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You Are Not Paying God Back!

February 21, 2011

In the debtor’s ethic the Christian life is pictured as an effort to pay back the debt we owe to God. Usually the concession is made that we can never fully pay it off. But “gratitude” demands that we work at it. Good deeds and religious acts are the installment payments we make on the unending debt we owe God. This debtor’s ethic often lies, perhaps unintentionally, beneath the words, “We should obey Christ out of gratitude.”

This appeal to gratitude as a way of motivating Christians is so common it may come as a shock when I question whether it has much biblical support. But consider this for a moment. How many many inthe Bible can you think of where gratitude or thankfulness is explicitly made the motive of moral behavior? I mean behaviors like treating people with love, and doing your business with integrity, and taking risks in the obedience of missions. Does the Bible tell us that these things are to be done “out of gratitude,’ or “in the power of thankfulness,” or “because we owe Jesus so much?”

This is not nit-picking or incidental; it is amazing. If you ask Christians today, “What is the biblical motive for Christian obedience?” great numbers would say, “Gratitude to God.” And yet this way of thinking seems almost totally lacking in the Bible. The Bible rarely, if ever, explicitly makes gratitude the impulse of moral behavior, or ingratitude the explanation of immorality.

This is stunning when you let it sink in. This most common way of talking about motivating Christian obedience is scarcely mentioned in the Bible. . . . In sum, we can say that true gratitude does not give rise to the debtor’s ethic (or paying God back – SS) because it gives rise to faith in future grace. With true gratitude there is such a delight in the worth of God’s past grace, that we are driven on to experience more and more of it in the future. But this is not done by “payments” of a debt in any ordinary sense. Rather, it is done by transforming gratitude into faith as it turns from contemplating the pleasures of past grace and starts contemplating the promises of the future (emphases mine).

John Piper, Future Grace, 33-34, 39.

 

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