” Answer: yup. Second question of amazement: “Where are the other nine?” Third question, His commentary: “Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
Quick story as you’re reading through the New Testament maybe or reading through the Bible in a year – five, six, seven verses, read that, “Yeah, ought to be more thankful, I guess.” “I don’t know what those other nine were thinking,” and you just go right on.
But let’s take a minute and just play it out. A leper was a despised, alienated person; a social outcast. The disease worked in such a way and still works, but because of the gnawing of the nervous system, often they would lose fingers, disfiguration of the face. They had a little bell around them in that day so that when a leper got near you, you had warning.
They often lived in caves together, in very despicable situations, totally set apart now from their family; social outcasts. Often their colonies were built near garbage dumps because that’s the only place they could find food.
And, they’ve heard about Jesus, they’ve heard about the miracles, they’ve heard Him maybe preach or heard people talk from a distance. In my mind’s eye, I’m not sure it happened like this but how do you get close enough to a man like Jesus with all these followers and His fame is growing and He’s raising people from the dead and the blind see and they’ve got this need and they want to get close.
And in my mind’s eye I’m thinking maybe ten of them said, “Okay, together guys. Ready? He’s over there. On three. One, two, three. Ready? Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!” How would you get His attention?
And then Jesus, out of His compassion, did what the law prescribed. If there was healing thought to have happened you were to go to the priest and show him to authenticate what occurred.
And so, the ten of them, they’re like us. When you have no other options, it’s not really hard to have faith. And so they made their way toward the priest and as they were going, that act of faith, bam! Miraculous! They were healed.
And I can’t help but think that some of them maybe had one or three or four fingers gone and as they are walking, boom! He’s got a hand! “Joe! Joe! Look at this! This is amazing! I got a hand!” And I can just hear Bill saying, “Forget your hand, you got a face too!”
If you’ve ever seen pictures of lepers, the deterioration around the nose and the mouth – they were broken people, social outcasts. They had been totally healed; they had been made whole.
I’ve got this picture of people, if it was appropriate back then, to high-five one another. “I can’t believe it! I can go home! I can see my family! I can eat at a good, Jewish restaurant now! No bell! Take the bell! Throw it on the ground! I’m a whole person! I’m changed! I have a whole, new life. I was in the darkness and now I’m in the light. No more garbage dump eating. No more hiding out in caves.”
But then the text says that only one came back. I’d like to suggest that all ten felt thankful. How could you not? They felt thankful.
In our day, I think we think feeling thankful is the same as giving thanks and they’re worlds apart. It takes energy, it takes intentionality, it takes a stopping of what’s happening and saying, “Yes, I’ve received these gifts and I’m thankful for the gift,” but, see, thankfulness isn’t a feeling, it’s an act where you go back from the gifts to the giver and you acknowledge He gave them. The credit, the honor, the glory needs to go to the one who gave it.
See, like in their day I think, often, God does a lot for us, doesn’t He? Most of you, anybody worried about not eating this weekend? Probably not many. Most of you drove here. Many of you own homes.
Although there are some that have great, physical problems, the majority in this room, you’re healthy. You actually have people that like you, people that love you. You live in the most prosperous nation in the world.
If you’re a Christian, your sins have been forgiven as far as the east is from the west; the Holy Spirit dwells in you; you’ve been given spiritual gifts; God is actually using your life. You’ve got a whole, new life! But the danger is that we get moving out on the gifts instead of going back to the Giver.
I’d like to suggest that our response to this passage and Jesus’ is very different. As I read this initially I read it through my cultural, American, New Testament eyes. And as I saw the problem here I thought to myself, My response would be: Oops! Shucks. Those nine really should have come back. It’s the least they could have done. What they did was impolite, inconsistent, not very nice, and socially inappropriate.
Why? Because in our culture we’ve grown up thinking that thanksgiving is either just a day to remember once a year, or it’s social etiquette. It’s important, it’s something that’s taught to young children. You know? Like your Uncle Ned or Aunt Judy, you’re three years old, they give you a piece of candy, what did your parents say? “Chip, what do you say to Uncle Ned?” “Thank you, Uncle Ned.” And then you get a little pat on the head, right?
Or then you get a little bit older and someone sends you a gift. “Call your grandparents, tell them you’re thankful.” “Okay.” You get a little bit older and you get married and what do you have to do? Write out the “thank-you” cards. Why? Because we know it’s very socially inappropriate not to give thanks.
