Christians Don’t Do Good Works Out Of Gratitude For Being Saved

WLO_Blog_WheelThere’s a popular but profound misconception that the reason why we Christians open our homes–or share our bread, or forgive, or do any kind of good work at all in our Christian lives–is because we are grateful to God for our salvation.

Gratitude sounds like a wonderful motivation. Problem is, we’re just not that wonderful.

Like a wind-powered turbine, gratitude can be a powerful source of personal energy–whenever the wind is blowing, that is. But most of us manage an astonishing amount of ingratitude on a daily basis, even in the midst of gales and gales of God-gusting grace. In those moments, were we to rely on gratitude as a basis for our actions, we’d be left standing still like big, dumb propellers.    

It’s worth noting that the scriptural warrant for gratitude as a motivator for action is, well, wanting“Grateful” appears just four times in the NIV overall; “gratitude” chips in another two verses. In none of these six instances is gratefulness/gratitude viewed as the good works turbine it is purported to be. God knows us far too well for that.

So if not out of gratitude, why do good works at all?

Answer: Because that’s what we human beings do when we’re not, you know, busy drowning in sin.

Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) puts it this way: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Sin knocks us clean off the playing field and onto the trainer’s table; grace, however, restores us to our rightful vocation.

And while good works certainly don’t earn our salvation, they do take real, actual, genuine effort. They are not always, or even often, fun. Any husband who has been married long enough for the novelty of matrimony to wear off knows that it is rank foolishness to believe that taking out the garbage will earn his wife’s love. What’s more, he knows that gratitude is not enough to cause him to vault out of bed Tuesday morning when he hears the garbage truck rumbling up the road, reminding him that he hasn’t wheeled the can to the curb yet. Nevertheless vault he does, because getting the garbage to the curb is just what a husband does.

Interestingly, the language of foolishness is well placed when it comes to our misplacing a proper Scriptural notion of what motivates works. Tom Nelson puts it like this in Work Matters:

When we grasp what God intended for his image-bearers, it is not surprising that throughout the book of Proverbs the wise are praised for their diligence and the foolish are rebuked for their laziness. When we hear the word fool, we often think of someone who is mentally deficient. However, a foolish person in Scripture is not necessarily one who lacks intelligence but rather one who lives as if God does not exist. The psalmist puts it this way: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). A fool is one who rejects not only the Creator but also creation design, including the design to work.

Which is precisely why Jesus says that whoever hears the word and does not do it is a fool, perhaps even a grateful one.

And note in Ephesians 2:10 that vocation is not spontaneous “good deeds,” so-called random acts of kindness. It’s actually specific good works–ones prepared by the Lord in advance for us to do. Like a physical trainer preparing a workout routine for a flabby but aspiring gym rat, if you will. When we pay careful attention to those Works of Mercy, we’ll find they have a few things in common, namely:

  1. They mirror his grace toward us into the visible world, thus drawing attention to him rather than us;
  2. They can’t be done by us but only by his Holy Spirit acting through us.

Now we’re in the vocabulary and thought process of Scripture rather than Kindle theology, and that’s an excellent source of power for a lifetime of good works, which is precisely what God had planned for us all along.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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7 Responses to Christians Don’t Do Good Works Out Of Gratitude For Being Saved

  1. ryanruckman says:

    “Sin knocks us clean off the playing field and onto the trainer’s table; grace, however, restores us to our rightful vocation.” EF
    Thank you, Pastor Foley, for this encouragement from the Word of God. I pray to be in the “vocabulary and thought process of the Scripture” to fulfill what God has planned for me “all along.”

  2. kieran says:

    I will put it bluntly, I think you have very much taken scripture out of context and misunderstood it. It is impossible that we Christians, adopted into Christ will not bring forth good works of thankfulness. By good works I am referring to works done out of true faith (this is what all good works are in the Bible). And then when we do have true faith we truly see what we can be thankful to God for and we will be thankful, as i said it is impossible not to.

    Your Text Reference:
    Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) puts it this way: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Sin knocks us clean off the playing field and onto the trainer’s table; grace, however, restores us to our rightful vocation.

    Here you have it wrong, God created us and therefore we have a reason to be thankful already. God created us knowing before hand that we would praise Him out of thankfulness.

    Please email me if you have anything against what I believe.

    • EFoley says:

      Good to hear from you, Kieran. While we disagree, I certainly have nothing against what you believe, and I think it is important for Christians to disagree respectfully and as brothers. Thanksgiving has an inestimably important role in the believer’s life, and Scripture both commands and commends it repeatedly. (A nice list of verses related to thanksgiving can be found here: http://www.openbible.info/topics/thanksgiving.) While we are certainly to give thanks in all circumstances and to do all things with thanksgiving, I do not see Paul’s point in Ephesians 2 as emphasizing that it is natural for us to be grateful and that this natural gratitude is the source of the good works we do. In fact, that Scripture repeatedly commands us to be grateful and to give thanks suggest that thanksgiving is a discipline that we must develop–one that requires a lifetime of practice!

  3. scratchy says:

    Traveled this morn before an important dr.apt to a shrine & prayed & listened. The words that came into my head were “working gratitude.” Today went well at docs, & on way home helped a person that had just had a car accident & tonight googled “working gratitude” and came across your article. thank you. It all makes sense to me. Like one man said, you can say thank you until your tongue falls off but sometimes you need to do something to express thanks. Will print out your article w plans of using it to help keep my turbine moving daily. thank you

    • tdillmuth says:

      Thanks for commenting on the article, and I’m glad to hear how this article ministered to you. Gratitude is certainly not a bad thing . . . but it is good to remember that thankfulness is not our primary motivation for doing good works. In part, because we have sinful motivations, attitudes and thoughts! But I’m glad to hear that some of this is not making sense for you. Feel free to search some of our articles . . . specifically on the different works of mercy, i.e. sharing your bread, opening your home, visiting and remembering . . . it is a good help to understand what this means from a Scriptural perspective. God Bless ~ Pastor Tim

  4. Pastor Foley, These are life changing words for 켄트 좋은 외국인 선생님, for 크리스틴 자매 and for me. She wanted to read this with church after baptism this evening. We hope to tell you all about the differences in all of us, especially transitioning from randome-acts-of-kindness to purposeful deeds, in person soon.

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