Few sins are as disgusting as ingratitude. A study of God’s dealings with mankind would surely demonstrate how strongly God thinks that this is indeed the case. We humans agree with his assessment—as long as we are observing a lack of thankfulness in the lives of others! However, we often appear fairly unaware of the depth of this problem in our own personal lives. If we can learn to see through the eyes of God, hopefully we can be moved to a consistent repentance of this sin of ingratitude and can become people of grace and thankfulness.
The fatal plunge of the first century world into degradation and perversion began with a loss of thankfulness toward God. Romans 1:21 makes the genesis of a downward spiral into disaster very clear: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts became darkened.” I have not written an article on gratitude simply because this makes us happier people or better people; I have written it because a scarcity of gratitude will most surely lead to our missing heaven. Our failure generally to appreciate the magnitude of the subject’s importance demonstrates just how effective Satan has been in deceiving us. Had our mother Eve not lost her appreciation for God and his wondrous grace, she would not have taken the fatal bite of forbidden fruit. Let’s not underestimate for a moment the vital nature of the study of this topic. It is paramount to our spiritual growth, gracious demeanor and to our eternal destiny.
Why do we lose our gratitude so easily? Several reasons come to mind rather quickly. One, we often have a shallow grasp of our own sinfulness. A good study of Romans 1-3 should help us deepen our convictions about the magnitude of our sin. Here, Paul is the Spirit’s tool to convict us of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-8). When I ponder sin, I think to myself, “The Best of Us Is a Mess.” And we really are a mess in comparison to Jesus Christ. However, we all too often measure ourselves by other people which makes us feel reasonably righteous in comparison. The more we see Jesus as he is and ourselves as we are, the more we are going to be grateful that God has reached down in mercy to such undeserving creatures.
Two, we are plagued with abysmally short memories. In 2 Peter 1, the apostle reminds us that a real understanding of God’s grace should move us to be growing continually. Peter views a failure to respond in this way as quite unnatural, no matter how common it may be: “he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:9). The old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” is often true, even when the familiarity is with our Creator.
Three, ingratitude may simply trace back to a sinful heart that blocks the understanding—and therefore the appreciation—of spiritual realities. I remember times when I dealt with sin in my heart in a radical way (which for me means with much prayer, often accompanied by fasting). After such times my spiritual heart seems soft and sensitive, and the tears of appreciation flow easily. Thinking back to those moving experiences makes me marvel at how quickly the tenderness of heart can fade.
Four, a self-focused life certainly results in little thankfulness. My childhood years contributed to my self-focus. Although I was raised in a very blue-collar setting, without an abundance of money, we were comfortable, and I was given much of what I requested. In less kindly terms, I was spoiled (hopefully not permanently!). As a result, I characteristically respond to events in my life in a selfish way. When things go well for me, I think, Fine, that’s the way it should be. When things don’t go well for me, I react internally by thinking, “What is going on here?” I have served the Lord faithfully; this shouldn’t be happening to me! When I allow my sinful nature to lead me in this direction, I respond to blessings without much thankfulness and to challenges without much grace. Prayerfully, I have made lots of progress in changing these tendencies, but I must guard against them continually to avoid being an ingrate.
Five, a suspect picture of God is one of the more serious, yet subtle, culprits behind ingratitude. We develop our view of God from the most important authority figures in our lives, normally our fathers. If our fathers were beneficent, leaning toward permissiveness with us, we are likely to take God’s goodness for granted. If our fathers were distant or harsh, we are likely to view God in much the same way. And if we see him as impersonal, uncaring or demanding, we will misinterpret life’s blessings and challenges, remaining unaware of the bounty of his grace. The reality of who he is and what he does can be missed almost entirely. If we are like the one-talent man in Matthew 25, we will see him as a “hard” man (verse 24). If we are like the older brother in the Parable of the Lost Son, we will see him as a father who has done absolutely nothing for us (Luke 15:29). Astounding!
For everyone who decides to seek Jesus seriously, a study of the book of Romans is a must. When we begin to understand the God it portrays, we can be consistently motivated by gratefulness for his amazing grace. My book, “Romans: the Heart Set Free,” is a good resource for this study.
Whatever the cause of ingratitude, the cure is in taking the time to figure out life as God designed it to be, rather than life as Satan wants us to see it. Then the message will not be how soon we forget, but how often and deeply we remember the overwhelming goodness of our God. Let’s take this present season of thankfulness and truly count our blessings and live a life of genuine gratefulness and appreciation for all God has done for us.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” —Colossians 2:6-7
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” —Colossians 4:2
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” —Hebrews 12:28
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” —Colossians 3:15