Are you grateful for the things people have done for you and the blessings of common grace that God has instilled into your life? Be careful how you answer that question. Those of us in the west tend to take a lot for granted: running water that is safe to drink, flushing toilets, electricity in our homes, and adequate (if not abundant) food on our tables. Granted, I, like many Americans, know what it means to pinch pennies and what it means not to be able to pay all the bills, having to decide whether the phone bill gets paid or diapers bought. But most of us…the overwhelming majority of us in America, do not know true hunger and poverty. A brief trip to places in Africa or Central America will sear that reality into your mind. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans throw away about 133 billion pounds of food annually (a trip to a local buffet restaurant will testify to this). Yet, apart from asking God’s blessings on our provision at meals, most of us just assume that food is and will continue to be abundant and so I wonder, are we truly grateful?
Perhaps it is useful to define some terms. What does it mean to be “grateful?” Very literally, coming from the Latin word, gratus, it means to be filled with gratitude. The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as expressing our thankfulness for a kindness done for us. A distinction, then, comes to the surface within this definition. While we may appreciate the things that we earn (our salary, etc…) things for which we are grateful are largely those things that we did not earn, but were graciously provided for us by others.
Again, on this most basic level, there is much for which we ought to be grateful in America. We have freedoms that have been purchased for us by the blood of others; we have opportunities if we are willing to work hard and apply ourselves at a trade or in a business. One can still “work their way up” in America and create a better life for their families. Opportunities for Education still abound in America as do the technological advances of that education. Again, in many parts of the world there are good educational opportunities for the wealthy, but in America there is a fundamental belief that education ought to be available to all. One need only apply himself or herself to acquire that education — that is the beauty of America’s Public Library system. People can complain about not having advantages that others have had and in many cases, that is entirely true. Yet, for the one who is willing to work hard and apply himself or herself, the disadvantages we may have had can be overcome. Motivation and hard work is the recipe for doing so.
If we transition, though, from earthly things to eternal things, as Christians we have much for which we must be grateful…most significantly for the grace of God that exhibited itself in the sending of Christ to die in our place as God’s own. Here, there is nothing which we can lay claim to having participated in — it is God’s work from beginning to end. And the only possible response is a gratefulness that changes the way we live and think toward He who saved us. Thus, Heidelberg Catechism, in its second question, says that the third thing that it is essential for us to understand is our gratitude…or more specifically, how God wants us to live out that gratitude toward him.
You see, our gratefulness is not simply just a warm feeling of affection in our heart toward God who saved us. It is that indeed, but it is also a matter of how we live. James reminds us that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Truly, the works do not save us, but they testify to the salvation that has been worked in us. Further, God does not leave us to our own ends when it comes to showing him our gratefulness. In fact, He instructs us how He wants us to demonstrate our faithfulness. The third section of the Catechism, then, is designed as a matter of application…how do we show our thankfulness toward God?
The question remains, what of those who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not demonstrate their gratefulness? The answer is two-fold. First, all of us fall into sin at times and that sin demonstrates the fact that we are taking God’s grace for granted and are thus being ungrateful. Of this, we must repent and ask forgiveness of this. The second category are those who are truly ungrateful because they have not truly received the saving grace of God. They are unbelievers but they just don’t yet know it because God has kept their eyes blind and shut. To this group of people, we must say, “Repent and Believe.” If a deep-felt and lived-out gratitude for God is not your first response to His grace, then the question you must ask is ‘To which of these two groups do I belong?”