reformed accent
June 10, 2024

Showing Gratitude

This is the final installment of Rev. Dr. Plantinga’s series on “Speaking with a Reformed Accent”. We are very grateful for the wise words that Neal has gifted us through this series. RW

Saying thank you is a social lubricant. We say and hear it a dozen times a day. At the bank, in a store, on a plane—wherever small favors are given and received—we murmur our thanks. Doing so seems to make things go better and people like each other more. The practice is so common we never notice it until someone omits it.

These are the routine thanks that ease our way through daily life. But we sometimes experience weightier gratitude. Maybe my seventh-grade teacher comforts me after I’ve been bullied and then goes to straighten out the bully. Maybe my friend offers me a truly thoughtful gift, one they clearly had pondered for quite a while. Maybe my pastor or therapist counsels me in a way that changes my life. These are substantial favors, and we owe substantial thanks for them.

And then, above all else, there are the dynamic works of God. God is a mighty Creator with love and imagination. So we have surging oceans, burbling streams, freshwater lakes with miles of sandy beach, and quiet ponds on which Canada geese ski to a stop.

God is also a determined redeemer who rescues Israel from Egypt, provides for her in the wilderness, and delivers her to the promised land. In the New Testament, Scripture’s recital of the mighty acts of God centers on the work of Jesus Christ and most especially on his death and resurrection. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). As the Apostles’ Creed says, in him we have “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” You might say the whole Christian life is a way of trying, however inadequately, to give thanks for these magnificent gifts.

Accordingly, the third section of the Heidelberg Catechism, titled “Gratitude,” begins like this:

86 Q. We have been delivered from our misery by God’s grace alone through Christ and not because we have earned it: why then must we still do good?

A. To be sure, Christ has redeemed us by his blood. But we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us, and so that he may be praised through us.

In an earlier blog post we saw that good deeds are a Christian’s “central business.”We practice them the way a physician practices medicine. Instructed by the catechism, we may now add that we practice them to show gratitude for our salvation.

What kind of good deeds might show our gratitude? Any that are genuinely good. Perhaps especially ones that show the virtues of Jesus Christ.

Here we may let Colossians 3 guide us. The chapter begins like this: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ” Paul almost certainly means, “Since you have been baptized. He is thinking that a baptized person goes down into, maybe under, the water, and then arises like Jesus walking out of his tomb. In verse 12, still thinking of a baptized person, Paul says we ought to “clothe ourselves” with Christlike virtues. These virtues are our “baptismal robe.”

We are like God when we clothe ourselves with the virtues of Christ—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, love, peace, and gratitude (Colossians 3:12–17). Jesus Christ is himself the pre-eminent image of God the Father. He is the “exegesis of God” who bears the very stamp of the divine nature and who exists “in the form of God” (Colossians 1:15, John 1:18, Hebrews 1:3). Because Jesus has this supreme status, we believers must conform ourselves to him (Romans 8;29, 2 Corinthians 3:18).

How would we do that? 

  • By weeping with a friend who has been humiliated by losing a much-needed job.
  • By commending a timid colleague for work about which they feel incompetent.
  • By meeting others as fellow travelers.
  • By meeting a hard word with a soft one.
  • By absorbing irritants without becoming irritated.
  • By putting up with people who drive us nuts.
  • By dropping anger against someone even when we have a right to it.
  • By pursuing social justice for people we don’t even know.
  • By serving as mediator between two friends who need to be reconciled.
  • By thanking God for everything good in our lives.

When we practice good deeds based on the virtues of Christ, we express our gratitude to God for our salvation. How so? We show we are enthusiastic about God’s purposes in the world and want to make them our own. We show we want to get with God’s program of rebuilding harmony, justice, and delight. We show that we want to be agents of the Kingdom of God. Acting like this, we are Godly people, and nothing could show our gratitude any better.

Want to read more about gratitude? Check out Gratitude: Why Giving Thanks Is the Key to Our Well-Being by Cornelius Plantinga © 2024, Brazos Press.