There’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:
- They mirror his grace toward us into the visible world, thus drawing attention to him rather than us;
- 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.