Obedience Arises From Faith, Not Gratitude

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 wrote1)See Romans 1:5 and 16:26. NOTE: this phrase arises only in these two verses of which the NIV translates the Greek slightly differently, if not more accurately, as “obedience that comes by faith 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.

References   [ + ]

1. See Romans 1:5 and 16:26. NOTE: this phrase arises only in these two verses of which the NIV translates the Greek slightly differently, if not more accurately, as “obedience that comes by faith
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Genesis 2:18 – The Role of Women

FormationOfEveGenesis 2:18

 וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּ֑וֹ אֶעֱשֶׂהּ־לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ

And the LORD God said, “For the man to be by himself is not good. I will make for him a counterpart to complement him

The detailed commentary for this verse can be found here.

However, in its broader context, the role of women as revealed by this and other narratives is manifestly not one of servitude or a divine afterthought. If you have 9 minutes or so, sit back, listen, and reflect on women and flourishing of mankind.

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Genesis 15:5-6: Are We Really Justified by Faith Alone?

righteousness-of-godIn Genesis 15:6, Scripture records Abram’s response to God’s promise to grant him as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. The Christian understanding of this verse is that God judges Abram to be righteous because of his faith.

This verse has profound theological implications because Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith [alone] rests largely on this understanding. But, is this understanding correct?

Probably not. It turns out that all English translations of Genesis 15:6 add words1)and punctuation! that are not attested in the actual Hebrew. Here for example, is a direct translation of the actual Hebrew (with no added English words):

Then he believed in the LORD and reckoned it to him righteousness.”

A straightforward reading of the actual Hebrew (above) has Abram recognizing the righteousness of God, not the other way around. It turns out that the translators of both the Septuagint and modern English Bibles beginning with the KJV felt it necessary to add additional words that were not attested in the original Hebrew. For example, compare the translation above with the NRS translation of the same verse:

(NRS) “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

or the KJV’s translation:

(KJV) “And he believed the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

In both of these translations, the translators added a semi-colon and a subject neither of which is attested in the underlying, actual Hebrew. A detailed analysis of this verse can be downloaded here and clearly shows that God did not justify Abram. A correct understanding is that Abram came to recognize God’s righteousness.

Now, go and study

References   [ + ]

1. and punctuation!
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Rationalizing the Narratives: Sodom and Gomorrah and The Binding of Isaac


Leaving Sodom and Gomorrah

Consider these two observations:

In the “Sodom and Gomorrah” narrative, Abraham tries to persuade God to spare the inhabitants of these two cities if just a few righteous individuals can be found. Justice (but also mercy and compassion) are at the core of Abraham’s persistent objections to God’s plan to decimate the two cities. In this narrative, Abraham is shown to care deeply for the innocent and to courageously contend against God’s plan on their behalf.


Abraham attempts to kill his son, Isaac

On the other hand, in the story of “The Binding of Isaac” (a.k.a., The Akedah), Abraham drops everything in order to carry out God’s wish that his son, Isaac, be sacrificed by his own hand. No objection. No negotiation. No pleas for mercy. Abraham’s is an unquestioning, almost slavish response. Where is the humanity he showed so obviously and persistently in the Sodom-Gomorrah narrative in light of the fact that it is his own [innocent] son that is to be murdered-  by his own hand, no less?

I don’t have the answer (and may never have – it’s a profoundly complex and culture-laden question). But, there are hints that might be pursued, one of which is that God does not actually command that Abraham murder Isaac. Rather, Genesis 22:2 turns out to be a request, not a command. Here is how the English reads from the actual Hebrew of the first part of Genesis 22:2,

And God said, “Please, take your son, your only son …”1)or instead of ‘please’, the Hebrew word from which this is translated can, and often is, translated as, “I pray you”

As far as I can tell, this verse is the only instance in all of the Hebrew Bible in which God says please. Is this significant? I don’t know but deviations from expected behavior are almost always significant. Nevertheless, at this point I’m grasping at straws. I’m left wondering what I (we?) may have missed in interpreting the lessons to be divined from these two famous narratives?

What do you think? I’m truly open to any and all suggestions.

References   [ + ]

1. or instead of ‘please’, the Hebrew word from which this is translated can, and often is, translated as, “I pray you”
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