by Mark Horne
We often hear that the key to Christian obedience is thankfulness for what God has done. But the Bible stresses faith and hope much more than gratitude. The Baptist pastor and author John Piper has written,
“Nowhere in the Bible is gratitude connected explicitly with obedience as a motivation. We do not find the phrase ‘out of gratitude’ or ‘in gratitude’ for acts toward God. Christian obedience is called the ‘work of faith,’ never of the ‘work of gratitude’ (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11). We find expressions like ‘live by faith’ (Galatians 2:20) and ‘walk by faith’ (2 Corinthians 5:7), but never any expression like ‘live by gratitude’ or ‘walk by gratitude.’ We find the expression ‘faith working through love’ (Galatians 5:6), but not ‘gratitude working through love.’ We read that ‘the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith’ (1 Timothy 1:5), but not ‘from sincere gratitude.’ We read that sanctification is by ‘faith in the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13), not that it is ‘by gratitude for the truth.’ We read that ‘faith without works is dead’ (Jas. 2:26), but not that ‘gratitude without works is dead.’ And when Jesus deals with the disciples’ hesitancy to seek the kingdom first because they were worried about food and clothing, he did not say, ‘O men of little gratitude,’ he said, ‘O men of little faith’ (Matthew 6:30).”
Our primary motivation according to the Gospel has to be faith–confidence in what God has given to us and has promised to give us.
What this means is that we, as Christians, are never supposed to merely “gut it out.” We don’t tell ourselves that we need to simply endure because of our obligation to be grateful. No, we endure because we hope in what God promises in the Gospel.
Hebrews 11, among other passages, makes this extremely clear. It speaks of what the saints do “by faith” and makes quite clear what that means. Noah didn’t come home to his wife one day and say, “Well honey, I know life has been good. But God has told me we have to build a big boat in the middle of dry land, and become a laughingstock to everyone around us. It will take time and money and destroy my credibility but we should do it because we should be grateful to God for making us and besides, he’s God and it is always wrong to disobey God.”
No, he came home, and said, “Honey, God is going to destroy all flesh on the earth, but he’s granted us forgiveness and a way of escape. He’s given me the plans for a boat so that we can float safely on the water until he brings us to a new world!” Noah didn’t gut it out. Noah trusted God and hoped in what was promised to him.
Likewise, when God called Abram to leave his home. Abram didn’t roll up his sleeves and say, “Well this is awful, but if God tells us to leave our home, we’ve just got to do it no matter what. After all, since God’s done so much for us, this gives us a chance to show we’re thankful. No! Abram left his home because he trusted God to do a lot more for him!—to give him a better home and a better future. When God ordered him to sacrifice his son, his only son, he didn’t do it simply by gutting it out and obeying God at the cost of all his hopes. No, Hebrews 11.19 is quite clear: He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead. Abraham’s hope was based on God promise and that is what motivated his obedience.
Likewise Moses did not side with Israel because he thought God was ordering him to be destitute. He did it because of a confident faith and hope in the Gospel. Hebrews 11.24-26:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
And even Jesus himself operated by that same faith. Even Jesus, believe it or not, gave himself because of his trust and hope in the Gospel. Hebrews 12.1-3:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
Now, if anyone should have been able to simply gut it out, to simply obey because God ordered him to do so or simply out of gratitude for past blessing, it should have been Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God. But that’s not what the inspired word of God tells us is it! No, he did what he did because he hoped in God and new that the path God had for him to trod would leave him infinitely better off than any other course of action.
So it should be with us. Yes God had given us much, but he always promises us much more. Hope in God’s promises–saving and justifying faith–is the key to the Christian life.