J. Aaron White
Now to Him Who is Able: Giving Thanks for the Preserving Power of Our Sovereign God
I love listening to my kids pray before a meal. I usually lead my family in prayer at our dinner table, but there are sweet times when one of my little ones wants to thank God on behalf of everyone. Although there is some variation, their prayers often cite things such as our house, a good day, and food as motivations for gratitude. Well enough. We should all bless God for his many graces in our lives, especially at this time of year. A warm hearth, a full belly, and a safe neighborhood are all reasons to thank the God of heaven (see Psalm 147:12-14). But there is another, far-reaching reason that believers should give thanks to God: their own perseverance.
While reading through the Book of Colossians, I was struck by a seemingly unimportant honorable mention in Paul’s closing statements: “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas” (Col. 4:14). We all know Luke, but who is Demas? In Colossians, Paul cites him as a fellow worker, a co-laborer in the gospel, and a close associate (see also Philemon 24). Oh, how things change! Near the end of his ministry, Paul made these chilling remarks: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:9-10). The word deserted means to forsake or utterly abandon. When ministry got tough and the call to carry his cross reached a deafening pitch, Demas morphed into a Judas and disappeared because he was “in love with this present world.” In other words, his desire for safety, comfort, goods, and esteem eclipsed his desire for God (see 1 John 2:15-17).
Unfortunately, we are all like Demas, prone to wander away from God in search of immediate earthly comfort. How does God act to preserve the faith of his children? How does he keep a Peter from being a Judas? A Luke from being a Demas? If we are persevering in faith today, what should we give thanks for?
1. The Power of the New Covenant – Jesus secured all the benefits of the New Covenant for his people by the blood of the cross. This means that their total salvation is made sure: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ez. 36:25-27).
2. The Correction of the Father – As a kid, getting into hot water with dad was not fun, but it was often a blessing in disguise. Likewise, our heavenly Father knows how to shepherd his children away from soul-endangering sin and into the safety of his ways: “For they [earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10).
3. The Intercession of the Son – Israel needed a high priest to intercede on their behalf before Almighty God. The problem was that the priest was also a sinner and would eventually die. We, however, have an eternal high priest who never ceases to pray for his people individually, powerfully, and continually: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).
4. The Seal of the Holy Spirit – When a contract bears the seal of a king, you know it is authentic, binding, and authoritative. Likewise, the indwelling Spirit (through encouragement, conviction, comfort, etc.) bears witness to the permanency of our salvation: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).
5. The Communion of the Saints – Like a skilled surgeon, God uses instruments to cut away sin, unbelief, and idolatry from our lives. In addition to his Word, he also uses other saints to pull us from the brink of Demas-like desertion: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:12-14).
Does this mean we put down our swords, kick up our feet, and smugly wait until we go home to glory? To quote Paul: “By no means!” (Rom. 6:2). Such precious promises as these motivate and assure us as we battle our flesh, the devil, and the love of the world (see Phil. 2:12-13). Nevertheless, our hearts should overflow with thanksgiving for the preserving power of God, the one who is able to keep us from stumbling. May we rejoice with Trinitarian praise this Thanksgiving!