When the Apostle Paul was lamenting the sins that would befall the church during the latter days such as “lovers of themselves . . . of money” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” he also included the sin of ingratitude.
He said men would be, “unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving.” At Thanksgiving, we pause busy lives and schedules to return thanks to the Almighty God who has lavished His many blessings on us.
Presidents have issued proclamations of thanksgiving starting with our first president, George Washington. We have known as a nation what it means to be grateful to a good God who has and is kind to the undeserving. But what do we know of ingratitude? Are we sure it is as venomous as other sins? Are we convinced that among all that is deemed wrong there is none worse than unthankfulness? Do we fear an ungrateful heart as much as a heart of unbelief? I think not.
Ingratitude is not seen as a major thing except when others display ingratitude towards us. Then we believe it to be a great evil. Why is ingratitude in us not thought to be a serious sin, if not a cardinal sin?
The answer to that is also the answer as to why unthankfulness is so deadly.
We don’t see ingratitude to be a grievous thing because we believe a lie that says whatever good I receive, I somehow deserve it.
If God showers blessings rather than curses we may express a modicum of thankfulness but internally we are most grateful to ourselves. We self-congratulate, “I’m a good person and I live in such a way God can bless me.”
This spirit prompted the disciples to ask our Lord in John 9 about a man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). We’re right where the disciples were—we believe bad and good happens for the most part because people deserve it.
Ingratitude is a by-product of a self-righteousness that believes good, success, and prosperity is earned. And so, instead of being thankful to a merciful God who has blessed me far more than I deserve, I want to take some (if not most) of the credit for my blessings. We become glory-robbers. We steal what does not belong to us—thankfulness.
Wherever the sin of ingratitude lingers, unbelief is present. The Bible says this is so.
“…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” -Romans 1:21
Unthankfulness was present in the first sin.
Eve was led to believe by the deceiver not to see how good the Lord was to her and her husband, but how He was withholding something good from her. A spirit of ingratitude roused in her. She couldn’t see how gracious her Creator had been. She couldn’t utter thanksgiving for all the fruit trees she could eat from, all she could see was the one withheld from her. Ingratitude.
It works the same way in our hearts. Instead of counting the many acts of God’s kindness to us, all we can count are the things we think we deserve but do not have. Thus, the spirit of ingratitude breeds murmuring and complaining. The heart is choked and the soul withers. Bitterness fills up where thanksgiving ought to exist. All because we believe the lie that we deserve better than we have and that God is not as good as He claims.
Ingratitude played a huge part in the first temptation and first sin, and it plays a no less role in our temptations, and—God forbid—our sins. The sin of unthankfulness is much larger than not saying grace over our food or not singing a hymn of praise; it has much to do with the state of our souls before a holy God.
To be unthankful is no small thing; it lies at the root of a person’s eternal destruction.
Where ingratitude reigns, unbelief is allowed to control. The unthankful person will never believe in a good God of grace but will deem Him to be critical, censorious, and condemning. There can be no peace between the ungrateful and God.
But let the joyful sound of the Gospel make melody in a thankless heart and something changes. The person sees how undeserving they truly have been all along. Bitterness for the hard times is replaced by a thankfulness that God was there and didn’t forsake them. And when that person has been brought to faith in God, what is the first thing that comes pouring out of the mouth? Isn’t it thanksgiving? Yes, a grateful heart sings:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.”
“And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, how great Thou art!”
“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
Where the Gospel light has shone, the result is thanksgiving. To the degree you see how unworthy you are of His matchless grace, you will give thanks. Your thanksgiving is in proportion to your understanding of your undeserving.
Today, we have much reason to be thankful.
We are a saved people, a redeemed people, a people who did not deserve the mighty Prince of heaven to come and ransom us. His mission was not with a sword to slay us but a cross to save us. We have a new name, the redeemed. Our adoption is sealed, His blood has removed the curse, we are loved by the Father, shepherd by the Son, and have communion with the Holy Spirit. Every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies is ours. The broken have been made complete in Him. Our cups are full, our barns have plenty, and our houses are warm.
We are not alone. We have the God of the Trinity to fellowship with us, and we have His church, joined to a brotherhood that lasts beyond the grave. All of His amazing grace has been given to us for the Bible says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Whenever we think we do not possess but lack, we need only remember that within one of His promises is all the power we should need. He has said, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).
And should that not be enough, He has promised an innumerable number of promises for every situation we face, “by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
Our lips cannot curse but only bless His holy name.
May we hate the terrible sin of ingratitude and fight its every attempt to steal our joy. From this moment on, do not forget that a small heart praises small, but a heart enlarged with His love and blessings praises large. And should you feel little thankfulness, please beware that the tempter lies close to your door. Give him no lodging or comfort. Remember the Gospel and your rightful place as one who sits at the King’s table unworthily and without merit. Once a rebel but now a friend; once outside but now within the house of your Father. Not a prodigal but a prince or princess ruling in a Kingdom that is eternal and exceeds the heavens.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” -Colossians 3:15