Grace and gratitude

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

J.I. Packer, in his modern classic Knowing God, writes, “It has been said that the New Testament doctrine is grace, and ethics is gratitude, and something is wrong with any form of Christianity in which, experientially and practically, this saying is not being verified. Those who suppose that the doctrine of God’s grace tends to encourage moral laxity… are simply showing that, in the most literal sense, they do not know what they are talking about. For love awakens love in return, and love, once awakened, desires to give pleasure.”

Doctrine is grace. In other words, the main message of Christianity is that, in the death of Jesus for our sins, we have all been given an infinite number of undeserved gifts. Among these gifts are forgiveness of our sins and guilt, the removal of shame, purpose in life, meaning in suffering, joy and peace that does not depend upon our circumstances, hope for the future, eternal life, eternal glory, eternal love, and the presence and power of God in our life. All of this and more has been offered to us free of charge, but at great cost to Jesus, who gave His life for us on the cross.

And ethics is gratitude. In other words, the more clearly we see and experience these gifts of God’s grace, the more our hearts are transformed by His love, and the more we want to love, honor, and worship Him in return. Ethics – doing what is right and good – no longer becomes something that is done out of fear or pride or to earn God’s favor or heavenly reward, but something that happens out of the overflow of our love for God. We no longer want to partake in the sin that drove our Savior to the cross. Instead, we want to live our lives in such a way that we bring Him glory and honor.

Doctrine is grace and ethics is gratitude. As Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Why not pray today along with Paul in Ephesians 3:18–19, that you “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” His kindness leads to repentance, His love leads to trust and obedience, and His grace leads to gratitude. May this reality be what characterizes your life and faith.
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