In Jack Kuhatschek’s book, “Applying the Bible“, the author claims that Christian obedience is the means by which we express our thankfulness for what God has done for us. In his understanding, gratitude is the motivation for obedience to God’s will. This idea is appealing and has been widely promulgated and accepted in much of today’s contemporary Christian literature and preached from Christian pulpits of many (most?) traditions.
The problem is that the idea of obedience arising from gratitude is quite simply without biblical warrant! Obedience arises from, and is the direct expression of one’s faith. The concept of obedience to God’s will as a measure of the sincerity of faith is abundantly attested in Holy Scripture. Thus, does Deitrich Bonhoeffer write,
For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”
So, what does the Bible have to say?
Indeed, the Bible instructs us that Bonhoeffer was correct. The “obedience of faith“, as St. Paul wrote is the right and proper expression of faith, not gratitude. For example, John Piper’s reflection on the issue of obedience arising from gratitude wrote,
“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).”
Obedience follows faith, not gratitude because when we claim to believe in one thing but act otherwise, our belief is false, empty, and meaningless. It is without truth. Can a serial adulterer be judged faithful to his marriage vows yet still express gratitude for his/her marriage? Yes. Is a Sheriff who takes a bribe being faithful to his oath of office and still be grateful to the people he protects for his job! Yes!
If we violate God’s moral and ethical standards yet give thanks for God’s benevolence, are we being faithful to God? The answer is NO because gratitude has nothing whatsoever to do with being faithful to God.
Now, go and study.