But that flows more from a sense of violating a social standard than much theology, than much sense of a deep meaning.
Now, what I’d like to suggest is that when those nine did not return, Jesus was not thinking, “Oops.” He wasn’t thinking, “Ah, shucks, one out of ten. That’s not bad.” I want to suggest that He was disturbed, that He was shocked, that He was flabbergasted, that that statement, “Does only one foreigner come back and give glory to God?” that He was actually angry.
And the theological statement He made is that when we fail to come back to the Giver and give credit where credit is due, according to Jesus, the lack of giving of thanks is robbing God of His glory. See, to Jesus, accepting the gift and neglecting the Giver was robbery. To Jesus, the failure of the nine was spiritually scandalous. To Jesus, the giving of thanks is very serious business.
Now, I can sort of read some of your minds. You’re thinking, You know what? I didn’t listen really carefully, Chip, or I did it as carefully as I could but in those six or seven verses I think you got a lot more out of there than is there. He’s angry? Spiritually scandalous?
Those are really strong words. Do you get all that? Are you really telling me that thanksgiving and the giving of thanks is that important to God? Aren’t you pushing it maybe Ingram? A little hyperbole here, little exaggeration to help us?”
My answer: No. In fact, a brief summary of the New Testament reveals that God takes the giving of thanks very, very seriously.
In just a few minutes, here’s what I’d like to do. I want to give you a New Testament survey. I’m going to go to four passages very briefly and I want to give you exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C, exhibit D. Okay? Boom, boom, boom.
And I want you to hear just a taste, just taste what the New Testament says about thanksgiving and see if my evaluation of Jesus’ serious view of thanksgiving isn’t accurate. Okay? And then I think there’s implications for us.
The first passage is in Romans chapter 1. Exhibit A: It says, “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes,” or qualities, “His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from that which was made so that men are without excuse.”
Now notice verse 21, “For although they knew God,” general revelation, they could see God in creation, although they knew there was Someone bigger than themselves, that there was a Creator, “they neither glorified Him as God nor,” look at the little phrase, “gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Did you notice that their thinking became futile when they didn’t honor Him as Creator and they didn’t give thanks? They enjoyed the gifts of life but they didn’t look, they didn’t give thanks. The theologians talk about the total depravity of man.
I want to suggest that the lack of thanking God and recognizing that He’s our Creator is paired with this concept of the rejecting of who He is. That’s serious.
The second passage is in Ephesians chapter 5, verses 1 to 4. It says, “Be imitators of God therefore, as dearly loved children; and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Now this passage opens up with the book of Ephesians is how to live this brand-new life. The first three chapters are doctrine and truth; beginning in chapter 4 it says, “Walk in a manner worthy of Christ. Live up to this new calling.” You’re brand-new! Your old man has died! You’ve been co-resurrected, co-buried, you have a brand-new life to live – a supernatural, holy, pure life.
And so, he has given them a number of instructions in chapter 4 and then in chapter 5 he says, “Walk in love,” that’s relationally; “walk in light,” that’s morally. You ought to be pure! You ought to live in a way that reflects the nature and the holiness of God.
Notice now, verse 3 and verse 4, “But among you,” brand-new, born again Christians who should live a new life, “there must not even be a hint of,” one, “sexual immorality or of any kind of,” two, “impurity or,” three, “greed because these are improper for God’s holy people.” It doesn’t even make any sense. But notice it goes on, “Nor should there be obscenity,” four, “foolish talk,” it means “foolish sexual talk,” or “course joking, which are out of place, but rather,” did you get it? “the giving of thanks.”
You see, it seems in Scripture that when we’re told to walk in this new way of life that when we’re said, “Avoid these sins,” six things, pretty heavy duty ones. In my mind, it ought to be balanced. He should have told us six different things that we should do positively to walk in the light. But He didn’t, did He?
The giving of thanks is paired over and against walking according to the flesh. Immorality is tied with the lack of a thankful heart. You know why? It’s pretty hard to commit immoral acts, of any kind, if you’re presently giving thanks for who you are and what you have, right where you’re at.
Take the list. It’s pretty hard to lust after someone else or commit adultery, if you’re married, when you’re saying, God, thank you for this great woman,” everyday. “Thank you for this great man. Oh, he’s got problems, she’s got problems, we got struggles, yeah. Welcome to life. But thank You, thank You, thank You.
