Word for Word 11/18/20

Rev. Ron Pederson
Rev. Ron Pederson

Thanksgiving: A Great and God-pleasing Good Work

Thanksgiving is not an official church holiday like Christmas or Easter. But yet it is a spiritual holiday. After all, who are we thanking? Thanksgiving is not an official church holiday but maybe we should make it a church holiday? We could call it “good works day” since all good works are nothing more than a “thank offering” to God.

Good works are more about who you are than what you do. They are character qualities that come from the heart. St. Paul gives us a good definition of good works when he writes: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23). And a thankful heart is the motivation behind all these fruits.

These character qualities, these fruits of the Spirit, are the result of faith in the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins that are ours in Jesus. When we know and believe that Jesus has won for you and me and all people complete and full forgiveness of all our sins, a change takes place in our heart. We begin to keep the Commandments spontaneously. We begin to love God (the First Commandment) and from the heart.

We begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit, joy and peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and selfcontrol. The Gospel changes us spontaneously from the inside out. Luther writes in Preface to the Book of Romans: “Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them…

Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.”

The Law and the Commandments are not the mother of good works. The mother of good works is the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. As St. John writes in his first letter: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And St. Paul: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15).

But not even these fruits of the Spirit, these character qualities, can merit salvation. If that were true they would vanish and be replaced by fear and uncertainty regarding our salvation and maybe even secret resentment toward God (the breaking of the First Commandment).

When we look to our good works for salvation all kinds of questions come up: Did I do enough good works to merit salvation and were the ones I did do good enough? Again Paul says in Rom: “If by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).

And so this Thanksgiving as we thank God for all the material blessings He has given us, we are at the same time doing good works - Great and God-pleasing works. Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37, 38).

And all this we do freely, not to earn our salvation or contribute anything to it. Rather we thank God because in Jesus our salvation is already accomplished. In Jesus we have the forgiveness of all our sins - Forgiveness that is ours to claim as a free gift by faith alone. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Rev. Ron Pederson
King of Grace Lutheran Church ELS, Waukon
Trinity Lutheran Church ELS, Calmar
Evangelical Lutheran
Synod (ELS)