In recent months, I’ve had opportunity to meditate at some length on the matter of gratitude. For instance, why was it that one day, I became extraordinarily filled with gratitude over the simple matter of getting in and out of the shower safely? Answer: Because after having bi-lateral knee replacement surgery, I could not get in or out of the shower at all for over two weeks! When I finally was able to get in the shower, it was a pretty shaky undertaking. And getting out was even worse! On top of that, despite the sheer pleasure of taking a shower, it was a painful experience from start to finish. And I was worried about falling down.
Hence, I experienced great engulfments of gratitude to God each time I safely got in and out of the shower. Though it’s pretty much back to normal now, I still give thanks to the Lord every morning as I emerge from the refreshing, exhilarating, yet harrowing experience of the daily shower.
Gratitude is based on experiential knowledge. Though I have taken showers for many years now, it wasn’t until this surgery that I had an experiential knowledge of all that was required to be able to do so. Previously, it was simply something one did. It was good, refreshing, enjoyable, but one just did it. Post-surgery I experienced that one does not “just do it” when it comes to taking a shower. Knees and the attached muscles and ligaments and tendons are more important than I ever imagined. Thanks be to God for knees and muscles and ligaments and tendons that function properly and allow one to take a shower.
As I reflected on showers and other matters, I became convicted of the greatness of my sin of ingratitude, of being unthankful. I am prone to take so much for granted, not realizing the graciousness of God in what I can do, in relationships that He’s given me, in opportunities in which He’s placed me, and on and on and on.
A basic problem with humanity is a presumptuous attitude about our abilities while living in denial about our inabilities. One of the places where this is most apparent is in how folk think a person becomes a Christian. Let me explain.
Most folk imagine that one just chooses to be a Christian, perhaps because it makes sense or because it seems like a good thing to do or because that’s the way you make sure you go to heaven when you die. What rash presumption such notions display!
What is the most rash presumption? That human beings are inclined toward or have the ability to choose the good, that by a mere act of the human will one can choose heaven. Such presumption runs counter to the consistent teaching of the Bible.
For instance, consider Jesus’ words in John 3:19. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Those who think they can choose good do not need a Savior, they just need choices! But they forget they are by nature prone to choose wrongly.
That is what the Scriptures teach in passages such as Ephesians 2:1 and 2:3. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins . . . and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” This was written to Christian folk, but notice, originally, they had been “even as the rest” of mankind, that is, dead in the water, unable to do good and prone to do evil.
These passages do not teach that no one ever did a good thing without being born again. Everyone does some good things, and by choice. Even Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro chooses to do some good things. However, it is not before you or me that Maduro will one day have to stand; he will have to stand before Almighty God who knows the hearts of all men and whose Word is able to “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” [Heb. 4:12.13] In God’s eyes there is no one righteous, not even one. [Ps. 14:2,3; Rom. 3:10-18]
That certainly sounds harsh, but that is what the Bible teaches about mankind, and about the judgment we face. For it is not only Maduro who will stand before that judgment. So will you and I and all who have ever lived. Before God’s searching and just judgment all our righteousness will be as filthy rags. We’ll be unclean. We need to a spiritual shower to clean us but will find we’re unable to get it on our own.
How many things must we know to live and die in the blessed comfort of the Gospel? Three things, the first of which is the greatness of my sin and wretchedness, that is my inability to give 100% to God in any (as well as each) moral action I take. That’s what God requires, 100%, and He is just and fair which means He demands the full 100% and will not compromise. We, thus, must face the frightening consequence of being under God’s just judgment.
The second thing we must know if we’re to live and die in the blessed comfort of the Gospel is this: that Christ, on the cross, bore God’s wrath against me and my sins. God’s judgment is inevitable, it comes to all. There is only one escape and that is by the mercies afforded individuals in Christ Jesus. I must know that He has redeemed me, not my choice of Him but His choice of me.
Then, the third thing we must know if we’re to live and die in the blessed comfort of the Gospel is what gratitude we owe to God for such a wonderfully gracious, wholly undeserved, cleansing from our sins and a receiving of the righteousness of Christ. I begin to understand that salvation really is a gift from God, not a reward for or consequence of my having made the right choice. When such is the case we experience great engulfments of gratitude to God each time we reflect on how we stand before Him, how we’re able to come in and out of His presence with faith, hope, and love.
OK, let’s put this knowledge into practice. Take a few moments to consider some aspect of your physical body for which to give thanks. Then do so! For our regeneration and spiritual well-being, may I suggest this text from Jude 24-25: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” Yes, Amen to that!
In the Joy of the Lord,
John H.C. Niederhaus