How Giving Thanks Makes Us Holy

Editor's Note: How do we become holy? What does it mean to present ourselves as "sacrifices of thanksgiving"? This article is adapted from an answer Dr. Horton gives in Episode 39 of the Core Christianity Radio Show

In a lot of churches, the key motivation for holiness is guilt. Now I'm not opposed, like most people in our society, to the concept of duty. There is a place for saying, “I don't feel like it. I don't want to do it, but it's the right thing to do and I just need to do it.” But that's not holiness, per se. A lot of non-Christians can follow rules even when they don’t feel like it. 

Holiness comes from a new heart; just doing your duty is not love for God and your neighbor, necessarily, but just love for doing the right thing mainly so that you can feel confident in yourself.

A lot of us were raised with “do your duty” and then we all decided en-mass, it seems, that this was legalism and said, “I'm not going to do anything that I don't really want to do in my heart.” Legalism, make a rule, or antinomianism, break a rule, seems to be a false choice that dominates our ethics today. But when we go back to the Scriptures, we realize that how we live isn't a mere set of rules or behaviors. It's the result of belonging to a particular family, the family of God and the commands are rooted in the announcement of what God has done for us apart from our holiness by saving us in Jesus Christ by his holiness, by his righteousness. 

His law commands perfect love. We don't have that. We willfully turn away from God and our neighbor. On our own, we deserve his judgment, but instead, he loved us so much that he gave his only Son. 

Here we come back to what I call the four D's. 

The drama of salvation: the story from Genesis to Revelation that everything flows out of, that story with Christ as the central character and “salvation is of the Lord” being the overarching theme. 

And then the doctrines that flow out of that: understanding the doctrine of God, the doctrine of original sin, the doctrine of Christ—who is Christ what has he come to do—the atonement, our redemption in Christ and justification, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification. 

Then we respond in doxology or praise, thanksgiving for what he's done. Paul says, "What shall we say then in response to these things?" What things? He's already told us, "Those whom he predestined he called, those whom he called he justified, those whom he justified he glorified. What shall we say then in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?"(Rom. 8:30-31). The rest of that whole chapter is a song, a doxology of praise and thanksgiving. Then he comes in Romans 12, the very first verse to say, "Now in view of God's mercies, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice."

You see, we have the greatest story ever told, and the drama isn't just a great story; it's the true story. The doctrine tells us it is the true story for us. He was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification, and the Holy Spirit has written us into the story, crucifying and burying and raising us up with Christ, the central character. What's our response? Not drudgery but delight. "What shall we say in response to these things. If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

Surely the example of Christ is also a motivation, but for those of us like myself who still find ourselves weak and sinful, too often given to our own self-will, the example of Christ is not really going to be enough of a motive to holiness. Really it's not depending on myself, but a union with Christ: following his example but depending on Christ himself, what he has done for me and that the Holy Spirit has given me faith to be united to him and say "everything he did is for me, and he not only justifies me but he sanctifies me. He's not only my Savior, but he's also my Lord. He's not only the price for my salvation, but he's also the treasure." It's really important for us to realize that we're called not to do something ourselves to get us into God's good graces but rather to live out that wonderful assurance that we already have in Christ, that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). 

That may be counterintuitive. We might always think, “lead with a stick, not carrots,” but we have not just carrots held out in the future—if you do this, then you'll get a carrot—no, we get the treasure at the beginning. All of our blessings are found in Jesus Christ. Now, therefore, let's offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. There's no longer anything for us to offer. We can't offer anything as a sacrifice for guilt. All that's left is for us to embrace Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and our own sin, so that we can become a living sacrifice of thanksgiving. 

Adapted from an answer given in Episode 39 of Core Christianity

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Michael Horton

Michael Horton (@MichaelHorton_) is the Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. The author of many books, including Core Christianity. He lives with his wife Lisa and four children in Escondido, California.

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