When that’s your attitude, you don’t end up in bed with someone else. When that’s your attitude, you’re not trying to surf the net to find out what images can satisfy a lack of intimacy in your heart. When that’s your attitude, you’re not looking for what the world can offer.
But the moment you stop giving thanks for what you do have, where does your focus go? To what you don’t have, for what you think will satisfy. So, the giving of thanks not only is paired with a rejection of God, in Romans 1, it’s paired with living a holy life. It’s the beginning point of the slide.
The third passage: Ephesians chapter 5, verses 18 to 20 it says, “Don’t be drunk with wine, for that is debauchery,” or leads to debauchery, “instead be filled,” controlled, or, literally, the idea is, “be drunk, be saturated, be controlled,” by what? “the Holy Spirit.” Be filled with the Spirit, be controlled by the Spirit, be saturated by the Spirit.
In other words, let Him control your life, your thoughts, your motives, your money, your time. Let the Spirit who lives inside of you live out Christ in you, moment by moment, every day. It’s in the present tense. And then He says there’s evidence when this is occurring, “…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and make music in your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks to God the Father for,” just the good times. “…for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
See, in Romans 1, when I give thanks, I honor God as Creator. In Ephesians 5, the first portion, when I honor God by thanks, he’s my Provider. When the Spirit of God is reigning in my heart and your life, the overflow will be thanksgiving because He’s your Lord, He’s calling the shots.
And the lack of thankfulness in your heart will let you know He’s not Lord right now. And it’s hard to do sometimes, isn’t it? But the Bible pushes it even farther theologically.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 through 18 it says, “Rejoice always,” not sometimes. “Rejoice always.” It’s a choice. It doesn’t mean you always feel happy but it’s a choice. “Pray about everything; in everything give thanks;” why? “for it is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
And this isn’t the slap happy, “Praise God, praise the Lord. I have a good friend who has cancer. Oh, praise God. I thank God.” No, no, no.
This is that sense that you can only do, in your heart, as you walk intimately with your Savior where you say, “My marriage isn’t what I’d like it to be, my finances aren’t where I would like it to be, some of my children aren’t where I want them to be, I would like to be married and I’m not, my body isn’t working the way I wish it would but I understand that I am made for eternity, not simply time.
“And by an act of the will, knowing that God is good, knowing He is sovereign and in control, and knowing that He is faithful He will give me grace to endure and He will deliver me through this, or He will deliver me out of it, or He’ll deliver me unto Himself because His primary role in my life is not to make me happy, to not make me a successful American, to not get me ahead in middle-class American life.
“His primary objective is to cultivate intimacy between me and the Father and to make my character, my heart, and my motives more like His Son, Jesus.” That’s what God’s up to in your life.
And therefore, by faith, at any given moment, regardless of your circumstances, and regardless of mine, to say, Thank you, God, is the evidence of not only being under His Lordship but saying, God, it is a fallen world, I hurt, this is difficult, but I trust You. I thank You. For this cancer? No, but that You’ll work in it. For this marriage? It’s hard to right now. But I want You to change me and I’m staying in it. For this son or daughter? Yes, because You’re a sovereign God. As I pray you’re going to work in their heart and they’re a grown up and they’ll have to make decisions.
Life isn’t easy, it’s not a fairy book, it doesn’t always come out. We’re not made just for time – we’re made for eternity.
And so, giving of thanks according to Jesus and the New Testament is serious business. Why?
Let me do a brief review.
First, it acknowledges that all that we are and all that we have comes from God. When I say “thank you” it honors God as Creator.
Second, it keeps us from evil because it forces us to focus on what we do have instead of on what we don’t have. “Thank you” for that bummer of a car you have. It’ll keep you from envying other people’s cars.
Third, it reveals, in every circumstance the extent to which the Spirit is in control of my life. It honors the Lord as your Lord and Master.
And fourth, it demands we live by faith in every and all circumstance.
In summary, according to Jesus, thankfulness is the barometer of your soul. It’s not your church attendance. It’s important. It’s not your prayers. Important. It’s not your gifts, it’s not your activity, it’s not your service. If you want to know where you’re at with God at any given moment of any day, you can just, like you put your finger up and test where the wind is coming from, you can ask this question and know where your heart is with God: How thankful am I right now, in my situation? Honestly, from the heart.
And so, we are going to come as that leper. And we are going to say to God, we are literally going to get on our knees before God and say, God, all that we are, all that we have, the hard, the good, the wonderful, the work in us, and the work through us – we want to give You the glory.