Restoration experts in northern England have been working hard to uncover and preserve the treasures of Auckland Castle, which is 500 years old. Earlier this year, they exposed the original framing around a door between the butler’s pantry and the dining room. Inscribed in the wooden panel above the door were the words Est Deo Gracia, a Latin phrase meaning “Thanks be to God.” Every time guests looked toward the kitchen and saw food coming to the table, they were prompted to be thankful.
Wouldn’t it be great to engrave that phrase on the lintels of our minds? How wonderful to recognize every blessing God sends, and, as it comes our way, to say, “Thanks be to God!”
Gratitude is the attitude that reclaims our spirits in times of disappointment or distress. However bleak our circumstances, we can always find reasons to say: “Thanks be to God.” That little phrase can bear us through difficulty and lift us from defeat. Earlier this year, for example, the remains of Christians slain in Libya were returned to their families in Egypt. The father of one of the victims said of his son, “Thanks be to God, he died a hero. … He and his brothers, the martyrs, did not abandon their faith.”
Those words and the attitude behind them are profound.
Thanks be to God—what a privilege to incorporate those four syllables into the vocabulary of daily life, whatever the day brings. These words are especially powerful because they are Biblical. This phrase occurs five times in the consecutive books of Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
Thanks Be to God for Setting Us Free
It first appears in Romans 6:17, where we read: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin. …” The moment we find Christ as Savior, we are set free from sin, death, hell and condemnation.
Paul Schlener, the father of a friend of mine, was stationed aboard a Navy vessel caught in Typhoon Cobra in 1944. He was tossed around like a rag doll as the storm battered the ship. Nearby vessels capsized under the violent waters, and Paul’s ship rolled dangerously from side to side. One thought kept booming through Paul’s mind during that terrible night. It was a question about his spiritual condition, one his brother had asked him years before: “Paul, are you saved?”
Back on land, Paul quickly found a church service to attend, and the minister concluded his sermon by saying, “If there should be someone here tonight, civilian or military, who would like to enter into a right standing with God by receiving Christ as your personal Savior, please come down front so I can speak with you personally.” Immediately Paul walked to the front, knelt, and with tears of thanksgiving made the decision that set him free. He later took the message of Christ to the Amazon jungle, where he served four decades, never losing his sense of gratitude for the One who had saved him both physically and eternally.
The Lord sometimes allows us to sail into storms to direct our attention toward Him and to prompt us to consider our spiritual condition. Only by receiving Christ as our Lord and Savior can we say, “Thanks be to God! I’ve been set free. I’ve been saved!”
Thanks Be to God for Victory Over Sin
Despite our freedom in Christ, Jesus-followers still struggle with temptation. Perhaps you’re trying to fight off some provocation today. The same Savior who frees you from the penalty of sin can give you increasing victory over its power. In Romans 7, Paul confessed his own struggle with temptation, but he ended the passage saying, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We’re complex individuals, walking kaleidoscopes of weaknesses, passions, wide-ranging proclivities and endless problems. How easily we can become dominated by anxiety, anger, addiction or a thousand other failures. But as we grow in Jesus, we grow in victory; and as we grow in victory, we grow in gratitude.
One of the best ways to combat temptation is with thanksgiving. Suppose you’re struggling with jealousy toward someone who is blessed with something you want. Don’t let envy creep into your bones, but say, “Thanks be to God!” List the aspects of the situation for which you can be thankful and praise the Lord.
Temptation has no answer to thanksgiving, and the devil doesn’t know what to do with a grateful heart.
Thanks Be to God for Victory Over Death
We next encounter our special phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, where the Apostle Paul wrote: “‘Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Even in the face of death, we can shout, Est Deo Gracia.
In 1712, a preacher named Richard Stretton passed away. At his memorial service, his friend Matthew Henry preached on the phrase, “Thanks be to God.” He told the mourners, “It is our duty in everything to give thanks. … When we are burdened with the sense of guilt, we ought to say, ‘Thanks be to God; there is rest in Christ.’ When we mourn for our afflictions, we ought to say, ‘But thanks be to God, these afflictions are designed to further us on our way to Heaven.’”
He continued, “I and many others have lost a faithful friend; but, thanks be to God, our loss is his gain. … Thanks be to God, he not only rests from his labors, but his works follow him. … Thanks be to God for the good hope we have through grace.”
Grief is natural and necessary for us, but in God’s timing we can climb out of our sorrow, rung by rung, using the truths behind the phrase, “Thanks be to God.” Our time on earth is brief, but through Christ’s resurrection we have the sure hope of Heaven. As we cultivate a grateful spirit, our heartaches eventually become hallelujahs.
Thanks Be to God Who Spreads His Message Through Us
We also exclaim “Thanks be to God” for the privilege of sharing this message with others. Second Corinthians 2:14 says, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
One of Billy Graham’s mentors was Dr. V. Raymond Edman. As a young man, Edman longed to invest his life for Christ in Ecuador, but his health broke in the jungle. Seeking to recover, he took a voyage aboard a Dutch freighter and spent his time outlining 2 Corinthians. When he came to chapter 2, he was staggered by the words “thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ …”
Edman read that sentence slowly, prayerfully, phrase by phrase. He sensed a great contrast between that verse and his condition. Here he was, broken, unsure, anxious about his future, not far from death’s door. Yet to Apostle Paul, life was ongoing, unbroken triumph. Climbing to the deck, Edman prayed for a triumphant spirit and yielded himself afresh to Christ. From that day, God began to use him in an unprecedented way, and under his influence a generation of young men and woman arose to follow and serve Christ.
You and I face fresh discouragements every day, but thanks be to God! He leads us in triumph, and in His victory we can share Jesus with the next generation. His Name spreads through us like a life-giving aroma to a decaying world.
Thanks Be to God for Jesus
In 2 Corinthians 9:15, Paul employs this phrase a fifth time, saying: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” This verse comes at the end of a prolonged passage about financial stewardship. Second Corinthians 8 and 9 exhort us to excel in the grace of giving, to give cheerfully, and to remember how God is able to supply all our needs. The concluding sentence—“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift”—reminds us that our gifts for the Lord’s work are simply reflections of the greatest gift ever given—God’s free gift of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words: Thanks be to God for Jesus!
That says it all, doesn’t it? Let’s go through life with this phrase engraved in our minds. A grateful heart lifts our spirits, honors our Savior, frustrates our enemy and magnifies our influence. Whatever you’re going through today, take a deep breath, look to Jesus, count your blessings, and say five times: “Thanks be to God!”
Robert J. Morgan is a best-selling author and the teaching pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tenn., where he has served for 38 years.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, © 1973, 1978, 1984, by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.